Gord Downy

Oct. 20th, 2017 11:49 am
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It's always such a churn of emotions when I discover an artist by way of their obituary.

If only I could turn the clock back 35 years and follow his career from the start....

Canada was very fortunate to have such an artist. And badly cheated to have him taken from their midst before his time.

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It's almost a pleasure these days to hear someone in the media says something utterly baffling — and that person isn't the President of the United States. In this case, a reporter for France 24 English, in a YouTube video entitled "Video: Dried-up Aral Sea springs back to life"

Up until the 1950s, it was a sixty-eight thousand kilometer square mile lake.

Yeah, it makes me feel a little guilty to make fun someone presumably not a native speaker for a bit of fractured English. But it's not just the on-air guy: This is the polished product of a news network. With English in their name. I think that makes it fair game for pointing-and-laughing. A cheap shot, yeah. But at fair game...

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I'm floored — totally floored — by this TED talk. I just finished watching it and now I'm sharing it immediately — without taking time to think analytically about it or write a considered introduction. I never do that. But I feel compelled to share this immediately. If you're an adult with ADHD, watch it. I wasn't able to pause it or take my eyes away or be distracted by anything around me. I don't even think any distractions got enough conscious attention while I was watching it for me to be aware of pushing it aside.

And now I'm going to go to sleep and let my unconscious mind roll it around awhile.

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This will probably be the last photo I take with my iPhone:

I was thinking of calling it Amazon packing robot fails again: I've long assumed that Amazon boxes with one little thing in a box at least twice the necessary size in each dimension were packed by robots whose algorithms needed an overhaul. An assumption predicated on the belief that no human would pack a box so poorly.

But the past couple of years have wrought havoc on my optimistic view of my fellow humans: In a world where people can be so casually reckless as to vote for a Brexit or a Donald Trump, it seems foolish to imagine that there aren't plenty of people who take no pride whatsoever in their work. And that a person in a crap job packing a box so lamely is at least as likely as a programmer having so little pride as to let code go into production that would have a robot do that packing job.

Bur I digress. And that way madness lies.


As I am a few days from becoming an Android user, I have some questions that I hope some of you can help with. One of the things I'm looking forward to is hackability. Am I anywhere close to reality when I imagine that the core telephone functionality might be scriptable? Providing an API that would let me script how incoming calls are handled? Maybe something along the lines of

if not callerID | (callerID not in myContacts & callerID not in myPlacedCalls):
    ring = silent
    ringtime = 1
    VMgreeting = dontKnowYouLeaveMessageMaybeIllCallBack.ogg
?

Please, please may it be so. Starting about two years ago, being on the national do-not-call list seemed to stop having any effect. First it was a few spam calls. Then they began to outnumber real calls. Eventually I stopped answering calls if my phone didn't recognize the caller. But every once in a while — for instance, most of the day today — I'm expecting a call from a number I can't know in advance. So today I was answering all my incoming calls. And, like every time I've done that for more than half a day in the past year, I answered a call from what turned out to be a spammer. Today, three of them. I've learned to ignore the phone manners my mother inculcated in me, and just hang up on those people. But I hate having to do it. And after every day like today, the irritation I feel on a normal day when I take my phone out of my pocket a number I don't recognize grows. Being able to just script ignoring those calls would be fantastic.

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Earlier this afternoon I did something I rarely do: Post a comment on a youtube video. I'm a veteran of USENET flame wars, so not much phased by the knuckle-dragger insults a thoughtful comment often draws there. But BITD, my newsgroup comments were also likely to yield worthwhile replies. Youtube, not so much.

But comment I did. And then did something I do even more rarely: Shared the video on Facebook. And now I want to share it with you as well. Starting with my FB introduction:

I've read a lot of excellent essays about art — literature, film, theater, even music. I've read a lot more that was crap, of course (or at any rate, started a lot more that was crap, before giving up in disgust). The point being that I know what well-crafted criticism is. And this video essay on how JK Rowling's characters — especially Hermione — changed from book to film is one of the best pieces of criticism I've ever seen. Well worth watching.




And the comment I left on youtube:

Thank you for a tremendously well-observed and thought-provoking close-reading. The Devil's Snare episode was one of my favorite parts of _Philosopher's Stone_ from the first time I read it. And when the movie came out, I leaned forward in my seat and literally waited with bated breath for URupert Grint to say "Are you a witch or what?" And left the movie muttering something about "best line of dialog in the entire book, and _they left it out?!_"

But I entirely failed to see it as part of _any_ larger pattern, let alone the sevaral you bring out. Good criticism is rare. In producing a piece of excellent criticism that's also entertaining and perfectly true, you've hit the trifecta. Great work. Thank you.

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Short Form

Six months ago, I was all set to replace my iPhone with a OnePlus 3T as soon as my iPhone's deterioration demanded. Then they announced the OnePlus 5. And I started seeing the first negative reviews of a new OnePlus phone I'd ever read. But they were still shipping the 3T, so I wasn't worried.

But now my iPhone's deterioration really is starting to demand that I replace it. And I appear to have been deceived about the OnePlus 3T still being available.

So I have a couple of questions for folks with Android clue.


Long Form

As I mentioned last week, my iPhone is on it's last legs and I've decided to switch to Android. I also decided, early in my current ride on the carrier-subsidized-phone-with-two-year-contract funhouse-ride, that the next time I bought a phone I was going to actually buy a phone. I've long thought that would be preferable in principle, and about when I was gritting my teeth and signing the contract my current iPhone came with, I started hearing buzz about OnePlus.

My memory (not confirmed by reading the Wikipedia article, FWIW) is that part of that buzz was about their US business plan being to sell directly to the consumer, forcing US carriers to get serious about supporting BYOD customers. Misunderstanding or not, it predisposed me to pay attention to OnePlus and to reviews of their phones, while none of the other Android phone manufacturers have garnered much attention from me.

And those reviews — as I remember them, at least — were consistently impressive. When my iPhone started giving me trouble earlier this year, the OnePlus 3T had just come out a few months earlier. And people were falling all over themselves to talk about how good it was. So it went to the top of my list of phones to look at when I could no longer nurse my iPhone along. An otherwise empty list.

Then in July they released the OnePlus 5. And the reviews were not entirely stellar. Certainly not the hosannas the 3T had garnered on its release. But I wasn't too concerned: given things like the Midnight Black Limited Edition page, with its conspicuous "Buy Now" button in the center of the page, it seemed clear that OnePlus was planning to continue shipping the 3T alongside the 5 at least into autumn.

I don't generally go for the leading edge unless I see a potential upside that well over-balances the potential downside. And for smartphones, I haven't seen that in 15 years — not since the Sony-Ericsson P800 was leading-edge. To my way of thinking, the OnePlus 3T is just about exactly in the trailing-edge sweet spot. And that limited edition Midnight Black: the cherry on top! So for the past six or eight weeks I thought I had a solid plan for when it came time to punt my iPhone.

But now that day's arrived. And it turns out that actually clicking that "Buy Now" button takes me to a page that — disappointment #1 — lists only the other two other colors. And — disappointment #2 — says, next to each,

Out of stock

And going back to that Limited Edition page and looking more closely, I find near the bottom:

Sold out
This limited edition release is no longer available in your region.
Disappointment #3.


Questions

  • Am I grossly over-reacting to the bad press the OnePlus 5 has gotten? (I'm certainly over-reacting. The emphasis here is on grossly.) Should I just buy a OnePlus 5 and stop gnashing my teeth?
  • Are there other Android phones readily available new, unlocked, and with full warranties, that are comparable to recent OnePlus models? Comparably priced? If so, which? Would you recommend any of them?
  • While no longer available directly from OnePlus, the 3T is still available from third parties. Some ostensibly new-in-box. None, that I've found, with any sort of warranty. At prices not much different, and sometimes more, than OnePlus' retail prices when they were available. Run screaming? Approach with caution? Does anyone know of a reliable vendor, perhaps in the tradition of small Japanese companies that help Americans get Japan-only products without having to personally fly to Japan?

Thank you!

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My now nearly four-year-old iPhone has been flaking out on me with increasing frequency for several months, and for variety of reasons I've decided to replace it with an Android phone. One of those reasons is that Apple's warm embrace increasingly feels to me like that of a boa constrictor. And today That concern became less general and more specific when a friend posted about their difficulties sending SMS messages to a friend who recently punted their iPhone. Apparently it is a known problem that when you switch from an iPhone it becomes difficult or impossible for someone who is also using the Apple ecosystem to send you SMS messages: Apparently — I'm hypothesizing at least as much as remembering here — Messages.app takes over when two iPhones SMS one-another, and if one person switches to a non-Apple phone, that person has to jump through some hoops with the Apple infrastructure or their iPhone-using friends' messages will go only to that person's Messages.app instances (wherever they happen to have it running, or possibly nowhere) but not to their new phone as SMS messages.

I'm writing this here not least as an aide de memoire because I don't have time to look into it in detail right now. If one of you happens to know of good guide to switching from an iPhone to an Android phone without getting entangled in this mess, please leave a pointer in a comment. Thank you.

Moved

Aug. 3rd, 2017 07:31 pm
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I just returned the U-Haul trailer that's been following me everywhere I went for the last six days. With which moving out of my Arlington apartment, which I'd originally planned to be out of by June 30, is done. Finished. Ended. Over.

Finally.

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Damn, it's been a month since I posted. Things are looking up in general — I started what's already a much longer post maybe three weeks ago about a small round of good luck, not least of which is the place I'm moving to, and I've been adding to it in fits and starts since. But right now, I'm really pressed for time. So ... later!

My Help Wanted post a month ago yielded amazing results — thank you! I couldn't be happier with the people I hired to help me on y'all's recommendations. But of course the problem with people who are good is that they tend to also be busy. In particular, the two-man crew who've been doing the tote-that-barge, lift-that-bale work will next be available to me on Tuesday July 18. But I could really, really use some help bringing stuff up from the basement this weekend. So if anyone knows anybody who'd be up for that kind of work and might be available on short notice, please let me know.

And thank you!

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I don't know anything about being religious — it's utterly foreign to me. But I do know a thing or two about being articulate, and about being brave. This sincerely religious young woman is articulate (remarkably so, given her age and the circumstances), and brave (by any measure), as she stands before her congregation and speaks truth.

Unfortunately one of her church's pastors cut off her microphone before she finished. but if you watch the video through, you'll here the last few paragraphs as well.


(Commentary elsewhere on the net asserts that the pastor shut her down because he disapproved of the content of her remarks. I do not find the evidence in the video entirely conclusive on that point: For all I know each speaker gets an allotted time, and the pastor's usual way of informing people they've gone over time is to cut off the microphone. So I'm not making that claim. But it's out there, and I didn't think I should ignore it either. But I also think it's a distraction: Mormon pastor cuts off 12-year-old's mike when she comes out to her congregation is doubtless better clickbait than the original title. But it shifts the focus from a noble act to a cowardly one — and shifts our our response from ennobling to ignoble.)

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I just discovered that I haven't been receiving email notification of replies to my posts on Dreamwidth anything like consistently. Like, only about 30%. I'll be replying to the just-found soon.
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I need to hire a couple of people to do some fetching and carrying. Where by some I mean probably three to five full days over tne next two or three weeks1.

Obviously if any of you know someone who's in shape to do hard physical work all day and would be interested in doing so for a fair hourly rate — cash — please put me in touch with them. But that's not my only question for the hive-mind.

I know that people looking for work as casual laborers gather early in the morning in places that people in the habit of hiring casual labor know to look for them1. What I don't know is where around Boston those places are, and how early people gather. Do any of you?


1  I thought I'd found someone. I was wrong. In the mean time, while trying to find the contact info for the two people I hired for this last time, I remembered why, four years ago, I hadn't bothered making sure not lose their contact info.

2  I did this myself the summer I was 18. If you've ever heard me talk about walking in cork boots on bundles of logs floating in the bay while a crane operator lowered cable loops for me to guide under my end of the bundle and then keep guiding while the crane slowly took up slack til we were sure of a good grip — and then jump to a different bundle and make sure I was well clear of the logs before they cleared the water — that sort of casual-labor mart is how I got that gig. So the thought of hiring a crew that way has a certain sentimental appeal.

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First off, if you don't know about Hay-on-Wye or the Hay Festival (which I expect is the case for most of my American readers), you can learn what you need to give this post context in fifteen seconds from this photo essay. If you don't linger over the pictures.

So I'll see you in ten minutes of so. Don't worry; I'll wait.


At this year's Hay Festival, two of Britain's finest finest writers, Neil Gaiman & Stephen Fry, spent an hour enjoying one-another's company. On stage in a packed hall. With a national television audience. While the UK Children's Laureate, the amazing illustrator Chris Riddell, set up stage right, illustrating both the speakers and the stories they were telling, with a camera on his easel to show us — and the house — what he's drawing.

In spite of starting with over five minutes of a card saying this live stream will start shortly and an introduction that was fine for the live audience but that you've more than covered by reading this far, the first hour was some remarkable television. Neil and Stephen engage one-another in the the kind of conversation that only two such brilliant artists — artists who genuinely admire one-another's work — can have; each reads us a story from his current book; they even take a few questions from the audience. All punctuated with occasional laughter and applause for what Chris is drawing real-time.

Then Amanda Palmer joins them. For only about their last eight minutes on stage. Most of it, Amanda reading one of Neil's poems. A poem about science. A poem — and a performance — that brought tears to my eyes.

If you watch none of the rest, do yourself a favor and watch the last 8m30. In those few minutes, Amanda Palmer gives one of the most compelling spoken-word performances ever. Seriously. I speak as a connoisseur of the form.

Or do yourself a bigger favor, and watch the whole thing, starting at 5m15.

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Correction (23:59): I'd only read about the first half of the New Yorker article when I posted this, and misparsed the paragraph mentioning the Samaritans as indicating the txt crisis line was a project of the Samaritans. It's not, but it might as well be: It's clear that the people doing it are the real deal.

This just came across my facebook feed, and I wanted to share it here as well:

Just a little FYI:


Did you know that if you text "home" to 741741 when you are depressed, suicidal, or just needing someone to talk to, a real Crisis Counselor will text you until you are good? Everyone doesn't like talking on the phone. Spread the word.


It's a free service.


Please share the heck outta this.


Because I know it's not uncommon for a depressed person to be suspicious of kindness from unknown quarters, and the above doesn't say anything about who would be on the other end of the txt, I thought I'd see if I could find out. My first thought at that point being "I wonder if it's the Samaritans?" @google{samaritans 741741} yielded a New Yorker article that both confirms it's the Samaritans, and is so compelling in its own right I had to share it as well:

R U THERE?

A new counselling service harnesses the power of the text message.

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Today was my birthday — and I felt pretty good about it, which hasn't often been the case in the past several years. My internal life has been getting better in a slow but steady and I think sustainable way for the past several months. Last week I got to see my dear friend Matthew — who's far more a brother to me than the biological one ever was — for the first time in five years or more. Which meant I also finally got to meet his wife and their nearly-three-year-old child — who I learned are both delightful in their own right. I've been on a bit of an endorphin high the entire week.

So I woke up today primed for good things, and by mid-afternoon three of my favorite people on Earth had phoned to wish me a happy birthday. I was on the phone with each for at least half an hour of pure delight. (Well, mostly delight: in each conversation the topic of how our public discourse has come to be dominated by trumpery reared its ugly head — and in each we agreed it was too depressing to talk about. Which has probably also contributed to making my day better, as it left me resolved to steer clear of news all day as well.)

It's the ordinary human things that make life worth living, and this year my birthday has been marked by noticing how rich I am in those. Thank you, every one.

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I read a story earlier today of someone taking an unpopular stand in favor of doing the right thing. (I don't mean to tease — I may post about this separately later. But I'm resisting the temptation to go into the details right now because I've decided to clamp down on my discursiveness in hope of occasionally actually finishing a post.) Their values, and how they expressed them, reminded me of some old-school political rhetoric — so old I learned it from my parents, who learned it when they were young, and had me when they were old. So I found myself thinking about my parents early this morning, hours before I realized today is Mothers' Day. And when I did, the circumstances of my thinking about my mother earlier immediately told me how to best honor her memory this Mothers' Day.

The founder of Mothers' Day — as must surely be the case with the founders of every American holiday not invented by Hallmark — would have little but disdain for what it has become. And my mother would totally have her back.


I'm sure some of you must be fans of Nate DeMeo. Or perhaps you remember my transcribing and posting to my LJ his mediation on the Orlando killings, A White Horse, last year. DeMeo may well be America's best non-fiction storyteller — certainly a contender. And as it happens, one of the first episodes of his The Memory Palace was about the founder of Mothers' Day.

(I will once again transcribe it for those of you who who can't abide spoken-word art. For the rest of you, skip my transcript and just listen to the original by clicking the title below. Or read along while listening. Nate DeMeo is a masterful writer, certainly. But his mastery of the storytellers' art can only be fully appreciated aurally. And this story is barely four minutes long.)

International Brotherhood of Mothers

Anna Jarvis loved her mother. And because she loved her so much, mothers around the world get flowers and cards and candy and hugs from their kids every May. Which must have Anna Jarvis spinning in her grave.

She was born in 1864 in West Virginia to a woman whose name was also Anna Jarvis. And her mother, Anna Maria to her daughters' Anne Marie, was a remarkable woman. The elder Anna was a feminist and a progressive and a bit of a socialist before any of those words meant anything. In Virginia, in the middle of the nineteenth century — back before the phrase West Virginia meant anything — she traveled throughout Appalachia, organizing women's groups:  teaching them about basic health, and how to demand workers' rights — after teaching them what those rights were in the first place. During the Civil War she brought women together to tend the sick and wounded soldiers, regardless of whether they wore blue or gray. After the war, with her baby Anna in her arms, she held meetings of mothers on both sides. In these proto-group-therapy sessions — a finding-closure-through-shared-grieving kind of thing — she promoted something called Mothers' Work Day. This wasn't mother-apostrophe-s — so not your mother — but mothers' — s-apostrophe. Mothers plural. A collective of mothers.

It was a radical idea:  Let's take a day — and it would be a day of demonstrations and political consciousness-raising — not of flowers or spa gift-certificates.  Let's take a day and recognize that what mothers do is work. And let's organize those workers the same way that people were starting to do with mines and mills and factories.

This was the work of her life. And when she died, in 1905, her life became the work of her daughter's life. Anna Marie — the younger Jarvis — was 29 years old and single, with no child of her own1. She was devastated by her mother's death, and at her funeral she handed out hundreds of carnations: one to each of the mothers in the congregation. She picked up the torch of her own mother's cause. And wouldn't put it down for the rest of her life. She delivered speeches. She published pamphlets. She wrote to governors and newspaper editors; senators, mayors — anyone in power. All in a campaign to get the government to recognize Mothers' Day.

And she succeeded. And failed at the same time. People loved the idea of a Mothers' Day — because people loved their mothers. And importantly, people loved the story of Anna Jarvis loving her own mother. It was a national holiday by 1914. And Jarvis kept going, talking about her mother and Mothers' Day all over the world. And for people all over the world — maybe wondering why they'd grown apart from their own mothers; maybe wishing their own children would thank them once in a while — for people all over the world, Anna Jarvis became the Platonic ideal of the devoted daughter. And they wrote to her. So many wrote to her to thank her — to unload to her about their mother-child relationships — that she had to buy a second house next door in which to store her correspondence. Mothers' Day would roll around every year, and Anna Jarvis — a woman with no child of her own — would get flowers by the score. Heart-shaped boxes of candy by the carload. Which made Anna Jarvis furious.

The holiday — designed to continue her mother's lifetime of effort working toward social justice and collective action — had gone commercial. Anna had thanked her mother by devoting her life to building a kind of living memorial. And it felt like all she'd accomplished was making it easy for people to go and thank theirs with a pre-packaged sentiment in a penny greeting card.

And so she railed against it for the rest of her life. Spending all of her modest savings on campaigns against the commercialization of Mothers' Day. Filing lawsuits to stop Mothers' Day celebrations. Condemning confectioners. Fighting florists. But the candy kept coming. And the flowers didn't stop. And when she died, penniless and blind, at the state sanatorium in Pennsylvania in 1948, her room was filled with Mothers' Day cards.

My mother taught me the value of collective action --- that only by pulling together do we all make way. And she taught me that when we fail to remember we're all in the same boat is when we are swept onto the rocks.


1  Yes, I noticed the disappearing dozen years. I've confirmed the facts: Anna Marie Jarvis was born in 1864; her mother died in 1905. Beyond that, I figure my job here is to transcribe, not edit.
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I need a new-to-me steel wheel for my car. They're $55 new online, with free slow-boat shipping; I'd rather get a used one cheaper & sooner. When I first moved here there were junkyards in Cambridgeport and on the Cambridge/Somerville line, but I'm pretty sure those are all long gone. Does anyone know of one out in the burbs?
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I got a flat yesterday, right outside my house. A finger-sized hole in the sidewall kind of flat. (And yes, thereby hangs a tale. One best summarized as "I'm an idiot." Which I will perhaps relate in more detail another time.)

Anyway, after initially thinking I'd need to call a tow truck, I decided I'm sufficiently mobile to do it the old fashioned way. So I spent a chunk of today on the long-deferred task of cleaning out my car, so I could take the cargo tray out of the back and expose the spare and jack for the first time since I made sure they were there the day I bought the car.

At which point I remembered that it's been at least 25 years since I changed a tire, and should at least glance at the owner's manual, if only for the sake of finding out where the jack point is. And lo, the manual reminded me of something I hadn't thought about — though I'd like to think I would have before I actually started jacking the car up: wheel chocks.

I don't have anything around the house suitable to use as wheel chocks. But having been reminded of basic safety precautions and how slowly I move these days --- plus remembering how the amazing friend of my mother after whom I named my color printer came home one day to find her son crushed to death under his car --- I realized that in addition to needing wheel chocks, this is a job for the buddy system.

So if anyone is up for hanging out with me while I crawl around on the ground, I'd appreciate it. Any time between now and Sunday will be fine. And yes, I'm up for doing it by flashlight* if you happen to be available this evening: the advantage of that for me being that I could get to a tire place Friday and then do the grocery shopping I'd originally planned on.

Comment here if you're up for this, or call. If you comment and you're not sure I have your phone number and don't want to leave yours in a public comment or come up with your own lame puzzle to obscure it, please call as well. I'm @@lame_puzzle(

prod(2, 3, 11, 107) + prod(2, 2, 3, 11, 23, 23, 107, 827)
)

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I've had a dreamwidth account since the early days. I know the people who run DW and know that they're the real deal. But not until the new user agreement did LJ's new Russian overlords annoy me enough to overcome the necessary activation energy to fully migrate. Which, it turns out, is dead simple once you actually do it. Though you have to agree to the new LJ user agreement whose English translation isn't binding for DW to import your journal. Anyway, I'm here now. And I think I'm even likely to be posting fairly regularly.
xela: (Mourning in America)

I've been dreading something like this since November.


But this isn't the time to try to organize my thoughts about what's happened to my country. I just wanted to get this out, because I suspect I'm not alone in cutting down on my news intake so much that I might miss such a story. And it's important that we know.


Indian engineer killed, another injured in U.S. hate crime

The Hindu, for those not familiar with it, is one of India's foremost national newspapers. I mention this because when I first heard of it, my immediate assumption, based solely on the name, was that it was a Hindu Nationalist mouth organ. Not at all.

Kansas shooting: Widow of Indian man calls for action on hate crimes

As I write this, the top stories on CNN.com are about
  • the White House barring CNN, the New York Times, and the L.A. Times from a press briefing
  • the White House asking the FBI to "knock down recent Trump-Russia stories"
  • "States' rights for bathrooms but not for marijuana"
  • "Pew Poll: Support for Obamacare at all-time high"
The hateful murder of a talented young engineer for having brown skin is the bottom item of twelve under "Top Stories". Hell of a day.

I mourn for Srinivas Kuchibhotla. I mourn for the America I still, somehow, love. And I am so ashamed.

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