mellowtigger: http://wikiality.wikia.com/Breaking_News#Shocking_News:_Stephen_Colbert_Predicts_The_Future.21 (i told you so)
I've said since 2004 that I suspect a fundamental issue with the experience of time is at fault in the brains of some people with autism. I learned today of what may be the first experimental evidence of this feature.

Researchers compared MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) results between autistics ("high functioning") with neurotypicals, both adults and children, in a resting state.  They found similar and expected patterns of activity in some brain areas, but they found one area where more severe autism effects were correlated with different time scales of brain processing.  That area was the right caudate, a brain region involved in language, emotion, sleep, and executive function.

"... this is one of the first indications that small-scale temporal dynamics could have an outsized effect."
"The neural timescale is a measure of how predictable the activity is in a given brain region. The shorter timescales we observed in the autistic individuals suggest their brains have trouble holding onto and processing sensory input for as long as neurotypical people"
- https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190213090814.htm

This observation is close enough to my earlier descriptions that it gives me hope.  I expect that future research will justify my early subjective impressions.

"Future studies should investigate whether the differences in brain activity cause the symptoms of autism. If so, it may be possible to treat the symptoms by changing brain activity, for example, by applying magnetic stimulation to the scalp."
- https://elifesciences.org/articles/42256

I maintain, however, that it would be more ethically appropriate to first try developing a visual language rather than just immediately trying to directly change brain processing.  Still, though, perhaps some currently nonverbal autistics might welcome the opportunity to process language the way that most people do it, rather than requiring direct assistance for communication.  If such therapies prove effective, it will quickly spawn a discussion similar to the Deaf/hearing one in relation to learning Sign language versus verbal speech.

Recommended relevant fiction: "Speed Of Dark" by Elizabeth Moon
mellowtigger: (default)
Another year gone by, so it's time to update my annual tax review.
  • My 2016 income tax return shows total tax of $2,384 (line 39, form 1040A) with gross wages of $30.5K.
  • My 2017 income tax return shows total tax of $3,048 (line 12, form 1040EZ) with gross wages of $33.8K. My taxes went up at a higher rate (+28%) than my income (+11%). I had a score of 720 on what appears to be a mostly-useless credit score system.
  • My 2018 income tax return shows total tax of $3,938 (line 18, form 1040) with gross wages of $36.6K. Again, my taxes went up at a higher rate (+29%) than my income (+8%). Much of that higher income was the result of simply working temporarily more hours than usual. My credit score went up to 723, apparently based solely on a 1-year-older mortgage.
Are we tired of winning lower taxes yet?  At least I didn't get hit by the withholding problem.  I still got my usual refund. When economic trends continue like this, we lose the middle class to an ever-poorer population as we all (except the upper class) lose ground financially. Defying logic, since my salary is well below the local median wage, my income puts me definitively in the middle class for Minneapolis. Because it's a relative rating, my status should tell you how bad it is out there. "Middle class" ain't what it used to be.

Relatively poor people are having to pay for those corporate and upper class tax cuts.  Remember that promise, the so-called "trickle down economics" stimulus that never works?  Guess what?  It didn't work.  We got richer corporations and higher deficits, and the average citizen gets to pay for it.

And I have no idea whatsoever why each year I get a different federal tax form.
mellowtigger: (the more you know)
homeless veteransThe holiday this year feels like more of a hypocrisy than usual. I'm one of those rebels who thinks that "honoring" someone requires more than waving appropriately-colored cloths and speaking platitudes at parades or charity events once each year.

If a society wants to honor the service that people give to their country, then society should provide concrete help to them in their time(s) of need. Yes, even if it means raising taxes to pay for the cost of war long after the gunfire itself is over. And there is plenty of need, daily. Among the homeless in the good ol' USA:

many veterans are homeless in America—between 130,000 and 200,000 on any given night
23% of homeless population are veterans
46% age 45 or older compared to 20% non-veterans

- http://nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/veterans.html

Similar numbers are reported by the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.

Each year, VA’s specialized homelessness programs provide health care to almost 150,000 homeless veterans
40,056 veterans are homeless on any given night
20% of the male homeless population are veterans
50% are age 51 or older, compared to 19% non-veterans

- http://nchv.org/index.php/news/media/background_and_statistics/

Trump keeps asking (and getting) increased military budget. That's just good business, after all. But when it comes to the well being of the actual service members, there are no profitable business deals to be signed for the care of old and damaged human beings.

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said Friday that he has begun forming a plan to cut the agency’s budget as President Donald Trump requested during a Cabinet meeting last month.
- https://www.stripes.com/news/veterans/va-secretary-has-begun-planning-budget-cuts-requested-by-trump-1.556017

President Donald Trump's proposals to cut eligibility for food stamps in 2018 would hit hard on thousands of military families...
about 23,000 active duty service members received food stamps in 2013

- https://www.military.com/daily-news/2017/05/24/proposed-food-stamp-cuts-would-hit-military-families.html

Sure, the Veterans Administration has major issues. It needs a severe overhaul.

Ignored claims, manipulated records, cost overruns and even one facility infested with insects and rodents are among the latest issues uncovered by a blistering VA Inspector General’s report. The auditor's probe found that more than 31,000 inquiries placed by veterans to the Philadelphia Regional VA office call center went ignored for more than 312 days, even though they were supposed to be answered in five. Perhaps even worse, claim dates were manipulated to hide delays, $2.2 million in improper payments were made because of duplicate records, 22,000 pieces of returned mail went ignored and some 16,600 documents involving patient records and dating back to 2011 were never scanned into the system.
- https://www.foxnews.com/politics/new-va-scandals-call-into-question-agencys-ability-to-clean-house

But this Republican administration is not calling for an overhaul of the bureaucracy at the Veterans Administration. They're just calling for a smaller budget. So let us honor the veterans on Veterans Day, but let's do it Trump style. Speeches and parades, but nothing substantive. Oh, wait, let's skip the platitudes too.

A so-called travel lid was called around 10 a.m. Eastern, meaning the president was not going to leave the White House. There were no public events scheduled for the president on the Veterans Day holiday.
- https://www.marketwatch.com/story/trump-today-staying-home-on-veterans-day-president-says-stock-market-is-rattled-by-prospect-of-democratic-harassment-2018-11-12

Sure, conservatives like to cut funding for efforts to address so-called "social services" like health care, mental health care, affordable housing, affordable food, job training, and continuing education. (Basically, all the stuff that makes a society worth living in.)  Meanwhile, they continue to create more people who need exactly those services. Sounds like a winning strategy to me. So sayeth this holiday curmudgeon.

If you want to do something that actually helps, then consider donating to non-profits that focus on care for veterans. After you do that, ask yourself why you had to bother making an individual donation instead of building a society that made this care mandatory. Which method, really, is the better way to honor veterans? Are these humans just disposable and temporary personnel assets, or are they (and our obligations to them) part-and-parcel of what makes a society actually function, worthy of both building together and defending afterwards?
mellowtigger: (flameproof)
I am not a happy camper. Minnesota is some sort of battleground state this year. We've been visited by Trump, visited by Pence, and we've had to watch 2 months of seemingly endless political ads, even tv ads for Wisconsin governor Walker.

The choices this year aren't great.

For our U.S. Senator, I would normally vote Green Party, but it's hugely important that Minnesota have someone representing us who would vote in favor of impeachment. The Democrat is favored to win, but I can't risk the Republican candidate winning. I can't even tell from Democrat Klobuchar's website what her position is on issues that will come up in our future. Her website is all about her past actions instead. I need information on both. I also don't want to vote for someone who only wants a stepping stone to a race for U.S. President. Yuck.  But the possibility of impeachment looms, and I want impeachment.  I want it a lot.

For our State Attorney General, I'd rather vote for the Legal Marijuana Now candidate, but again I just can't risk the Republican gaining office. He's actually said during his campaign that he would fire the Democratic attorneys at the state office. Just on principle. And in high school he bullied a fellow student who was gay then mocked him for attempting suicide. So... obviously this ideologue cannot be trusted with any kind of responsibility for upholding our laws and constitution and the protection of citizens. Which means that I have to vote for Keith Ellison instead. And I don't want to. I really, really don't want to. As the local City Pages wrote in their review of this awful election cycle:

"What a fucking mess. ... Don’t want a man like Keith Ellison to be your attorney general? Elect him, and petition him to resign. The only other ending to this story is too dark for Minnesota to imagine."
- http://www.citypages.com/news/the-haters-guide-to-the-2018-election/499057991

And as for my usual fall-back political party, the Green Party, they seem significantly less organized (with only 1 candidate on the ballot) than the 2 marijuana legalization parties (which have a combined 5 candidates). It's stupid that the full force of government would keep anyone from growing plants in their garden. Yes, plants. That's how silly the current legal status is.  You have heard that lettuce is psychoactive, right?  Can you imagine the federal government forbidding you from planting lettuce?  Legalize now, for cryin' out loud.

I resent that there are not enough other political party candidates this year. Too many seats are contested only between the Republican and the Democrat, and I'm not really in favor of either. I want actual choices.

I do not like this election cycle. It's hugely important. (The Canadians know why.) Unlike other bitter elections where I was ultimately happy with my vote... this year I will not be happy. Tomorrow morning, I hold my nose and cast my ballot.
mellowtigger: (sleepy)
I woke up once during the night due to vampire apocalypse.  I think maybe around 3am.  It was a long-ish dream, most of which I've forgotten already.  At the end, I exited a townhouse at dusk to get somewhere safer.  I left through the front door.  There was a car parked right up next to the door, so I had to squeeze between it and the brick wall to get through.  Vampire hands started pushing open the car door behind me (with blackened windows) to grab at me, so I was caught facing the house while trying to push back against the car door to keep it closed, and still trying to get away.  When I felt their hands on my back, then I suddenly woke.

I rolled over and went back to sleep again quickly.

Later, I was at a conference in another city.  I had booked a hotel room in another tall building in the city for some reason and left a few things there.  But I was also at my own hotel room where most of the conference happened.  The check-out process was horrible, and I was caught in missed deadlines and traffic between hotels and lost pets (I managed to keep the tiny dog with me but I lost the rat somewhere).  It was just a day-long series of stressful events. 

I finally woke up from that one too.  At least there's daylight this time, so I just went downstairs to feed the cat and dog.

I'll be glad when these dreams disappear from conscious memory.  I've already forgotten most of the first one.  The second one will probably fade quickly too.  But I remember enough still that I could compose one of these rare Dream posts.
mellowtigger: joystick (gaming)
Here is the short version of my too-long 2018 conference post.  The CitizenCon 2948 session videos are being uploaded to their YouTube playlist now, so it's worth revisiting.

The "cloth" technology beats anything else I've seen before.  They could probably earn a lot of money just licensing out their technology to Hollywood studios for films after it gets perfected for the game.  Watch the demonstration here at the 9-minute mark:


Amazing stuff.  This will be in-game technology (not pre-rendered video) soon.  I'm glad that I've contributed money to their development effort.  This is new technology, and I'll be happy to use it.

I'll update this post when the character-face technology video gets uploaded.



mellowtigger: (snow)
We have snow in Minneapolis today.  It's unusual to have snow here so early in the year.  It's only mid-October.

snow in Minneapolis on 2018 October 14 Sunday

We usually have 4 seasons during a year, but not in 2018.  We had the blizzard with a foot of snow in mid-April, then we went straight to warmer-than-usual May, skipping the spring season.  In mid-September we had air temperatures of 32C/90F, then 2 weeks later we had frost warnings.  Today, we even have snow.  We're skipping the fall season and going straight to winter.

I disapprove.
mellowtigger: joystick (gaming)
I took my first work vacation in 4 years. I went to CitizenCon 2948.

CitizenCon 2948 Star Citizen welcomeCitizenCon is the gaming convention for the Star Citizen (multiplayer) and Squadron 42 (solo) games. They held it in Austin Texas USA, the site of their first development studio. The game is set 930 years in our future, hence the current game date of 2948 (2018 + 930), which always changes with our calendar. And that's a lot of changing calendars, since this game first started crowdfunding back in 2012, which was game year 2942 as pictured in the quote to the right.

The registration process was slow. I stood in the registration line for more than an hour. Some kind staffer came out once to warn people against standing in the fire ant mounds. Luckily, the weather was good that day, unlike the storm on the previous day.

CitizenCon 2948 Star Citizen at Austin Texas registration line

The outdoor plaza was very nice. There was a huge banner for the event, plenty of food vendors (one of them even game-themed as Big Benny's Noodles). They had some great Venezuelan food bowls, both spicy and gluten-free.  They took photos of people on a Drake Dragonfly, complete with sound effects.

CitizenCon 2948 Star Citizen at Austin Texas plaza bannerCitizenCon 2948 Star Citizen Drake Dragonfly

Indoors, they had many in-game vendors giving out free swag. They had an area for in-game organizations. They also had a demonstration of their motion-capture studio. Many people were in costume. I don't ever harass people by trying to capture photos of them, but I had to take this photo of one person who was in full combat gear, since he was already being stopped for a photo. The suit was so large, he could barely sit in the auditorium seats.

CitizenCon 2948 Star Citizen motion capture demonstrationCitizenCon 2948 Star Citizen cosplay marine combat gear


The session videos haven't been posted online to their YouTube channel yet, but you can see the official trailers for new gameplay and ships. This new clip shows a lot of celebrity actors that people will recognize from movies:
  • Mark Hamill (Star Wars)
  • Gillian Anderson (X-Files)
  • Gary Oldman (The Fifth Element)
  • John Rhys Davies (Lord of the Rings)
  • Henry Cavill (Superman)
  • Mark Strong (Green Lantern)
  • Liam Cunningham (Game of Thrones)
  • Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One)
What received the most cheers, though (and even a 2nd play of the video clip) was this announcement of the new capital ship from Drake Interplanetary, the Kraken.

I spent most of my time outside of the main stage, at the much smaller "second stage" room. It's a shame that none of those videos are uploaded yet, because a lot of amazing technology was showed there. The $195 million dollars that they have already crowdfunded has been put to very good use. It's not all in the test build for players to see yet, but it will be soon.
  • Environment physics. They've got wind vectors that will affect plant life in the environment. They can point-source wind too, for things like jet exhaust. I'm looking forward to having a very realistic plant environment in my biodomes on the Endeavor.
  • Cloth physics. This demo was just incredible. They've taken physics modeling farther than any other game I've seen. They can throw a tarp on any object in game and have it blow around very realistically, with no clipping. He repeatedly dropped a tarp on a ship, and it deformed realistically over any section of ship or box. He even threw it down over the engines, let it come to rest, then started the ship engines to blow it off. All amazingly real to view.
  • Particle physics. They've also made huge improvements to performance since 2012 for other graphics effects. They can make frequent use of sparks and even small lightning bolts with little performance impact. The audience was appropriately wowed by the sight of a malfunction in an engine room. Impressive stuff. Again, not in the available test build yet, but it will be soon.
  • Character physics. At the main stage, they spent an hour on the character face modeling. They've done it. They've really, truly done it. Star Citizen will offer character customization like no other game has ever offered. They can reshape the entire head in real-time without causing clipping of hats, eyewear, or facial hair, which all conform to the new head shape. It's just amazing. Again, it's development time (and money) very well spent.
  • CitizenCon 2948 Star Citizen Tony ZurovekEconomy. I was most looking forward to this talk by Tony Zurovek. He had to cut down on detail because of time limitations, which made it a bit of a disappointment. I didn't get any of the detail that I really wanted.
  • The economy in Star Citizen will be far more detailed than any other computer game. Each ship is measured in about 20 details to determine the "cost" of each ship system. They can determine the value that can be quickly salvaged (/stolen) from other ships, what resources are needed to rebuild a ship, and how ships compare against each other for resources needed to produce them.

    All of this detail is necessary to know how to trigger the automated NPCs that will "fill in" the economic gaps when players are unavailable to meet those needs. When lots of ships are destroyed in battles, then resources will be needed to repair and resupply those ships. Pirating will likely increase as miners come under attack from opportunistic thieves (players and NPCs alike). As raw supplies become overstocked, then intermediate parts will become more valuable, so the crafters who build the subsystems will come under more intense scrutiny.  It all looks like player actions will determine the in-game economic system more realistically than any other game out there, even EVE Online, which is famous for its economy.

  • Discovery.  I crowdfunded this game for the exploration.  It appears that they're planning lots of stuff to keep the explorers like me happy.  Derelict ships, comets, asteroid fields, commodity/flora analysis on land, intra-system wormholes, hidden pirate bases (of interest to security), geysers (of interest to scientists and tourists), nebulae (of interest to miners), and more.
So, the game still looks promising. Very promising. I'm impressed by their technical accomplishments. It still remains to be seen, though, if it all "comes together" to create a fun game.  I was encouraged that Chris Roberts himself said that the user interface is also recognized as a problem system at the moment, so it will get reworked. I've complained about it for years. This news is very good.

For the convention overall, though, I was a bit underwhelmed. I kept thinking throughout these presentations, "You know, this is the kind of stuff that we used to see on Wingman's Hangar." I once specifically asked the question about whether or not they were holding back information so it could be released just for special events, and Chris Robertson himself answered "No, we're absolutely not doing that." Yes, they absolutely are doing that.

Oh, well. Their game development work is still new game technology that is better than anything else out there. I'm happy to continue waiting for the final game.
mellowtigger: (Ark II)
Sugar Lake Lodge morning fogIt's been 3.5 years since my chapter last met at an all-staff retreat. This time, we met at Sugar Lake Lodge in northern Minnesota. Once again, my full-time counterpart rented the car to drive us there and back.  It is a nice location. The morning scenery included fog blowing through the small hills and across the lake. The food was good. I slept quite soundly in the quiet environment, much better than the loud area where I live. Cell phone reception, however, was so bad that I had to put my phone in airplane mode to prevent it from draining the battery in a matter of hours.

SPRUCE bog walkThe highlight for me was the field trip. We had 3 to choose from, and I selected the Marcell Experimental Forest. The particular experiment that we visited was the Spruce and Peatland Responses Under Changing Environments (SPRUCE) facility that they describe as the largest climate change experiment in the world. Curiously, SPRUCE is funded through the Department Of Energy, as part of their effort to trace carbon in the ecosystem and it's effect on climate.

As part of the Trump and Republican war on knowledge, our field guides said that their funding was eliminated as Trump entered office, because it contained the word "climate" in it. They changed their name, reapplied, and got their funding restored. I've been trying to track down which program/site/fund had to change names, and I'm not having any luck identifying it yet. So I'll just use the current names, since I can't find the original nomenclature (which was probably more accurate instead of being now literally "politically correct").

The SPRUCE site is set on a bog in Minnesota. Peatlands account for only 3% of land surface, but they account for 30% of soil (not above-surface) carbon. If bogs change from carbon-sinks to carbon-sources, it would have a huge effect on global warming. So the SPRUCE facility selected 16 locations for monitoring. At each site, they have a series of instruments at different heights for ground temperature, air temperature, CO2 concentration, tree metabolism, and tree circumference. They watch native plants already growing at each site to monitor how they react to different temperatures and CO2.

SPRUCE door sign 9C ambient temperatureHere's the kicker. Around many of the sites, they built octagonal "containment units" with translucent 8-meter (26-feet) walls and an open ceiling. Within the units, they alter the ground temperature, air temperature, and CO2 concentration (up to 900ppm). Measurements are taken at some of the control units, and once each minute they make adjustments to the controlled units. The unit that we walked into was the highest relative temperature, +9C (16.2F) above the ambient temperature.

SPRUCE propane tanksIt takes a whole lot of propane to keep the many vents blowing to maintain the relative temperature difference 24 / 7 / 365. They had 4 big propane tanks on site. They told us they burned 1 tank each week in summer and 2 tanks in winter. That's a huge carbon footprint for a facility meant to explore the impact of atmospheric carbon dioxide on the biome. Our guides called attention to the irony.

It seemed a well designed site.  They even have visual/auditory CO2 alarms in case concentrations within an enclosure reach deadly levels for humans, so anyone inside would immediately know to exit.  I envy the infrastructure they were able to provide. At first, I was surprised to find such a facility located within Minnesota. But Minnesota's temperature has already risen 2.5-3 degrees since 1970, with most of that change affecting our winter season. We have lots of bog, fen, marsh, and swamp, so I guess it really does make a lot of sense to locate this facility here.

They continuously collect data. There's a set of panels outside where networking is provided, so they get a flow of information from each of the units. They also monitor some units that are the experimental controls. Those control units have the same monitors but no environmental changes and maybe even no walls.

SPRUCE instruments inside containment unitSPRUCE control unit

It was fascinating.  It's good to know that another dataset of solid evidence will be added to future climate estimations.  They still need to do similar research for permafrost, but science seems to be doing a good job narrowing our uncertainty.  It may still be too little, too late, but for now I'm feeling a bit more optimistic.  It seems like every time they refine their models with new data, the results are even more dire.  My current optimism assumes, of course, that we can continue collecting data under the management of a political party that's determined to remain ignorant of these and other observations.  It's unfortunate that we have to organize protest marches for that kind of thing these days.  But my mood today, nevertheless, is slightly optimistic.
mellowtigger: pistol with USA flag colors (guns)
On Saturday afternoon, two kids and their adult relative were robbed at gunpoint just seconds after I left them.

I was walking the dog at the local pond. At one corner, we crossed paths with two children (who live across the street from me) riding their bicycles in the park. I stopped to let them pet Dominic. They decided to climb into a tree so that their uncle could take a photo of them. So I continued around the corner with Dominic. It's hard to see into that corner because it's at a low elevation and hidden by trees. Apparently it was shortly after I was out of sight that a young man with a gun came up to them. He got only the keys and phone of the adult. They had nothing else with them. Their uncle was apparently rather shook up about it, which is entirely appropriate. He's not accustomed to life in Jordan community of Minneapolis. This is what I call the #WarzoneInMinneapolis on G+.

Earlier, as I was approaching the park, I remember someone pulling up and parking their car right at the southern entrance, which was unusual. They were still there as I left (and dropped a bag of poo in the bin by their window), although they drove away shortly afterward. Apparently it was someone in a white van who was the "getaway car", but I think they had this car available as an alternative exit?

I wish I had a headband that would continuously record quality video and transmit it to a nearby server. I wonder if Minneapolis wi-fi could be granted an exception for free bandwidth for such usage to help curb local crime? Hand out the headbands to everyone who asks for one. Leave it up to the Jordan community council (or deputized citizens who could perform this task, from young adults to senior citizens) to review relevant footage when someone reports a crime to police.

poster Minneapolis #WarzoneInMinneapolis stop shooting at our kidsAt 26th and James (3 blocks east of me), is this house. Apparently their home and a car were recently sprayed by 30 bullets. They put up this sign that I photographed this morning on my walk with Dominic. Here's a better photo taken by someone else.

"We are new residents.
Stop shooting at our kids."

People have also been fighting at 27th and Sheridan (6 blocks away).
There's been residential fire at 29th and Newton (3 blocks away) next door to a local church that feeds people every Thursday evening.
A 2-year-old found his mom's meth and overdosed at 29th and Logan (3 blocks away).
It happened again a few days ago that media reporting on earlier crime then heard gunfire while reporting, this time at 12th and Morgan (14 blocks south).

But mostly... I'm annoyed that someone would pull a gun on neighborhood kids at the local park with an adult among them "in broad daylight", as the saying goes. When I talked to these neighbors afterwards, they said that a few days ago, someone went down our street and smashed car windows. Somehow I escaped that one too.

Besides camera headbands, I'm ready for putting up concrete barriers around the whole area and using security checkpoints where cars may enter/exit while recording identities of everyone inside. There would still be foot traffic through the area, but at least the car races would end, and fast getaways would be harder to accomplish. With that precaution and citizen surveillance, maybe we could get it under control before we become another Chicago. We might be there already. Minneapolis stopped publishing their ShotSpotter maps for unknown reasons.

gun violence murders per 100K populationI'm very disappointed that our new Minneapolis council (elected because locals demanded change in this violence) are producing no real policy changes that might affect it. One of the "projects" (owned by Minneapolis Public Housing Authority) is spending $825,000 on security for a 4-building complex. Why do they get so much political love? The plausible explanations so far are very unkind to think, but I'm having a hard time finding alternative reasons.

We know that the USA is sick with gun violence, far out of proportion with other societies. But we are prevented even from gathering detailed data about it because of Republicans who are afraid of losing their NRA support. What data we do have is terrible.

Republicans are politically losing a generation of Americans to their inaction. Commenting on the sad state of gun violence in the USA, one recent high school graduate (and shooting survivor) comments:

"Treat every election like it’s the last one you’ll ever have."

That's how sad this state of perpetual violence has become.
mellowtigger: (default)
fence back yard 20180730I'm essentially done with the fence. It's not completely finished yet, but it's good enough to contain the dog, which was has been this summer's goal. I don't want to admit how many trips to the hardware stores it took me to get this far. The main lesson is this:
Always choose a basic chain-link fence.
I'm unsure about the gate on the right in this photo. You'll notice it's slightly lower than the other. If it hangs okay for a few days, then I might just accept it as is (and dig the ground out slightly, so it swings freely) and put the latch on it. For now, I've just got twisted wire holding the gate shut at the bottom. Good enough to contain a dog, but still not human-proof yet.

I let the dog out without his leash for the first time today. As expected, he was entertained only by staying near me. You'll notice his shadow beside me on the porch steps.  I wish he could entertain himself with a ball, a rope, something that didn't require my active participation. But he mostly just wants to go on walks with me. All of the toys I've bought him sit unused.  He's a simple dog with simple pleasures; he just wants to go on walks and sniff the grass.

I still don't have the cat and dog living amicably.  I'm slowly asking people if they know someone who wants a dog. He's great with people (especially kids) and other dogs, but apparently he's just too rambunctious around cats for them to tolerate him.  I'm in no hurry, and I could change my mind if the animals start living together well, but the cat has already endured enough banishment.  She deserves to roam the house again.
mellowtigger: (liberal frustration)
I just came back from the pseudo-park at the rainwater runoff pond nearby.  While getting a baggie out to pick up Dominic's poo in the grass by the sidewalk, two young kids riding a single bicycle came through. "Get that filthy dog out of my way!" and the other one laughed. I felt a sudden uncharitable anger in response. We were clear on one side of the wide park path, nowhere close to blocking their route, but they had to beat their metaphorical chests to assure their social dominance over strangers anyway.  I guess male humans learn at a very young age how easily their fragile egos are threatened.  Pre-emptive strike policy; I wonder where they learned that tactic?

Meanwhile on the way back home, I got waylaid by 8 youngsters as we approached my house. I don't know what to make of the kids on this block. Everybody wants to pet the dog or have someone else encourage them to pet him. They're fascinated by Dominic.  They like his bi-color eyes, they like his dalmation spots, and they like his "panda" ears as one girl calls them.  He likes them too, until he's swarmed and they're screaming. They fear the dog, though, and ask if he'd bite them if I told the dog to do it. (What are people teaching the dogs you've met?!)  I don't like talking to people in general, much less strangers, so this whole dog-owning experience is an exercise for me in patience and sociability.

They asked again today about my poop bags, so I gave them a demonstration of how I use them to pick up after Dominic in the park.  Afterwards, one of the older boys (still young) experimented with dropping a beer bottle in the street. The other kids tell him not to, because "that guy" (meaning me) will pick up the broken glass "... and he didn't even do anything". They've noticed me cleaning the street, apparently.  Minutes later, the same kid wanders across the street into somebody's backyard with the beer bottle. A young girl shouts, "No! You'll get in trouble!" And another boy tells her, "You shut up!".

Life here is violent. Options are limited. City council won't talk about things like guaranteed minimum income, and their Minneapolis 2040 plan doesn't even mention the coming technological unemployment. I don't know how the home life of these kids is ever going to improve while their parents are also stressed out.  These old 2010 statistics point out that my zip code has high unemployment and about 1/3 in my Jordan neighborhood live below poverty threshold.

So the cycle continues in the #WarzoneInMinneapolis.  I keep growing food plants in the front yard, I keep cleaning up the broken glass in the sidewalk and street, and I keep introducing my friendly dog to the kids.  Something's gotta matter, right?
mellowtigger: (Default)
If the back gates were still intact, I could call it essentially "done" at long last. But... I still have work to do.

southwest gate with bee balm and gladiolasI completed the southwest gate earlier today. The placement is a tiny distance off target, so I have to "lift" the gate gently to get it to latch. Slightly annoying, since I'll use that gate more than any other. But it works. It closes, it latches, and it locks.

Here's a view of it across the lavender bee balm, burgundy bee balm, and pink gladiolas. The bees are still happy with these flowers, and they've been blooming a while already.

And when I say that I "completed" it earlier, it's more accurate to say that I got enough of it completed to function correctly. Then the drill bit snapped off. *sigh* Luckily, I already needed to make a trip to the stores, so I picked up another drill bit while I was out. I came back home and finished off this gate properly later the same day.

Then I worked on adding the latch to the northwest gate that was already hung in place.  The first screw snapped in half.  The second screw stripped the head before it was all the way in.  The third screw didn't fare any better, but I stopped trying to force it.  I swear that my replacement 1/8" drill bit isn't quite 1/8" in diameter.  How can that be?

northwest gate with ferns and hostaStill though, the latch connects well enough to stop a dog from getting out, so that's where it stays for the moment.  I'll have to try a slightly larger drill bit to see if it works better, I think?  I'm not sure what else to do, since the screws aren't working this time.

It looks nice back there with the ferns and hosta starting to show.  In a few more years, they'll look even better.  I've considered planting a vining rose on that fence to let it trail across the whole north side, but I'm not sure it'd get enough sun.  There's actually a lot of sun that comes in during the height of summer, because the sun moves so far north up here.  The evening sunlight streams through this area of the yard.  I might give it a try, just to see.

So... I still need to redo the back gates.  If my proposed solution (drill larger holes, then use clips on the ends of the screws to secure everything in place) doesn't work, then I'll have to reorder poles and start over from scratch on those gate posts.  :(

But the yard is almost ready to let the dog roam free.

At this point, I'm leaning towards finding a new home for the dog.  My cat has come downstairs twice briefly, but she still lives solely upstairs now.  I dislike that arrangement.  I want my cat back.
mellowtigger: (MAGA)
It's been about 9 months since I last posted about this Republican administration, but today's absurdity deserves a new mention. The conservative spokespeople are already out in force, getting their condemnations of Trump's speech into the historical record, before they go back to supporting the egregious policies of this U.S. President and protecting him from impeachment proceedings.

Even after the indictments that came out a few days ago, people are still saying this Russia investigation is pointless. I occasionally join a group that meets at local breweries, and recently someone there said people he knew in the intelligence community were all saying that Trump would spend his life in jail. What Mueller knows hasn't been made public yet. It will become known, eventually. Some members of Congress probably know some of the details, yet they're all still rooting for their team instead of for the law. They are responsible for presidential oversight, and they have willingly shirked their duty. I hold them accountable too.

As Ron Perlman said in his usual blunt and partisan way:

Let us never forget the entire GOP, who is conspiring to impeach Rod Rosenstein for the crime of protecting our country from those who are conspiring to destroy us. Let us never forget the blatant treason of one of our 2 parties.
https://twitter.com/perlmutations/status/1018518799136448512

Dan Rather puts it more diplomatically:

To GOP officials who are speaking out about today's "Farce in Finland" - unless you start putting your votes and subpoena power behind your Twitter fingers, I suspect you will be viewed as complicit in the judgment of history (and maybe by the voters much sooner).
https://twitter.com/DanRather/status/1018939989088858112?s=19

Trump, of course, keeps calling the Mueller investigation a "witch hunt" in spite of its high rate of deliverables so far. Trump keeps finding himself unable to denounce Putin in any substantive way. I don't know if it's purely economic interests that drive Trump, or if there really is a "pee pee tape", as people try so delicately to mention the Russian hooker golden shower escapades.

The New York Times is generally regarded as the most prestigious U.S. newspaper. Yesterday (so even before today's fiasco), they printed an opinion piece that reviewed the investigation, its results, the president's response... then accused the sitting president of treason and declared him a traitor. When... when has that ever happened previously?

This is an incredible, unprecedented moment. America is being betrayed by its own president. America is under attack and its president absolutely refuses to defend it. Simply put, Trump is a traitor and may well be treasonous.
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/15/opinion/trump-russia-investigation-putin.html

Then, of course, today happened.

After face-to-face talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mr Trump contradicted US intelligence agencies and said there had been no reason for Russia to meddle in the vote. Mr Putin reiterated that Russia had never interfered in US affairs. The two men held nearly two hours of closed-door talks in the Finnish capital Helsinki on Monday.
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-44852812

If you didn't know anything about the people in these photos, who would you say is dominating each encounter?

body language Putin Trumpbody language Putin Obama

And the man on the left just had a private chat with his handler. Republicans continue defending him, his policies, his nominees. It may be years before we discover the full details of this network of impropriety.

I'll keep saying it with the usual lack of effect:

Plutocrats have no national loyalties. They serve themselves. Stop voting for plutocrats.

And it's not just Trump. I also blame all Republicans for this point in our history. They spent an estimated $100 million investigating Hillary Clinton across many years, and some of that time they had full control of the national government. And they came up with nothing. Zilch. Nada. They are incompetent at governing.

Republicans resort to high school pep rally histrionics, because they've got no actual facts to support their agenda. Remember when that previous man-baby interrupted the U.S. State Of The Union address to shout, "You lie!" at Obama? Yet Trump tells multiple lies daily, and Republicans make no effort whatsoever to rein him in. They're incompetent, and they run government like a high school popularity contest.

When we first started this project for the president’s first 100 days, he averaged 4.9 claims a day. Slowly, the average number of claims has been creeping up. Indeed, since we last updated this tally two months ago, the president has averaged about 9 claims a day.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2018/05/01/president-trump-has-made-3001-false-or-misleading-claims-so-far/

Trump is a terrible president who has corroded standards of decency in government. We still haven't seen his tax returns. I'm sure that he has interests in so many global corporations and foreign nations that few would ever believe he was serving the USA and its constitution. They've believed Trump up to now, but maybe those tax returns would just be "too much".

They should've known better. I didn't vote for Hillary Clinton (see: "Plutocrats" above; stop voting for them already!), but she really forecast the future well in regards to Trump. NATO, European Union, immigration, etc.

As one of the "rogue" U.S. Government twitter accounts puts it:

What's most harrowing to me is the depth of the treason. We're past just Trump & his campaign. We're talking about most of the GOP. PAC's. Billionaires. Private citizens. That is what is most alarming - how deep this goes, and how willing so many people were to conspire.
https://twitter.com/RogueSNRadvisor/status/1017816183653818368

When Mueller is done, I'm sure it'll cost more than just Trump's presidency. From his nominees to Congressional intentional unwillingness to see the truth, I'm sure much of the Republican establishment will lose its shine. Even the NRA is now being traced back to Russian money and influence, and it has resulted in one arrest already.

Everyone appointed by this sham of a president should be removed from office. Every policy he’s enacted should be repealed. And everyone complicit in his collusion with Russia to rig the election should be prosecuted - from Mitch McConnell to the NRA.
https://twitter.com/samswey/status/1018993453148131328

In the Republican party's appeal to old white people, they've lost the next generation.  This recent quote is from David Hogg, one of the high school students who survived a mass shooting event. (Does it really matter which one, when there are so many?)

We don’t need Democrats or Republicans to be elected we need fucking human beings that actually give a shit about kids dying. Elect human beings NOT career politicians.
https://twitter.com/davidhogg111/status/1017467580884312065
 
More and more people are reaching the conclusion that plutocracy must go.  I'm with them.  I have been since the Occupy movement and probably before.

2018 July 17 update: I see today that I was long on opinion and short on evidence.  A few hours later, Rachel Maddow did an excellent journalism show that pieced together many of the data points in this recent burst of outrage.  The first 5 minutes are mostly about Trump himself, but the next 20 minutes cover the Russia probe results, the NRA-associated Russian now in jail, and why it's obvious that many American citizens cooperated/colluded in this process.
https://youtu.be/ySZvUCFR4tk
mellowtigger: (Default)
I just came from a nice, quiet suburb back to the #WarzoneInMinneapolis.  It's crazy out there.  Be safe.

July 4th Independence Day holiday fireworks child in cage

The mid-term election is coming.  We can dehumanize without dislike, so remember that insight before dismissing criticisms about policies.  Racism makes it easier to identify inhumane policies, but the racism really isn't required.
mellowtigger: (Default)
I haven't posted in a while. Too busy/distracted/hectic/stressed.

I've been making slow progress on the fence around my house. It was delayed by winter, then it was delayed during our brief spring season while I tried to get some garden planted, and it's been delayed by our much-too-early Heat Advisory muggy weather.  We went from winter (blizzard with a foot of snow) to summer (heat index over 100F) in just a month. The garden has been better, but at least I got all of the grass removed from the front yard as intended. I can now mow the whole property on a single battery charge.

post hole for the fence, cut in concreteI don't want to admit how long it took me to get the first post hole dug this year. It needed to go where some sidewalk concrete was laid next to the house. I bought a battery circular saw (uses the same Ryobi battery as the lawnmower). I think it will work fine on wood, but it consumed power so quickly from the battery while cutting concrete that the battery shutdown. I was afraid I'd ruined it, but it just needed some time to cool off, then it started charging okay again.

So I went to the store and bought an electric circular saw. I made a little bit of progress that way, but I just couldn't cut deeply enough to break through the whole sidewalk. I used a small sledgehammer extensively, but I just couldn't get the bottom layer of the concrete to come up. Finally, I borrowed an impact drill to poke many holes along the edges of my target area. With even more sledgehammering, I finally removed all of the necessary sections of concrete. Lots of work in many hours over many weeks, and lots of sweat. For a tiny post hole.

But it needed to be done. About two weeks ago, I finally adopted a dog from the shelter. I wasn't really planning to do it that very moment, but he really seemed like such a nice dog. They didn't know much about his history. He came up through the "puppy pipeline" from an Arkansas shelter. He's 2 years old, 50 pounds, the shelter was calling him Dominion, and he's got one brown eye and one blue eye. That's all there is for backstory.

Dominic dog in boxers after neuter surgeryI renamed him to Dominic. He got his neuter surgery a few days before I adopted him, and it didn't go well. I asked them at the shelter to check him out 3 times before I adopted him. They just weren't as concerned as I was that the incision was opening up. He liked to splay his legs and drag his whole body across the floor, the grass, wherever he was. When I finally got him to the vet the next Monday, he agreed with me. I took him back to the shelter for follow-up surgery. It's gone much, much better. The incision looks healed to me, and now I'm starting to wonder if the stitches are supposed to come out on their own, or if it'll take a vet visit to remove them safely? The shelter surgery tech suggested that I put boxers on him to keep him from licking the incision and maybe helping protect from the dragging. It worked as well as you'd expect. (Translation: It didn't work.) My boxers fell off as soon as he stood up, but maybe it kept him from licking the wound a few times.

At the moment, I'm only concerned about his digestive health. He poops very infrequently, and I've seen blood in it once. The vet wants a stool sample, but they need it fresh, and Dominic doesn't cooperate by pooping during their service hours. It doesn't seem to bother him, and there's been no blood recently, so maybe he passed whatever obstruction he had. I'm not sure.

Dominic has been the perfect housepet... sort of. In two weeks, I've heard his bark only a time or two. He likes every human he meets, and he's submissive to every dog he meets. He got out of his "large size" dog harness repeatedly, so I went back to the store for a "medium size" harness. That's working out well for walks, but I still haven't let him loose in the back yard on a tether. We always go out together, which I'm beginning to find annoying. (I need to finish that fence, so he can amuse himself outdoors.) He loves going on walks to the local stormwater pond about a block away. He likes meeting the local kids and getting pet by them.

cat Hope hiding upstairs in cubby above the staircaseThe major issue is the cat. She has priority. As this document explains, dog stress can shorten a cat's lifespan. If it doesn't work between them, then the dog has to leave, no matter how perfect a housedog he might be.  If it comes to that, I'll just consider this experience to be a really expensive experiment.  Altogether (adoption, vet visits, kennel, accessories), I think I've spent $1000 that I needed for other things.  I hope it works out.

When Dominic and Hope first met, there were no theatrics from either of them. I thought that reaction was hopeful. It's been two weeks, though, and Hope essentially lives upstairs in isolation now. I moved her water, food, and litter up there on the first day when I realized she needed her own space. She has stepped twice of her own volition onto the ground floor where the dog and I were both on the couch. She immediately skulked back upstairs.

On the plus side, Hope has finally started using the little space above the stairway that I thought 2 years ago would make a great cat perch. I wish it was under better circumstances for her, though.

So, for now...
  • I have 7 more posts to cement for the fence, then I put up the gates. I've already placed so many fence sections that I can finally open the downstairs bathroom door again, barely. I don't have to trudge upstairs any more because of the fence storage in my kitchen!
  • The dog lives downstairs only. He goes into a kennel only when I'm gone to work, until he learns not to shred stuff when I'm gone. (He only does it when I'm gone.)
  • The cat lives upstairs only. She sleeps with me, and she snuggles this year even during the hot weather, benefiting from the reassurance that she's still with her human.
I'll give it a few more weeks, but there must be peace in the house, or the dog must go. Not his fault at this point, but the cat's needs take priority. She was here first and must not suffer on my account.
mellowtigger: (changed priorities)
I finally did my taxes yesterday, so it's time for a review of 2017.

My 2016 tax return shows total tax of $2,384 (line 39, form 1040A) with gross wages of $30.5K.
My 2017 tax return shows total tax of $3,048 (line 12, form 1040EZ) with gross wages of $33.8K. My taxes went up at a higher rate (not absolute dollars, but rate) than my income.

credit score details 2017I used Turbo Tax for both of them. I don't know why it submitted the EZ form this year. Yes, I entered the home mortgage information from the Form1098 from the bank. I trust TurboTax to know what they're doing. At least I still get a nice refund, because I always have my employer withhold a lot from my paycheck. I'd much rather overpay and get a refund than suddenly owe any money.

The more interesting results came from a new offer from TurboTax. They'll import my information and show me my credit score details. It seemed free, so I did it out of curiosity.  They noted that my credit score of 720 was "Pretty Good" (who cares?) and my Debt-to-Income ratio of 14% was "Awesome" (I agree). They also noted that most people my age have a credit score of 716.

I'm not a fan of the whole credit score industry, and it's easy to tell why when I look at the details of my score.
  • On-time payments does seem important.
  • Credit utilization maybe is important.
  • Average age of credit maybe is relevant. Mine shows 2+ years because that's the age of my mortgage, and it's the only debt that I have.
  • Total accounts is hogwash. It lists 2 credit cards that have both been closed down for years, so they'll "roll off" eventually. They think that having few debt accounts is a bad thing.
  • Derogatory marks does seem important.
  • Credit inquiries is hogwash. Why would not having inquiries be a good thing? It means that the industry is not using your product.
The things that I most value in "living the poor life", namely NOT having any debt, is scored poorly by the credit industry. The formula is rigged to favor the frequently indebted. I disapprove.

I'm still doing better than most people in the USA.  The economics out there are still bad. The most common measures (like GDP) tend to say that things are good, which is why I continue to promote better measures of economic well-being like GINI.
I plan to ditch my car at the next major repair.  I did some math, and I can use public transit in Minneapolis for about the same (barely less) than the cost of gasoline and car insurance.  Add any maintenance/repairs at all, and having a car is more expensive.  I can use that money elsewhere, so I'll try doing without a car soon.  Other people here do it, especially where I work, so I know it's a valid option.  I even have a veterinarian within walking distance, so I could carry a very unhappy cat through the winter weather on a long walk, if necessary.  I'll also try to eat more Soylent for breakfast this year instead of frozen meals (or fast food) before work.  That'll mean some more money saved.

Being poor in the USA wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the nightmare of our medical system.  That's the only piece that I can't really plan for, and when I try, then it's plainly far beyond my price range.

P.S. 2018 April 11 Wednesday: Trump's tax cuts are everything they were expected to be, so my tax payments will only get higher in following years.  "The analysis also found that companies spent 37 times as much on stock buybacks than they did on bonuses and increased wages for workers." and "In fact, this [analysis shows] that 433 corporations out of the Fortune 500 have announced no plans to share their tax cuts with employees." and of course "... the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that the Republican tax plan led to, in part, a 2018 deficit $242 billion higher than previously estimated."  On top of all that, the government itself expects this Republican tax plan to cause deficits reaching 100% of GDP in 10 years.  Notice on that chart in which years the deficit flattens (Obama 2009-2017) and in which years the deficit turns upwards (Bush "W" 2001-2009, Trump 2017-2020? 2024?).

P.P.S. 2018 April 13 Friday: Evictions are high, with 4 filed every minute in 2016. "So between 1995 and today, median asking rents have increased by 70 percent, adjusting for inflation."  I keep saying it, but the economy is bad out there.  I'm poor, but I'm doing better than most of the USA.
mellowtigger: (penguin coder)
Even while my computer was still a few years old, I told myself (back in 2012) that I would get a whole new system when the Star Citizen game finally was released for play. It's 2018, Star Citizen still isn't here (but getting close). It is far past time to update my computer. Many organizations amortize their computer systems at 3 year lifespans, but I've had mine since 2010 according to my NewEgg purchase history.

As before, I'm still committed to avoiding high-energy-consumption computing. That temptation is a big one because gaming rigs can draw huge amounts of electricity. Since 2010, however, I have switched to Linux Mint as my exclusive operating system. There's no need to pay Microsoft, and frankly Windows 10 has turned into an advertising platform instead of an operating system. Linux Mint is better, and it's free. I'm also interested this time in maybe trying out a very-low-profile system. Maybe even one small enough to fit under the 4.5" bar on my computer desk that supports the monitors. I wish more cases supported USB C connectors, but that option still seems a very rare feature.

I was surprised to find a case that might be able to do it. Then it's a matter of finding a good graphics card that fits within the size limitations of the case. I think I've got a combination:

case$74.99$83.29 Silverstone ML-08
MiniITX size; 330mm x 140mm graphics; 2.5" drive; STX power
graphics $898.99$599.99GeForce GTX 1080267mm x 112mm; "blower" form for air flow; needs 500W power supply
motherboard $244.99$193.01 Asus Strix X370-IMiniITX size; AM4 socket
cpu $299.99$189.99AMD Ryzen 7 1700AM4 socket; 65W power (vs 95W for the 1700X)
heat sink$39.89$39.69Silverstone AR06recommended for this low-profile case
memory $216.99$154.99G.Skill TridentZDDR4 3200; 16GB
hard drive $289.99$265.00WD Blue 1TB SSD2.5" drive
power supply $124.99$132.25 Silverstone SX 600-GSTX power; 600W; recommended for this low-profile case

So, $2190.82 for a completely new system, good for gaming yet small and power efficient. Not quite the kind of huge workhorse that I typically buy to last me many years at a time. Desktop technology, however, has stagnated in recent years, so maybe this setup is good enough to last for another long cycle of 8 years between upgrades. At $275/year for that 8 year period, it's not a bad deal. But... does it have the power to deliver a great high-end gaming experience, with the new games (Star Citizen) that will arrive while needing lots of hardware?

That's the question. If it does, then I can always buy these parts slowly as they come down in price, finally delivering the complete pc setup later this year.  After all, graphics cards are still quite overpriced because of cryptocurrency mining, but that effect should finally wane this year.

Anyway, I'm officially posting this configuration, so I have something for me and others to review over time.
mellowtigger: (Pride)
Another month, another impressive movie from Hollywood involving gay themes.  This time, it's specifically about the coming out experience in high school.  Unlike what you'd expect, though, it seems broadly popular because it focuses on the entire spectrum of "high school and teenage years are difficult" angst.  There's a learning curve in those years, regardless of circumstances in life.

Love, Simon movie poster 2018I knew that "Love, Simon" was a drama, so I didn't really have high expectations on my way to the theater.  Drama is typically low on my list of favorite types of movies.  But I bought my ticket (at a regular megaplex) about 15 minutes early, and the whole theater was nearly sold out.  On Tuesday evening at 7pm, there were only 5 seats left.   Wow, I'm impressed that it's still that popular even after the opening weekend.

"Love, Simon" evolves through the online messages that two high school teens write to each other anonymously as they try to navigate their separate coming out experiences.  The movie takes its title from his signature of their last online message, where Simon publicly signs his name to his unknown penpal, for all the world to see.  Neither student knows much about the other, beyond the fact that they attend the same school.  The first 1/4 of the movie was typical drama fare.  I think.  I don't know because I blanked out on the social introductions since I don't really have much interest in that stuff.  But later on, the movie really gets interesting.

My favorite character is probably the theater instructor.  She isn't happy that her acting career has landed her in high school education, and she's not afraid to let everybody know her displeasure.  She tolerates no nonsense, and her attitude generates some of the best lines in the movie.  She not afraid to call out bad talent, and she's not afraid to confront bullies, and if she has to spend her life in high school, then she's not going to sit quietly in a corner and watch life go by.

Back to Simon, though.  He gets blackmailed early on when someone finds out his secret.  In payment for keeping his secret hidden, Simon has to behave unethically throughout the movie by manipulating his friends to suit the blackmailer's purpose.  It's not a good situation for anyone, and the movie makes that interpretation plain.  Simon does have to pay the price of his own wrong behavior even while the movie shows the audience so clearly how unfair it is for anyone to have to "come out" and face life as a minority different from friends and family.

It's a good film, scoring 92% among both critics and audiences.  It's been such a powerful motivator that some people involved in the film have come out to their own families and the public at large.  One gay actor not in the movie even bought a theater night to give free movie seats to his hometown in Spring, Texas (near Houston, not Big Spring in West Texas where parts of my family were from), because he was so impressed by the story.

So... I think it's a good film.  Not my favorite style, because it's so clearly a social story, but it's definitely popular for good reason.  It's a "family friendly" show too, which makes a difference.  It's one that actual students could watch.  I think it's a good film for teenagers, since it's easy to relate to the high school social angst.  The adults are simultaneously cartoonish and believable, which is very entertaining.  That's a hard balance to achieve, but "Love, Simon" does it well.

Well worth the price of admission.
mellowtigger: (people not profits)
Today's theme song is a decade old but newly relevant. It's so interesting because it has two separate (and opposing) interpretations: the surface one, and the deeper meaning.

The Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice tells us about a man who descends to the underworld to retrieve the woman he loves. Orpheus has a gift of song, and he sings to Hades (lord of the underworld) and moves him to release the spirit of Eurydice, so they may travel together back to the world of the living.

Songwriter Anais Mitchell has translated this ancient story into a modern "folk opera" named Hadestown. It is set in New Orleans during the Depression and influenced by American music styles like Dixieland, jazz, country, and folk. In the underworld, Hades builds a city safe from the pain and suffering that's found in the living world. In the album's 9th song, Hades asks his workers why they labor in his factory. On the surface this question-and-answer series seems so logical. Listen to the progression of the argument for their effort, as each question builds upon the last to form a coherent whole.



What is their argument?

Hades on his throne in the underworldHADES
Why do we build the wall, my children, my children? Why do we build the wall?
SPIRITS
Why do we build the wall? We build the wall to keep us free.
That's why we build the wall; We build the wall to keep us free.
HADES
How does the wall keep us free (...)
Who do we call the enemy (...)
Because we have and they have not (...)

HADES
What do we have that they should want, my children, my children? What do we have that they should want?
SPIRITS
What do we have that they should want?
We have a wall to work upon! We have work and they have none,
And our work is never done, My children, my children, And the war is never won.
The enemy is poverty, and the wall keeps out the enemy, and we build the wall to keep us free.
That's why we build the wall. We build the wall to keep us free.
We build the wall to keep us free.

But the hidden meaning of this effort is obvious: it's an industrialized fear that only dead souls could embrace. Only spirits devoid of compassion and hope could turn their backs on the suffering of those weak creatures who still live. Given those awful disabilities, the logic of Hades is infallible, and the construction of Hadestown seems inevitable. The wall will keep us free to enjoy our superficial prosperity.

This song is a decade old, yet it has found new relevance because of Trump, his iconic wall, and the fear politics of Republicans. Someone even made an edit of this song to clearly present this interpretation, cutting between live performance of this opera to video clips of famous walls, quotes from U.S. presidents (Reagan, Obama, and Trump), and the real-world suffering that spurs the fearful to build walls.

So today's song is a reminder that everything and everyone is connected, and when we choose to keep those who suffer away from our good fortune, we lose the very hope (a future-oriented exercise) that made our peace meaningful.  I made a conscious decision long ago to walk away from the wealth treadmill, so I could embrace a life of relative simplicity.  I've found its challenges far more meaningful than the ones I faced earlier.  That choice has kept me more aware of the hardships faced by the majority of people in this world.  I do not regret the decision.  I'm not especially fond of humans, but I do understand the struggle of facing circumstances that seem beyond our individual control.  That's why I've spent nearly 1/4 of my life in efforts for animals, nature, and minorities.

The consequence of building walls seems obvious.  Rest is necessary and desirable, but only the dead can rejoice in its permanence.  The living must commit to the exercise of compassion, for as long as life persists and future beckons.

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