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I missed this CNN article when it first came out. It talks about America's failing grade for its infrastructure.

The group doing the grading is the American Society of Civil Engineers. Their recent report cards are as follows: (i = incomplete or not graded):
broken bridgebroken water pipeI35W bridge collapse
Drinking WaterD-D-DDB-
Hazardous WasteDDD+D-D
Inland WaterwaysD-D-D+ii
Public Parks and RecreationC-C-iii
Solid WasteC+C+C+C-C-
estimated 5-year cost$2.2 trillion$1.6 trillion$1.3 trillionii

Note that the current estimated cost is 3X the massive spending bill passed by congress this month. As a solution, some people are proposing bringing back the Depression-era organization called the "Civilian Conservation Corps". In this program, people (men) lived in work camps and were housed, clothed, and fed by the government. They were required to send 80% of their earnings (which were small) back to their families. Their projects included forestry, roads, parks, phone lines, and flood control.

I think of it sort of as a homeland version of the Peace Corps but much bigger. The proposal this time is to include women in their ranks. If they recreate this group, then I hope they'll also consider old men like me. I think it's a project worth leaving home to join.

The conditions were harsh, and their unofficial motto was "We Can Take It".  Some people hoping to recreate this group have their own website with good history and other information.

The massive spending bill just passed is only a small part of what's needed to help America succeed.  For much too long, we've diverted precious resources from national investment into personal investment (war profiteering, house profiteering, etc), and it'll take a long time to get ourselves out of this problem.  We first have to muster the intention to do so.

You can help notify Washington DC of your support by signing the petition to recreate the Civilian Conservation Corps.
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Once a year, AHS closes its doors to the public, buses everyone from 5 locations to one place, and conducts a day-long workshop. Today was my first time to participate in this workshop. I spent the day at the Arboretum with the other 200+ employees (with only a few of the legion of volunteers).

After the first small group sessions, we rejoined everyone in the main room.  A spokesperson from each group summarized their results for the crowd.  Polite applause followed each summary.  I don't applaud for these occasions, though.  I think it's a silly reason to applaud and detracts from the flow of the event.  *shrug*  But the more social monkeys do enjoy the group participation, it seems.  ;)  Anyway, our group was next to last.  Our spokesperson got up and introduced herself (paraphrased), "Hi, I'm Jane.  I'm a volunteer at the Saint Paul facility."

The crowd interrupted her with their loud applause.  I applauded too this time, since it was a worthy occasion.  The (underpaid, pay-frozen-in-2008) employees greatly appreciate the work of this "virtual" workforce.  There are lots of programs done by this organization that could not be done at all without the volunteers.  I was glad to see that we "real" employees seemed to be unanimous in our gratitude for their efforts.  Yay, team effort.  Not contrived team-building group activities in once-a-year retreats, but real life daily work activities.  Stuff that matters.  That's a good reaction.

Later on, we were supposed to go back to small group sessions again.  Upper management spent so long going on about the issues brought up from the first session though (things that we were "not confident" about as employees) that we didn't have enough time left in the day to follow the schedule.  We were given a choice of skipping the last item on the list and returning to our smaller groups as planned, or we could ignore the schedule and tackle the last topic instead.  The topic was euthanasia.  Well, specifically the topic was our employees-in-the-trenches lack of confidence that our organization was taking every possible action to lower our incidence of euthanasia of animals.  There's only enough time left to do one or the other this afternoon.  So, quick show of hands, who wants to go back to the small groups... ?

Not a single person in the whole auditorium raised their hand.  Yay, team.  :)

The long-winded speaking had gone on for hours, and I'm sure everyone else was wanting easier things to think about too, but nobody was willing to give up the opportunity to talk about this issue as an entire organization.  I'm glad that the employees of AHS take very seriously their responsibility (both as individual and as organization) on this particular topic.

There wasn't time to turn it into a brainstorming session for any new things we could try, even if we had wanted to create one right then.  I mentally drafted my list, though, and wrote it down as soon as I reached a computer later that afternoon.  I'll send my ideas tomorrow after I ponder them some more.

I want to post later my thoughts on euthanasia, but I still need to ponder it a while longer to make sure I have some amount of certainty in what I write.  I just wanted to say here that I am glad that this organization doesn't back down from hard topics, even when everyone is surely tired and ready to move on to more pleasant things.

Yay, team.
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I suppose it would be appropriate now to review my impression of this year's retreat. I found things both pleasing and worrying about it.

It will continue. NoLAR is modeled on the Autreat experience. Attendees to any event will find things to complain about, of course, but the only complaint that I found legitimate about Autreat is that it is primarily the product of a single person. If anything happened to that one person, then Autreat might fail to return. A few people last year (and this year) referred to NoLAR as "Terry's event". I wanted to make sure that it could survive without me, so I withdrew more than necessary to let others "sink or swim" in their efforts to keep the conference on schedule. It worked. I'm very pleased to report that it is not my event. It can survive without me. NoLAR is a phenomenon with a momentum of its own. There will be more of these retreats in the future. That's good.  That's very good.

It provides new perspective. We had attendees that ranged in age from 20s to 60s. We had people diagnosed late in life and very early in life. One young man explained that his attendance this year would not have been possible just 8 years ago without all of the lessons and continuing support that he had learned during specialist care during his early years. I think that those of us (me included) who were "thrown to the dogs" in our 20s and learned to cope (even if barely) while alone were able to see the value of gaining survival skills at a much earlier age through tutelage instead of trial-and-error.

It will provide social growth. I mentioned earlier that I hoped the retreat would avoid becoming edutainment. Since it focuses on being just a local event, I keep hoping that it will encourage people to support each other in practical endeavors locally. That didn't happen much this time. Or... at least, not by my definition. Being mostly the talkative crowd, the attendees seemed to enjoy each other's company and they plan to maintain contact after the conference. That's a very significant outcome, considering the audience. It's progress worth celebrating.

One of the quiet loners (who avoided most of the sessions and events) approached me to try to keep in touch after the retreat. I don't do phone conversations, unfortunately, and he doesn't have email access. I decided to write him a note with my mailing address so he has the option of contacting me that way if he wants. Baby steps. It's a big world out there.

It will be weird. The evil dragon of otherness raised its head again. I need to find a way to remind all of us in these situations that NTs (neurotypicals ("normals")) are not all evil just because they tend to have a better understanding of lies and deception than we do. Just because they understand it does not mean that they practice it. It's difficult, though, to overcome hard lessons learned in actual experience.  Some stereotypes are appropriate when they're based in real personal experience, but we need fewer barriers, not more barriers, to useful communication.

Phrases spoken too loudly or with the wrong prosody will cause distress. A few minor disturbances (but no major ones, thankfully) appeared because of words spoken harshly.  Nothing that interrupted the flow of the conference though.  And we're not as skilled at pleasant teasing as we want to be.

Then there was the weirdness at the last hour while waiting to take a group photograph before we left for the bus. Some folk started choosing categories as summaries of the event. One man had the best clothes, another the best physique, and I was voted to have the best hair... which quickly devolved into my being voted the sexiest attendee. Very uncomfortable and weird. They were having fun with their categories, though, and that's a common autistic "thing"... trying to classify experiences. It can easily be inappropriate though when it's actual living people (who are standing right there with you) that are being classified.

It will change. What worries me though is that with a distributed organizational structure, NoLAR's purpose and execution will change. That can be good or bad, of course, but I'm worried about a particular change that seems inevitable. It's something that I've noticed in the monthly support group over the last 5 years: the group changes to favor the kinds of interactions that the "talkative autistics" prefer.

I realized at NoLAR that I was gravitating to sitting either alone or next to the other "quiet autistics". There were 1 or 2 who spoke less than I did. We tended to sit by each other. I realized that I do the same at the support group meetings. There's one man who's attended those meetings as long as I have (over 5 years) and I've never heard him speak anything other than his name, "No", or "I pass" when his turn came to speak. I realized at NoLAR that he and I tend to sit next to each other too. I don't remember if it's me seeking him or him seeking me. I'll try to notice in future meetings.

The final session of the event was a kind of brainstorm session about future retreats. The conference that they want is the edutainment variety, with paid speakers and multiple concurrent sessions and more group social events (like this year's pontoon ride on the lake). Definitely not what I was hoping for. If it's useful to them, then I intend to continue helping produce the conference, but I still worry that the quiet folk will slowly self-select themselves out of participation like happens with the support group.

I was hoping to maintain the Autreat-style quiet-time retreat, but it looks like that won't happen without keeping a single person in control of the event. Opening things up to group control (which I usually approve) favors a slow but inevitable creep towards "talkative" standards. I need to ponder how best to maintain a "quiet autistic" aspect to the retreat so that all kinds of folk will continue to find it welcoming.
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I'm starting to get excited about the second (annual, yay!) Northern Lights Autism Retreat. It's the best name that I could come up with alone last year when interest was still tepid. This year, a few other people volunteered to help organize the event, and it's moving along nicely. I'm pleased that it won't end up being just "Terry's event", as some people were referring to it last year.

I confirmed with my boss that I'll have Friday off from work (so I can ride the bus transport and do 'roll call' there) and the weekend free from pager support (so I can focus on the event itself).  Yay for bosses who can take over sole support for their areas.  She'll be the only one of us in our department at work that day, so she's going to handle it all for Friday through Sunday.  This is very different from the tech support boss that I had 2 jobs ago.  I like this one much better.

Because this conference focuses on being just a local event, I'm hoping that it can avoid the tendency that other events have to fall into high-priced edutainment with celebrity presentations.  I hope that at some point I can instill in other attendees the vision that it remains a community-based event with no fees paid to presenters and minimal fees charged to attendees.  I like the idea that since all of us are locals, we can take ideas uncovered during the event and continue to pursue them together after the event also.  I'd like NoLAR to become a kind of "brain charge" that sparks other useful projects during the rest of the year.

One can hope.
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I drove out today to assist in the search for Keith Kennedy. I was dressed and prepared for scraping through forest, dense brush, and high prairie. I was not ready, though, for swamp. Oh, sorry.... marsh. Near as I can tell people use the word marsh when they don't want to admit that an area is a swamp. As soon as I got home, I tied my boots up on a pole in the backyard to dry for a few days, dropped all my clothes in the washer, and jumped into the shower, then took a pleasant hot bath to do a thorough check for ticks and other nasties. (None found.)

It was about 100 miles each way. (So that's about $30 in gasoline for the whole trip. Ugh.) When I arrived, they told me to turn around and drive back a few miles to the local fairgrounds. They had shuttle buses carrying folk back and forth. When I got back to the site by shuttle, I signed in at 1:05pm (signed out at 5:50pm) and was the 300th person that day to join their search.

Most of the effort was coordinated by the sheriff's office. I waited about 15 minutes until the next batch of group leaders were ready. Then a fullsize schoolbus took about 60 of us on the next search tour. Each tour, I was told, lasted from 1 to 2.5 hours. Ours, unfortunately, took longer. They drove us about 4 miles away and we got out, lined up along the road, and waited for the signal to start. Lucky us, swamp (oops, I mean marsh) was only a few strides away. I started out this adventure by getting my hiking boots filled with water. There was another swamp farther ahead where I had a hard time pulling my legs out of the muck, and we found several other very wet areas.

I spent the next 2+ hours walking in squishy boots and soaked pants legs. Not pleasant. Supposedly we crossed only about 1 linear mile in that time, but we changed directions a few times and bypassed two fields with bulls so it was a longer walk. I scared off two small deer and one pheasant during my search. I found some beautiful purple daylilies. Who knew that they grew in swamps but not prairies?

We didn't find Keith or any evidence of his trek. I overheard the leaders talking to someone else, and they said that even the "corpse hounds" (was that the term they used? I can't remember) in other groups weren't sniffing out his decomposing body either. So it's been about a week and people still have no idea where he is. While we were waiting for the bus to pick us up from the end of our assigned trail, one woman mentioned that the camp had popped lots of popcorn on Sunday, attempting to lure him back to the site on his own power.

Being my first manhunt, I didn't know what to expect. I think their method is pretty good for getting untrained people to find something/someone that's staying in one place. I think it's pretty bad, though, for finding someone who wants to avoid being found. On my next manhunt, I'll plan to bring waders (for traversing swamp (I mean marsh)), walking stick, and fanny pack.

I hope someday to wander off into the forest and not come back. I don't mean that statement as a metaphor for living on a plot of land away from the cities. I mean it literally. I'll be sure, though, to announce my intentions so that this kind of effort is not launched in a misguided attempt to locate me. And it'll surely not happen while T'Reese is here. She does like her kibble. But someday.... *pleasant daydream*
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Keith Kennedy, a 25-year-old autistic man, wandered off from Trade Lake Camp on Sunday. So far, 300 volunteers have been unsuccessful in finding him. They're needing more people to come help the search. This Star Tribune article has details including the phone number (715-488-2690) of the camp near Grantsburg, Wisconsin, that is about 90 minutes from the Twin Cities. The news story says to call first before heading out. My email from AuSM says the area is dense woods and swamp, so wear long pants, long shirt, boots. Bring water and bug spray.

I hope to wander off into the forest someday too, but it sounds like his disappearance wasn't planned and that he needs to receive some kind of medication that he takes.
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Minneapolis in May is very predictable. The snow is finally gone, the weather is consistently warm, and everyone's been cooped up inside for too many months with lots of pent up energy waiting to be unleashed. So we walk. We walk each weekend, rain or shine, with fundraisers for various charitable organizations.

It's this same lineup every year, though I'm probably forgetting some other prominent fundraisers. This year, I'll be participating in the "Walk for Animals" in Golden Valley. (There's another event at the St. Paul shelter for those on the other side of the Mississippi River.)

weekend 1: Animal Humane Society and multiple sclerosis research
weekend 2: Susan G Komen breast cancer research
weekend 3: Minnesota AIDS Project
weekend 4: American Heart Association

I'm very low key about this stuff. Mostly I do it just to have fun with my own contribution, not to coerce other people into handing over their wallets. *grin* Considering the state of the economy, I'm assuming that most people are on budgets as restricted as my own. But, if anyone has money to burn, consider burning it in honor of one of the above charities that try to make the world a little bit better. If you'd like to use it for the non-human critters, I've created my personal webpage with the fundraiser. You can donate online via credit card. You can make your donation anonymous too, which I like, since I'm certainly not doing this project as a contest.

MellowTigger's donation page (aka Terry Walker)


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