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Oh, And, One More Thing

One more thing: thank you to all the wonderful taxpayers who are continuing to subsidize my health insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act in 2017. My personal share of the monthly premium did not, after all, increase. Rather, the federal government is now subsidizing my monthly premium in an amount exceeding $630 per month, or about $200 more per month than they were in 2016.

And just so you know, other than possibly consuming a bit too much soda pop, I continue making an effort to remain healthy and avoid doctors and hospitals, so that entire $630, plus the additional amount I pay myself under penalty of law, is going directly to the overflowing coffers of the insurance industry.

I believe the term is "corporate welfare." I really oughta get me one o' them corporations.

No More NaNo

I just deleted my NaNoWriMo.org account. I have participated in National Novel Writing Month for over ten years. Each year I donate at least a few dollars (usually twenty, and as high as fifty) to support the event, because it's fun and because it seems selfish to take part for free. In more than ten years of participating, I have never once completed the NaNoWriMo 50,000 word challenge. Still, being a "contributor" puts me in a more exclusive group than mere completers. Fewer than 8% of NaNo participants actually contribute financially to the operation, even though about 15%, on average, complete the 50,000 word challenge each year.

For me, in addition to the disappointment I feel toward myself for never having put forth the necessary effort to complete the really-not-that-difficult challenge, it seems that NaNo has lost much of its charm. It's too big now. It's too popular. It's too trendy. It has lost the slightly oddball, goofy appeal that it had when the participation rate numbered in the few thousands or even the tens of thousands. NaNoWriMo participation is now over 400,000 annually. Yet despite the greater numbers, NaNo no longer contributes a portion of the annual proceeds to non-profit literacy and library-building projects. The beneficiaries of their non-profit largesse appear to largely be the participants who choose to participate for free and themselves, to keep the operation running.

I decided, during NaNo this past November (2016), that I would probably delete my account if I once more failed to complete the challenge. Despite not really having any legitimate or compelling excuses to fail this past year, I simply failed to put in any time or effort whatsoever beyond typing in a title and making the usual contribution. Tonight I ran across a mention of NaNoWriMo somewhere and it reminded me of my intent to cancel my account. Having thought about it off an on over the past several weeks, I've come up with no compelling reason to continue my NaNoWriMo membership, so cancel it I did, about ten minutes ago.

I expected to feel more of a sense of sadness or loss, or at least of failure, but really, I don't. In fact, while "glad" is too strong a word, I feel like leaving NaNo is the right thing to do. I think partly it's because NaNo is a "big business" now, rather than an "exclusive club" or a "fun group," and they don't need me. Plus, after having contributed money to them for all these years, and even having purchased a poster or two from their online store, I'm feeling a little bit like a sucker for paying the rent for the hundreds of thousands of leeches and lampreys who go along for the ride every year but never pitch in for gas.


If you intend to vote for Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Presidential election, you are more than welcome to pay my soon-to-increase "Affordable Health Care Act" (aka "Obamacare") health insurance premium, which, effective in January, increases from $34 per month to $212 per month.

Or at the very least, please unfollow and block this account, and I will happily unfollow in kind... because we are not of the same kind.

How can anyone believe it is appropriate for the government to pass a law criminalizing those who refuse to purchase health insurance from a private company, but allow those private companies to continue to raise rates with no apparent ceiling or price cap? How can anyone believe it is correct and lawful for the federal government to FORCE individuals to purchase a product from a private company or face criminal penalties?

Well, guess what? Y'all just made me into a criminal! I think maybe I'll take the $212 per month that I'm NOT going to pay to the health insurance companies and buy a couple of guns and a whole lot of ammo (while I still can). Then, when the gub'mint comes to get me for not paying my insurance premiums, I'll be ready to take some of 'em down with me when I go. I hope the insurance company toadies have good insurance!

Oh, and, most of the tax dollars I have been paying are already going directly into the coffers of the insurance industry, because the government is currently "subsidizing" the cost of this insurance to the tune of $450 a month.

How can anyone with even a single functioning brain cell believe that this colossal financial handout to the insurance industry is just or equitable or legal (despite the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court... and leaked information indicating that the Justices were "pressured" about their ruling) in any way? Other than, of course, the scumbags who work in the insurance, banking, or medical fields?

How many times did I visit a doctor this past year? Or the year before that? Or the year before that? ZERO! How many prescription medications did I purchase? ZERO! I don't cost the insurance industry a stinking dime, but they are raising my rates – let me do the math for you, because as a Hillary supporter you're too damned stupid by default to understand numbers – by SEVEN-HUNDRED PERCENT!

Yeah, the rate increase is being covered, briefly and in a cursory, disingenuous manner, in the news today: "Obamacare" premiums will increase by double digits. Those headlines, and the numbers they use, are misleading. Those numbers are based on the full, unsubsidized premiums. The actual out-of-pocket premium increase for regular people, like me, are much greater.

As noted above, my particular plan is being subsidized at over $450 per month. A National Public Radio article says, "Rates Rise Again For Obamacare Health Plans, But So Do Subsidies." So it's no big deal, right? Even with a subsidy increase, my share of these absurd monthly rates will increase seven-fold, from dozens of dollars a month to hundreds of dollars a month. Hundreds of extra dollars I don't happen to have.

But if I don't, or can't, pay, I'm a criminal.

If you are supporting Hillary Clinton and the Obama legacy, please unfollow and block this Flickr account. If you believe the Affordable Health Care Act is about "health care," go insert sharp, rusty objects into your various bodily orifices and then unfollow and block. There's a YUUUGE difference between "health care" and "health insurance." This "Act" is not about providing health care services; it is a legislated transfer of wealth.

You know, back when the Affordable Health Care Act was being debated in congress, I attended several local "town hall" style meetings with congressional and senate representatives. At each of the meetings, a significant majority of the people present were vehemently opposed to the proposed health "care" legislation. Not just a vocal minority, but almost everyone. Nevertheless, the representatives said that they were listening to the advice of "experts" and were supporting the legislation. Because these meetings turned out to be so antagonistic, after the first few, the remainder were simply cancelled.

We are being ruled by the corporate elite. If you're one of 'em, if you work in the insurance or banking or medical industry, or if you are a state employee working in higher education, or if you are working for the federal government, woo hoo for you, your insurance premiums are probably being covered, and your company's profits are on the increase. Lucky you.

(As a former state employee who worked in public, rather than higher, education, I saw my take-home paycheck decrease every year as a result of increasing health insurance premiums. Ultimately, my declining wages (which declined despite occasional, paltry "raises" that did not even cover the increasing insurance premiums) contributed to my decision – not so much a decision as a necessity – to sell my home in a wonderful location and move to a smaller, dumpier house in a different, and far less pleasant, state.)

If you're not one of the fat cats, you know what to do.

I don't care who you vote FOR, as long as you vote AGAINST Hillary Clinton.

Let Me Get This Straight....

Donald Trump says it's okay to bring back waterboarding in certain instances, and that's bad?
Yet John Kasich says "it will be over when they're all beheaded" and that's okay?

Dearth of Imagery

There has been a significant fall-off in the appearance of my free-to-use Creative Commons licensed Flickr photos in various online publications over the past year or so.

Have online publications quit using Flickr as a source of free photos? I don't know.

Are Flickr stats no longer effectively reporting off-site links? Who knows; Flickr is constantly messing with things under the hood and out of sight.

Are there fewer online publications? Possibly; I've noticed that small-scale blogs, which often used my images, seem to be falling dormant or ceasing publication altogether.

A more likely explanation, however, is that I have been posting fewer images to Flickr this past year or two, the images I post are low-grade snapshots and not very interesting, and I moved many of my most popular images (Thailand and Spain travel photos, in particular) to iPernity. And nobody looks at iPernity!

I'm going to try to post more and better photos in 2016, and see if that makes a difference. I might even resurrect a "365" project or two!

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Just read a bunch of reviews and spoiler sites about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Sounds to me like effin' lazy film-making of the lowest, most degenerate kind.

(Warning: moderately edited spoiler RANT follows!)

Character X allows and even encourages Character Son of X to kill him, because "he has to do it" and somehow that will start Son of X down some kind of path of redemption? Okay, sorry for being so, y'know, hyper-conservative and all, but killing your parents is just messed up. It's not "entertainment." It's not even good storytelling. It's effin' Kip Kinkel (high school shooter in my hometown who killed his parents and then shot up a school) crap.

We have a world full of psycho kids and "young adults" out there, raised on video games, who can barely differentiate between reality and fantasy anymore: the Columbine shooters, that Colorado theater shooter, the Sandy Hook freak, those two 12 year old girls who stabbed their friend nineteen times and left her to die in the woods "for Slenderman." Now we have what is possibly the most influential film franchise of all time hinting -- no, not hinting, but blatantly stating -- that killing your father is the path to understanding yourself? And your dad, as he dies an agonizing death right before your eyes, will forgive you for it?

That. Is. Messed. The. Eff. Up.

Oh, and don't forget: it's a Disney movie!

Second-run, DVD, Netflix, whatever or wherever... I'll be skipping The Force Awakens.

I Didn't Know

I didn’t know. I truly had no idea.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015 was my last day as a teacher at XXX Elementary School. I had no idea how difficult, how exceptionally sad, it would be to leave a job I thought I was totally burned out on.

But more significantly, more difficult, and even more surprising: I had no idea what my presence meant to the school. I truly had no inkling of the regard and affection my coworkers had for me.

I am overwhelmed and astonished.

And now I’m wondering if leaving, leaving the school and leaving Hawaii, will be one of the greatest mistakes of my life.

I’ve always considered myself to be at best a mediocre teacher. Sure, I can relate well to particular students, but overall I never thought I was anything special. On the contrary, I’ve always felt inferior, unprofessional, and ineffective compared to most of my colleagues. I just did my little SPED thing and tried, with mixed success, not to be an inconvenience.

I figured my leaving would be little more than a blip on the radar. I’ve seen a few teachers leave over the years: teachers with more seniority, teachers with better credentials, teachers with more professional accomplishments, and teachers who are a lot more “teacher-ly.” Some have retired, some have transferred to other schools, some took admin positions, some moved out of state. There was usually a brief acknowledgement of their service, a card for anyone who was interested to sign, and a cursory lei presentation.

I was hoping to avoid that and simply slip away unnoticed. I expected, at most, if anyone happened to notice, a “we should probably give him a lei or a card or something” polite-but-whatevahs effort from a few people.

That’s not what happened.

What happened went against everything I have ever thought and believed about myself for my entire life, in anything that I have attempted.

Everyone noticed. Everyone. And to all appearances, they all genuinely cared.

Each the morning the students gather in the courtyard for the flag pledge before being released to class. Shortly before the usual flag pledge time I was summoned by intercom to report to the courtyard. When I arrived the principal was there. She called me out to the center of the outdoor stage, and announced to the entire school that I was leaving. She briefly reviewed some of my accomplishments — NASA Explorer School activities, LEGO League coach, etcetera. She talked about how sad she was to see me leave. And then she called for a representative from each grade level to come forward, and one at a time a student or a group of students from grades 1 through 6 came forward and presented me with a lei and a card from the grade level. Then a number of students from various grades came up and presented me with more cards and leis. A group of my students from last year came up, and one of my girls read a speech she had written thanking me for helping her and all the other students. It was far more than I would have expected.

And then I was deluged with a wave of hugs from students — SPED, general ed, all grade levels, kids I know, kids I don’t know. A few younger students were crying because they were expecting to be in my class next year and were already looking forward to it.

Finally the students were released to class, and I figured that was it. And that would have been enough. It would have been far more than I expected.

But it was only the beginning.

One of my fellow SPED teachers rolled a “meal on wheels” into the classroom, a breakfast-brunch she prepared herself, and set up a SPED spread in the classroom for the SPED staff.

Throughout the day, several parents of students I’ve worked with in the past dropped by my room, crying. Genuinely crying. Even though their children were no longer in my class, they were deeply saddened to learn that I was leaving the school. They brought me cards and presents. One parent even brought me lunch.

A group of a dozen grade 6 students — the grade that’s too cool to care — dropped by to hang out in the classroom “talking story” during recess.

Wednesday afternoons are reserved for the weekly faculty meeting. The faculty meeting started out normal enough — boring blah-de-blah stuff. Apparently that first ten minutes was simply filling time until everybody could be there; and so everybody had time to fill their plates. There was an immense buffet spread, both healthy food and cakes and cookies and chips and snacks, the biggest I’ve seen at a faculty meeting, even bigger than during the holiday season. Unexpectedly, after the first ten minutes or so the principal interrupted the standards-based practices lecture to announce that “we’ll return to this later; first, we have a special presentation.” She proceeded to announce, yet again, my departure, and then she narrated a humorous — yes, my principal was cracking jokes — video presentation about things I could possibly do because I am moving to a place where nobody knows me.

Then they played the video which I narrated and helped write and edit from the 2009 NASA Explorer Schools trip to Yellowstone National Park. (Via his cameo appearance in the Yellowstone video, our plastic lizard pal Trippy managed to make an appearance at my departure party.) This was followed by a slideshow of various school activities in which I’d participated during my eight years at the school: NASA events, field trips, camping trips, presentations, and classroom activities.

And then the individual and grade-level presentations began. Every grade level. Office staff. Educational assistants. Custodians. Admin. They made… not bought, made cards and leis. Their students made cards and drawings. They said things I would never have expected, talking about the things they would miss about me, talking about what they felt I had brought to the school and to the students and to them personally, talking about the fun and energy and enthusiasm I had brought to the school. Several were so choked up and emotional they could barely speak. The librarian, tech coordinator, and curriculum coordinator all began crying during their presentation — a presentation that included presenting to me a special LEGO-themed banner they had created that every employee of the school — not just the teachers, but the support staff, the custodians, every employee — had signed.

The curriculum coordinator got her son on the telephone. It was his 20th birthday. He’s away at college now. But he was one of the students in the sixth grade class where I completed my student teaching. He still remembers me. I remember him, too. He was one of those students… well, one of those students they assign the student teachers to work one-on-one with, let’s just say. They put the call on speaker phone. He said a number of students from that class remember me, and still talk about those days from time to time.

Some of the presentations were funny. Some were serious. Some were short. Some were long. All seemed genuine.

And it was all unexpected. It was all overwhelming.

Ultimately I said a few words. I don’t even remember what I said (altho’ I think the entire thing was recorded; maybe I’ll get a copy one day), but one of the Educational Assistants with whom I’ve worked since the beginning assured me that I did not ramble on too long and that I said exactly the right thing. “They liked it that you lost your composure and had such a hard time saying anything,” she said.

Afterward, the EAs, some of whom have been at the school for twenty or more years, said they have never seen the entire school come together for a send-off like this, not for anyone, ever.

Then it was back to… the food, and talking, and more tears and hugs, and… and then I went back to my classroom and finished up some grade reports, and signed a final document with the office secretary (who had tears in her eyes when she brought the final forms to me to me), and then the EAs and I loaded all the leis and cards and leftover snacks and gifts into my car and I locked “my” classroom door for the final time… and I drove home with tears streaming down my face.

Honestly and truly, I had no idea. No idea that so many students would care whether or not I was there tomorrow or next week or next year. Even less idea that it would make any difference one way or another to so many of my colleagues — to nearly all of my colleagues.

And it is very, very difficult for me to accept that I was doing something right. That I have been making a positive impact for the past eight years. That I could possibly be so universally respected and appreciated and liked.

I have spent my life believing myself to be a failure at everything; or at best, to be barely adequate once in a while. Yet now I find out that, apparently, I’ve been doing something right.

But I find out when it’s too late. I’ve sold my house. I’ve submitted my resignation. I’ve packed up my belongings, a moving truck will be showing up in a few days, and I have a house and a car waiting for me in another state thousands of miles away where I don’t know anybody and where I have no job waiting for me.

I was beginning to feel like I was coming to hate working as a teacher. Blindly, I was oblivious to the extent, and I do not think the word is too strong to use, to which I had become loved as a teacher. Me, haole guy from da mainland, loved here in Hawaii.

Would it have made a difference had I known? The unpleasant aspects of the job would have remained - the one out of a hundred parents who are never happy, the incompetent bureaucracy of the department and the district and the complex, the pressure of employee evaluations and school rankings, the unrealistic expectations for student achievement on the latest version of the standardized test, and the sad reality that relative to the cost of living, the teacher salary trend continues to be inversely proportional.

I feel like this should, or could, be, at this comparatively late stage in my life, a great moment of awakening. A difficult to deny, observable, convincing proof to myself that I am not incompetent or mediocre at everything I attempt. “Social proof” that I am not a failure.

Yet… that was yesterday. When I was still a teacher.

Today I’m a former teacher. Because I quit. I walked away. I was actually doing something right, I was doing something well, I was doing something that other people liked and appreciated and respected, and I gave it up.

I didn’t see it. I was too dim-witted to notice. I was too overwhelmed by the petty challenges to see the bigger picture. The brighter picture. The better picture.

I didn’t see the value until I threw it all away.

I didn’t know.
Wife is cranky and resentful about the move. I wouldn't have made the offer on the Utah house so quickly, but she was all for it while we were there. I was ready to cancel the sale several times when the buyers kept asking for extensions, but she wanted to keep going.

But now wife tells me "it's because you hate your job so much." She's also annoyed that I haven't found a better paying job, or made any effort in that regard. And it's because I'm the one who "can't sleep all winter because you're so worried about the erosion."

Now she's snapping at me because I'm going in to work during my last week rather than using sick leave.

Yeah, well, {blank} me all to {blanking blank} for believing that a good employee and a conscientious teacher shows up for work. {Blank} me all to {blanking blank} for having earned two commendation awards while working at the post office, and a certificate from the {blanking blank-blanked} GOVERNOR for being a conscientious employee of the school. Just {blank} me all to {blanking blank} for being so {blanking} stupid.

So {blanking} hot and humid here. Never been like this, either this intense or for this long, since we've lived here. Co-worker tells me she doesn't remember it ever being like this in the 40+ years she's lived here.

Took the new iPad in to the Verizon mobile phone store to get a Verizon SIM chip. That way I will have internet access for email and stuff after we move. Forty bucks a month for 4gb data plan. Not happy about paying forty bucks a month, but it's a month-to-month plan, so I can cancel, or rather, not renew at any time. It'll do until we get real internet at the new place.

What Were They Thinking?

Today, along with several other staff members from the elementary school at which I work, I received a Certificate of Commendation from David Ige, Governor of the State of Hawaii:

Camera and Lens Comparison

Yesterday I briefly tried out the new Fujifilm Finepix S1 I recently acquired as a potential substitute for lugging around and fussing with changing heavy, expensive DSLR lenses.

Here's a quick camera comparison of "macro" subjects, similar photos snapped at the same time with four different cameras:

CANON EOS 7D DSLR with CANON 50mm f/1.2 L USM Lens
(Lens is opened up to f/1.2 to maximize the "soft background" effect)

FUJIFILM FINEPIX S1 (Compact "bridge" camera with 50x telephoto range)

PANASONIC LUMIX DMC-TS5 (Weather-resistant Point-n-Shoot)

CANON POWERSHOT D20 (Weather-resistant Point-n-Shoot)

I took a number of different shots of various subjects at various distances, primarily comparing the Canon EOS 7D with the new arrival, the FujiFilm FinePix S1. After looking at the results, as well as evaluating the "usability" of each camera, I decided to try to sell the DSLR lenses (50mm f/1.2 and 135mm f/2.0) via eBay. I will keep the DSLR camera and the wide-angle 10-22mm Canon lens. The wide angle lens is what I keep on the camera most of the time as my "general purpose" lens. I find it useful for interiors and for expansive landscape panoramas. The zoom lens on the FujiFilm S1 is amazing. Yes, I'm sure the absolute image quality is not quite as high as that of the DSLR with the high-end lenses, but I rarely shoot at extreme telephoto anyway. The high-end telephoto lenses for a Canon DSLR cost thousands of dollars.

Here's what the FujiFilm FinePix S1 can do; this navigation buoy is a mile offshore! It's barely visible from the beach to the unaided eye:

I'll feel a little bit sad selling my "good glass." Realistically, though, I'll almost never use it again. And for those times I want to achieve the "dreamy soft focus" effect... I'm keeping my original version Lensbaby cheap plastic lens for the Canon!

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