Friday, July 12

$15,000 a Year is a Little High For Car Insurance


You can't do much in Jacksonville without a car. Public transportation is a joke, though not a funny one. The city is spread out, and the metro area is impossible without personal transportation. Bikes might work to get a few places near you (at your own risk), but a majority of life in Duval requires a licensed and (hopefully) insured car. However, when I recently plugged my new teen driver and a potential new-to-us family car into the insurance website, my yearly insurance costs would jump to $15,000. If the average family in Jacksonville makes $75,000 a year, then the average family with teen drivers is spending 20% of their income on auto insurance, and that's a little high.

Think about it. The bank can take away your home if you don't pay your mortgage or insurance. It'll take your car if you don't make the payments. The average Duval family with a mortgage, taxes, insurance, and car payments is probably already paying about $30,000 a year just to borrow the house and cars needed to live. Adding another $15,000 to that, and we're at $45,000 out of $75,000. No wonder so many Floridians are crooks: you almost have to be dishonest in order to get by. 

When we first moved here, my wife's job offered "unaffordable" health insurance to the family. Being self-employed, Obamacare wouldn't cover my purchase of that insurance, meaning another $15,000 a year to cover three family physicals. Now we'd be at $60,000. Food is about $1,200 a month for a family of four, so another $15,000 a year. $75,000. 

So, yeah, when the Jags need a new stadium or schools need new roofs, it's hard for the average Jax family to give to the needy. 

But one place you could potentially save is by cancelling your auto insurance. Then it's up to the rest of Florida to pay for you to drive around uninsured. "As of March 2024, the Insurance Research Council (IRC) estimates that 15–26% of Florida drivers, or more than 3 million people, are uninsured. This is higher than the national average of 14%."

Yep, in the Free State of Florida, when costs get too high, you kind of have to choose which ones to drop. And since those of us who DO pay auto insurance end up paying for the 15-26% who don't, then we owe $15,000 to insure four drivers (five cars) for a year. I guess if I had to choose between auto insurance and feeding my family (and I was allowed to make that choice because of lax DMV standards), I'd probably choose feeding my family. 

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Sunday, June 2

Busted By JSO in a Parking Lot

I was waiting for someone in a "No Stopping" zone in front of a business when a JSO officer told me to move. I complied with a few words out of earshot, but I also got to thinking that he was over-enforcing the law. This may or may not be true.

Basically, Florida property owners can invite police onto their properties in order to enforce laws that wouldn't normally get enforced on private property. For example, if someone with an expired tag is parking in your mini mall parking lot, you can ask/allow JSO to ticket the vehicle. When parking lot owners were upset about car meetups with dangerous driving, they invited JSO onto the properties, but the violations were probably for trespassing rather than private parking lot speeding.

When I was working at a retail store in college, a raced through the parking lot once in order to get to work on time. A mall security officer drove over to me in order to warn me, and I asked what he or other local police could really do. He told me to just be careful (and he was right). I generally was careful, but I'm pretty sure neither he nor local police had much say as to whether or not I was speeding in the mall lot. Or stopping at the stop sign. 

Florida seems to allow some cooperation between police and property owners, but I'm still not sure it extends to parking lot rules like no stopping zones in front of buildings. To me, that's in the realm of private security asking nicely and then turning to JSO when I refuse to comply, not a heavy-handed police officer deciding he's also a parking lot cop. I mean, if I put a "Chevy Parking Only" sign in my driveway, is this officer going to show up to my house and ticket a friend who parks a Mercedes in the spot? I understand disabled parking spots because there's some kind of federal law about that, but I'm not sure my taxpayer money that goes to JSO is meant to provide officers patrolling in front of Walmart to keep the area clear of old-lady drop offs.

Mostly, it seems that private parking lot enforcement by JSO may take cops away from real crimes, but it's also about playing favorites. Homeless people have started fires behind some private businesses, meaning cops aren't stopping them from basically living there, but apparently other lots have cops enforcing sign that aren't even considered city code? And if the business owner is paying JSO extra for uniformed police to harass folks in a parking lot, I'm not sure that should really be available. He should have been forced to drive a golf cart and wear a uniform with a giant "Z" patch on the side. Keep in mind that I am not suggesting we all rebel against parking lot signs or JSO cops. I complied, and I suggest that if a police officer wants to patrol the local Chick fil a drive-thru, you follow his orders.

Poor Mike F - Pizza Hut Review

Beach and Hodges 

Our closest Pizza Hut was closed. I probably don't want to know why. The next closest store was on Beach near Hodges. The experience was not good, so I'm glad it's not our closest location.

Technically, the experience was much worse for a guy named Mike who was waiting in line before me. Since Mike was kind of a blonde pretty-boy, I don't feel terrible for him, but nobody at that pizza joint really deserved to be mistreated in the way we were.

Mike and three others were in line when I arrived at 6:10. My order pickup time was 6:15, so I was ok with waiting a few minutes. I believe Mike was on the board for 6pm, so his pizza was already late. The cashier eventually took money and delivered pizza to the other two in line, then got to Mike and myself, printing receipts but saying Mike had "literally two seconds" before his pie would be ready. That was at about 6:15, and he was right. The pizza came out of the oven and was placed in the heated waiting spot for Mike a few seconds later by an employee who seemed to have the one job of taunting customers by placing their orders just out of reach. A few minutes later, the cashier left with pizzas to deliver, but he first had to ask the customer who had overly optimistically double-parked him in to move her car. Another ten minutes went by, with the strange guy continuing to add more pizzas to the holding area before the pizza-maker dude came over to man the cash register. He proceeded to give Mike crap about not having a receipt before Mike told him his pizza had been sitting there for 10 minutes and the other guy had already printed his receipt.

Mike finally got his pizza. I was next, and I was lucky the pizza dude decided to give me my pizza without questioning where my receipt had gone (I'm not sure). I'm also not sure how the rest of the line went after I left, since the rest of the line consisted of two butch women who looked very ready to complain and an amputee (who had parked the delivery guy in), also not in a good mood. But I can at least tell you this: Pizza Hut on Beach and Hodges doesn't discriminate against LGBT or minorities or military because everyone gets the same awful service.

Anyhow, the pizza took forever, but it was hot when I got it home, partially because I used the heated seat and kept the AC on low. The problem is that the actual pizza was burned on the outside and a bit doughy in the middle. That means the delivery guy and pizza guy couldn't work the cash register right, but even the weird-Igor-oven-guy couldn't get the pizzas done to the fairly simple standards of being cooked evenly, meaning the entire business was in a shambles. I'm sure everyone hates waiting an extra 20 minutes for their pizzas, but they are willing to forgive if it at least tastes good. While it's possible Mike F's pizzas were cooked properly, I somehow believe he also had a simultaneously undercooked and burned Pizza Hut experience.

Wednesday, May 8

Florida Teacher License Lookup

I was trying to find out when my Florida teaching license expires when I realized that the public license lookup for teachers no longer seemed to exist, at least not until I found an obscure link from a county school website. I'm not sure if the teachers union pushed to have their members' info obscured or if the FDOE wants to make it harder to prove that charter schools (and probably public schools) are using unlicensed teachers. Or it was maybe an oversight in a web redesign. 

If you want to look a teacher up, here's a link that works in 2024, even if it's not really officially on the main Florida Department of Education website anymore. You'll probably have to click around the website, like the main logo or something. It's clunky. 

You do have the right to know if your kids' teachers are licensed, even if your charter school overlords don't want to tell you. https://flcertify.fldoe.org

That said, my license expires in June of 2024, and I don't have the silly credits / special Ed / reading certs required to renew, so whatever. I imagine with low pay, high stress, hoops to jump through to renew, and the worry of jail time for using the wrong books, plenty of Florida teachers are letting their licenses lapse.

Tuesday, May 7

Will Anyone With Sense Please Step in and Stop the Autonomous Vehicle Fiasco Downtown?

The Jacksonville skyway thingy is pretty stupid. It's good for photos, like the Landing was (years ago), but no one uses it except a few tourists, and most locals barely know it exists. Kind of like the Mayport river ferry. But to add millions of dollars on top of stupid in order to get a fake autonomous system that's basically just a van (with a driver) is borderline criminal. Actually, it's over the borderline. Sometimes, cool innovations just don't work, and then it's time to move on. Please, someone in the mayor's office or city council or Shad Khan or whoever really runs Jacksonville, for the love of God, shut down the autonomous vehicle ride fiasco before we owe more money for a few tourists to ride a few miles in a van. 

Can we just admit that Jacksonville is not a city built for public transit? It's super spread out, and there isn't enough going on downtown. Maybe a decent investment is more of the JTA vans, or just throwing money at Uber/Lyft to take over for empty buses. Or an actual fast-moving, long-distance street rail system that ties downtown to the Beaches and maybe a stop on San Marco and the Town Center. But fast and long-distance, not short and slow, whether autonomous or not.

Or nothing. It's just a kind of welfare, anyhow, especially in such a car-centric city as Jax. I took a lot of Urban Planning classes, and I wish I was wrong, but I'm not. Rethinking transit options in Jacksonville might be possible, but it's not going to come via pretending to have an autonomous vehicle system intended to carry almost no one to nowhere in particular. Please, someone with a say, kill the autonomous skyway Ultimate Urban Circulator (U2C) Bay Street Innovation Corridor (BSIC) money pit before we all get sucked in.

Monday, May 6

Maybe it's Time to Unconsolidate

Duval County tried consolidation as a way to equalize education, but the broader results haven't been positive. Right now, when DCPS is short on funds, would be a perfect time to look into unconsolidation. 

The plan was for all children to have equal opportunities at all schools, but it's silly to think anyone wants to send their kids from one end of Duval County to the other. I have to admit that I thought a similar fix might work for Milwaukee Public Schools at one point, where in-county suburbs like Glendale, Wauwatosa, and Franklin have excellent schools. But it didn't work in Jacksonville, ending permanently with a Supreme Court decision that forced integration couldn't happen because of the insane amount of time and money spent on busing. So now we're left with one of the largest school districts in the country covering by far the largest area, and it's competing with total school choice, while being forced to consolidate buildings in order to survive. However, at least two new school districts could be formed that could survive the apocalypse, as long as they are released from DCPS, leaving Duval Schools to figure it out with a much smaller footprint. And also keeping the families we want in Duval rather than forcing them to move to St. Johns County.

The way I see it, you've got nothing but typical big-city school issues anywhere west or north of the St. Johns River, so I'd keep that all DCPS. I know, it's not fair. Whatever, that district could have the most federal money and human resources to work with. Stanton could still be there as a beacon to people who want to do that Stanton thing. 

The second district would be Mandarin up to San Marco, or everything between the river and E295. I would delete Terry Parker because nobody wants to go to Terry Parker. 

The third district would be anything east of E295, so basically the Atlantic Coast, Sandalwood, and Fletcher areas. It would get the least amount of state aid and may need to rework how money is spent, but it's also the area where a lot of people who could easily move to St. Johns County have decided to make their homes. Actually, the same could be said for the Mandarin to San Marco areas. 

The point is that before consolidation, the suburban districts would have been successful on their own. The point of consolidation was to bring the lower-performing schools up to the level of the other schools in the county. However, it was never allowed to fully happen because of the logistics, and now the large district is dragging those annexed suburban areas down so far that the district as a whole is in real trouble. 

Personally, I would vote for a property tax increase if it was for the three high schools in my own area, but I think I'm done voting for DCPS referendums that lead to delayed construction projects, closed schools, teacher lay-offs, and generally missing money. 

Years ago, Jacksonville tried something new and progressive in order to equalize education for all students. Now, it might have to loosen its grip in order to save public education in the city. 




Tuesday, April 30

Let's Rename Bishop Kenny to Bishop Lenny

Bishop Kenny was probably a real person. I'm sure he was a decent guy, but the fact is that it's not like he has kids and grandkids clamoring for continued recognition for him. Conversely, Lenny was a Jacksonville mayor who managed to survive trying to sell off JEA so that1 he and his buddies could retire early. He also let another buddy pretend to be a cop because he was rich. Lenny put up a bunch of flashing blue lights in crappy neighborhoods to stop crime. And he oversaw a very successful decade of construction at the airport I-95 interchange. I'm sure he did some other stuff, too, and he sent his kids to Bishop Kenny (unlike Bishop Kenny himself). All of that should be reason enough to rename Bishop Kenny to Bishop Lenny.

Some might say that Lenny is not a Bishop, but Lenny's rich friend was not a police officer when he was allowed to hang out at police HQ and wherever else within JSO he wanted to go. I guess that's what heroes who receive the key to the city get out of it, at least until they start asking teenagers for lap dances. Also, I'm not a manager, yet many people in Jacksonville call me "Boss." I guess the school could be renamed Boss Lenny, but Bishop is a little more religious sounding. Less Boss Hogg-ish.

Maybe Bishop Kenny hobnobbed with God, but we don't have photographic evidence of that. Bishop Lenny High School could display photos of Lenny hanging out at sporting events with lobbyists from power companies. Power companies are powerful because it's right in the name. 

Lenny left us with mostly the way he found us, but with some small upgrades. The I-95 interchange at the airport still under construction. Shotspotters are now used to know when and where someone got killed. The empty Landing has been replaced by empty space. Older strippers, then younger strippers, and now probably older strippers again. Confederate monuments. I am glad those fishing game gambling things closed, and I'd say that is the #1 positive accomplishment for Lenny. Jesus, and probably Bishop Kenny, would have approved of getting rid of those dens of sin.

I'm sure there were people in the Catholic church who used terms like "useless," "alcoholic,"  and "favoritism" when referring to Bishop Kenny. Lenny will be comfortable hearing these words, too.

Saturday, April 27

Two Referendums and Now Layoffs From DCPS?

I voted for the referendum to finally rebuild, maintain, or upgrade schools. It passed, but I won't see the upgrades before my kids graduate because I'm-not-sure. I voted against a teacher pay and arts funding referendum because I didn't understand from the description how it would benefit my kids. It passed, but I still had to send in a check for art materials. As a community, we've added higher sales taxes and property taxes to benefit our schools, but now the district is set to lay off hundreds of staff amid a teacher shortage, and with the lackluster results of the other two referendums, I don't see the taxpayers wanting to step in.

Part of the problem with the school upgrades was the requirement to harden the schools' security before construction of new facilities, so schools spent resources adding bars and cages and cameras before even starting classrooms. Then prices went up, I guess. Maybe contractors got greedy or it's just inflation, but we will be getting less than we've been promised. Less than we're paying for. On top of it all, charter schools use their slice of the money to pay rent to themselves and enrich their owners.

The arts and pay referendum cost all of us on our property taxes or rent increases, but art teachers are often the first to get laid off, so I'm not sure how that will play out. I don't even know which teachers were getting the pay increases or if that was necessary to retain talent. I bet most teachers just want to keep their jobs right now. I've been there.

It sounds like the district is blaming school choice for all its woes, but it also added that Covid funding had disappeared. Add in charter schools that steal students and budgeted funds, and Duval Schools are in trouble. We're talking way beyond "Save-Atlantic-Beach-Elementary" trouble. Again, I've seen it before, and this doesn't end well, folks. The district was relying on funds it didn't really have (COVID, pre-inflation construction, students who later enrolled in choice schools). And now, we'll have to increase class sizes, fire teachers, close schools, and basically enter into panic mode unless the far-right state legislature steps in to save a school district in a city run by a Democrat mayor, so that's not going to happen. If you enjoy watching the proverbial train wreck, get ready for a show.

Lots of $100,000 consulting fees will be paid in the near future that might save $120,000 in electrical costs over the next five years or might encourage dinosaur teachers to retire early to get their pay off the books, but it won't be enough. Unlike JEA, which was pretty much fine, DCPS is right in the middle of a death spiral. The new superintendent may as well be one of those CEOs companies hire to restructure before declaring bankruptcy. There will be a lot of finger-pointing and blaming, but it'll be silly and useless. This was the goal of the legislature all along. 

When I faced similar challenges in my school district as a teacher, I was the only teacher who floated taking a pay cut for all of us in order to save jobs (and my salary sucked). The union and the teachers will do a lot of screaming and yelling before this is over, but it's really already over. Before it gets too far, maybe we need to shut it all down and start over from scratch as an all-charter school system. Or a dozen smaller school districts. Or all K-12 schools. I don't know. Get some consultants. 

Saturday, April 13

Trailmark Sounds A Lot Like Trailerpark

If you were going to build a fancy new car, would you name it a Jugo or Hugo? Not unless you want consumers to remember the Yugo. And you'd have more sense than to name your new vitamin pill Vigara, since another your business growth might not only be base on excitement for your product. So I'm wondering why someone would build a fancy suburban neighborhood and then name it Trailmark, because it sounds an awful lot like Trailer Park to me (and it's exactly what the fancier neighborhoods in St. Johns County will be calling it).

I do have to admit that I'm happy that we've only taken 150 years to move past naming neighborhoods after plantations. Sure, we still have a bunch of plantation-hoods, but names like Wildwood, Nocatee, and Beachwalk at least forego the odd naming convention. It's also nice to see that after 250 years, we might be moving past the other convention of naming neighborhoods after England, like Kensington. 

Still, I think Trailmark sounds a lot like Trailer Park.

Wednesday, February 28

Whales and Nor'easters Might Mean No Beach For You

Mickler's Landing is going to be mostly closed from March to August 2024 in order to restore the beach and protect the shoreline (and lots of multi-million dollar homes). When I first read that the popular beach in Ponte Vedra would be closed most of the spring and summer, I naturally assumed the rich folks who live along the coast pushed for the timeline, but I was wrong. Apparently, the schedule was created in order to avoid whale and Not"easter seasons, not just to give wealthy homeowners six months of private beach. That said, it will probably a perfect time to sell your Ponte Vedra Boulevard mansion if it's within a few blocks of the closed beach. While the huddled masses are stuck at Jacksonville Beach trying to pay for parking.

Back to whales and storms. Who knew, right? I guess I always figured work on the beach was close enough to land (the beach) to avoid whales. Maybe some pissed-off seagulls or jellyfish. And the Nor'easter excuse is also kind of blah because humans have spent thousands of years braving all kinds of storms while working on boats, bridges, docks, and pirate-themed-mini-golf-courses. I assume working through Nor'essters would still be better than hurricane season, especially if it's mostly sitting in a bulldozer on the beach. 

Monday, February 26

40% Loss in St. Johns County Tree Canopy in Last 20 Years?

According to Global Forest Watch, St. Johns County clear cutting has resulted in a 40% reduction in the tree canopy from 2001 to 2022. I'm sure the hippy-dippy treehuggers with Global Forest Watch may overestimate as much as possible, but I'd wager the loss of forested areas in St. Johns County is significant. I guess the question is whether or not it matters.

In my home state of Wisconsin, about 85% of the state was forested when Europeans showed up, but by 1915, only 1% of the state had forests. Farms, cities, selling wood, etc. Today, the state is back up to nearly 50% forests. It turns out that not all forested land was useful a farmland, and you can't harvest trees for wood if there are no trees left. Even St. Johns County will likely never decide to clear cut 99% of the forest. The main difference is that today's clear cutting is to build wide roads and mini malls next to sprawling neighborhoods with pretend beaches and other amenities, not farms or factories.

My family farmed Wisconsin land for 150 years, providing food and milk from about 100 acres. The land was mostly deforested, even if there were a couple of "woods" on the property. But if my cousin decides to plant trees instead of crops, the forest would come back. I'm sure most of St. Johns forested land had already been deemed deficient for farming, so it's not like the new neighborhoods are taking farms away from feeding us. So it's more about what we want for our landscape as opposed to competing uses. The main consideration is that when a farm fails or sells, the trees can grow back, but neighborhoods don't quite work that way.

I'm not totally sure where I stand on this issue. Land is there for us if we need it, and restrictions like those in Oregon have proven to limit affordable housing while maintaining natural beauty. The problem around here is that our standards are non-existent, meaning developers build or use a narrow road as a single entrance to a huge neighborhood that adds congestion requiring wider roads that now also need gas stations and Walmarts because it takes 15 minutes just to get to the exit of the vast neighborhood, so roads are widened, traffic lights are added to intersections, and then more traffic signals are needed for the next neighborhood or commercial development or (heaven forbid) apartment complex, and suddenly there's an entirely new city made up of single-entrance neighborhoods and strip malls. But there's a Kilwins or Keke's, so everyone is happy. At least until the next mega-neighborhood gets built a mile down the road.

I guess what I'm saying is maybe a little bit of planning might help a lot in the long run. People live here in the long run, while developers only care about the short term.

No Property or Income Taxes?

Government needs money to run. In Florida, we already don't have all three of the kinds of taxes: income, property, and sales (maybe use tax is a fourth kind). As a state, we've decided to eliminate income tax, which makes Florida a safe-haven for top-earners and retirees, while shifting the tax burden to lower classes and tourists. Now, the legislature has a plan that seems to shift the tax burden even further in that direction by suggesting we eliminate property taxes.

The problem is that getting rid of taxes doesn't make government cheaper. It just shifts the burden. In Jacksonville, for example, we just added to our property tax burden by voting to give teachers and the arts a pay hike in Duval schools (and probably charter schools). A property tax elimination, even if it's capped, will lead to huge deficits unless huge fees placed on others. 

My house is probably about the average home in Jacksonville. I pay about $3,000 in property taxes. Let's say an average of 4 people per household in Jacksonville, meaning 250,000 households in a city of a million. That's $750,000,000. Gone. So we double the sales tax. The fat cat who winters along the intracoastal and claims Florida citizenship will pay $0 income taxes and $0 property taxes on his multi-million dollar home, but I guess he'll chip in when he invest that same $30,000 (his current property taxes) at Home Depot to upgrade the sink in his 7th powder room. Problem is, the government would only get a portion of that $30,000. Even if we add an insane sales tax of 10%, that's only $3,000 of the original $30k, and what if he doesn't upgrade the powder room? There's no evidence that rich folks can possibly buy enough Porsches to make up for not paying income or property taxes, even if they will now be able to afford more Porsches.

Wednesday, February 14

I Think I'm a Slave to my Pest Control Company

State lawmakers are considering eliminating property taxes in Florida. The argument that's been used is that once you pay off your house, you should be free of all expenses, so charging people property taxes makes them slaves. I know, it's pretty silly. Even if you pay off your house and decide to self-insure, you're still going to need power and water. Plus, you probably want parks, schools, and roads. And even if you do self-insure, you'll eventually need a roof when it starts leaking. And if you refuse to pay HOA fees, they will take your house. So most of are basically slaves to our homes, and eliminating the property tax won't fix that. The talk of being bound to my house and a recent pest-control fee increase reminds me that I'm just as enslaved by my termite bond as any other home responsibility.

We bought a house that was crawling with cockroaches. That should be surprising, since the previous owner had, according to my contract, paid for a yearly termite service since the house was built (generally comes with other pest services). Anyhow, we inherited the termite bond, which is apparently good for as long as we keep paying. And we have really, really kept paying. I think we've had two increases in price along with a decrease in yearly treatments (from four to three). But we really are stuck if we want to keep the security of knowing we won't get termites (or at least someone else will pay for repairs). No one has checked the traps or treated specifically for termites in years, but my contract and my yearly renewal of it implies I'm still covered. But it keeps me from pricing other companies or even walking away from what I see as a bit of an extravagance: I'm sure we could deal with handling most of our own pest issues with sprays and traps, but I'm just not sure about termites. So I'm paying close to $1,000 a year for three visits from a guy who spends about 20 minutes spraying a chemical around my house. Think about that hourly rate. And if I consider the fact that I only pay about 3x that for my property taxes, I'd say paying for government services is a better deal by a long shot.

Friday, January 5

Walmart Gatekeeper Attempts to Own Customer, Fails

I'm sure he was bored. The big shopping rush for the day was over, and a few stragglers (like me) we're getting their curbside deliveries after 9pm. He was also trying to impress his friends and/or the fine ladies working the delivery area. I understand. The guy is probably fun at football parties, but this is his actual job: answer the phone and deliver the items. Instead, I got amateur night at the Apollo.

I'm pretty sure it began with an answer that wasn't part of the script, since I was a bit put-off from the start. Probably something like, "What ya need?" Or maybe it was just the tone of voice. I don't remember exactly, and not a big deal. I told him I was there for my order. Brian (last name). We'll say it sounds like Flagler. Our comedian comes back with, "Brian Vinegar?" I could hear some muffled laughter. In all my years of having a somewhat difficult name, not one person has gone with Vinegar. Plus, I've never seen it as a last name, so it's probably some game that's played at Walmart to seemingly mis-hear last names and replace the name with some random item from the shelves. Like if your last name was Tebow, but the employee says Teabag or T-bone. Or last name Allen but he says Allegra. I guess it's entertaining in a very limited way.

I knew the guy was playing around, so I wasn't too surprised, after spelling out my last name, that he asked if it was Brian with a y or an i. Of course, he already had the package in front of him, and he probably knows how annoyed those of us spelled the right way get when asked if it's with a y. I suppose if my last name had been "Vinegar," it might have been Brian with a y because if you already have a stupid last name, you might as well make it official with a random consanant acting as a vowel in your first name.

Anyhow, at the end of the call, when the comedian moonlighting as Walmart employee said he'd be right out, I told him to bring out some of his good drugs. That surprised him. 

I was kidding, of course. Walmart probably doesn't carry really good drugs.

Friday, December 22

Support the Arts in Jacksonville: Go See a Play


James Jaeger as Capulet


Fletcher's next play:
April 19th and 20th, 2024: House of Blue Leaves


Tickets (when available)

Sure, you can watch the family-friendly stuff at the Alhambra Theater or venture into downtown for a highbrow experience. And you should. However, for my money, I've always enjoyed high school plays. And since the actual money is $6 and free parking, it's worth every penny compared to Alhambra's $70 plus drinks and tip or $50 plus parking for a downtown experience.  If you're looking for live entertainment on a budget, check out a local high school play

The preceding link is to the Fletcher High School GoFan Performing Arts site, but you can probably find a list of local schools and their plays. I know the performing arts school got into some hot water recently with its choice of a play dealing with sexuality, but you're mostly going to get the same fodder at local high schools as the big theaters, meaning stuff you've seen before or based on something you've seen before.

Not all of the performances at local high schools will be stellar. You need a big cast, it's not as popular as football, and performing in front of people isn't everyone's cup of tea. But these kids really do deserve a real budget, a dedicated director, and an audience. If you think you support the schools by paying property taxes and attending the alumni football game, then you are losing out on an opportunity to support kids with real-world skills.

My kid will be in all of Fletcher's productions from 2023 until 2026 because he has fun acting. Even if your kids aren't in high school, however, seeing a high school play is a good way to see some local talent before they get too talented. Scroll down for the list of dates for Fletcher High School productions. 

The plays I saw as an educator in Wisconsin seemed to have a much larger budget (and audience)  than those I've seen in Jacksonville. While this doesn't affect the acting (exactly), it does affect how the students see themselves as actors. It's hard to feel like you're a real star when you perform one or two shows over a single weekend that are less than half full, on top of having to buy any costumes yourself (and not everyone bothers). I remember seeing a production of Miss Saigon at Pius High School in Milwaukee that had a full-sized helicopter on stage, and Tosa West's production of Showboat must have had 50 dancers on stage for several numbers. And many of the suburban schools had auditoriums named after people who probably donated heavily to the theater. We don't have less total wealth than in Milwaukee metro (higher per capita income), so it's more of a values/priorities situation, and I'm hoping that can change.
 
April 6th and 7th, 2024: Barefoot in the Park

January 19th and 20th, 2024
Rumours

October 20 and 21, 2023
Twelve Angry Jurors 
You may also know this play as Twelve Angry Men

April 21st and 22nd, 2023- Noises Off

January 13th and 14th, 2023 - Romeo, You Idiot
Romeo, You Idiot
Fletcher High Romeo You Idiot




What happens to those stars who are no longer stars? Not this.

Saturday, December 2

I Guess Homeless in Park and Ride Would Fill the Lots

There's a Park and Ride lot over on Monument by Craig Airport and Blue Sky Golf. Most people don't know the Park and Ride exists and nobody has used it in the six years I've been here. Maybe for Jags games. So basically, it's an empty parking lot for about 350 days of the year, living on as a reminder that we don't have a usable bus system that takes people where they want to go in an efficient manner.

For big cities with employment downtown, buses can be useful. You can maybe avoid traffic in special bus lanes, and you can avoid parking. However, nobody really wants to take the bus. In Jacksonville, which is way more spread out than other cities, literally no one DOES take the bus. Especially people with other resources. 

I'm sure all of our park and ride lots were created with a good intent: get people out of their cars and conserve downtown parking, all while polluting less. It might work in other cities, or it might work if we as a community provided an incentive (like cash) to workers who use the bus. Since buses and dangerous autonomous vehicles aren't going to catch on in Jax, let's just re-purpose some of the facilities. In Milwaukee, authorities have been trying to remove the homeless from the park and ride camp, but I kind of think it might work here. 

There was this one guy who was living in Ed Austin Park for three years. He was creepy because he was in a white van and kids are all over the park. I contacted the police, but I guess they were too busy protecting the Wawa parking lot, or maybe there's no ordinance against living in your van in a park next to the playset. That guy would have been better off in a park and ride lot. Kids don't hang out in empty parking lots. In fact, nobody hangs out there. And when several homeless people with cars hang out together, they become a community, and they can benefit from sharing resources (like barrel fires when it's cold). 

Mostly, I just want to be able to keep an eye on all the homeless folks. I'm not saying I want to actually see them or interact with them. I just want them to be in one place rather than in the woods next to my neighborhood playset. I guess leaders in downtown want to cage them inside a fence somewhere, which is admirable in a concentration camp kind of way, but I figured setting them up with some barely-running cars in never-used parking lots is just as good as prison camps downtown. Set up a hose and a usb charger maybe. 

As a bonus, maybe Jacksonville can get some federal transportation funding because our park and ride lots are finally being used. 

Tuesday, November 7

Are We Funding Home Improvements For Rest of Florida?

[UPDATE]
My Safe Florida was expanded to every Floridian at around the same time it ran out of funding completely. Which is almost as frustrating as my take on the program below.

Back when the My Safe Florida program started, I checked it out. From what I could tell, I didn't qualify because of our home location outside of the wind-borne debris regions of the state. I ended up footing the $15,000 bill for a new roof, and I'll probably have to pay full price for new windows. However, when I visited the official My Safe Florida website, I didn't find clear eligibility requirements. In fact, the site seems to imply everyone who owns a home in a Florida can upgrade roofs and windows with the government paying 2/3 of the cost (except they're currently out of funding and have a huge waiting list). I wonder if the original map I saw is or was ever a requirement. If it is, then our taxes in Jacksonville, Tallahassee, and Orlando are paying for 2/3 the cost of upgrades in Miami, Tampa, and Ft. Myers that can save homeowners $1,000 on their insurance. 

Sure, my $15,000 roof would have probably been a $25,000 roof under program guidelines, but if a grant was going to pay 2/3 of that, my super-hurricane roof would have only cost me around $8,000. And I'd have a stronger roof and lower insurance. Of course, that's why there's a waiting list. I can pay $5,000 for cheap, builder-grade replacement windows in Jacksonville, while some cat in Tampa can pay $5,000 to get $15,000 ultimate storm-proof windows. And lower insurance. I just saw one website claim average homeowners insurance is the same in Tampa as Jax, which makes no sense if they are in some kind of wind-death-zone and we're not.

Since my roof was kind of an emergency (canceled insurance), I'll take the hit, but I will certainly look into the My Safe Florida option for windows. However, if what I'd initially read about the program is correct, instead of getting discounted hurricane-proof windows, I'll just be paying full price for regular windows while also helping to buy some grandma in Ft. Myers new windows for her house. If the state is going to limit a program like this, at least offer those of us not in the wind debris zones cheaper insurance or 1/3 price tickets to Disney or something.

Monday, November 6

The Jrue Holiday Dilemma in Youth Sports

Just a few weeks after Jrue Holiday got traded away from another team (my Bucks), my daughter got "demoted" from her varsity basketball spot. Even after making the team in 9th and 10th grade. Even after showing her relentless defensive and hustle-points skills. Even before that, she didn't get the playing time she'd earned, so I told her she should have been showing her skills on JV for the past two years. But it's still a demotion, like a guy who's consistently the best defender in the league who keeps getting traded. As a parent, it's kind of hard to figure out what to say. Especially as a parent who has learned the importance of defense over time.

I was always good at defense, even in basketball. However, I also knew how to score in the low post, so in alleyball games, I normally tried to outscore the opponent. My only time spent playing organized basketball was for a high school church league (basically all the guys who got cut from their high school teams). In this scenario, I played hard-nosed defense, got lots of rebounds, set monster screens, and always looked for my guards (because there were always four on the court with me). I averaged a single-double (rebounds) and fouled out in several games. But we were league champions, mostly because I didn't try to score or dribble through double-teams. Even though I knew how to score points, my team was better when I played a hustle game, kind of like Jrue Holiday. The problem is that even Jrue Holiday probably had to be a ball hog on offense at some point in his career in order to get noticed, and it seems like he'll never get enough respect for making the players around him better. And that's also where my daughter is stuck as a basketball player.

She was chosen to be on a varsity team (that played at about a JV level) both 9th and 10th grade. The team regularly got blown out, and she regularly sat on the bench while the starters stayed in the game. When she did get to play, she was a fan-favorite for the hustle, and she seemed to make other players play harder, but that never translated to more playing time. And then a couple of star freshmen show up and she's relegated to JV for her junior year. As a parent, I don't have much to tell her. I used a hustle scoring system for her last year, and she probably led the team per minute in the kinds of stats no one seems to keep, like batted balls, virtual assists, screens, boxing out, getting back on a fast break, and passing out of the press. But fans, teammates, and coaches always seemed much more impressed with girls who would dribble through a double-team and turn the ball over or miss several contested three-pointers before finally, mercifully hitting one. My daughter did everything I told her to do to play the game the right way for her, and she did everything the coaches asked of her, and it resulted in her name being removed from the board in the gym. The reason given? Since she's 5'2" and can only point guard, she needs to be able to dribble through the double-team. Never mind that she successfully locked down D1 prospects on opposing varsity teams or outrebounded every guard she ever matches up against. She's the only guard I've seen in two years watching varsity girls play who could legitimately be the One in a Box and One defense. Like Jrue Holiday, I've seen her take over a game from the defensive end of the floor, but you have to be watching for that kind of thing. Her stats would never show what she did, and I'm not sure her teammates realized what was happening (because they were part of it). She was the one player who could come in and energize everyone else, but she couldn't do it by scoring 20 off the bench or dribbling around like a fool, so it's not valid.

When my daughter really got interested in basketball, I went to a couple of UNF games with her. I've also looked up D1 and lower schools online. The fact is that women's basketball is a tall girl sport. Also, kind of surprisingly, a heavy girl sport. She's short, strong, and fast. That can work in basketball, but it takes the right kind of coaching. For example, her team lost to one team that had a bunch of girls who looked like rugby players. Instead of playing basketball, they played rugby. Some teams look like track athletes, and they tend to run a lot. My daughter's team looked like a bunch of short guards who all had very good basketball skills, but they sat back in zones and dribbled way too much. And no one played much defense, like many talented guards I've known over the years. Jrue Holiday is different, like my daughter, but when your team loses (or doesn't win the NBA championship), people don't dig deep into defensive stats to determine your value. You just get blamed for not being the scoring machine that maybe you could be if you concentrated more on offense and ignored fundamentals a bit more.

I continued to play baseball for many years, even after I couldn't quite hit homeruns anymore. I could still bat for average, but no more doubles or stolen bases, either. However, I got better at defense. So good, in fact, that the last team I was on when I was over 45, I actually started at defense with a designated hitter. And while my hitter might have scored one run in the big game (the team's first playoff win), I was technically more valuable by making three solid plays and one amazing play at 3rd base. If I'd made a single error or missed the diving grab, we likely would have lost the game. Problem is, if my designated hitter got a homerun, or even an RBI by getting walked with the bases loaded, his stats looked more impressive than mine. My son played one year of high school soccer, and his experience was similar. He's fast and a solid defender, but his team spent most of the game playing defense (almost never advancing the ball past midfield). Therefore, he would inevitably be there when the other team scored. He seemed to blame himself more than his teammates did, but it felt like another example of offense getting any glory while defense only gets blame. And that's on a team that averaged one shot on goal per game.

In reality, defense is exactly as important as offense in any game. We don't celebrate great defense, though. MVP awards, Heisman Trophies, and most accolades are presented to top offensive players, and it's just an added bonus to say Michael Jordan also plays great defense or Barry Bonds also won some Gold Gloves. People will make a blanket statement about defense winning championships, but most of us aren't armed with stats to back it up. People get excited about razzle-dazzle dribbling and three-pointers, not the screens or rebounds that made those plays possible. So a few great defenders like Holiday will make their way to college and the NBA because they also play solid offense, but I'd say a lot more poor defenders who can score play the game than great defenders who can't score. Also, defense is kind of boring to most people.

Will the Bucks be a better team without Holiday? Will my daughter's team finally do well with her being sent to JV? You know, there's a chance, with a change in coaching and mentality, that teams can make up for defensive deficiency with new schemes or just more offense. Last year's coach seemed to imply the stars of the team needed to get better in order to beat my daughter's defense rather than everyone learn how to play defense like her. Frustrating, yet probably typical. But when the offense isn't working or the tone of the game needs to change, good luck if those kinds of players aren't around anymore. 

Wednesday, November 1

No, You Can't Help Me, B^π¢#

I thought my neighbor was high-strung for coming out and asking about the car I had temporarily parked (partially) in front of her house, but this Karen down by the Beaches took it up a notch. I pulled in front of her house, which was right next door to where my son was attending a Halloween party. I stopped my car, with the engine running, to wait for him to come out of the house next door, and this lady comes at me with a sassy "Can I help you?" 

I ignored her because why should I bother and also my son was calling me, so I answered the phone, and she budded in with another, "Can I help you?" And I start thinking that she must really think I need help or think that her asking me if I need help is really going to scare me away from sitting in front of her house on a public street. So I tell her I'm waiting for my son, but I basically don't give her any more info than that, because I can and will stop my car on a public street when necessary. 

I understand that there are a lot of creeps out there, and maybe someone broke into Karen's husband's pickup last month, but this was Halloween night with a bunch of parties happening. Also, I was driving my little convertible, and not some vehicle that should have been suspicious, like a rusty white van. Also, she was wearing a cat outfit. I know that is not evidence of anything; just an interesting detail.

Within a couple of minutes, my son is outside and on his way to my car. That's when I see Mr. Concerned Husband coming out to check out my car because he didn't just tell his catty Karen wife to go scratch a fence post. Mr. Concerned Husband never says anything to me, which he probably got yelled at for, since I saw catty Karen out in the driveway monitoring his interaction with me.

I totally believe that people have the right to protect their property, and I'm sorry that catty Karen has had some problems in the past, but coming at someone like she did probably won't fix the past. In fact, I remember exactly where she lives. If she would have treated me like that back when I was a teenager, her house would have suffered the consequences nightly for at least a week. I know it's your castle and all, but it's probably a good idea to avoid pissing off strangers right in front of your house. And maybe catty Karen was a guest at the party rather than the owner of the house, which actually makes a lot more sense now, especially if she doesn't really like the owner of the house because she stole her idea for a costume that made her look sexy but not like a total slut. So I guess what I'm saying is "No, B^π¢#, you can't help me. But thanks for asking."

Saturday, October 28

This Guy Probably Owes Me Money

I know the general rule of thumb in Jacksonville is that people can haul whatever they want in their pickup trucks and not really worry about how much flies out of the bed. It's a perk of owning a pickup truck in an area that has very little traffic enforcement beyond speed traps. However, when I got stuck behind this clown the other day, I was sure somebody would end up with a flat. Unfortunately, it was me. Since this guy was on Philips Highway, I'm probably not his only victim, either.

Discount Tire was fairly good about not taking too much of my money to replace the very expensive tire, but I'm still out more than $150. This guy's job of garbage removal probably paid him about that much, but my guess is the debris he left for the rest of us will end up costing everyone much more. 

Please, if you're going to haul junk in your junky pickup, at least make an effort to wrap the junk up or take some of the loose screws out or get a van for a van job.

Tuesday, October 24

Back to Office Challenges

I met someone tasked with implementing back-to-office measures for a local company, but it's apparently quite a challenge. I've read about this subject a bit, but I've never met anyone on the management end of the situation, so it was interesting to learn how the bosses see it.

Rules
The person I met did not make the rules for return, but I was told there are industry best practices that many companies use. However, the Jacksonville corporation was implementing its own rules. These rules were seen as restrictive and kind of old-fashioned by the industry insider. For example, re-establishing large conference room meetings that would probably only have a few employees taking part in. And something to do with attendance. I'm not totally sure, but the point was that a lot of companies pre-covid had working systems that could be emulated, yet a local company decided to create rules that I was told won't work well.

Incentives
Part of the problem with the local company rules was that they weren't paired with incentives. Stuff like free pastries. I'd read about UberLyft passes. Maybe a pingpong table. I don't know what all of the incentives would be to induce people to get out of their pajamas, drive 45 minutes, hang out with other people who don't love their jobs, find childcare, and have to find reasons to sneak out early every day. I guess on-site childcare helps. Casual Mondays? Anyhow, I was told workers are rebelling hard without incentives.

That said, the industry insider I met told me that a company in the Midwest (where people tend to value rules and work) had a 25% attendance rate on a given Wednesday, with even lower attendance on Mondays and Fridays (this person said the office was basically empty). And that's with implementing both rules and incentives. Basically, it seems like members of the laptop class are going to continue to make their own work schedule for as long as they can, and it seems like they can for as long as they have their jobs.

End Game
Large companies own or lease a lot of space for employees. It's a huge expense that a lot of employees don't believe is necessary, but employers still believe in it. Work Dead Zones seem to exist on Mondays, Fridays, every day for school pick ups and lunches and whatever else workers got used to at home.

Just like the UAW possibly overreaching on auto worker compensation, typical office workers may learn their jobs can be performed overseas. Office workers might learn how AI can help them just in time to see it do their jobs, but I don't know for sure. As someone who has had to show up in person to all my jobs, I couldn't imagine flipping off my boss in the way many American workers can and do, so I'm intrigued by what will happen next. Will workers adjust to keep their jobs or will the industry adjust to keep their workers?

By the way, if you run a local office and want to replace someone with a fat paycheck who refuses to come into the actual office, I'm available. English degree, French minor, Urban Planning certificate, 12 years teaching high school English. 10 years building websites, creating content online, and renting property. I can do a lot, and it doesn't have to be at home.

Monday, October 16

UF Ranked Best Florida University Again


The University of Florida was once again ranked among the best in the country and certainly the best in Florida, this time by Wallet Hub. In a tie for 13th place (slotted in the 19th spot) is UF, tied with such schools as Columbia, Brown, Vanderbilt, Carnegie Mellon, and Penn.

I told my daughter, who is a good student and wants to attend Florida, that it's a caught in a circle right now: the school keeps getting accolades, top students keep wanting to attend, those top students drive the school into getting more accolades, which means even more top students want to attend. 

I guess the only criticism I can think of would be that a school that is so selective for incoming freshmen based on GPA and SAT scores must have very, very different standards for the athletes. But since all those top-ranked kids enjoy watching top athletes compete, I guess it doesn't bother them too much. I suppose there may be a few dads with kids who get denied who might want to see football team running backs SAT scores. 

Also, the bookstore on campus has entire Tim Tebow sections, and I don't know if it's because he continues to buy items or because he has a factory in Singapore keep sending them to the store:






Source: WalletHub

Monday, October 9

Charter Schools Need to be Cut From Public School Funding Immediately

As of 2023-2024, charter schools in Florida should participate in the new universal voucher system rather than operate as bastard children of public school districts. Charter schools were created to use public school district money and resources to slowly kill the traditional public school. And maybe provide a better education in the process. But the process has changed, and charter schools really need to be funded solely by vouchers rather than public schools districts at this point.

Parents are given the choice to use available vouchers for their kids to attend private schools. The vouchers pay some or all of the tuition, and efficient private schools don't need to charge parents more than the voucher amount. Therefore, if charter schools are both effective and efficient, vouchers should be able to pay for operating expenses. In fact, taxpayers also need to stop paying for charter school building improvements. The classical academy that fired a principal for showing classical nude artwork is a perfect example of charter schools being more like private schools than public schools, and it's a good time for these schools to stop using the public welfare system of school districts and prove they can compete against the traditional private school.

Private schools in Florida have been at a disadvantage to charter schools for years, but that really needs to change if vouchers are being used. If we are saying that it's ok for public money to pay for religious schools, then the same money is what other special schools created to compete with public schools deserve. I know, some people would argue for vouchers also for public schools, but public schools do need to provide for busing, lunches, special education, etc. If private schools and charter schools are going to be able to selectively exclude students, then vouchers make sense for those schools. All private religious schools need to come together to pressure the state to even the playing field between their own schools and charter schools that have mostly been operated as private schools that receive public money.

Saturday, October 7

Why Do We Send Fire Engines to Ambulance Calls?

I was driving a refugee from Kyrgyzstan to a doctor's appointment when he asked me a simple question for which I had no answer. Why do fire engines show up to ambulance calls when there is no fire? At the moment he asked, I had nothing to explain it beyond that any emergency along a road could spark a fire, but I kind of second-guessed my own reasoning as soon as I said it. Since the question stuck with me, I Googled it, and the online answers weren't much better.

One answer I saw a few times for why fire trucks respond to ambulance calls was that the firemen who ride along are all trained in first aid. But a big-ass, $1 million fire engine when there is no fire? I didn't even see anyone else trying to argue a fire might result from any emergency situation, though I can still see it for a bad car crash or any emergency at a gas station or fireworks plant.

One answer I didn't give was strong unions, but I have to believe that's part of the equation. In 2020, there were 36 million calls for fire departments, with a mere 1.4 million fires. With about 1 million career and volunteer firefighters in the US, that means the average firefighter gets called to maybe a couple of fires. Sure, big fires may need multiple departments, and several engines might race to a single fire. Still, if JFRD gets 150,000 calls per year, we can assume about 6,000 fires. With 1300 employees spread over 70 stations, let's assume 20 firefighters respond to the average fire. OSHA says 4 are needed, and websites I've perused say 10 to 20, so let's go with 20x6,000 fires = 12,000 firefighters responding to fires in Jax in the average year. Divided by 1300, and it's about 10 fires. But maybe let's say half those guys are paramedics or chiefs or whatever, then 12,000/650 or closer to 20 fires per year. That's why I mentioned the strong union that probably pushes for a full fire engine response to as many emergencies as possible, since most of us wouldn't presume to get full-time salary for doing our actual jobs 20 times or less per year, while lifting weights and playing cards the rest of the time. Or possibly running some other business from the station.

The reality is that if most people knew how many actual fires the average fireman fought per year, they'd probably be disappointed, which is kind of sad. If the police respond to fewer murders, we congratulate the department, but since firemen aren't cruising around trying to prevent fires, they are judged more on actual calls for service.

Anyhow, since most people would go nuts if they knew how few times firemen put out actual fires, I assume fire trucks respond to ambulance calls because you can fit a bunch of guys on the truck and it counts as a response to a call. I read that fire trucks contain the first aid stuff for those who need medical assistance. And I'm really cool with 20+ first responders showing up to help an old lady who fell in the kitchen, just in case. I guess I'm just with the refugee who asked why the fire engine was involved. When I drove past the firehouse a few blocks from my house, I saw a dozen crew-cab pickup trucks in the lot. Can't the fire department just deputize a personal vehicle and slap one of those strobe lights on top? I mean, no first responders in Jacksonville use actual sirens, anyhow (which is weird and dangerous but true), so why not just the Starsky and Hutch strobe light. They can even slide across the hood to get in if they want. Also, each station could probably afford some 12-passenger Econolines rather than pay for maintenance and depreciation on huge actual fire trucks.

I guess another, dystopian option would be to neurolink a bunch of prisoners (who also lift weights a lot) to use them as firefighters. And then blow up their brains if they try to escape while fighting fires. I guess that's a suggestion for another discussion and almost totally unrelated.

Anyhow, with the total number of calls for service being high in Jacksonville, I'm not suggesting cutting staff or anything. All I'm saying is that the practice of using fire engines as glorified ambulance chariots might be outdated and deserve a re-think. And use your sirens.

Thursday, October 5

Where Can I Volunteer in Jacksonville?

I saw a social media post by a new neighbor looking to volunteer somewhere, and since my wife has asked similar questions, I thought I'd compile a few of the ideas in an article, mostly based on neighbor ideas and a few of my own experiences. 

BEAM
Several neighbors mentioned BEAM, but no one provided a lot of details beyond helping those less fortunate. If that's your jam, then I guess look up BEAM.

Humane Society
Some people volunteered here, but some said it was dirty. Jacksonville's humane society is basically a Pit-Bull rescue that's constantly over capacity and offering free pits to everyone, so please don't volunteer here. 

Animal Rescue
If you want to help non-pit-bull animals, then you can volunteer with specific breed rescues. I guess look them up based on your preferred breed. 

Timucuan Parks Foundation
I guess you pick up garbage and plant some stuff. Actually, building those raised trails and clearing ADA paths is probably important volunteer work that would be pretty blistering all summer long. We have a lot of parks and very low taxes, so we probably need volunteers.  

Mission House
People who need help with food and (I believe) temporary housing. It's at the Beaches, so it's a more discerning homeless population. I guess the bonus here is a beach day after you serve.

Pinecastle, Inc.
Looks like this organization helps people with disabilities in group homes and a day program. PossAbilities Plus seems to also offer vocational training for those with disabilities, or as they describe it, "special needs and exceptional abilities."

Hospices
If this is your kind of thing, please do it. Haven and Community Hospice were mentioned.

We Care Jax and Mayo Clinic were also mentioned, as well as Hubbard House. However, those folks didn't say what those places offer for volunteers.



At Your Church
Most churches look to share or create opportunities to serve. I'm sure some are much better at this than others, and you also (sadly) have politics play a role. My church doesn't do a whole lot outside of its own walls or for the wider community, but even cleaning the church or helping a fellow church member with yard work is volunteering. I work the Bread Ministry at my church, which entails someone getting day-old bread from a store and someone else taking it to the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center. It's not terribly interactive or even totally healthy (lots of sweets), but it's filling a need from a waste product.

Lutheran Social Services
Like Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Services offers a number of social services and volunteer opportunities. I signed up and was asked to drive refugee families to medical appointments, but you can teach skills, set up apartments, distribute food, and probably lots of other stuff. And I don't think it's all about refugees, so you can check out LSS or Catholic Services online. 

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Wednesday, September 27

Recent Scares at Fletcher High School Sober Reminder of Gun Culture

With two kids in high school, I'm concerned about a lot of issues. Kids might dabble in sex, drugs, and country music. They might get injured playing sports or doing a social media challenge. They have to get into college. The usual concerns. Oh, and they could get shot in a mass shooting. Recent events at Fletcher High School are a reminder of the ever-present threat of mass shootings in America, even if the actual events were fairly harmless.

It began with a Code Yellow and a gun. Well, not a gun. A suspected gun that turned out to be a toy gun. As parents, we were assured the guilty party who accused someone of having a gun that was just a toy would receive severe punishment. I don't know the whole story: maybe there was a threat, maybe there was a joke, maybe the snitch knew the SWAT team would would do a takedown or his nemesis. In some ways, it doesn't matter, as teens have made false accusations and threats since teens have existed. In a gun culture, however, it's more real, even if it's fake. It could happen, and it has happened. Lots of kids have died, so any accusation is taken seriously, and the resulting fear is real.

The next even was a typical Fletcher v Sandalwood sporting event. Trash talk, rivalry, etc. It led to a fight and an overturned table (a la Jesus in the temple). Some say a gun fell to the ground in the melee, but most accounts focus on the loud noise of the table that caused people to scatter. Everyone at the game knew the stories of other mass shootings, so everyone ran. Luckily, no one was trampled to death. And there was no gun fired. But there certainly could have been a gun, with or without security, as items can be tossed over fences and players who arrive early likely aren't fully checked (I could be mistaken on that one). Besides, the parking lot is right next to the stadium, and probably half the parent cars are carrying. 

In a kind of crazy twist, we received a message that two vehicles that were somehow (maybe) associated with people involved in the fight were later pulled legally? over by police and found to be "legally" carrying assault rifles. I realize I might be alone in thinking the ownership of AR-15s should be illegal, but can't we all agree that no one has the need to be transporting assault rifles after 9pm on a Friday night? My assumption was that friends were called to pick up friends who were at the game, and automatic weapons came along for the ride. Like when I was in high school and ventured out with a friend to find the Werewolf of Walworth County and I brought my Daisy BB gun, just in case. Sure, an AR-15 with silver bullets might have made more sense, but I'm pretty sure assault rifles were illegal when I was in high school (which makes even more sense).

So we're gun crazy. Parents are afraid of losing their kids and kids are afraid of other kids. The best answer from politicians and police is to arm more people and arrest more people. Schools secure more buildings, limit more exits, extend reach to parking lots, etc. My kids decided they wanted to have the typical high school experience, and, unfortunately, that's what they're getting. For every mass shooting in our country (and there are a lot), I bet we have dozens of threats, hit lists, manifestos and all kinds of crazy-ass BS, all rooted in the gun culture. As it somewhat extends to college, the workplace, and the roads, I assume my kids will get the true American experience of paranoia throughout their entire lives. Maybe it will get so bad that retirement communities will eventually experience 2nd Amendment rights first-hand.

Or we could start fixing it now. Take guns away from anyone who is crazy, stop allowing assault rifles, and prosecute parents whose kids commit these crimes with family weapons, just as a start. In general, handguns and assault rifles are manufactured to kill people. Hunting rifles and shotguns are for killing animals, and I am fine with people killing animals.

Friday, September 22

Holy Hard Water, Jacksonville

We finally got enough ahead to put on the new roof that didn't really help with insurance rates, and the next improvement probably has to be a water softener, since we have especially hard water. In fact, based on our zip code, we have hard water bordering on mineral water. For 32225, it's 339 ppm of minerals or 20 grains per gallon for figuring out your water softener. Here's a link to the JEA water hardness by zip. No explanation as to why JEA doesn't soften the water for us just a little bit. Probably too expensive, but it costs all of us, either in buying a water softener or in appliance and plumbing destruction that needs repair or replacement. Our shower heads go bad quickly, our dishwasher keeps getting broken parts, and our hot water heater had inches of crusty stuff in the bottom of the tank last year, so I know the hard water is, in fact, hard on our house.

When I ran the numbers for a water softener we would need (you take the grains per gallon x gallons per person x number of people, I got 6000. That translates to a 48,000 grain capacity water softener (5,751 – 6,850). I am assuming the average of 75 gallons per person per day.

The problem is that if we add one more person, which many houses our size could accommodate, that would put us in the 64,000 grain water softener range. I'm thinking we might want to opt for the larger unit for resale, since a 4-bed and 3-bath house should be able to house five or more people. But it also looks like I'll have fewer options if I go for the larger capacity, so maybe 48,000 is good. Or maybe there's a 56,000 unit out there. Anyhow, it'll be somewhere just under $1,000 for the water softener. Hoping the installation doesn't double the price.

I'm not sure if realtors or neighbors tell those of us who are new to Jax that it might have some of the hardest water they've ever used. Our zip code's 20 gpg ranks among the highest I saw in any of the cities with supposedly the worst hard water in our country. The caveat for a lot of the other cities was that city water might be significantly softer than surrounding areas based on water source. Obviously, JEA uses the hardest water source available, so lucky us. Even though my former hometown of Milwaukee is in the "Extremely Hard" area of the map, the Lake Michigan water distributed to homes was 8gpg/137 or moderately hard, so fine for home use. If salt does a number on hard water, couldn't we just mix in a little salt water to our system? We have a lot of salt water all around. I realize it's a different process, but it just seems frustrating.

Thursday, September 7

Clay County Dad Has Made One-Third of Book Complaints in State, Should Probably Homeschool

I'm not a huge proponent of homeschool. I think kids should have the social interaction of school and they benefit from the different teachers. But I'd like to make a suggestion to the whiney dad in Clay County that the world would probably be a better place if he homeschooled his little darlings.

I believe everyone in our country has the right to a free, public, liberal arts education. However, if a child is too violent, that child eventually gives up his right to that education. Or if a child skips school so often that he can't perform the work required to pass, then he also gives up the right. And if a parent makes a third of all the complaints in an entire state against using books at his kids' school, he also gives up the right. Why? In all the cases, it's about what's good for the many versus what's good for the few. If we let a violent kid continue to beat up his classmates, those other kids are negatively affected. And if we pass kids to the next grade level who don't earn the grades, the school's reputation and the value of the education earned by classmates suffers. And a parent who wastes time and resources just so he can prove how much he doesn't trust the decisions made by the school board elected by the many is just as much a nuisance to the school district.

Maybe no one has thought to ask this guy to pull his kids out of the school district. They might be worried he'd submit a complaint form if they do. But I don't really care, so I'll ask him to send his kids elsewhere. Like home. Online school doesn't have a library, so that's an option. Or, since he's such an expert, he can just teach the kids himself. He probably has a real doll of a wife who could handle it if he has to go off to work. And if they both work, then maybe a classical academy is the right setting, although he might be surprised how many classical books were written by homosexuals or how many classical paintings depict naked people, sometimes engaged in homosexual activities. Or send the kids to a private school and then join the school board there in order to police the staff. I mean, who has time to research all the books your kids' school might have? And does this guy's employer know how he spends half of his work day? Take it from a dad who has embarrassed his kids a few times: stop. Just strip-search your kids every day after school before you lock them in the dog kennels in their bedrooms in order to make sure they're not reading books about gay penguins. Or use the book about gay penguins in a teachable moment about why sodemny is wrong or why book-banning is so good.

Honestly, if this dad needs a new hobby, they exist. He could volunteer at the schools to maybe do lunch duty or monitor recess. He could help distribute food to those less fortunate or help them find meaningful employment so they aren't taking food from his family. He could distribute Bibles in North Korea. Lots of stuff. People would like you more if you had a meaningful hobby, or even an unmeaningful one, like watching the grass in your yard grow or racing RC boats in your pond. Or drinking heavily. Or sexy-time with the wife. But the best hobby would be to write a series of children's books that would be appropriate for all kids. Most brilliant and self-important people are amazingly creative and talented, which means writing several books for kids ought to be a snap.

So, to recap, I hope this dad sends his kids elsewhere with school choice vouchers and finds a new way to annoy others, maybe even a blog.

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