Nevada Education: School District Regular Instruction Budget $22.5 Million Less Than Decade Ago

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To understand why Nevada is ranked the worst for Education, one only has to look at the State’s Washoe County School District (WCSD.) The expense for “Regular Instruction” was $22.5 million less in 2017 than it was in 2008. For next year’s budget, the district that includes Reno/Sparks schools is looking to cut the budget…again. The deficit in the budget is caused by a dysfunctional State taxation system that fails to provide the needed revenue to fund the government.

Graph 1. 0 – WCSD Regular Instructions Expense (Actual vs. 2% adj. for inflation)

Nevada Education Never Fails to Fail

There is one significant item in the school district’s financial reports. Under expenses, WCSD reports “Regular Instruction.” It is the money spent in the classroom for educational functions. It does not include the special education, vocational, nor extra-curricular programs. Regular Instruction expense is the core of the existence of public education in Nevada.

Instruction – Expenditures associated with providing direct regular instruction to students consisting mostly of salaries and benefits for teachers, teacher aides and assistants, as well as other direct instruction costs for supplies, textbooks and equipment. The category also includes costs for teacher substitutes, ROTC teachers, Early Separation Incentive Program (ESIP) costs and sick leave payout. 

Definition of “Regular Instruction” page A15
Fiscal Year 2016-17
Final Budget Summary with Detailed
Budget Accounts and Positions
May 24, 2016

In 2008, the money spent for Regular Instruction in the school district was $249 million. In 2017, only $226.5 million was spent. A reduction of $22.5 million dollars from spending needed ten years prior. Adjusted for two percent inflation per year, the amount of the reduction is $63 million for 2017 fiscal year. The cuts have the forced school district to cut over $475 million dollars in Regular Instruction to keep pace with inflation during the last decade.

Education in Nevada is consistently in the bottom of most State rankings, and deservedly so. The fault is citizens who fail to value education, who elect politicians that seek to dismantle public education. Governor Brian Sandoval has been a primary architect of this effort, which should not be that surprising. When he was elected, his children attended a private religious school. The Legislature decides the funding for education, but they have followed Sandoval’s lead in underfunding public education.

School districts have given up battling the State for more money. Now school boards consist of people who seek to cut budgets instead of demanding more money. School administrations and staff have known for years that the continued deterioration of education is the inevitable path that Nevada has chosen to follow.

Graph 2.0 – Washoe County School District projected expenses for the 2018-19 year

Nevada Education: Constitutionally Protected To Be Bad

There is no positive news regarding Nevada’s Education. It is a black hole of ever-decreasing funding with a Governor leading the charge to let it fail. Nevada’s Constitution says,

The Legislature shall enact one or more appropriations to provide the money the Legislature deems to be sufficient, when combined with the local money reasonably available for this purpose, to fund the operation of the public schools in the State for kindergarten through grade 12.

The Constitution leaves it to the Legislature to decide how much money to make available for education. The politicians feel that being the worst educated State in the Nation is ‘sufficient.’

 

NOTE:  Discrepancies in Financial Reporting

If someone is interested in reviewing the financial information of the Washoe County School District, they will find it a challenge. Finalized numbers for the same line item for the same year do not match across WCSD documents.

There is one report (used here) that has is an annual report of the finances of the school district. It is called the Comprehensive Financial Annual Report (CFAR) and it is the only WSCD document available online that offers annual financial data for 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017. It is typically published about four months after the end of the year.

However, other reports, including the budget information for the 2018-19 school year have different values for the same budget item without any explanation. The 2017 CFAR (pg. 8 or pg. 37 on pdf) shows Regular Instruction Expense to be $226.5 million. The 2017-18 Annual Report (pg. 42 or pg. 51 on pdf) shows the 2017 Regular Instruction Expense to be $212.3 million ($14.2 million less.)

There is no explanation given for the discrepancies for the same budget item for the same ‘final’ budget; however, it makes it difficult for anyone from the public to know what number is the actual amount. It also makes it difficult to compare past numbers to future budgets.

Starbucks: The Adults In the Business World

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When you have with 238,000 employees, most of whom interact with the public all day, someone is going to do something stupid. That is a fact of human nature. The question is, how the leadership of a company deals with an incident? In the case of Starbucks, you be the adult and not the five-year-old.

Racists Don’t Think They’re Racist

Racism is a major problem in this country. Racists usually don’t know they are a racist. In their minds, they do what they think is ‘natural’ from their cultural perspective. What is natural is what is correct. This means most racists are in the bigot closet and don’t even know it.

There is no racism test for an employer to give a job applicant. If there were, a lot of people would be unemployable. Closet racists are going to be hired at all major corporations. Sometimes, like at Cracker Barrel, the racism is condoned by the employer; however, most companies avoid hiring overtly racists employees. At least that’s what they claim.

Regardless, when an employee does something that is racist, many executives will attempt to minimize the incident, or attempt to deny the issue was about race. The public relations (PR) people are experts at diluting the obvious by reminding the media that motivations can’t be proven. From a PR perspective, a company, like United Airlines, can do no wrong, even when it does something wrong.

Starbucks Policy of Responsibility

The leadership at Starbucks is probably not perfect, but at least they make every attempt to be aware of what is correct from what is wrong. That is why Kevin Johnson, the CEO of Starbucks wasted no time in responding to one of his employees calling the police on two African Americans for trespassing in a Starbucks when they didn’t purchase something in the store.

In this incident is noteworthy that at least six officers were present to arrest two non-combative African American males. It was overkill that the police were called, and overkill that six police responded. If a white man had robbed the Starbucks it is likely that it wouldn’t have had this response.

The victims of this incident were held for over eight hours after being arrested. They were released after the police admitted they had no crime to with which to charge them.

What Starbucks Didn’t Do

Johnson didn’t offer excuses for his company. He didn’t say the video doesn’t really tell the whole story. The CEO didn’t even hint that it might not have been a racist act.

Instead, Johnson offered apology after apology.  Johnson met directly with the men involved. He called the act “reprehensible.” It is unclear what happened to the employee in question, but the employee is no longer at that store.

Most companies today look like children trying to cover up their misbehavior after a public relations incident such as this one. It is good to know that Starbucks is capable of using common sense and decency in responding to this situation.

Sadly, the rest of the employees at Starbucks will be impacted by this one person’s act. We all pay for the bad behavior of others.

Nevada School District is Missing Children

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Nevada’s Washoe County School District is missing children. About 6,500, and no one seems to have noticed. In the last decade (2008 to 2017,) the student population in Washoe County Schools has increased by 291 students. That is a half of one percent increase (0.05%) in ten years. The population of Washoe County has increased by almost eleven percent (10.7%) during the same time period. If the student population grew at the same rate the school district would have 6,500 more students than it does. Where are the missing children?

GRAPH 1.0 – WCSD Growth vs Washoe County Population (1,000’s of people)

Mystery of the Missing Students

The population of Washoe County increased by over 44,000 people from 2008 to 2017. One might expect that the Washoe County schools would have increased by more than 291 students. If the student population had kept pace with the Washoe County population growth, there should be over 70,000 pupils instead of just under 64,000.

Table 1.0 – WCSD student population growth compared to projected growth (Based on Washoe County population. NOTE:  All figures are from WCSD reports.)

Some of the missing students can be found in private schools and public charter schools. Private schools in Washoe County enrolled 3,419 students in 2016-17; however, total enrollment in private schools in Nevada have not changed significantly during the last ten years. Public charter schools account for some of the missing students, but they only enrolled 2,753 students in Washoe County during the 2016-17 year.

Assuming that public charter schools absorbed 1,000 new students during the last ten years, and private schools absorbed 500, there is still approximately 5,000 missing students. It is possible that the growth in Washoe County was primarily adults without children. If that is the case, it may indicate that families aren’t moving to Nevada.

Flat Student Growth Saved Schools

There is a silver lining to the flat growth in Washoe County schools. Prior to 2008, the district was overcrowded and facing a crisis. The flat growth allowed time to ease some of the overcrowding and end some of the desperate measures to handle the situation.

However, Nevada may be facing a bigger crisis. If families are choosing not to move to the State it may be that Nevada’s poor school rankings have finally sealed its fate. No one wants to raise a family in a State that has underfunded schools.

Impotent Taxation: Why Nevada Can’t Have Nice Things

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Nevada, as a community is not pretty. In fact, it is probably the ugliest State in the nation when it comes to the ‘American Dream.’ Don’t tell that to one of the few citizens (25%) born in the State. Hardcore Nevadans are almost cult-like in the fondness of a State of mostly sagebrush and blowing sand. What Nevada can’t figure out is that it takes money to run a State, and that requires taxes. Nevada doesn’t believe in taxes, they believe in being a failure.

Proud to be the worst…at everything

Nevada Sucks And Has the Rankings to Prove It

Nevada ranks #3 in violent crimes per capita. In education, Nevada is the worst State according to USA Today. Of the best States with the best quality of life, Nevada ranks 43 out of 50, and in the area of social environment, it ranks dead last. Nevada has the 46th worst in the unemployment rate. These aren’t a new downward trend in rankings. Nevada is consistently at the bottom of these rankings.

Nevada is a State everyone points at as the example of what not to do. Companies don’t want to move to Nevada because of the crime, poor education, bad quality of life, which makes unemployment higher.

Nevada Taxation:  Where Rich People Come For a Free Ride

Nevada can’t figure out that it has a taxation problem. More taxes, better schools, lower crime, better quality of life, etc. But Nevada isn’t run by citizens. Nevada is run by the beasts of mining and casinos. It is sad to see how normal citizen rush to defend the monster that feeds on them.

Mining is digging up Nevada’s one-time resources and taking them out of State. Mineral corporations account for over $3 billion dollars of Nevada’s gross domestic product, but mining’s contribution to the State revenues is only one percent. For comparison, Nevada’s cigarette tax contributes four percent to the State budget.

Gaming is the 363 kg gorilla of Nevada politics but pays minimal taxes. The ‘Gaming Tax’ is a tax levied on the winnings of their customers. The ‘Live Entertainment Tax’ is added to the cost of admission. The ‘Room Tax’ is added to the hotel invoice to the customer. The gambler/customer pays the tax, not the casino.

Casino owners like Sheldon Adelson don’t pay income or corporate taxes. They are reaping the money, but not supporting the State of Nevada.

Nothing Else Works

Nevada is the State of blind voters and boot-licking politicians. It is a State that will do anything to avoid fixing the real problem if the solution would impact corporations or the wealthy. The State is has tried everything but the one solution that is obvious:  raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

The Silver State is likely to be hit by a perfect storm of economic destruction. The upcoming recession will catch Nevada completely unprepared. Housing prices far exceed the wage-earning potential of the middle class. As jobs collapse, housing will collapse. Underfunded schools, law enforcement, and government services will only get worse.

There is no positive response Nevada will be able to make to an economic downturn. Nevada will become a third world State and the politicians will respond by doing the wrong thing…cutting desperately needed taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

This is why Nevada can’t have nice things.

Ethics Wins…Always

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People who believe in a deity believe that there is a guiding force in our lives. Most people cling to the idea that, in the end, good will prevail. They want to know that whatever Judgment Day looks like, that ‘bad’ people will fail, and ‘good’ people will win. The need for a deity is secondary because what we really seek is the hope that ethical behavior will triumph over unethical behavior. And it does.

Ethical?: Price of Life for Diabetics

Ethics, Dual Harm Theory, and Time

When someone acts unethically it harms all parties. It, of course, harms the victim(s) of the unethical act, but it also harms the party responsible for the act. Neither of the parties may realize the harm caused at the time of the act. The victim(s) may take years to realize the offense committed. The party responsible may actually have a feeling of pleasure in committing the act. If an unethical act were obvious to the victim(s) and unpleasurable to the perpetrator, we wouldn’t have unethical acts.

But over time, the victim(s) will realize the harm and it will form a negative feeling or reaction that person or party. That negative feeling will become the foundation of the relationship between the two parties and will only be undone by multiple acts of contrition by the perpetrator.

As for the perpetrator, it may take much longer for their feeling of pleasure to spoil. They may even develop a lifestyle based on repeating the unethical behavior, but eventually, they will experience negative repercussions from their unethical acts.

Reaping What They Sow

The first impact of unethical behavior on a perpetrator is mistrust and anger from the victim(s.) This essentially defeats any opportunity for a positive relationship as the betrayal of the perpetrator will determine the relationship.

CASE STUDY:  A service department representative at a car dealership gives an estimate of $725 for routine maintenance on a car purchased from them, new, three years prior. When questioned, he offers two other options for lesser maintenance at $600 and $450. The routine maintenance would cost less than $150 anywhere else.

The perpetrator may also become involved in reactions from the victim(s) and/or people who are sympathetic to the victim(s.) Revenge is only one of the possible reactions, as the perpetrator will have people they didn’t even know harbor ill-will toward them. There is no limit to the damage caused by unethical behavior. 

Over time, the perpetrator is tainted with the unethical behavior, and all other actions are viewed in light of the previous behavior. Eventually, the perpetrator may realize the offensive nature of the behavior and face an internal conflict of self-loathing compensated with a delusional sense of ego. 

Support of Enablers

Some perpetrators of unethical behavior are reinforced by an enabler or enablers. These people prop up the unethical behavior and act as cheerleaders for the perpetrator, while vicariously enjoying the acts of unethical behavior.

The problem for enablers is that a person who is routinely unethical will likely be unethical at some point with the enabler. This eventually leads to enablers to have a limited lifespan of supporting the unethical person.

CASE STUDY:  Donald Trump has had 30 notable members of his staff resign or be fired in less than 30 months after being elected President. Most of these people were enthusiastic supporters of Trump. Some of them were let go with little or no notice. In at least one case, the victim learned through a Trump tweet that he was no longer in the position. 

Ethical Behavior Builds, Not Destroys

The destruction of unethical behavior is punished over time; however, ethical behavior is rewarded over time. Ethical people tend to be trusted, build lasting relationships, enjoy life more, and have a positive outlook. There is a perverse immediate pleasure that can come from fooling another person into doing something that is not in their interest. That feeling is temporary. Lasting satisfaction comes from doing the correct thing, even when there are other options.

Hey, Small Hands. Don’t Screw With the U.S. Postal Service

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Republican Head Witch Donald Trump is doing his Kylo Ren tantrum by attacking the U.S. Postal Service for revenge. He’s mad at Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos because of fact-based articles about him in the Washington Post. I know, it’s confusing and silly, but aren’t most temper tantrums? The problem is that Trump is threatening to screw up a great service for our country because he has the maturity of a three-year-old.

Much Ado About the U.S. Postal Service

Trump is attacking the U.S. Postal Service because it gives a volume discount to Amazon on shipping its products to its customers. The partnership gives the Post Office vital business income and forces it to be more efficient. Amazon gets better shipping fees that help reduce the cost to its customers, and a delivery service that can handle the volume of packages it ships.

Home Delivery:  What Makes the United States Great

Jeff Bezos owns both Amazon and the Washington Post, so in Trump’s little mind attacking the Post Office is a way to attack Amazon, which is a way to attack Jeff Bezos, which is a way to attack the Washington Post. Yes, Trump is really that immature.

Don’t Screw With a Good Thing

What many citizens may not realize that while the U.S. Postal Service doesn’t break even, it is vital to our country. Most importantly is the security it gives us in sending letters and parcels around the country. In the USA, we take it for granted and become really upset on the rare occasions our mail is lost. That is not the case in many countries.

A person can’t send a letter to someone in Panama and expect it to be delivered. If it is a package, it will almost never be delivered. It takes a very organized, very committed postal service to keep the integrity of delivery that we have in the United States. We trust that we can give something to a stranger and it will arrive at its destination in a reasonable amount of time. That is the exception in the world, not the rule.

The U.S. Postal Service also employees over half a million people in jobs that pay a living wage in communities small and large. For the service we receive, we also have half a million people not looking for a decent job. That has a major impact on our economy.

What About the Alternative Services?

FedEx and UPS have been good competitors with the U.S. Postal Service, but they don’t replace the mail carrier. They even have partnerships with the Post Office to that allow them to focus on more profitable business. They pass off less profitable package delivery that requires more service, such as some residential deliveries with more stops.

Let’s keep the investigations of things that don’t work to the people and services that really have problems…like Donald Trump.

Pets and Us: Emotions of Doginess

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I’m using a reprint of an article I first published on 22 February 2014. I should explain that today, 12 April 2018, our dog, Jasmine, was attacked by another dog that was not on his leash. As I felt the emotions of the drama in the park today, and then read the emotions of the article I wrote four years ago, it reminded me of the attachment we have with our pets.

Jasmine’s wound. Broke the skin, but otherwise okay

Pets Under Attack

I should also say that it was much more traumatic for me to watch Jasmine being attacked than it was for her. The dog, likely a pit bull, was bigger than Jasmine and instantly grabbed her by the throat. The dog’s owner and I pulled them apart and I saw the wounds on her throat and took her immediately to our veterinarian. She had to have the wound opened and cleaned, but she will be fine.

From My World, 365 Days, 360 Degrees

A good leader is easy to follow

A good leader is easy to follow

[From 22 February 2014, minor revisions]

I overuse our animals in this blog, but they are great subjects that don’t object to being photographed.

Jasmine has been with us for about a year and a half. She still has some anxious quirks, but she is getting better. She loves to run, but we can’t let her off leash. Our solution has been to ‘allow’ her to pull us to and from Alexander’s school every day. Her top speed is about 22 mph, but I would guess that she could do almost 30 mph if she was not pulling a human on a bike. She doesn’t need guidance as she knows the way, and she would prefer to not slow down for Stop signs.

Her special talent is the ability to make people smile. As college students walk to class, they can’t help but grin when they see this 40-pound dog pulling us down the street on our bikes. I’m sure it can be nerve-wracking for them as Jasmine comes racing up from behind, but she almost never breaks stride when passing a pedestrian.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to appreciate the gift of animals. It is hard to understand why pets love humans so much, but I completely understand why humans love them.

Jasmine’s Joy of Running

Did F-117 Nighthawk Defeat USSR?

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On 25 December 1991, Soviet Russia ended in a relative peaceful exchange of power. There were many reasons for the fall of communism, but one plane may have put the final stamp on the Soviet fate. Eleven months prior, the F-117 Nighthawk flew 1,300 sorties (missions) over Iraq during the Gulf War and proved it was almost invincible to modern air defenses. No one even knew about the plane three years prior to the Gulf War and with its domination over Iraq, the Soviets had lost the Cold War.

F-117 Nighthawk

F-117 Nighthawk: The SciFi plane that won the Cold War?

F-117 Nighthawk:  Plane of Science Fiction

A crazy idea. An invisible plane, at least invisible to radar. A plane that could sneak in and out of enemy airspace undetected. It was so crazy, no one thought it could be done…except Lockheed Martin. The absurdity of a stealth plane that could avoid radar detection helped keep it a secret until after it was already a reality.

The one problem was that a human couldn’t fly it. The aerodynamics of the odd surface angles changed the airflow around the plane and a pilot didn’t have the reflexes to respond fast enough before the plane was out of control. The pilot had to be assisted by a computer that interpreted the commands. It was the computer that managed the control surfaces to keep the Nighthawk from crashing.

The handling characteristics of the plane were a trade-off to the possibility of having a bomber that could breach enemy airspace undetected. A bomber that could hit targets with almost perfect accuracy. Soviet Russia had poured its technology into surface-to-air missiles (SAMs.) Those missiles could track down U.S. military jets and blow them out of the sky. Their effectiveness; however, depended on radar locating the jet. Without radar detection, Soviet SAMs could not be launched.

A New Reality

Once the Soviets learned of the F-117 Nighthawk, they knew that the United States could launch a first strike on Russia. An attack that they wouldn’t know about it until the first bomb hit the target. At the time, the Cold War had died down, but the Nighthawk made the idea of a war with the United States unwinnable. After the F-117 was revealed to the world, all of the military might of Soviet Russia became vulnerable to a handful of invisible planes.

In truth, there were many reasons that Soviet Russia fell. The decline of communism happened over decades. The economic and social issues were the prime causes of the USSR, but the F-117 created a new reality that Soviet Russia had not anticipated, nor could they overcome.

Employee Ownership? Does Business USA Own Its Employees?

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Employee Ownership?

It was a chance encounter. Juli Briskman was out riding her bike on a Saturday in October. Trump was just leaving from playing another round of golf. Trump’s motorcade passed Briskman and she saluted the Resident of the White House with her middle finger. Had a photographer not caught the act it would have just been another typical day. This day, it would get Briskman fired. The company’s position:  it owns its employees.

Trump’s Single Digit Approval Rating

Quid Pro Quo

It’s important to note that Briskman was not identified in the photo, nor could she be identified as the photographer was behind her. She voluntarily told her company that she was the one in the photo. The company then fired her.

Employment is a quid pro quo environment. An employer agrees to pay compensation and benefits in return for certain specific tasks and responsibilities. Employment is not servitude, nor does it allow an employer to govern the employee’s actions 24/7/365. The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States forbids indentured servitude along with slavery.

In the social media age, businesses have attempted to expand their authority over employees and govern hu’s (her/his) non-work activities. The problem is that if a company is allowed to govern free speech outside of the work environment they are essentially making a demand on an employee’s time, expression, and choice without compensation. Again, employment is a Quid Pro Quo environment and both parties must agree to the terms of what is offered in return for compensation and benefits.

Is the Reverse True?

The test of this situation is to reverse it. If the company can claim it can govern employee behavior during non-work hours for no pay, does that mean all employee non-work activity is a liability for the company? If an employee kills someone, can the victim’s family sue the company? The point is that a company cannot arbitrarily decide what non-work activities it governs. If it governs some non-work activities, shouldn’t the company assume responsibility for all non-work activities?

The reality is that business has failed to be reasonable in its limitations on employee rules and policies. It is now time to reestablish that quid pro quo relationship and stop attempting to ignore the 13th Amendment.

Tactical Parking: Backing In to Save a Toddler’s Life

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Four years ago I wrote a piece on tactical parking. It’s time to revisit the subject. Tactical parking is when a driver backs into a parking space or garage, rather than front-in parking. In 2014, people were making fun of tactical parking. The joke is that it is a ‘guy’ thing. It’s not a joke. It’s about saving children from injury and death.

Tactical Parking: For the sake of every toddler

50 Children a Week

It is estimated that 50 children a week are injured or killed by someone backing hu’s (his or her) car or truck. Two children die every week. Most of these children are about one year old. Backing up a vehicle puts children at risk, and often the victim is the child or the grandchild of the driver.

In 2014, auto manufacturers had until May of this year to install back up cameras on every vehicle, but that does not completely solve the problem. Camera’s have blind spots and cameras require the driver to be focused on the dash, not on what is going on around the car.

Advantages of Tactical Parking

The major advantage of tactical parking (or backing in parking) is driver visibility, both backing in and pulling out. When backing in, the driver has to drive past the parking spot, driveway, or garage allowing a visual inspection of the area through the windshield and side window. This makes is safer for a driver to back in coming from the street or parking lot lane.

The real benefit is that as they pull out, the driver is viewing the area through the windshield, not craning hu’s head around to look out the back window, looking through the rearview mirror, or watching the small screen on the dash. Tactical parking also has the advantage of placing the driver closer to traffic lane when pulling out of a parking space, driveway, or garage.

Backing into a parking space can be a challenge for the inexperienced. It is not something to do when the parking lot is busy and cars are held up; however, tactical parking is only ten to twenty seconds longer that front-in parking.

If a driver can avoid backing completely, that is the optimal situation. In parking lots were two rows of cars park head-to-head, finding a parking spot where the two spaces are empty and the driver can ‘pull through’ is ideal. This allows safe parking and leaves the car facing traffic when it’s time to leave.

Practice, Practice, Practice

I use tactical parking every day and I still don’t do it on the first try. Part of the issue is that I’m anal about being in the middle of the parking space. I also fail to take the time to lower both side mirrors so I can see the parking space lines. The easiest place to practice is usually your own driveway and/or garage. If you live on a busy street, then going to an empty lot to practice is another good option.

The goal is to reduce the amount of backing up a driver has to do. Every hurt or injured child hit by a car backing up is a case of a momentary lapse, or a distraction, or an unexpected move by a child. We can’t eliminate those situations. We can work to have the car facing toward traffic when it moves from a parked postion. That will save a toddler’s life.

Breathe: Inhale to Breakdown Fat, Exhale To Lose It

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Fat is not all bad. In fact, it is absolutely necessary as a body regulator and protects the body from injury and heat loss. It is basically an organic, cushy, multiuse storage unit in the body. The problem is that most of us don’t need all that storage, so we attempt to rid ourselves of it. To accomplish that we need to remember to breathe.

BEAR: Do I look fat to you? Think before you answer.

[NOTE:  This article is based on an article from Live Science, What’s in a Fat Cell?”]

Fat Has a Purpose, Many Actually

If we ate the same food, and the same amount on a consistent schedule, fat would be less relevant. Fat is a buffer, retaining surplus compounds and releasing them when the body lacks those compounds.

Most people know fat is storage unit, but it is also a hazmat locker when the bloodstream has can’t process toxins in the blood. Fat also is necessary to process certain vitamins so the cells can use them. In addition, fat has two functions that many people overlook. Fat cells are a shock absorber for the body, and certain fat cells break down and generate heat to help regulate the body temperature.

The Big Three of Fat

Fat has three main elements. Carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. When fat is ‘burned’ it is a chemical process caused by oxygen interacting with the carbon and hydrogen. The outcome is water (H2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2.) The water is removed from the body through sweat or the digestive tract (urine and feces,) but the carbon dioxide is expelled when we exhale.

This makes the respiratory system critical in the elimination of fat cells. The oxygen inhaled is the oxidizer needed to break down the fat cell, and the carbon dioxide is exhaled. When we lose weight, the waste product is liquid and gas, not solid.

So, just breathe…and exercise…and eat healthily.

Eulogy For Donald Trump

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We are here to celebrate the passing of Donald Trump. Let us not dwell on the life of a man who was a failure as a human, but focus on what his life taught us. Donald Trump was more than a prime example of the baseness of human nature. He was the darkness that exposed the darkness of others. We need no deity to judge other people when a person like Trump can readily draw out the perverseness of others.

GOP all smiles

Donald Trump:  Hero of the Darkness

The Donald Trump Effect

Without Trump we would not have known:

  • How feckless Republicans are, and how impotent they are as leaders. Repeatedly, Trump embarrassed the Republican party and they all smiled and accepted it. When they did contradict him it was tentative and short-lived. They were clearly subservient to Trump and demonstrated a fear of his wrath.
  • The perverse nature of Christian evangelicals that claim freedom of religion as long as it is their religion and not any other version. Trump mocked the Bible on a daily basis and they loved him for it.
  • How racists and paternalistic conservatives are as they manufactured issues that just happen to target non-whites and women. We suspected that race and gender were the underlying motives, but Trump ‘said’ what they were thinking and now we know for sure.
  • The depth of the greed of the powerful and wealthy in the United States. If there is a deity, She has no need to judge them. Their sins are self-evident, thanks to Donald Trump.

Donald Trump was a person that drew out the poison of our society. Trumpsters felt that with Trump, they no longer needed to hide the ugliness inside them. These people would have been able escape notice had it not been for Donald Trump.

So as we celebrate his death, let us celebrate the what he did for our country. Trump divided us into Constitution loving, respectful, compassionate people…and Trumpsters. Let us rejoice! 

Murder Mystery: Did the Kremlin Kill Yuri Gagarin?

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Fifty years ago Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space and the first to orbit the Earth, died in a plane crash. Hu’s (His) body wouldn’t be found until the next day. The crash was a mystery. How did a seasoned pilot, a test pilot, and a cosmonaut crash a plane on a routine flight? Was it murder? One person had the motive and the means to kill the Soviet space hero, but was it just a strange coincidence?

Yuri Gagarin portrait

Yuri Gagarin: Soviet Hero. Brezhnev enemy?

Yuri Gagarin:  Hero of the USSR

Yuri Gagarin was a Russian hero by any standard. Hu’s parents worked on a collective farm. During World War II, Gagarin’s family was driven out of their house by German soldiers and had to live in a small mud hut for over a year. After the war, hu (he) trained at a vocational school and attended evening classes. According to the Soviet narrative, hu took every advantage to improve himself, including volunteering on weekends to learn to fly with the Soviet Air Cadets.

Gagarin was drafted and sent to Soviet flight school to learn how to fly the MiG-15 jet. In 1960, hu was one of twenty men selected to become the first Soviet cosmonauts. When it came to selecting the first person to go into space, Gagarin stood out among his peers. One evaluator wrote this about Gagarin:

Soviet Doctor’s Evaluation

Modest; embarrasses when his humor gets a little too racy; high degree of intellectual development evident in Yuriy; fantastic memory; distinguishes himself from his colleagues by his sharp and far-ranging sense of attention to his surroundings; a well-developed imagination; quick reactions; persevering, prepares himself painstakingly for his activities and training exercises, handles celestial mechanics and mathematical formulae with ease as well as excels in higher mathematics; does not feel constrained when he has to defend his point of view if he considers himself right; appears that he understands life better than a lot of his friends.

From Wikipedia on Yuri Gagarin

Gagarin stubbornness to defend hu’s point of view may have led to hu’s death.

High-Risk Gamble

The mission to be the first human in space was inherently dangerous. From the launch, a controlled, directed explosion, to entering into the unknown environment of space, to reentering the atmosphere, the journey was filled with first-time events.

In addition, the Soviets didn’t know how to land a human back on Earth. The USSR’s plan was to touchdown on land rather than water. The problem was that parachutes can’t slow a spacecraft to a speed that won’t injure or kill the crew.

The solution was to allow the capsule to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, slow it down with parachutes, then have the cosmonaut jump out with his own personal parachute. It was risky, but it was a simple solution that allowed the Soviets to put a human in space before the United States. On 12 April 1961 Gagarin overcame the odds and made history.

Unacceptable Risk

Six years later the Soviets were still ahead in the space race. Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev wanted to keep it that way. For the 50th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, Brezhnev wanted to introduce the world to the new Soyuz capsule. He pushed to have two Soviet launches, one day apart, followed by a space rendezvous of the two spacecraft with an exchange of cosmonauts.

Soyuz 1 was to be piloted by Vladimir Komarov with Yuri Gagarin as a backup pilot. The two cosmonauts were close friends.

Months before the launch of the two rockets, the Gagarin and others inspected the Soyuz craft and found 203 structural problems. Gagarin wrote up a ten-page memo detailing the problems and demanding a delay in the program. He gave it to a friend who was a KGB agent to pass up the chain-of-command.

Allegedly, those that read memo were demoted or removed from the space program. It is unclear if Brezhnev actually saw the memo, but it was clear that no one wanted to challenge Brezhnev’s orders.

Death of a Friend

On the day of the launch, Gagarin demanded to be suited up, apparently to replace his friend, Komarov on the mission. Komarov did not want to go, but he also wasn’t willing to sacrifice Gagarin’s life. Komarov declined his friend’s offer and flew the mission.

As predicted, the spacecraft had major issues from the moment it reached orbit. After the Soyuz 2 launch was scrubbed, allegedly because of thunderstorms, Soyuz 1 was given the okay to return to Earth. Everyone knew that the capsule was unlikely to land safely. Komorov cursed his fate as his spacecraft plunged to Earth after the parachutes failed. It was a needless loss of life to satisfy the arrogance of Brezhnev.

Yuri Gagarin Poking the Bear With a Stick

Three weeks after hu’s friend’s death, Gagarin gave an interview that was published in Pravda. Hu blamed the people who allowed the launch of an unsafe capsule and indicated their complicity in Komarov’s death. Gagarin wanted to meet with Brezhnev and confront the man that everyone feared. It is unclear if this happened, but there was a rumor that Gagarin did have an encounter with the General Secretary and threw a drink in hu’s face.

It is clear that Gagarin was angry with Brezhnev, and it is also likely that Brezhnev was made aware of the situation. For Brezhnev, this had to be a potential political embarrassment and potentially dangerous to have a Russian hero question hu’s decisions.

Gagarin’s Mysterious Plane Crash

Gagarin’s anger at Brezhnev would be shortlived. About a year after Komarov’s death, Gagarin died in a mysterious plane crash. Among the odd aspects are:

  • Gagarin was a highly qualified pilot.
  • The crash was during Gagarin ‘recertification’ as a fighter pilot, deemed a formality.
  • The investigations found no exact cause for the crash.
  • Gagarin had completed the training maneuvers of the flight and had radioed that they were returning to base.
  • The plane disappeared without further contact.
  • Gagarin reported no issues of problems or crisis.
  • Searchers found the crash site later that day, but they didn’t find Gagarin’s body until the next day a short distance from the crash.
  • Another plane reportedly passed close to Gagarin’s plane before the crash.

If Brezhnev ordered Gagarin’s death it would have to look like a plausible accident. The most likely ‘accident’ for a pilot would be a plane crash. If not a deliberate act, Gagarin’s ‘accident’ benefited Brezhnev significantly by silencing a high-profile critic.

Another Coincidence

The circumstances of Yuri Gagarin’s death are strange enough, but there is one more coincidence. Gagarin’s death occurred just under two years from the release of the British movie, The Blue Max. A story about a German flying ace that had fallen out of the grace with hu’s superiors and died when flying a plane that was known to be unstable.

SpaceX’s Magical Block 5 Booster is a No Show

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Today is 6 April 2018. That deafening roar that you DIDN’T hear yesterday was the SpaceX Block 5 Falcon 9 rocket. It didn’t launch yesterday. Nor did it launch in February…nor in December. SpaceX plans fall short of reality again. The trademark of Elon Musk’s and his companies are their ability to fail to live up to their claims.

SpaceX One Trick:  Wasting Money to Reland Junk Boosters

Block 5 Falcon 9 – The Grand Promise

Block 5 is the made-up name for SpaceX’s final version of the Falcon 9. It is critical to their hope to be NASA’s go-to company for the manned space program. There is a catch. SpaceX has to fly the Block 5 booster seven times without making any upgrades or changes before NASA will put humans onboard.

There is another catch. SpaceX entire company has been built around one concept: economical space flight. Their method is reusability, and the centerpiece is the reusable booster. Musk has made grand claims that the SpaceX booster will be used ten times. In addition, some people have been suggesting that the booster will only need an inspection and will be able to be reflown in a matter of days.

To date, the maximum any booster has been reused is once (F9 Boosters B1021, B1023, B1025, B1029, B1031, B1032, B1035, B1036, B1038, B1039, B1041.) Of the eleven reflown boosters, six were relanded after the second flight, but then they were ‘retired’ or junked. The rest were ‘expended’ or destroyed. None of these boosters were Block 5 types.

The Snake Oil of Spaceflight

Any cost savings of the reusable booster have been eliminated by the waste of expending, relanding, and recovering junk boosters. The delays of the Block 5 are costing SpaceX money, and the idea that a booster can be landed, inspected, and reflown in days was the boast of NASA with the Space Shuttle. NASA found out the hard way. It is not possible without endangering lives.

The other aspect of this is that only SpaceX knows how much these launches really cost. They are not making the cost per launch available to the public. They could be charging much less than the actual cost to hide the fact that the reusable booster doesn’t actually save money.

Space Customers Are Watching

The first Block 5 flight is now scheduled for 24 April. The first SpaceX crewed flight was scheduled for December. It is improbable, and likely impossible that SpaceX will be able to have seven successful Block 5 flights in time to meet the December deadline.

This delay comes after a five-year delay in the launch of the Falcon Heavy. The first one was a spectacular success, but there are two more scheduled launches of the Falcon Heavy this year. Both have to be on time and successful, or SpaceX will face increasing doubts about its reliability.

My First and Final (gulp) Imaginary Interview With Terry Gross

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[NOTE:  5 April 2038. This imaginary interview with Fresh Air’s host Terry Gross took place in the cafeteria at the National Public Radio (NPR) Senior Care Facility in Washington, D.C., about five blocks from the NPR headquarters.]

Terry Gross WHYY

Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, 1987

Interview with Terry Gross:  Part I

Me:  This is a special guest-host edition of Fresh Air. My guest today is Terry Gross. She has been on radio for 65 years. For over six decades she has been the host of this weekday interview show produced by WHYY in Philadelphia and aired across the nation through National Public Radio stations. She has a degree in English, and a Masters degree in Communication. Among her many honors are a Peabody Award, an Edward R. Murrow Award, a Columbia Journalism Award, a 2015 National Humanities Award, and in 2012 she was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame. Terry, thank you for allowing me the honor of guest hosting your show, and the honor of interviewing you.

Terry:  You’re welcome.

Me:  You have had a front row seat to the some of the most influential and creative people for over sixty years. Does it ever become boring?

Terry:  Not usually. There is a routine we follow, but each interview is a potential Pandora’s box. We never know what we’ll find until we start talking to the guest. It keeps things edgy.

 Me:  You could have retired decades ago. What has kept you going?

Terry:  A lack of a retirement program. It’s public radio, not “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.”

[Me:  Pause.]

Me:  So you keep working for a paycheck?

Terry:  Not a paycheck. I get to stay here. Woo-hoo.

Me:  I should tell our listeners, that by ‘here’ you mean the NPR Senior Care Facility.

Terry:  Again, woo-hoo. Look over there. That’s Steve Inskeep eating his oatmeal. They still wheel him over to NPR six days a week.

Me:  To record NPR’s Morning Edition.

Terry:  And to clean the bathrooms…and he’s talking to Cokie Roberts. She’s probably explaining to Steve once again why he can’t have prunes in his oatmeal and prune juice. Here, you get one or the other, not both. That man at that table is Kai Ryssdal. He’s so hot. Oh, and over by the coffee machine is Don Gonyea….oh, wait, he’s trying to snort the artificial sweetener again. Excuse me.

Interview with Terry Gross:  Part II

Me:  We’re back talking to the host of Fresh Air, Terry Gross. Is Don okay?

Terry: He’ll be fine. We’ve told them that they can’t keep the artificial sweetener by the coffee. He finds them every time. Now, where were we?

Me:  I think we were talking about your amazing history on the radio. You have connections to generations of well-known people. How do you keep finding the next ‘Tom Hanks.’

Terry:  It’s not that difficult. After so many years, people come to you. You can usually tell they want to be on the show when they start inviting you to their parties.

Me:  But isn’t it exhausting to come up with high-quality interviews every weekday?

Terry:  Not really. We get at least two shows after each interview.

Me:  You mean re-airing the interview with the person releases a new book or movie?

Terry:  Yes, that, and when they die. We discovered long ago that the interview has a bigger audience just after they die.

Me:  Does that make an original interview less meaningful knowing that it will have a smaller audience, than after the person dies?

Terry:  Of course. But it means my show is easy the day after they’ve died. A little intro. A few edits. Bingo, new show. We call the first interview premorties and the final broadcast postmorties. Premorties is the salad, Postmorties is the entree and dessert.

Me:  Uhm…I see. Lately, it seems that most of your shows are postmorties.

Terry:  Yes. We’ve changed our strategy in the last few years. Now we do the interview just for the postmorties. We interview, he or she dies, we broadcast.

Me:  But what about days when no one significant has died?

Terry:  We have a guy.

Me:  What do you mean?

Terry:  Have you ever noticed that a celebrity dies almost every day except Fridays and Saturdays?

[Me:  Choking a little.]

Me:  You don’t…

Terry: Yes, we do.

Me:  So this interview…

Terry:  You’re a postmortie. You didn’t really think you were important enough for me to have on my show.

Me:  I’m going to …die?

Terry:  Spectacularly. It will be a self-driving car hit by California’s high-speed train. We’re trying to get a Tesla, but they’re really hard to find. Jay Leno used to have one, but it caught on fire. I was hoping we could have you also hit by that Tesla Roadster SpaceX launched twenty years ago, but they said the orbit was all wrong.

Me: oh…that would have been nice…I guess. I think I should head home now.

Terry:  Sure, but be careful. Don’t do anything dangerous before Tuesday.

Me:  okay.

The Dichotomy of Small Towns: Good People, Small Minds

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Small communities are two kinds of special. A small community can be a place of good people who would do anything for each other and will help out a stranger if needed. They also can have a darker side of illegal activities, whispered gossip of secret knowledge, and a narrow view of the rest of the world. It is the Jeckle and Hyde personality of a small town that is never discussed, but almost always there.

Roosevelt, UT

Small towns: The Pretty

Ruts of a Small Town

Change happens in small towns, but it often follows a counterintuitive logic. If the change is rational, involving a relatively workable plan of implementation, it is often viciously opposed by some people in the community. If the change is a Music Man-type (see video clip below) change consisting of unproven goals with lofty promises, a small community often embraces it.

Small town in Utah

Small towns. The Ugly

What that means is that small communities often don’t change significantly over time. The ‘BIG’ change that is going to reinvent the community typically falls flat. That results if a fear of change. Without change, life becomes a rut that everyone falls into.

Aging and Small Towns:  The ‘Comfort Zone’

Growing up in a small town is an interesting window into human development. Ask high school students what they want to do when they graduate and often the response is, “Get out of this hick town as fast as possible.” Small towns often don’t have enough jobs for high school graduating classes. College is often the best way for children to break out of the small town cycle.

But even those who go off to college sometimes return because there is a ‘comfort zone’ in living where hu grew up. As people grow older, the desire to ‘get out of Dodge’ is replaced with the fear of living somewhere else. That fear is eventually replaced by an intense loyalty to small-town life. Usually, older the person, the more defensive they are about living in a small town.

Small Towns and Confirmation Bias

In a small town, everyone knows everyone. As people age, they have a select few friends that they have significant contact. In some cases, daily contact. Unlike cities, people in small towns may see the same people at work, at school, at the grocery store, at church, etc. This immersion with other people creates intimate friendships that are as close, possibly closer, than marriage relationships.

People in small towns have limited experiences with people outside of their community and intimate friendships. They tend to develop a groupthink about the world and people outside their community. When all your close friends have the same lack of knowledge and experience with the rest of the world, people are exposed to ‘confirmation bias.’ This bias occurs when friends confirm a person’s beliefs, and other information that might counter those beliefs are ignored or unknown by the group.

Typically, confirmation bias fosters negative attitudes about people who are not like them. That leads to a conservative mindset that is easily exploited. It is not a coincidence that rural environments are ripe for politically conservative influence because they focus on telling rural communities exactly what they want to hear.

Small Town Black Holes

All of this is a generalization of small town people. To be fair, problems of larger communities, such as traffic, noise, pollution, homelessness, etc. are not the ideals of any community; however, small towns have an environment that generates the same patterns over and over. Children in a small town will often grow up to be like hu’s parents. People living in a marginal society disjoined from the world.

Should Federal Dollars Go To States With Low Taxes?

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Nevada has no income tax, no corporate tax, no inventory tax, and no capital gains tax. Should the rest of the country be taxed to give money to Nevada? The idea that some State and local governments can avoid taxing their citizens, but expect to receive federal tax dollars is a question of fairness and equity. Perhaps the federal government should base allocations to States based on their willingness to act fiscally responsible?

Virginia State Line

Some States Pull Their Weight

Low Taxes Myth

There is a myth that low State taxes attracts businesses, that in turn, attracts jobs for the citizens. In Nevada, the tax haven does attract companies, but only those that seek to dodge taxes. The Sierra Nevada Corporation is a prime example. They are a private defense contractor that, among other things, seek to become the next privatized NASA.

The Sierra Nevada Corporation sounds like it would be a major employer in Nevada. It is not. Currently, it claims to have over 3,500 employees in 33 locations around the world.  In 2014, about one-third of its employees were in Colorado and the potential job growth is at its Colorado facilities.

However, its corporate headquarters is in Nevada. The company was founded in Nevada; however, the State does not have the caliber of workers needed for the high technology jobs. So why not move the company to Colorado? Because the corporate staff and the company enjoy the tax immunity of Nevada.

Freeloader States

According to WalletHub.com, the ten State governments that are most dependent on federal money are as follows:

  1. Louisiana
  2. Mississippi
  3. Arizona
  4. Kentucky
  5. New Mexico
  6. Montana
  7. Oregon
  8. Tennessee
  9. Missouri
  10. Alaska

These States are the top ten with the lowest taxes on their residents, (with the ranking of federal dollar dependency,) according to USA Today (Taxes on corporations are not included):

  1. Alaska (10)
  2. Wyoming (20)
  3. South Dakota (14)
  4. Tennessee (8)
  5. Louisiana (1)
  6. Texas (21)
  7. New Hampshire (31)
  8. Nevada (36)
  9. South Carolina (29)
  10. Oklahoma (26)

Three of the top five having the lowest State taxes are also among the top ten State governments most dependent on federal money. The residents of another three of the top ten States with low taxes are in the top fifty percent in dependency on federal subsistence.

Five of the top ten States (Alaska, Wyoming, South Dakota, Texas, and Nevada) with the lowest taxes have no State income tax.

Pulling Their Weight

Many States use federal money to supplement their own tax revenue. It is only fair that they should. It is unfair that some States tilt the tax revenue field and expect federal money to replace State revenue. Perhaps it’s time that federal money should be restricted from States that do not have an adequate local and State tax structure to provide a foundation for services for their citizens before federal money is given to them.

Tax Breaks Don’t Work When Everyone is Giving Them

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The United States of America has a tax problem. We have too many local and state governments using ‘fire-sale’ tactics to attract business through tax breaks. It is a problem caused by conservatives. They have created the myth that taxes hurt business so lower taxes will increase business. The irony is that the strategy that conservatives inflict on government is a strategy that they would laugh at in the business world.

Panama’s strategy of low or no taxes brings in the wrong business

What’s Bad For Business is Bad For Government

When a business puts their products on sale, they do so with the expectation that it will increase business and volume will make up for the lower price. If the sale price is too low the business loses money. In addition, the customer might think there is something wrong with the product when the price is too low. If a company’s competitors match or beat the sale price, everyone loses except the customer. It is not good business.

The same is true for governments. Tax breaks reduce revenue for the maintenance and improvement of local communities. When tax breaks are overused, the community suffers from the lost revenue. The myth is that less tax revenue is more money for everyone only works if the tax break has no significant impact on the quality of the government. In addition, if competing governments are giving the same or better tax breaks the strategy fails for everyone.

In Nevada, the State has no income tax, no inventory tax, no corporate tax, and no capital gains tax. When the state or local government gives a tax break to a business, it is automatically a net loss for the community. Any business moving to Nevada is already coming for the low tax rate and any other break is just giving away money.

Panama’s What Not To Do

Panama has about the same population of Oklahoma. That is not a lot of people for tax revenue purposes. In 1994, Panama passed a law that basically gave a tax break to a property owner for 20 years. It was more complicated than that, but it attracted a lot of foreign investors. What happened?

It attracted people of modest wealth that were looking for only for the tax break. The jobs created were minimal, but it dramatically increased the value of land and property. Citizens of Panama suddenly found that home prices skyrocketed and because many were living as tenants, they had to move when the landlord sold the property for more money.

The end result was no one benefited from the tax strategy but wealthy developers.

Tax Breaks Always Fail

The reality is that tax breaks always fail. Despite thousands of tax breaks being given by local and state governments every year, there is no evidence that they actually have a positive impact on the citizens of the community. Tax breaks for companies don’t create more jobs, increase worker pay, or improve a dying economy. They make rich people richer.

April Fool’s Day is Donald Trump Day

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On the third Monday of February, our country celebrates the great Presidents. For Donald Trump, we have a different holiday. For this day the western world can join in a celebration that even predates our country. We used to call it April Fool’s Day, but now we have the poster child of April Fool’s Day as our President.

Our Biggest April Fool

Donald Trump Day isn’t just for the man who became the Resident of the White House, but it recognizes all Trumpsters who adore hu and hu’s foolish ways. It is a day that the new Soviet Republican party can be remembered for their Collective Closed Mind. This is a holiday that has been in search of its people and now its people have been found!

On this special day let’s remember how special Donald Trump and the Trumpsters are as Fools of Humanity. To be a Fool:

  • One must believe that freedom of religion means a Taliban-like State where Christian extremists inflict their made-up racist-based mythology on everyone.
  • A person must accept that gun deaths are caused by non-Trumpsters, and the solution is more guns.
  • One should know that a man has the obligation to rule over women as subservient beings.
  • A person must believe that a book of mythological stories of life written over 2,000 years ago. They should think that it is how we should govern all citizens of the United States of America in the 21st century.
  • One must ignore all facts that contradict what you want to believe.
  • One must read the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America without the words “militia” and “well regulated.”
  • One can declare that all non-whites are illegal immigrants and that nullifies all laws prohibiting racism.

We Look Forward to the Day

There are many more, but this is a day for Donald Trump and hu’s Trumpsters. Let them speak for themselves. For the rest of us, we look forward to the day when the holiday only reminds us of Trump reign. Remind us of when Soviet Republicanism briefly took over our country. Remind us of why we celebrate April Fool’s Day only once a year, instead of suffering through it all year.

Our Roving Intelligent Life On Mars

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For over 2000 Mars-days* the Curiosity Rover has been strolling across the landscape of Mars. The Mission is known as the Mars Science Laboratory and the star is Curiousity. Google defines intelligence as, “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.” Under that definition, Curiosity and its predessors certainly qualify as intelligent life on another planet.

[*Mars-day or sols = 24 hours + 37 minutes of Earth time]

Mars = Soviet Humiliation

To date, humans have attempted to send 55¹ missions to Mars and over half of them have failed. Soviet Russia tried to launch 20 missions and none of them were a complete success. Two misssion were mostly successful, and three of them were mostly failures. The other 15 missions were complete failures.

Russia seemed to give up sending missions to Mars after 1988. Since the fall of Communism, Russia has attempted two probes, both failed. Russia’s only successful probe to the Red planet is a joint orbiter mission with the European Space Agency (ESA) that is still in operation.

In comparison to Russia’s single success out of 23 attempts, India has sent one mission to Mars and the orbiter is now on an extended mission.

[¹NOTE:  An orbiter/lander mission is counted as two separate missions.]

What We Know About Mars, Thank NASA/JPL

NASA and its partners like the Joint Propulsion Lab (JPL) have been responsible for putting intelligent life on Mars. Five out of the current eight operational missions are NASA/JPL missions. The Mars Odyssey mission was launched 17 years ago (April 2001) and is expected to be operational until 2025.

The United States is the only country to successfully have a rover on Mars and it has a perfect record in four attempts (SojournerSpiritOpportunity, and Curiosity.) The Opportunity rover was launched in 2003 and is still operational.

Curiosity takes a selfie on Mars

Curiouser and Couriouser

The Couriosity rover was on a two-year mission after its successful 2012 landing. It is now on an extended mission without an end date. It continues to explore and offer new insights; however, it is a mission that has almost been too successful. As it continues to wander around Gale crater, one has to wonder how much more can our rover-on-the-ground learn in one location?

As it rolls beyond 2000 sols will its constant poking, prodding, and picture-taking result in more knowledge, or bias our understanding based on the massive data from one region? Perhaps we will find out in 2020. Three new rovers are scheduled for launch that year. The United States will send Mars 2020, ESA will send ExoMars 2020, and the yet to be named 2020 Chinese Mars Mission will also be sent.

Trump’s Soviet-Style Government

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Soviet Russia (1917-1991) had an oppressive government where one party ruled with complete authority. Soviet offices were all held by loyal communist party members and corruption was rampant. Donald Trump is creating his own Soviet-style government using the Republican party. They are not concerned about disenfranchising a majority of the citizens, but rather, treat opposing voices as disloyal elements that are to be ignored.

GOP all smiles

The United Soviet States of America?

Lenin’s Vision of His Soviet Party

Vladimir Lenin held the belief that a government could only be run by one person or a small group of people. He also believed that there were only two kinds of people in the world: friends or enemies. Obviously, friends believed what Lenin believed and everyone else was an enemy.

Like Lenin, Donald Trump sees only two kinds of people. His adoring supporters and disloyal people who are his enemies. Trump seems to see himself as a heroic figure in a tragic situation, besieged by his enemies. His inability to accept any responsibility for his failings and poor judgment is part of his leadership style.

Soviets and Republicans:  One Party, One Mind

Lenin divided his party when he demanded that membership must consist of only loyal followers. His groupthink party rejected all other ideas and discussion that contradicted his will. Those who were not loyal were not allowed to participate in his government.

Trump has followed a Lenin-like path with a constant stream of changes in his administration. He has reduced his White House staff to yes-people who do not offer different points of view and seek to please Trump with constant praise and admiration.

Like Lenin, Like Putin, Like Trump

The United States of America defeated Communism by being a nation of diverse ideas and opinions. Debate and compromise have been the strength of our country’s political system. After the fall of Soviet Russia, the idea of open discussion led to chaos in the new Russia. In less than a decade, Vladimir Putin rose to power and built a system of government that was a return to Soviet Russia in all but the name.

Trump is following the example of Lenin and Putin in his attempt to establish a Soviet-style government in our country using the Republican party as his version of the Communist party. If he is successful he will essentially be handing the defeat of the United States of America to Putin and Soviet Russia, 27 years after the fall of communism.

Novice Directors Make Theatre Painful

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For five years we ran a small theatre company. Between children plays and main stage adult plays we produced up to twelve shows a year. I had a BFA in Techincal Theatre; however, the experience as a teacher, director, technical director, actor, and executive director forced me to quickly improve all my skills.

Church and School Plays: How to teach young people to hate theatre

The Theatre Director’s Curse

I’m embarrassed to say how bad our first productions were but my skills I did improve over time. Now, I find watching a play is a constant effort to try and enjoy the action of the stage while suppressing my analysis of the work of the director. I deliberately avoid attending plays because I often can’t enjoy what is happening on stage.

My worst experience as an audience member was when I saw King Lear in Stratford-upon-Avon on a theatre tour in England. A Japanese director had violated several basic responsibilities of staging. While his work had been given high praise by many, I found myself looking for a nice pub after intermission.

What Not To Do

Here are some basic mistakes of novice directors:

Chaotic Blocking

An audience member cannot focus on the entire stage at once. It is the job of the director to guide the audience’s attention. Normally that is to the person talking, but it also includes key actions that give the audience information nonverbally. Blocking is the term used to describe how the director uses the movements of the actors to give focus (release the audience’s attention) and take focus (draw the audience’s focus.)

No movement on stage should be unplanned. If an actor is wandering aimlessly on the stage it is the director’s failure to give clear guidance to the actor. Blocking also requires that a director knows at least five ways for an actor to give and take focus. If they don’t know this, the audience will miss keys lines and action that establish the story.

Plodding Scene Changes

OH…MY…GOD! Any scene change that takes more than ten seconds is a failure. The play is a story and the scene change has NOTHING to do with the story. It actually breaks the concentration of the audience and the actors. The scene change is choreography. Everything must be rehearsed over and over with the lights down. Once the scene change is perfected, it must happen exactly the same way every time.

Bad Actor Management

During the rehearsal process, the director will begin to notice which actors may not be capable of handling their role. It is the job of the director to manage the actors and address performance issues. The director must either coach the actor, cut lines, transfer lines, or take other action to resolve the issue. A bad performance is the director’s fault.

Over Designing the Show

Scenic, costume, and lighting design enhance the play. They do not tell the story, and they can often be distracting. Actors are the alpha and omega of a play. Light them, dress them, surround them with a set to perform on, but never forget that a great actor can play a character on a bare stage, with a candle, in hu’s* underwear.

Falling Sky: China’s Tiangong 1 Space Station Last Hours

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Within the next 72 hours China’s first space station, the Tiangong 1, is going to end its life. It is already scraping the extreme upper atmosphere of Earth and the air resistance is slowing down the 7.7 metric tons (8.5 ton) spacecraft with every passing second. It is coming down somewhere, but scientists don’t know exactly when or where.

Tiangong altitude

The rapid altitude decline (in km) of Tiangong 1

Current Stats of Tiangong 1

The current speed of the Tiangong 1 (27 March 2018 at 12 noon PDT) is at 28,000 km/hr (17,400 mph) and it is at an altitude of just under 200 km (125 mi) at the lowest point in its orbit. Its orbit has lowered by over 60 km in the last two months. As Tiangong 1 approaches 160 km the air resistance will be too much for it to maintain orbit.

Statistically, Tiangong 1 will most likely fall into an ocean; however, there is a possibility that it could fall on southern Europe, southern Asia, Africa, Austrailia, South America, Central America, or the United States.

Lost Contact

Normally, objects like this are brought down in a controlled fall using thrusters to slow the craft down at a specific time and location. In the case of Tiangong 1, the Chinese engineers had planned to bring it down in a controlled reentry until they mysteriously lost contact with it two years ago.

China said they had shut down telemetry with Tiangong 1 in March of 2016. They didn’t admit they had lost control of it until amateur astronomers had confirmed the space station was tumbling in space a few months later. Without the ability to communicate with the space station, there is no way to command the thrusters for a controlled reentry.

Best Guess?

The experts are currently estimating that Tiangong 1 will come down on Easter Sunday (1 April.) Since Earth’s atmosphere expands and contracts with solar activity, the air resistance is not consistent. There is a critical point when the air resistance will win its battle with the space station and the orbit will decay exponentially. At that point, the spacecraft will begin a rapid breakup as it descends through the thicker atmosphere.

For what it’s worth, my guess is 7:42 am PDT on Saturday, 31 March.

Journalism Ethics: Interviewing the Reporter As a News Source

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News organizations have not evolved as much as they have devolved over the last sixty years. Journalism ethics have suffered the greatest. The priority in news organizations has shifted from high journalistic standards to gaining market share. The news anchor or primary news host now use the reporter as hu’s* news source.

I can't match the anchor's name to any of the CNN faces online

CNN news anchor interview CNN reporter Matt Rivers

How Did We Get Here?

Originally, the news reporter job was to gather the facts, confirm the facts, and organize the facts into a story. The myth of Superman’s girlfriend getting the scoop and landing a Page One, Pulitzer Prize article wasn’t how it really happened.

Good journalism was the verification of the facts, careful research, and exposing lies. In the end, the reporter’s name was the byline, not the storyline. Reporters needed the attention to detail of an accountant, the interrogation skill of a great attorney, the ethics of a great judge, and the knowledge of a college professor, in addition to the ability to write a compelling story.

But when investors began buying up news organizations, money became the priority over journalism standards. Advancement was based who could attract a bigger audience. Women were brought into the newsroom, but the motivation was ratings, not equality. Money flowed to those that could produce shock and awe. The young, idealistic journalism graduate discovered that a reporter was underpaid, overworked, and disrespected.

And while the journalism standards fell, the news source wall went up. Organizations created ‘public relations’ experts to ‘control the message.’ Now a reporter is the person between the news organization looking for ratings and the news source that wants to be a shining star.

Corporate Public Relations Mastery of Orwellian Doublespeak

Not every company believes in lying to the public, but it does seem the bigger they are, the less responsive they are willing to be. The most recent major incident is Facebook’s initial response to the data of 50 million users being collected by conservatives connected to the Donald Trump campaign.

After the story broke on Saturday 17 March, Facebook ran silent for days before issuing any response. Journalists that attempted to obtain information and/or a response were ignored. Major headlines were running about the data breach and Facebook was on lockdown.

Corporate PR has made the company the least likely source of accurate, reliable, and/or truthful information. So now the reporter digs up whatever information they can and becomes the ‘expert.’ The news anchor often interviews the reporter as the sole news source because no one else will talk.

The problem with this is that the reporter can’t speak with authority. They are not privy to the inside information so they can only offer hu’s opinion. That changes journalism into gossip and guessing. No one can be sure of anything because no one knows the truth. That leaves it up to the individual to accept what they want to hear and reject what they don’t want to hear. That is never good for a democracy.

[*Hu’s is a gender neutral pronoun for his or her.]

The Sad Life of a Russian Troll (Печальная жизнь русского тролля)

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It is a statement of life in Russia when one of the best jobs to be had is employment to write fake news stories, deceive people, and attempt to create chaos in other countries. Russian Troll Farms, or Web Brigades, as they refer to themselves, tell us more about Russian life, than about Western gullibility. What follows is my own fake story of an interview with a Russian Troll.

Troll – a mythical creature in folklore living in caves or hills or under bridges as either a giant or a dwarf, typically having a very ugly appearance.

Russia Condos

Living Large in Russia: Condos in St. Petersburg

Interview With A Russian Troll

[NOTE: Some language may be inappropriate for young readers.]

Interviewer:  What’s your job? (Кем вы работаете?)

Russian Troll:  I learned to speak English so I could be paid to agitate and influence people in the United States to vote for politicians like we have in Russia. (Я научился говорить по-английски, чтобы мне могли заплатить за то, чтобы агитировать и влиять на людей в Соединенных Штатах, чтобы голосовать за таких политиков, как у нас в России.)

Interviewer:  How does that help Russia? (Как это помогает России?)

Russian Troll:  It doesn’t, but it makes the Americans suffer like we have to suffer in this shithole country. (Это не так, но это заставляет американцев страдать, как мы должны страдать в этой стране.)

Interviewer:  Why do you do it? (Почему ты это делаешь?)

Russian Troll:  I live in Russia. How else can I pay the bills? (Я живу в России. Как еще я могу оплатить счета?)

Interviewer:  The economy of the United States drives the economy of the rest of the world. If you’re successful, aren’t you afraid of a worldwide economic disaster? (Экономика Соединенных Штатов стимулирует экономику остального мира. Если вы добились успеха, разве вы не боитесь мировой экономической катастрофы?)

[Language warning]

Russian Troll:  Don’t tell me about disaster until you’ve seen the crappy place where I live in the middle of winter. Fuck the Americans. Fuck the rest of the world. They all celebrated when Americans landed on the Moon. They all celebrated when the Berlin Wall fell. Fuck them! (Не говори мне о бедствии, пока не увидишь дерьмовое место, где я живу в середине зимы. Ебать американцев. Трахайте весь остальной мир. Все они отмечали, когда американцы высадились на Луну. Все они праздновали, когда упала Берлинская стена. Трахайте их!)

Interviewer:  What about your children? How will your work help them? (Как насчет ваших детей? Как ваша работа поможет им?)

Russian Troll:  Who cares? Did anyone care about me when I was a child? For the last twenty years no one cares, so why should I care? (Какая разница? Кто-нибудь заботился обо мне, когда я был ребенком? За последние двадцать лет никто не заботится, так зачем мне это волновать?)

Interviewer:  You mean the last twenty years when Vladimir Putin has led your country? (Вы имеете в виду последние двадцать лет, когда Владимир Путин привел вашу страну?)

Russian Troll:  Exactly!…No, wait. YOU TRICK ME! (Quickly looks around) No, Putin has been good. I mean Putin has been great. Great! Putin is a great leader! (Точно! .. Нет, подожди. ВЫ ТРЕТЬЕ МЕНЯ! Нет, Путин был хорош. Я имею в виду, что Путин был замечательным. Большой! Путин – великий лидер!)

Interviewer:  What does a Russian troll do after they leave the Farm? (Что делает русский тролль после ухода из фермы?)

Russian Troll:  First of all, we are not a Troll Farm. We are a Web Brigade! We fight a war against the Free Countries of the World! We will bring them to their knees! Second, when I finish here I will be rich! I will never have to work again! I will move to America and be a…how you say,…big?, BIG, yes?, I will be a big man! You will know me by my shiny red sports car! (Прежде всего, мы не Ферма Троллей. Мы – веб-бригада! Мы ведем войну против Свободных стран мира! Мы поставим их на колени! Во-вторых, когда я закончу здесь, я буду богат! Мне больше никогда не придется работать! Я перееду в Америку и буду … как вы говорите, … большой?, БОЛЬШОЙ, да ?, Я буду большим человеком! Ты узнаешь меня своим блестящим красным спортивным автомобилем!)