problem solved... I think
Chuck, you are a very patient man. Thank you for not yelling at me. :-)
I finally got the isp to change everything as required to chmod 777 and all problems have gone away.
There only answer as to why this happened they could give me was that there was a hardware problem. I believe it was also related to a php upgrade. The bad thing is that currently I can only chmod some directories and not others which I'm assuming is a directory ownership issue.
Anyway, I greatly appreciate your knowledge and your patience.