School Budget: 2019 Edition

It’s that time again, boys and girls! Time for approving a new school budget. Last year’s voting was blessedly non-confrontational, but on the theory of an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, I think it’s important to stay out in front of any negative messaging around the budget, especially when it’s as reasonable as this year’s proposal.

The biggest thing voters should focus on is the bottom line increase to local taxes, since that’s where the biggest amount of sound and fury has been generated from budget hawks in the past. For this budget, that increase is .27%. Please note the decimal. This is an increase of a quarter of a percent. In fact, 3 of the towns will actually see a decrease in taxes this year. Per the article in the Daily Bulldog:

Specifically, if the budget passed as proposed, Chesterville would see a $8,723 increase, or .83 percent; Farmington would see a $50,102 increase, or 1.05 percent; Industry would see a $8,695 increase, or .94 percent; New Sharon would see a decrease of $3,201, or a reduction of .31 percent; New Vineyard would see an increase of $21,846, or 2.94 percent; Starks would see an increase of $17,989, or 3.88 percent; Temple would see an increase of $7,347 or 1.73 percent; Vienna would see an increase of $8,559 or 1.19 percent; Weld would see a decrease of $27,352, a reduction of 5.22 percent; and Wilton would see a decrease of $56,657, or a reduction of 2.01 percent.

The budget changes for individual towns from year to year based on town valuation. Basically, the state calculates how much each town can bring in through taxes each year and then portions out how much each town owes for school funding accordingly. So if your town starts bringing in more money than it did in the past, it owes proportionately more for school funding. This makes sense. More taxes coming in means more people living in that area, which means more people able to contribute. If towns do better, they chip in more. If they do worse, they chip in less.

But this potentially opens up the budget to manipulative messaging. For example, you might hear someone say something like “The budget is going up $1.58 million AGAIN! That’s another 4.4%! When will these fat cat school administrators learn that ENOUGH is ENOUGH!??!” But that’s looking at the overall budget, not the local assessment. Overall, the district has 177 more students in it than three years ago. When the district gets bigger, it costs more to teach those students. Lucky for us, the state recognizes that, and so it gives the district more funds from the state level.

Of course, if you point that out to the strawman we’re arguing with, he’s quick to respond, “But local taxes are going up 3.88% in Starks and 2.94% in New Vineyard!” as if that proves you’re wrong, and that local portions are indeed rising.

Just remember: that argument has nothing to do with overall state budgets. That’s based on town valuation. So to respond to that, congratulate Starks and New Vineyard for having growing populations and property tax values. Huzzah!

Anyway.

My hope is this year will be non-contentious again. But the meeting to set the budget is this coming Tuesday (5/28) at 7pm at the high school. Come on out and vote YES to this ultra reasonable .27% increase for local tax payers. And if you hear any naysayers, try to get out in front of the messaging. Sure, the data can be manipulated to seem like it’s another big increase. But if you look at the real figures, there’s no getting around the fact this budget is more than reasonable.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

220 Volt Wiring + Drills = Bad

If there’s one thing I’ve come to expect over the years of renovation projects on my house, it’s that there will always be surprises in every project. Whether it’s ripping off the eaves and discovering rotting wood beneath them, giant rocks in the way of holes that need to be dug, incorrectly installed insulation, or something else, any time you open up a house that’s 178 years old, you’re bound to find a thing or two you’re not expecting.

We’ve already come across the first surprise with the new renovation.

Yesterday my contractor was taking off the siding from the bathroom. It’s vinyl, and we’re replacing that bit with clapboard so that it matches the clapboard going up around the sun porch. As he’s ripping it off, he came across some areas where the supports for the old porch had been drilled into the wall. No big deal. You can you a sawz-all to get through those old screws no problem.

Except one area didn’t look quite right. There was a hole around it, and looking through it, he could see wiring right next to the screws. Suspicious, he carved out some of that area to be able to see more before he sawed through the screws. It’s a good thing he did, because three of those screws had gone straight through the 220 volt wiring that leads to our dryer.

This is, naturally, disturbing on many levels. If you’re not familiar with wiring, let me explain a bit. Most electricity in American homes is 110 volts. When you plug your toaster into the wall, that’s what you’re plugging into. Some appliances need more juice, so they have wiring and circuit breakers that allow more voltage through. 220 volts to be specific. No electricity is safe to get zapped with, but twice the amount of it is that much more dangerous.

When you drill through a wire, you take something metal and put it into contact with that electricity. That can complete a circuit, sending all that electricity through the metal whatever-it-was and straight into you. If somehow that doesn’t happen and you don’t notice, that metal and wiring can cause electricity to arc inside your wall. Arcing electricity generates heat, and heat generates fire, and fire inside your walls means your house burns down.

So to put this in context: someone in the past drilled through the most dangerous wiring in my house not once, not twice, but three separate times. Somehow they were able to not get zapped on any of those occasions, so they unwittingly left those screws in place in the dryer wire, where they’ve now lived for at least 12 years. A constant fire hazard that could have gone up at any time.

I count us very lucky in many ways. Lucky that our house is still standing, and lucky no one got hurt in the renovation process. We have an electrician coming today to fix the work and make it safe at last. It’s not an expensive repair, thankfully. Which is why it’s surprising it ever happened in the first place. It also hasn’t pushed back the timetable of renovations at all, since it’s in a spot that can be ignored for now as work proceeds elsewhere.

We just don’t have a functioning dryer until it’s repaired, but that’s why they invented clotheslines, right?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Movie Review: Christopher Robin

I’m a big Winnie-the-Pooh fan (specifically a big Eeyore fan), so I’m a bit surprised it took me as long as it did to finally watch the live action “sequel” to the films and books: Christopher Robin. But it’s been on my list for a while, and I got around to it last week with the fam. My feelings on the movie are . . . mixed. Parts were fantastic, and parts were bad.

First, the good. It was so much fun to see the characters interacting with each other. Yes, they looked different than they did in the cartoon versions and the book illustrations. More like a hybrid of both. But the voices were great for Tigger and Pooh (because they used the same voice actor as the cartoons, Jim Cummings), and that made a good impact. When the core characters were just allowed to be themselves and do their thing, it was a lot of fun. There were some great callbacks to the stories and films, and as a fan, I appreciated those.

My kids liked the movie as well. It was entertaining throughout (with a few exceptions I’ll get to in a moment.) All told, I gave the film a 6/10. I liked it, but the flaws just kept holding it down in my estimation. What were they?

For one thing, the first half of the movie is flat out depressing. Christopher Robin leaves the Hundred Acre Woods and grows up to have his life consumed by work. It was a big enough down that MC actually began to cry in the middle of the sequence. A film that takes Winnie-the-Pooh as a conceit and then makes something that makes 6 year olds cry is taking its dramatical aspirations a bit too seriously, I’d say.

Beyond that, however, I really disliked how they oversimplified “work” in the movie. The older Christopher Robin has a job where things have taken a downturn. He’s got real commitments to keep, but the film portrays that all as a bad thing. That he’s too obsessed with work to have time for his family. In other words, it falls into the tried and true trope of “overworked dad needs to remember life is fun and that he shouldn’t work so hard.”

Except when times at a job really are tough? And people are in risk of losing their jobs? If I were at a company like that and my boss suddenly starts playing with stuffed animals again, I’d have some real complaints.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for work/life balance. But in this movie, it’s vastly oversimplified, and then the solution to it is also very reductive. It’s made out to be this insurmountable problem, and then it’s surmounted with a bit of brainstorming in the last five minutes. (I don’t think I’m spoiling anything when I reveal the film does not have Christopher Robin’s entire family tossed in the poor house at the end.)

The film just felt like it was struggling too hard to be a Serious Family Movie. There were great sprinkles of light-heartedness, but all the depressing stuff kept rearing its head to bring it all sinking back to earth again.

If you’re a fan of the original, it’s worth watching. Just don’t get your expectations up too high, and don’t go into it assuming it’ll be a fun time for the whole family . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

“Classic” Movies are Now “Ancient” Movies

Last night I decided to show my kids a classic movie: To Catch a Thief. Cary Grant. Grace Kelly. Alfred Hitchcock! This was one of the movies I’ve always labeled “Cabin Movies” in my head. Movies that my family had on tap at the family cabin, which were often watched again and again, year after year.

Sure, it’s a bit older now, but that doesn’t make it any worse. And as we’re watching it, Tomas observed, “Wow. This is actually a pretty decent movie for being done in 1955.”

My first instinct was to say, “Well, duh.” But I didn’t say that, because parenting. But then I began to wonder just how old a 1955 movie would seem to me when I was his age. To the math!

To Catch a Thief came out in 1955. If I first watched it when I was 15, it would have been 38 years old then. For Tomas, an equivalent would be for him to watch a movie that came out in . . . 1981.

Folks, if this were an SAT question, it would be phrased like so

Bryce : To Catch a Thief :: Tomas : Raiders of the Lost Ark

For those of you who don’t know how to read those (and that’s probably a fair number, seeing as how I just discovered the SAT ditched that style of question in 2005, 14 years ago), Tomas views Raiders of the Lost Ark the same way I viewed To Catch a Thief at his age.

I’m almost sure I’ve written a post about this sort of thing before, but I guess this is something that just constantly amazes (or depresses) me.

Of course, the next question to ask is how would I have viewed a movie as old as how Tomas views To Catch a Thief? The answer is simple. The movie is 64 years old to him. When I was fifteen, my dad would have had to trot out a movie from . . . 1929 to be the equivalent. 1-9-2-9!

We’re talking Charlie Chaplin territory here, people. Early Laurel & Hardy material. So when I trotted out To Catch a Thief last night, it would have been like my parents telling me to watch The Cocoanuts.

And yes, I’m now good with appreciating early cinematic efforts, but when I was fifteen, if I’d been asked to watch a Marx Brothers movie, I think I would have probably said, “Wow. This is actually a pretty decent movie for being done in 1929.”

Score: Tomas 1, Me 0.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

In Defense of Franchises: From Star Wars to Game of Thrones

I’ve been watching the fallout to the final season of Game of Thrones with no small amount of interest. It’s been fascinating to see how virulent the response has been from some quarters, including fans signing a petition for HBO to re-do the season(!) Yes, I realize many just view that as a way of showing their displeasure with the end of the show, but it’s still a strange way of expressing that, and it’s in line with fan response to other popular franchises like LotR/Hobbit, Star Wars, Marvel, etc.

One thing I really dislike these days is the trend of fans making up their mind on a show or a movie and then declaring it “good” or “bad.” To me, this is something that began with the Star Wars prequels, where there was this huge pent up demand for the movies, and then when they arrived, they were different than what fans thought they should be, and therefore bad. I fell for that the first time around, agreeing with many that the prequels were a travesty. But as time has gone on, and I’ve seen that same pattern repeated again and again, I’m not really falling for it anymore.

What’s the pattern? Easy. Take any popular show or film franchise. It has to reach a critical mass where there’s enough fans of the show to really be whipped into a furor. It’s also key that this show/franchise be lasting for at least a decade or more, since it takes that amount of time for fans to really conglomerate around various ideas. Build up expectations in the franchise until those expectations take on a life of their own. Then come out with actual films and television episodes and watch the inevitable fallout.

Fans are disappointed. Fans are enraged. The show was ruined. The movie destroyed everything they held dear. The director dropped the ball. The writers are incompetent. And never mind the fact that it’s the same creative team around the show or franchise. Fans start passing out the pitchforks and torches, and then they gang up on anyone who might go against their new canonical opinion of the work in question.

Don’t get me wrong. I 100% believe in the right of the audience to evaluate a show. Anyone who tells me they dislike the Hobbit movies or the end of Game of Thrones or The Last Jedi is totally entitled to that, and they can use whatever reasons they want. True, I might disagree with those reasons, but if someone reads a book and says “this character bored me” or “I didn’t think the ending was believable,” there’s no way to tell them they’re wrong. You can’t be wrong about being bored. You either are or you aren’t, and you’re the expert. (You can suffer from bad taste, of course, but that’s a different debate.)

What I dislike is when fans start to groupthink a franchise to death. They all get into an echo chamber and start reassuring themselves they’re all right. They reinforce their opinions until they’re etched in stone. So you still have the popular opinion that Lost blew its finale. Indiana Jones 4 was awful. The Last Jedi was done in by Social Justice Warriors. The Hobbit trilogy was a complete mess. And there are plenty of articles and videos produced to reassure anyone that opinion is the right opinion.

For the record, I enjoyed the Lost finale, had a great time through all three Hobbit movies, didn’t love Indy 4, and thought The Last Jedi was excellent. I also think this final season of Game of Thrones has been fantastic. (More on that in a moment. I promise.)

I think many of these franchises get to the point where a stunning, perfect finish that’s universally acclaimed is no longer possible. They just have too much weight to carry. With Game of Thrones, think of the thousands and thousands of hours fans have poured into the show, developing theories about what might happen, picking apart character motivations and tiny details that might have far reaching implications. Spending years building up love for certain characters and hate for others.

How can anything possibly live up to all of that? Especially in the heat of the moment. When you watch a show after the fact, all at once, you get a different feel for it. And many of the shows these days are designed to be binge watched. Last week’s Game of Thrones destruction fest felt absolutely brutal, but that was because we couldn’t just immediately move on to this week’s finale, which provided context for it. Take away that week’s worth of debate and discussion, and you completely change the response to the following episode.

Fans are now saying the show runners rushed the ending of the series. That it should have been three complete seasons. That the things that happened could have still happened, if only the show had taken its time to develop all of them adequately. Personally, I think what they’re noticing is a big part of the reason why George RR Martin has been unable to even write another book of the series, let alone finish it.

It’s always easier to spin out more plot lines. To complicate matters more. To answer questions with more questions. To deepen the intrigue and the mystery. But each time you do that, speaking as a writer now, you dig yourself a little deeper. Coming up with a way out of all those plot lines with something approaching a satisfying conclusion snowballs out of control, until the sheer weight of expectations leave you breathless and unable to continue.

Martin wants to be done with the series in 2-3 more books. I don’t think it’s possible to pull that off in a satisfying way. Because remember, the books are even more complex than the show.

Was the final season rushed? Certainly from a logistical standpoint. Where before, it would take weeks to travel anywhere in Westeros, by the last few seasons, people were zipping back and forth between locations at light speed. But from a stance of telling the story they wanted to tell, I think the creators did a great job.

I went into last night’s episode with no clue how they’d manage to pull off an ending I would be satisfied with. (For the record, I was fine with the Mad Queen storyline, because I found it totally in line with what Dany has been doing all along. Burninating the countryside. Burninating the peasants. The only difference between Meereen and King’s Landing (beyond sheer scale of destruction) was the fact that we were more familiar with King’s Landing, so the impact was more immediate and harder to ignore. (And as for scale, she’d been upping her desire to burninate ever since she came to Westeros. King’s Landing Dany was Dany Unleashed.)

But they pulled it off. The jump forward in time was a fantastic move, allowing them to complete the story without showing what really would have been unnecessary fluff at this point. There’s no need to show Gray Worm capturing John and then almost killing him, before being talked down by someone or convinced by someone else to hold off. I mean, sure, you could have done that, but that’s answering a question with another question. At some point, you need to just give answers.

Perhaps that’s why some are so upset about these shows. They love the questions, and so they hate when the ultimate answers are finally given, and they don’t match up with everything they’ve imagined might be the answer. What I loved about Game of Thrones was the fact that any character was fair game. Plot arcs might not be the plot arcs you assumed they were. No one was tied to any one destiny. From Ned’s beheading to the Red Wedding to King’s Landing’s destruction, it was all on the table, all the time, and it made for some exhilarating watching.

The show’s ending was great. It caps off a wonderful series. Not the best series I’ve ever watched. (That’s still The Wire.) But still an easy top 5. Just an incredible piece of work, and no amount of fan petitions are going to convince me otherwise. (That’s okay. I’m sure my post won’t convince them either.) If you don’t like a franchise, fine. But no need to scour the internet to band together and start petitioning for a rewrite. If you want to do something better, go do it.

I could go on for much longer, but I’m out of time. If you have specific comments or questions, I’m happy to answer them as they come up.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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