mellowtigger: (coprolite)
I decided to attend the Democrat-Farmer-Labor (DFL) caucus... and I almost immediately ditched.

I signed in for my nametag. I picked up my copy of the community resolutions to be voted on.  (They didn't have any pens available to fill it out, though.)  I picked up the caucus handbook, and I flipped pages until I found the day's schedule. It seemed that I wasn't actually needed to act on anything until the afternoon, so the day would be spent on procedural issues. I then walked out the door and escaped toward downtown Minneapolis. I didn't even join their free breakfast.

I think I can now stop calling myself any variety of Democrat. Clearly, I am an independent voter who is willing to let the Democrats (as a party) govern themselves. I'll avoid their caucuses in the future so I don't get wrapped up in their process. If their party wants my individual vote in November, then they'll just have to figure out for themselves which candidate can win my approval in the general election. (Hint: It isn't Hillary Clinton.)

The Minneapolis Community Conference was worth abandoning my role in the DFL caucus. I received lots of information to ponder, and I see plenty of opportunities for involvement in the future.
mellowtigger: (liberal frustration)
I'm double-booked for all day April 2 Saturday, and I can't decide which event should take precedence.
  1. I signed up as an alternate delegate at the Democrat-Farmer-Labor (DFL) caucus several weeks ago. Apparently some people were at the wrong location, though, and now I'm a regular delegate. It's important to me that Bernie Sanders gets the delegate votes from Minnesota. It's not actually decided yet, regardless of the preference poll results from a while back. In theory, the delegates vote to match the public opinion, but none of us signed anything to agree to do so. I want Bernie counted.

    Also being decided at this caucus is the DFL candidate for state representative district 59A. On Saturday, Fue Lee came to my front door. He was also at the DFL caucus a few weeks ago. He wins points for being active in the community. Later that same day, I got a phone call from our current representative. I had to look up the name just now; I didn't know it, since I'm new here. Joe Mullery seemed very knowledgeable about local programs and politics. I'm not sure who I'd vote for, but I think I'm leaning toward Fue Lee for his local participation, and it'd be nice to see representation of the Hmong presence here in my neighborhood.
  2. More recently, I signed up to attend the Minneapolis Community Conference. It's sort of a brainstorm session for the vision of what Minneapolis can become in the future. I want very much to attend this event. I'm trying to find some justification for ditching the DFL and go to this conference instead. Would Bernie Sanders understand and approve if I didn't give him my delegate vote in favor of local community involvement? Would Fue Lee (if that's my choice) still win the nomination for the November election ballot? Argh! I want to attend this conference, but I'm just not finding the justification. :(
It's also nearly time to start gardening here. I dug some sharp prickly weeds from the yard today (after getting more old branches and leaves into paper bags for pickup). The ground was soft, and I didn't strike ice with the shovel. I think I'll have to put seeds in starter pots next weekend in preparation for planting season here in Minnesota.

Just to put the question out there, does anyone have experience with throwing wood ashes (from a fire pit) into a garden? Good? Bad? I'm pondering what to do with all the limbs and leaves I collect from the trees already in the back yard. I don't want to buy (or haul/rent) a wood chipper, so I need to find something better to do than bag them for garbage yard waste collection. Any ideas?
mellowtigger: (all i have)
Peace For Paris by Jean Jullien #PeaceForParisIt's probably a disservice to the songwriters to connect their nice song with recent events in Paris, but my mind has already done it.

By now, you've probably heard that DAESH has accepted responsibility for the mass murders in Paris. You might not know that the Arabic name "al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham" was previously shortened to names likes ISIS and ISIL. We should be calling this group by the abbreviation now given to it by French officials, DAESH. This new name can be construed to also mean things like "to trample down and crush” or “a bigot who imposes his view on others.” It seems appropriate, so let's call them DAESH.

Paris, France, and the empathetic world obviously need a moment to collect their thoughts. People worldwide are probably doing the same thing that I did: contacting people they know in France to confirm they are alright. I've mentioned before that I once dated a foreigner. I didn't mention that he was French. I confirmed last night that he is unharmed and not in Paris.

After that immediate confirmation, there will probably be a lot of reassuring hugs passed around social circles. And that's where we get to this song that I mentioned.
Something happens when I hold her
She keeps my heart from getting older
When the days get short and the nights get a little bit colder
We hold each other
We hold each other
We hold each other, mmm

Something happens when I hold him
He keeps my heart from getting broken
When the days get short and the nights get a little bit frozen
We hold each other
We hold each other
We hold each other, mmm

People judged us they couldn't see the connection
When I look at you, it's like I'm looking back at my reflection
I don't see nothing different, our pigments they coincide
We hold each other so tight they couldn't break us if they tried
My eyes are those of the blind, I see no color or size
I feel the love in your touch and I trust what's inside your mind
A little reassurance, a little comfort... it's probably a good thing now for the many who were affected directly or indirectly by the attack in Paris.

Of course, this song was special in its own right, because the straight and gay performers each kept their pronouns correct in their lyrics. That bravery is rare. They demonstrated a recognition of their common experience and humanity, which lends itself to thoughts of this weekend's aftermath.

It is also a sentiment likely to continue annoying bigots worldwide, especially the likes of those who committed these recent atrocities. I must admit to feeling some smug and unhelpful satisfaction in the apoplexy that loving compassion can provoke in some hateful minds. How broken and injured someone already must be for them to experience additional pain in others' loving compassion.

So... hold each other, and find what relief that you can. The world wants to help, if only we knew concrete actions that we could take.  Meanwhile, I'll continue singing along... "When the days get short and the nights get a little bit frozen, we hold each other."

mellowtigger: (we can do it)
Today, the big news is that the Supreme Court of the USA has ruled that all states must allow and recognize same-sex marriage.

The truth in history is often very nuanced, requiring long explanation to convey information accurately. Occasionally, however, something meaningful and whole can be captured in an image, allowing the details of metaphors to unfold in the mind like a well written haiku. Sometimes pictures are better than words.

changing of flags from confederate to rainbowchanging of flags from confederate to rainbowUncle Sam changes flag from confederate to rainbow
changing of flags from confederate to rainbow

Justice kissing LibertyLiberty kissing Justice
Bert and Ernie watching television supreme court
Dukes of Hazzard car with rainbow flag

Not to get all wordy now and defeat my earlier point, but there are two things worth noting about today's court ruling.  First, all of the women (plus two men) decided for the government to enforce equal treatment under the law for its citizens, and the naysayers were all men.  Second, one of the naysayers is himself now in an interracial marriage that was once illegal.  Curiosities to ponder.

supreme court justices on marriage equality ruling

People everywhere are celebrating, everyone is sharing the news, media sites are flooding with images and stories, and even YouTube itself has something to say with a collection of videos plus their brief commentary.  I was intending to skip the Pride festival this weekend.  I am reconsidering my decision, however, after today's good-mood news.  #LoveWins  #LoveIsLove
mellowtigger: (Daria)
We can't have nice things in the USA.  I wish I lived somewhere civilized that had a single-payer health care system that "collects all medical fees, then pays for all services, through a 'single' government (or government-related) source."  But, no.  Instead, we have a convoluted bureaucratic nightmare that is ripe for exploitation.

I had sinus surgery back in January.  It's public knowledge, since I blogged about it.  Many bills arrived later.  I paid all of them except for one curious letter that arrived from people I didn't know and a place I didn't know, wanting money.  There was no  privileged information in that letter, so I treated it like I do all spam email that I receive: I trashed it.

Months later, a bill collection agency tries to collect.  Once again, they say a person I don't know wants money, but nobody can offer any definitive information to help me confirm their authenticity.  Again, I refuse to pay, but at least this time I'm willing to put some effort into an investigation of the claim.

It required 2 calls to my surgeon's office, 2 calls to my insurance provider, and 2 visits to the hospital, but I finally got a claim number that I could verify.  Here's the trail of shame for the rickety medical billing system currently in use:
  • My surgeon's office had no contact information for the anesthesiologist.  How did they arrange for him to show up at my surgery?  Who knows?
  • My first call to my insurance provider (Aetna) offered only one name for anesthesiology, but it wasn't the doctor's name; it was a nurse's.
  • My hospital does include a listing for the doctor (Mark Lantz), but the information is all wrong.
  • The listed phone number (763-520-5370) is "disconnected or no longer in service".
  • It includes a webpage (, but it's also useless.  The webpage offers no contact information for the doctor.
  • The webpage includes its own email contact (, but the email bounces.
  • The webpage includes a brick-and-mortar address at the hospital itself, but the information desk at the hospital knows nothing about the group.
So, somebody wants money from me, but it is...
  1. somebody with no phone contact,
  2. somebody with no email contact, and
  3. somebody with no viable street address.
Once again, I feel perfectly justified in treating this demand for money as an unlawful attempt to wrangle money from my pocket.  This complete lack of verifiable accountability is why internet email is so filled with spam.  An unscrupulous person could easily get rich by getting a virus onto a computer for a hospital or billing service.  They can start writing paper letters to people they learn have had medical procedures done.  People will willingly write them checks for no good reason.  It's terrible.

On my first visit back to the hospital (their customer service was great!), I was able to get printouts for the anesthesiologist report and the billing report.  At least I could verify the doctor's name, but nothing provided any trail to verify the claim against me.  On my second visit back to the hospital (again, their customer service was great!) a billing person was able to connect me by phone to the doctor's billing person.  Finally, at long last, I had a reliable trail of contact to someone with knowledge of this bill.  I got a claim ticket number that they had filed with my insurance provider.

I called my insurance provider again, and this time they were able follow that claim number and give me confirmation of this bill.  I called back the bill collector and gave them my bank routing information so they could file an electronic draft immediately.  I still don't know anything about the bill collector other than the phone number (651-287-6137), but I'm tired of investigating and just want this mess to end.  Afterwards, I was so stressed out and drained from this escapade that I went to bed and slept 6pm-1am.

This is the healthcare system that we have in the USA.  It's awful.  And I'm sick again, this time with something new that's affecting my throat.  Happy, happy, joy, joy.
mellowtigger: (changed priorities)
I'm feeling hopeful that the USA can address its climate, economy, infrastructure, healthcare, and especially its democracy (not an oligarchy).

So many people RSVPd that organizers had to move the event to a larger venue. It still wasn't large enough. I got there just a few minutes early, but thousands and thousands of people were streaming for several city blocks in each direction waiting to get inside. We didn't all fit. I got to see inside only via this tweet on the right from Bernie Sanders. 

My thoughts when I first arrived were interesting. They occurred to me in this order:
  1. Wow, this is a lot of people.  I'm not going to get an indoor seat.
  2. This location is ideologically appropriate. It's at the Minneapolis American Indian Center, across the street from the Community University healthcare (where I went for dental work 4 years ago), at a metro bus stop.
  3. This early crowd is quite old-and-white. 
  4. Minnesota is an awesome state.  How unusual that this older crowd would be so enthusiastic for a democratic socialist.  I picked a good place to move nearly 20 years ago.
As I walked block after block to find the end of the western line (another line trailed eastward), the crowd grew progressively younger, and I saw a few non-white faces too.  The doors soon opened, and the lines moved quickly as the indoor area filled up. The lines moved even faster when the only remaining space available was outdoors in the stadium area.  The staff had loudspeakers available, so we could still hear Bernie speak.  Here's my pan of the outdoors crowd, or as well as I can get with an old, cheap, basic cell phone.  Bernie's tweeted pan video is better quality.


I hung around for an hour outside before I decided that I had my fill of both crowds and standing. (My leg will never be back to normal after the injury and blood clot 2 years ago.)  I went back home to complete this post before driving to Nebraska for a week-long conference for work.

My current choices (in this order) for presidential candidate are listed below.  I reserve the right to change my mind up until the election.  If Bernie doesn't win the Democrat Party nomination, then my options shift to third parties.  Bernie was determined to avoid throwing the election by running as a third-party candidate himself, but I'd rather vote my conscience than vote for oligarchy.
I stated long ago that I won't be voting for Hillary, even if she gets her party's nomination. She'll need to be filling sports stadiums if she has any hope of defeating Bernie Sanders in the Democrat Party's primary.  If for some odd reason she wins (I'm convinced Bernie has a good chance at winning both the nomination and the presidency), then probably I'll be voting either Green or Transhumanist.

#BernieSanders #Sanders2016 #Election2016
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
I attended the Black Lives Matter protest in Minneapolis yesterday.  It was the most convenient political activity that I've ever joined.  My employer's building closed early that day since the protest was happening across the street from the front door at the Gold Medal Park.  All I had to do was walk outside and join the event.  It couldn't be any easier.

Here are photos and brief video clips that I took. The crowd grew to about 1,000.  I can vouch for that many, at least, although I saw one news report that guessed as high as 1,500. What did not appear in any of the news accounts, though, is the observation that it was a very pale crowd. I think it was about 85% caucasian. The minority clearly has the support of the majority here, which should be encouraging for all of us who expect improvements to be made.  Unfortunately, I didn't know the schedule and had another event to attend, so I left apparently just minutes before they started marching.  I missed the main event.  Oops.

extra security at my work buildingpark's sign with early crowdpark's sign with tv crews assemblingpolice surveillance camerapolice unmarked vehiclesposter easy to hold up smart supportsposter from lady in wheelchairpostersposter at bus stop downtown Minneapolis

Here is a series of shots that show how the crowd grew over time.

time 5:05pmtime 5:33pmtime 5:38pmtime 5:45pmtime 5:52pmtime 5:54pmtime 5:56pmtime 6:03pmtime 6:07pm

I don't pretend to be good at video either, but here are two pans of the crowd that I took.
crowd chanting at 5:48pm (avi, 111 MB)  "No justice, no peace, prosecute the police"
crowd at 6:09pm (avi, 37MB)

I was featured in cameo for several seconds during the 6pm CBS news from local tv station WCCO. You can watch the video here.

I'll write soon about the issues at hand. I land solidly in the "we can do better" camp, but I have a lot of evidence to offer and thoughts to consider. I need more time to organize my thinking. I'll try to be concise. :)

mellowtigger: (Green Lantern)
I'm a happy camper.  I voted today, and in only 2 cases did I vote for either of "the big two" political parties.

We're so lucky here in Minnesota to having a thriving democratic process where lots of different political parties appear. I looked into the candidates for each race and selected my favorite based on their positions.  Apparently, I like the Independence Party here in Minnesota (who gave us Jesse Ventura as governor many years ago), because that's who the majority of my candidates were representing.  Who knew?

The Independence Party got 4 of my votes.  They were offering interesting candidates for state offices: Hannah Nicollet (for Governor), Bob Helland (Secretary of State), Patrick Dean (Auditor), and Brandan Borgos (Attorney General).  Their party got my votes for all of Minnesota's "big offices" that were up for election this term.

The Democratic Party got 2 of my votes.  One is for Keith Ellison for U.S. Representative.  I'm a progressive (which the Democratic Party isn't), but Keith has always been on the right side of every voting issue that's been important to me.  He also happens to be Muslim, which I keep hoping will shame those feed-and-clothe-the-poor-Christians into voting for candidates that actually work to feed and clothe the poor... but I keep being disappointed by them instead.  I also voted for Carolyn Laine for my Representative in the state congress.  There was only one third-party candidate, but Tim Utz was a scarier proposition than either of the big two party candidates.

The Libertarian Party got 1 of my votes.  We have Al Franken as the incumbent Democratic candidate, but he voted on the wrong side of the SOPA/PIPA issue 2 years ago, so I was determined to vote against him.  I'm not really a fan of the Libertarians, but the only alternatives were either a Republican or a former Tea Party Republican.  So a vote for Heather Johnson it became, since she was the least bothersome of the 4 choices.

I voted for a new city mayor here in Columbia Heights.  I liked the stated positions of Chris Beskar better than the incumbent.  We don't have political party affiliations for any of our city offices, I think.

For all of the contested county Judge seats, the challengers were all scary people so I voted for the incumbent for each of the races.  The other judges (7 in the Court of Appeals and 17 in the 10th District Court) were all uncontested races, so I voted for the only name available for each seat.  It's sad too that so many county offices were uncontested: Commissioner District 4, Sheriff, Attorney, and Soil & Water Conservation District Supervisor District 4).

Maybe I should consider taking up a political career for the next election?  I care about politicians actually serving the interests of the people.  I can't see myself doing a worse job than anyone else on the ticket.  Except maybe Keith Ellison.  I think he's a good politician.  He actually gets involved in the community throughout the years, not just during an election cycle.  I haven't seen the like since Ann Richards was governor of Texas.

I hope you voted.  And, like me, I hope you found many candidates you could support who were not from "the big two" parties.  I am happy with my vote this year.


Oct. 17th, 2014 04:47 pm
mellowtigger: (the more you know)
Don't panic! There, I said it. The only thing that surprised me about this ebola kerfuffle is that it started in Dallas instead of someplace like Minneapolis.

Ebola is a virus named after the Ebola River, near where the virus was first identified in Africa. The greatest number of known infections is currently found in Liberia. The United States has several regions of numerous Liberian immigrants, such as Rhode Island, New York, and Minnesota (and most of those Minnesotans are in the north metro where I live)... but Texas is not among them. So it's curious that Thomas Eric Duncan arrived in Texas on a plane flight from
Liberia, bringing the virus to Dallas on September 20th. It's bucking the statistical odds, but Texas is where he happened to have family.

Ebola is not spread easily. It's even less contagious than HIV when we measure its contagion mathematically. You must have direct contact with bodily fluids. It happens, however, that ebola causes a person to produce copious quantities of bodily fluids. Infected patients endure projectile vomiting and intense diarrhea. Ebola was originally named a hemorrhagic fever because some patients also developed bleeding, but only about 10% show this symptom. It has been renamed because now we know that it is the intense dehydration that leads to organ failure and death.

So what do you do? It's simple; don't panic.
  • this particular outbreak in contextRemember, HIV is more communicable than Ebola. I dated an HIV+ man for 1.5 years without ever contracting HIV myself. You're not in a tizzy about AIDS killing everyone in your neighborhood next month. Find your calm.

  • Remember, you must have direct contact with bodily fluids. Only the nurses who cleaned up after Thomas Duncan have become ill, and we know that they lacked proper protective gear and habits. The man himself was apparently infected after helping to carry an infected neighbor from home to hospital (where they were turned away due to overcrowding) and back to home again. The Dallas man was vomiting at home but none of his family or neighbors are ill after the hazmat team cleaned the vomit, and they are nearing the end of their 21-day incubation period. Find your calm.

  • Remember, ebola is not airborne like the flu. People in direct contact with bodily fluids contaminated by ebola should exercise great caution, but simply being near an infected person is not a risk factor. "Clipboard man" was not in contact with the patient or within range of a sudden projectile vomit, so he had no reason to fear infection. Ebola is not like the flu; it is not airborne, and little of the virus is found in saliva. Find your calm.
This outbreak had the great misfortune of happening during "Stupid Season" here in the United States, which is the time before a national election in November. So reactions on both sides have been politicized for potential gain.

I think there is actually a strong political component to be found, but I'm much more interested in trying to observe that effect impartially. In the realm of politics, we're learning a lot about the social psychology of our political outlook. One of the more interesting discoveries is that conservatives experience "disgust" more intensely than liberals. Revulsion itself is an innate response. We're genetically programmed to experience it, and humans are typically revolted by things like bodily fluids, wounds, rot, maggots, and sick people. It's fascinating that some people experience it more intensely than others, and it's even more fascinating that these people with similar reactions gather into similar political groups. Ebola wraps up nicely the revulsion experience into a single package. It also includes foreigners, another point in which conservatives experience greater discomfort.

I doubt that anyone had intended to portray the prejudices of their political life, but this scenario has really brought to light some great examples nevertheless. Both sides are behaving stereotypically.

Conservatives react with revulsion (remember that intense inner experience) by proposing ideas like:

Liberals react slightly less emotionally (remember that weaker inner disgust) by doing things like:

  • calling for more action at the source of the outbreak (on foreign soil),
  • appointing a figurehead to bypass regulatory constraints and act quickly,
  • mocking past efforts to oppose universal health care, and
  • even hugging and kissing nurses when necessary to remind the public of routine daily life when you're not in the throes of an emotional panic response.

If you must indulge your paranoia, then I suggest purchasing simple paper surgical masks to cover your nose and mouth. It will remind you against touching your face, so you'll wash germs from your hands before introducing them to your body. Just follow simple cold/flu protocol in general, and we'll all be happier and healthier for it.

If you overcome the pre-programmed urge to run away from your revulsion, then you might even find the motivation to head towards the source of your fear and help others.
mellowtigger: (we can do it)
St. Anthony bridgeI haven't driven my car over this St. Anthony bridge in 2.5 years. I mentioned in 2011 September that it was in bad shape, then weeks later I discovered that city transit buses were prohibited from driving over it. This week when I tried to bicycle for the first time in a year, I noticed that the bicycle/pedestrian trail is also closed. So, buses and bicycles are bad, but cars... sure, go right ahead. No thanks. I'll maintain my boycott.

We did get one new bridge (re-)opened during the past year, and I use it frequently instead of the less convenient alternatives. I still wish this nearby St. Anthony bridge was repaired and safe.  Overall, one in ten bridges in the USA are in "urgent need of repair". The American Society of Civil Engineers has completed another report card of our national infrastructure. They still give us a failing grade, although the 2013 score is up slightly from 2009, now a D+ instead of just a D.

"The 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gives an overall grade of D+ across 16 categories, up just slightly from the D given in ASCE’s 2009 Report Card. Six infrastructure sectors benefited from either an increase in private investment, targeted efforts in cities and states to make upgrades or repairs, or from a one-time boost in federal funding.

Notably, this marks the first time the grades have improved since the American Society of Civil Engineers first graded the condition of America’s infrastructure in 1998. However, a D+ grade is still not acceptable."

Here's an update of the table that I posted back in 2011.

Drinking WaterDD-D-DDB-
Hazardous WasteDDDD+D-D
Inland WaterwaysD-D-D-D+ii
Public Parks and RecreationC-C-C-iii
Solid WasteB-C+C+C+C-C-
estimated 5-year cost (7-year for 2013)$3.6 trillion$2.2 trillion$1.6 trillion$1.3 trillionii

I'm still disappointed that Obama didn't resurrect the Civilian Conservation Corps or some new equivalent, that Congress won't tax the super-rich to support the society that they depend upon as much as the rest of us, and that Congress still favors the exploitation of our resources by corporations rather than investment in our shared development for a sustainable future.

And so we continue our stalled society. The USA's disappearing middle class is now affecting big business, and Canada's middle class has officially surpassed ours. Because somebody (I'm looking primarily at Republicans) won't allow us to tax the biggest benefactors of our society in order to continue developing our society.
mellowtigger: (changed priorities)
I should get this item out of the way now, so I can deal with more important political issues when the election is actually at hand.

The word today is that David Petraeus has essentially endorsed Hillary Clinton for president.  I don't have any particular problem with Hillary Clinton's politics. I think she's an intelligent woman. I think she has performed well as Secretary Of State. (I include her response to Benghazi, which did not represent what Republicans claimed.)  My problem with her possible candidacy is that she's the spouse of a former president.

I'm sick of dynasties.  It's that simple.  I agree with Barbara Bush on this topic, except that she doesn't go far enough.  She thinks it's acceptable that proximity grants privilege, but we should appear respectable by sharing privilege among more of the ruling class.  I think that mindset is exactly the problem here.  We're supposed to have a democracy instead of a plutocracy.  I will not vote for another Clinton.  Or another Bush, or another Obama, or another Kennedy.

I'd like to see Elizabeth Warren run for president someday.  I'd certainly vote for her.  Until then, I'll keep investigating third party candidates.
mellowtigger: (people not profits)
Rich CongressmenI was at Taco Bell this week when an old, short, skinny, white woman took my order. Afterwards, she spoke to an elderly couple after me, and she told them, "I just had pneumonia... again. With my diabetes."

I wish the media could make better progress in dispelling the myth of America's minimum-wage workers as teenagers slumming until they get a "real" job. These service jobs are what's available. They are real, but they do not pay well. I pondered this elderly woman, and I felt some sort of slow-burning anger that "Amurrika!" keeps sinking lower.

You already know how I feel about it. I argued two years ago about how bad things are for everyday Americans and how fixing income inequality (either raising minimum wage or taxing high incomes) has already been shown to improve outcomes for everyone across the spectrum.

We can't fix this problem, though, because our society still operates as if it believes trickle-down economics is a real effect. It isn't. Any child who's played the game Monopoly would know better. What happens when you play the game properly and all the money gathers on one side of the board? The game ends; that's what happens. The only way to continue playing is to redistribute that money in a perpetual pattern of excess and poverty.  When an economy functions in a way that money flows only one direction and never back around again, then only one outcome is possible.

But this is real life, not a game. Income inequality has consequences only hinted at by Monopoly. Most Americans (80% for crying out loud!) live on the edge of economic disaster. I was there last year: broke, without easy access to health care, without a vehicle, yet still employed. I'm doing much better now only because of a new job.

Four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream. Survey data exclusive to The Associated Press points to an increasingly globalized U.S. economy, the widening gap between rich and poor, and the loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs as reasons for the trend.CBS News

It's even worse in the GLBT community, consistent with my unofficial observations at the few public events I still attend.  Too many people are too poor to "go out", it seems.

“As poverty rates for nearly all population increased during the recession, lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans remained more likely to be poor than heterosexual people. Gender, race, education and geography all influence poverty rates among LGBT population, and children of same-sex couples are particularly vulnerable to poverty,” according to a June 2013 report from the Williams Institute, a UCLA think tank on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy. - Washington Blade

Something has to change.  It really, really has to change.  I'm doing better financially now at this single moment than... well, possibly any time of my life.  My uncommon good fortune hasn't done anything to improve my impression of the U.S. economy's disarray.  We can go find Taco Bell Lady to have a nice chat, if you're still doubting the existence of this new America.
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
I've stayed out of the politics of the government shutdown, but this detail deserves some attention.

The Republican party on September 30th (the day before major provisions of the Affordable Care Act went into effect) changed House rules to prevent representatives of either party from calling a vote over an approved Senate bill such as a funding bill. Instead, only the House leader (Eric Cantor, Republican representative from Virginia) or his designee may call such votes.

Republicans are unable to compromise or convince, so they obstruct. They shutdown federal government, and they shutdown democratic voting principles in congress. Apparently, they expect us to do only what they tell us, when they tell us. They aren't trying to open the government, they're working deliberately to hold it hostage until they get their way.

It becomes increasingly clear that Republicans are not at all comfortable with being one voice among many in a democracy. They have all of a minority's paranoia with none of its realism, grace, or accessibility. They have much to learn about how to function within a multicultural democracy.  They spent the last half-century marginalizing minorities instead of learning how they cooperate with a majority to get their opinions heard.  Now that Republicans realize that WASPs (their traditional political base) are a minority in this nation, they are panicking, unable to imagine sharing authority with anybody.

We shouldn't have to suffer for their very intentional ignorance. The Amish, Mennonites, and Hutterites manage to cloister themselves amidst a culture that they shun. Maybe it's time for the Republican party to do the same, to go into their own sheltered environment, for their peace of mind and ours.

We need a government that actually functions.

Please, vote these obstructionists out of office at your next opportunity.

no significant legislation

P.S. 2013 October 14
  1. The rule was introduced on September 30th and passed on October 1st.
  2. You can see for yourself how your representative voted on this change of rules.
  3. It's painful to watch the Republican (Pete Sessions of Texas) who authored this resolution now try to justify it in spite of the obvious reason behind it.
  4. I couldn't find this article when I was writing my original blog post, but Democrats tried 19 times throughout 2013 to negotiate a compromise between the Senate and House, but... you guessed it... Republicans refused to meet with them until they could stage their lonely photo opportunity at a desk with only Republicans sitting at it.
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
Today's theme song comes to me from Ryan Van Sickle, a singer whose music has a country quality that I like. The original song was John Lennon's, but Ryan sings it now as part of the ONE campaign. This global effort hopes to take protest songs of years past and broadcast them to a new generation to inspire continuing social and political change.  (Vote for Ryan at the link above if you like his rendition too.)

As soon as you're born they make you feel small, by giving you no time instead of it all.
Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all. A working class hero is something to be...

Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV, and you think you're so clever and classless and free.
But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see. A working class hero is something to be.

There's room at the top they're telling you still, but first you must learn how to smile as you kill
If you want to be like the folks on the hill. A working class hero is something to be.

If you want to be a hero well just follow me.

This song is still relevant in too many ways, nearly half a century later. We have plutocrats who are 1) beyond the reach of prosecution, 2) unwilling to compare the value of workers lives with their own comforts, 3) insisting that they alone are responsible for their wealth, and 4) evaluating people as mere commodities from whom they can siphon more value.

Or, as this nice old lady succinctly puts it as numerous states roll back various legal protections for women...

Yes, today's post is entirely political.  It goes with the territory of this song and the ONE movement.

mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
I would normally tell you that hacking a website is childish behavior akin to vandalizing a wall with spray paint.  This time, though, it looks a lot more "interesting" and purposeful than that.

Anonymous claims that it has collected damning government secrets and is threatening to reveal them.  The data file is encrypted and is currently available for download by everyone.  They will reveal the decryption key later unless the government reforms its sentencing guidelines for violations of terms of service.  Essentially, they're demanding that contract law be kept separate from criminal law, establishing some minimal barrier between democracy and plutocracy.  Otherwise, they will "detonate" their information bomb by releasing the key so everyone can read the information that they collected.

They are acting now because of the recent death of Aaron Swartz.  Today, they published their actions on the webpage of the United States Sentencing Commission (currently not responding).  Anonymous explains their actions in video and in their original announcement text on the website.  They chose to deface that government site for its symbolic value as the source of "federal sentencing guidelines which enable prosecutors to cheat citizens of their constitutionally-guaranteed right to a fair trial, by a jury of their peers -- the federal sentencing guidelines which are in clear violation of the 8th amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishments."

People can follow webpage links to download the pieces of the file that Anonymous has encrypted.  Anonymous will periodically contact media outlets and reveal partial contents to them for publication, as proof of the value in this encrypted file.  They have enough information for multiple files, and this "warhead" file is merely the first to be launched.  Although the original announcement at is not viewable at the moment, copies can be found elsewhere.  Follow those links for urls to the 9 file pieces (each piece named after a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court), or take the simpler route by downloading the torrent file.  Currently, I find copies of the announcement at these addresses:
Among the instructions linked above you can find a unix command that will assemble the file pieces into the whole encrypted file.  WARNING: DO NOT enter those commands exactly as written, or you will delete the contents of your hard drive.  Either learn some unix commands first, or ask someone you trust to explain the commands to you.  (Basically, you just drop the "rm" command from the end, but you really should know what you're doing before entering any instructions into your computer.  The pieces should be assembled in this order: Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Roberts, Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan. )

"You can't stop the signal."
- Mr. Universe, Serenity

Stay tuned, as we all wait to learn what activity the government has been hiding from us.
mellowtigger: (the more you know)
Doing some homework, I found 3 surprising trends in U.S. gdp growth since 1959. 1) Democrats are better. 2) Transition years are worst. 3) We steadily approach zero growth by 2030. I didn't expect any of those results. The common narrative says that only Republicans are good for business, and American prosperity is always improving. It turns out that both points are demonstrably (and blatantly) false.

I am quite pleased to see that the trend for the last half-century is towards a zero-growth economy. I've been arguing for years that we should plan for zero growth, as our productivity is inhibited by the harsh reality of dwindling resources. It seems that we're getting there anyway, dragged down to zero growth against our collective will. It bodes poorly for our financial system, though, since it requires growth for it to function at all. We're losing our ability to feed perpetual growth.

I was compelled to look up the numbers when the Wall Street Journal published an article that blamed Obama for poor gdp performance when compared to prior presidents. Noticeably absent from their graph of data was any reference to Bush... either of them. Cherry-picked data is a good warning sign that someone may be misleading you. So I searched for more data. I don't necessarily accept that gdp is the best measure of an economy. Other people think it is, however, so I wanted to look at the numbers that are important to them.

I started with the data in the Wall Street Journal's table, then I added all of the years that were available in a 2009 report from the U.S. Department of Commerce. I pulled from Wikipedia a simple list of presidents with their political party and year of inauguration. I assigned a political party to each calendar year, so it was easy to determine credit or blame for the relevant political party. My first collection included numbers straight from those other tables. Afterwards, I pondered various kinds of leniency, and the results just enhanced the original finding. Click the photos twice to see their largest versions.

Data set 1: "Strict Accountability"

I assigned a political party to each calendar year strictly by which president entered office that year. It's the easiest way to determine "responsibility" for the economy, if not the smartest way.

Results: Democrats perform better than Republicans. The slow trend across half a century is toward zero-growth gdp. The 2009 recession is an obvious blemish on the national record.
Data set 2: "Shifted Accountability"

I allowed that the first year of a presidency is actually following the previous president's budget. There is fair reason to think that the newcomer has little influence over existing expenditures, so I swapped the assignment of those first years to the outgoing president (rather than the incoming).

Results: Democrats perform slightly better than before, winning again over Republicans. The worst 3 performances of the last half-century belong to Republicans.
Data set 3: "Pardoned Transition"

I considered that those transition years were more accurately a mixture of differing policies, so I just assigned them all to a mythical "Transition" regime. I figured that exception would be fair to all incoming presidents.

Results: Democrats perform slightly better than before, winning again over Republicans. Everyone gets excused for the 2009 recession, but the next largest negative-growth year is solidly Republican.

Transition years perform worse than either political party. I can't tell if a bad economy leads to a party change ("It's the economy, stupid."), or if a party change leads to economic uncertainty and poor growth. Whichever leads the other, the association is clear; transition years are worse for all of us. The maximum, minimum, average, and median are all lower during a political transition year.
Data set 4: "Pardoned Transition + Pardoned Outliers"

I also allowed for "an off day". I eliminated the single best and single worst year remaining for each political party, removing their most unusual performances from their trends.

Results: Democrats perform slightly better than before, winning again over Republicans. The only negative-growth years during the last half-century are all Republican.

I prefer to think that Congress (which writes the laws) holds more influence over the economy than the president. It might be wishful thinking on my part, though, rather than reality. I would also like to see how these trends hold up when comparing gdp growth to income inequality or changes in gas prices. I figure that income inequality is a dead weight slowly dragging on the economy, while gas price shocks may have more immediate effects on gdp.

Here is an animated GIF including the 4 datasets described above. On the right, you can see how each new leniency improves the performance of the Democratic presidency. The Republicans are more consistent, yes, but they are consistently less productive than Democrats. That conclusion should be no surprise since the Congressional Research Service exposed the lie that "trickle-down economics", a staple of Republican policy for decades, ever actually helps saving, investment, or productivity growth. It's the transition years, though, that gather the lowest gdp changes.

I close this blog post with a message for Microsoft. I disapprove that SQL Server 2012 Express contains no inherent aggregate function for computing MEDIAN value, as it does for AVERAGE, MIN, and MAX. (I used the versatile PERCENTILE_CONT, but it's still more complex than a "MEDIAN(column)" function should be.) I also could find no inherent aggregate function for computing a TRENDLINE on my data or graph. Why, Microsoft? Why? I'm sure I used handheld calculators from Texas Instruments with those features... 20 years ago.
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
Congratulations to American Hindus for winning your first Hindu representative to the U.S. Congress last week. I'm sure that achievement will make the "festival of lights" even more enjoyable when it begins on Tuesday. For Americans not yet aware of it, Diwali in the United States has recently developed an interesting history, including a holiday greeting from President Obama in 2010.

Tulsi Gabbard serves in her state's National Guard and has been on deployment to Iraq. She previously opposed gay equality, but her tour of duty changed her mind. Her positions on war, economy, environment, and homelessness also look very amenable to the Occupy viewpoint. I look forward to seeing her accomplishments in congress.

mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
BigBirdLives.sniffyesyoudoIt would be nice to think that liberals scored a decisive victory last night, but I don't think the nation's future is that rose-tinted.

The progressive voice made impressive gains last night. Voters in Minnesota rejected efforts to alter the state constitution, voters in Wisconsin elected the nation's first openly gay senator, voters everywhere ousted many virulent anti-women candidates, voters in three states approved same-sex marriage, voters in two states and one city decriminalized marijuana, voters in Massachusetts elected Elizabeth Warren (my Occupy Wall Street sweetheart) to national senate, and not since the Great Depression have American voters RE-elected any president during such tough economic times.

But... none of those achievements really matter because the core problems facing the country remain unchanged.
  • We still deplete our fossil fuel deposits while God stubbornly refuses to put any more of it into the ground to replenish the forever-lost resource. (Conservatives conserve what exactly?)
  • We still impotently watch wealth stagnate rather than circulate.
  • We still employ exponential currency and so face the mathematical certainty of debt growth.
  • We still do nothing while the planet warms and ecosystems shift.
  • We still helplessly watch people choose to reject observation and science.
poll.Ohio.binladenThe Big Bird fiasco was a perfect example of that last point. Democrats mocked Mitt Romney for metaphorically threatening to execute Big Bird by defunding public television. Republicans, in turn, mocked Democrats for fixating on a muppet when there were real issues to discuss. Yet when pollsters asked voters in Ohio who "deserves more credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden", Republicans were overwhelmingly unable to engage reality.

How can any democracy thrive when one of its major political parties abandons reality in favor of partisanship? Mitt Romney couldn't keep his positions straight because he didn't actually have a position. It was all a tangle of self-contradicting bluster. The Republican frenzy got so bad that they abandoned their own nomination processes, so some Romney electors are threatening to withhold their vote thereby figuratively slapping Republicans back to their senses. Even Fox News seemed briefly contrite last night, like an alcoholic promising that he can stop drinking any time he wants to.  As with the decision between Obama and McCain ("The fundamentals of our economy are strong."), America is better off with a president who can rationally discuss issues.  I preferred Jill Stein, but I'll settle for "Bronco Bamma".

Voters haven't done Obama any favors. Obama now has to govern during a continuing (and I expect worsening) crisis of economy, ecology, and rationality.
mellowtigger: (Daria)
The famous American intellectual Noam Chomsky has endorsed Jill Stein, my chosen candidate. I'm happy to see someone of his caliber agree that great progress is still possible within our current political system.  It gives me hope.  I'm also pleased that he chose the same opportunity that I did.  I'm looking forward to casting my vote for her tomorrow.

I admit that I'm doing less research for all of my other decisions this year than I have in previous elections. I may let party affiliation of the candidates (rather than their history and their published platform) determine my choice more than usual this year. I've been tired, as usual. And distracted. I've been much more worried this year with the integrity of the election process than the integrity of the candidates themselves.  I've been directing my attention to that problem.  More on that topic in later weeks, I hope.

Prognosticators are trending toward an Obama victory tomorrow.  The recently famous Nate Silver is forecasting an Obama second term.  He predicts only a 50.9% chance of Obama winning the popular vote, but a 92.2% chance of Obama winning the electoral vote.  InTrade contracts are forecasting an Obama victory by 67.4%.  Not to be left out of the fortunetelling, the GayGamer forum predicts an Obama win by 72.9%.  I don't understand why gay people vote Republican, but there are gay sexists and dark-skinned racists, so I guess anything is possible.


I'm still worried that the electoral wins may be too close tomorrow to depend upon, so we won't really know who is president until the Electoral college votes on December 17th.  How is anyone supposed to celebrate when the apocalypse is just 4 days later?  ;)
mellowtigger: (changed priorities)
Minnesota government has changed its attitude to free online education. After public condemnation of its policy, the director of the Minnesota Office Of Higher Education said to Slate:

"When the legislature convenes in January, my intent is to work with the Governor and Legislature to appropriately update the statute to meet modern-day circumstances. Until that time, I see no reason for our office to require registration of free, not-for-credit offerings."

Coursera has not changed its terms of service to reflect this new policy.  I doubt they will do anything until the law itself changes. This swift change by government gives me hope that Minnesota can still value people more than profits.  We'll see if the state legislature is able to fulfill its obligation in this matter.  I've removed Governor Dayton from my automatic veto list.  In the next election, he'll just have to prove to me that he is superior to whichever 3rd-party candidates challenge him.  :)

It's still worrisome, though, that the proverbial stage is set in this matter.  Ars Technica spoke with another Minnesota official who claimed "that many other states have similar laws on their books".  When laws have the potential to convert free services into fees, then they eventually will.  That's what greed does.  It bullies people into perpetuating the system, like gangsters threatening people for protection money.  That's why government should always serve people rather than profits.

"9. Opportunity plus instinct equals profit.
10. Greed is eternal.
144. There's nothing wrong with long as it winds up in your pocket.

On most days, capitalism looks like a Ferengi invention.

I have an idea for a short video that would explain the danger of great imbalance of wealth among a population. I signed up for the Udacity free online course in HTML5 graphics so I could learn the skills necessary to produce it.  Coincidentally, shortly afterward, the news arrived about this Minnesota policy that seems to favor paid classes over free classes.


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