Just a geek who lives in Olympia, WA with my wife, son, and animals. In my free time I play board games, write fiction, and make stuff.
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Left or Right

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When I saw this meme in my Twitter feed every day this past week, I couldn’t resist, it needed to be Semi Co-op’ed! I think it’s charming in its simplicity but clear visual language and oh dear, we could have made ten alternatives to this comic!

For everybody who celebrated Thanksgiving last week, we hope you’ve had a chance to enjoy some time with people that are dear to you! We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving over here but we do have the whole Black Friday/Cyber Monday madness nowadays. Did you get any new games?

We enjoyed a relaxing game of Wingspan, which is perfect if you just want to play a medium-weight game with excellent production quality. And on Tuesday we played a three-player game of Raccoon Tycoon!

 

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We demo’ed Raccoon Tycoon on Spiel and Forbidden Games was kind enough to give us a copy of the game, so we were happy we finally got a chance to play it! It’s a fun and light economic game with very short turns, so there’s almost no downtime in the game. Players can influence the value of different goods on the market by playing cards and/or by selling their resources, devaluing them by the number they sold. But that’s just a way to get money, with that money you can buy buildings that give you all kinds of bonuses and buy cute critters on the auction! The beautifully illustrated forest animals have a set-collection element to them, the more you have, the more they’re worth – so that makes the auctions very exciting and forces players to “hate draft” because you really don’t want to let any player get that fourth one or they’ll probably win the game! Then there are also Burrows you can buy with resources for points. We really enjoy that the game is quick and breezy and really easy to explain and we don’t own anything like this. 🙂

We also played our first analog game of Castles of Mad King Ludwig! We used to play this game a lot while traveling on a tablet and recently we got the opportunity to buy a second-hand copy for a steal. We were too curious how the game would be “in real life” and if it would be very different from our app experience. And it turns out it’s not! Because the app does a lot of the thinking for you (tile-laying restrictions and scoring) we even think we understand the actual rules of the game better now. Definitely, one we’re looking forward to introducing to some of our friends.

We also progressed to the next chapter in That Time You Killed Me and loved how the introduction of a new game element changed up the game. We don’t want to give any spoilers, but so far we think it’s a lovely thinky two-player game.

This week we’ll be having quite some visitors spread out over the days because it’s Heinze’s birthday on Friday. Maybe we’ll play games, maybe we won’t, but either way, we will eat cake! 😉

Are you on left or right side of the bus?

The post Left or Right appeared first on Semi Co-op.

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3D-printed clay tiles designed to restore coral reefsArchitects...

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3D-printed clay tiles designed to restore coral reefs

Architects and marine scientists at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) have jointly developed a novel method for coral restoration making use of specially designed 3D printed artificial ‘reef tiles’ for attachment by corals to enhance their chance of survival in the Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park in Hong Kong waters.

The artificial reef tiles are specially designed to aid coral restoration by providing a structurally complex foundation for coral attachment and to prevent sedimentation, one of the major threats to corals. They provide anchors for corals of opportunity, i.e. dislodged coral fragments that are unlikely to survive on their own, giving them a second chance to thrive.

The 128 pieces of reef tile with a diameter of 600mm were printed through a robotic 3D clay printing method with generic terracotta clay and then fired at 1125 degrees Celsius. The design was inspired by the patterns typical to corals and integrated several performative aspects addressing the specific conditions in Hong Kong waters.In addition to the novel design of the tiles, the materials used are more eco-friendly than the conventional use of concrete and metal. The tiles were printed in clay and then hardened to terracotta (ceramic) in a kiln. The team plans to expand their collaboration to new designs with additional functions for seabed restoration in the region.

Read more at newatlas.com or check the source for University of HK press release

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The Teen Romance Subplot in Stranger Things Season One (Happy Stranger Things Day)

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First of all, I know this is (::checks word count::) Way Too Long. This is very much an Overthinking It-style analysis, and maybe it would be better if I cut it way back, or focused on only one of the characters, or even if I broke this up into a couple of installments, but fuck it. I’ve been itching to write something like this, because so much of the critical focus on Stranger Things is about nostalgia and movie references, but little attention is paid to how the show undermines those elements.

A few months back, I was looking for a podcast with a solid analysis of the show, and I happily started playing something from Variety. Almost immediately, one of the hosts said, while laughing, that the references in the show were the only thing to talk about, and I immediately turned that metaphorical dial. I don’t care how prestigious you are in the trade. If you’re phoning it in, I’m hanging up.

Second of all, so much of the fan discussion of this show falls into either shipper obsession or why certain fans stan certain characters and I honestly it’s rare that I find any value in those conversations

I can certainly understand fans of the show who root for the characters, or want to see them kiss or whatever, but I never really understood the fervor for this sort of thing. Maybe it’s my essential boringness, but I just don’t engage with media this way. As long as the story is good, I’m not thinking about which character ought to be pairing up, or who is simply The Best. Wash over me, Show. I will think about you after.

Which is me saying that, if you’re reading this and thinking “He’s criticizing [Character], so he must stan [Other Character]” I promise I’ll be picking apart [Other Character] soon enough.

Also, it’s 2021. Why is this a blog post instead of a video essay?[1]

I’m planning to analyze the subplot mentioned in the title of this post, and I’ll write a little bit about Nancy, but this will mainly be about Steve and Jonathan, the two guys who form a love triangle with Nancy in the first season. Steve has become a fan favorite over the course of three seasons, but Jonathan… not so much. 

Frankly, that’s exactly the right way for audiences to react. It’s also kind of unfair.

How do the teenage characters in Stranger Things absolutely explode the standard teen romance plot in 80’s movies?

Here are the basic elements of that plot:

    • the girl who serves as lynchpin, who is drawn toward the popular jerk at first but eventually realizes she’d be happier with Someone Else. She’s somewhat idealized and v sympathetic so the audience falls in love with her a little, too.
    • that Someone Else, a boy who is a bit of an outcast, a quirky striver who has, maybe, an artistic bent. He’s a bit of a weirdo but in a cute way and eventually winds up with the girl.
    • the popular jerk she’s already dating, who is handsome, wealthy, and athletic, and turns out to be a villain by the end. He’s The Guy Who Seems Right At First But Isn’t.

I mean, that’s not the only type of romantic plot, but it’s a pretty common one. And, being movies and being from the 80’s, a lot of these stories center the outcast character. Since ST is a (dreaded) “eight-hour movie” it has the time to center all three characters. 

If anyone has read the Duffer Brothers’ original pilot, MONTAUK, they would have seen a very different version of Steve. Instead of a clueless, sensitive baby-man, he’s an extremely troubled guy. When Nancy goes to meet him in the school bathroom before first period, he hides at first so he can jump out and scare her. Then, after they kiss, she asks him if he’s been drinking. Reminder: school hasn’t even started yet.

Later, at a party on the beach, he’s end-of-the-day drunk and stoned, and he physically drags her away from the party to assault her in the dark. That’s… not the same kind of story at all, and I’m glad they dropped it. The Steve Harrington we got was much more interesting than that villain would have been.

So what I’m saying is that, just as Steve (as he appears in the show, not in the pilot) doesn’t neatly fit the basic archetype, neither does Nancy or Jonathan. (For more about the pilot script, keep reading)

Let’s start this with 

Nancy 

since she’s the easiest to talk about. 

First of all, against all expectation, Nancy isn’t given an introduction designed to make us sympathetic toward her. The first thing she does is smirk at Dustin–adorable, fan-favorite Dustin–then slam a door in his face. Why? Because he dared to offer her a slice of pizza.

Personally, if a kid with the weapons-grade charisma of Dustin Henderson offered me a slice, I would thank him profusely and sincerely, then turn him down. No way would I eat the last of a pie that had been grubbed around by a bunch of 12-year-old boys playing in a basement. But I’d be nice about it.

Nancy clearly doesn’t feel the same way.[2]

She’s also not that sympathetic in the way she treats her best friend. Barb tells Nancy that she’d “better still hang out with [her]” after she becomes friends with Steve and his pals. Nancy immediately assures Barb that of course they’ll still be friends, she’d never ditch their friendship. Nancy ditches her the very next day.

What I’m saying is that Nancy is careless with other characters that we like, and that’s an odd choice for the lynchpin of our love triangle.

But once Barb goes missing, Nancy does another unusual thing for a character in a love triangle: she loses all interest in the romance plot. Honestly, once Nancy starts risking her life to find Barb, I started to sympathize with her deeply. (More on this later when we talk about Steve.) It’s not the first cool thing she did, but it was the one that made me change how I thought of her.

After that point, evidence of her actual interest in the romance aspects of the story are thin on the ground until the epilogue, when she gives Jonathan a Christmas gift that’s not really a gift, then gives him A Look. Being Jonathan, he thanks her and runs away, and she goes back to Steve and his awful Christmas sweater. New status quo: Nancy is back with the pretty himbo while Jonathan, the guy is actually seems to like, is still on the outside.

Speaking of 

Steve, 

he’s a huge fan-favorite, and it’s easy to see why. 

First is Joe Keery himself, who’s plays Steve as a guileless pretty boy who keeps trying to do the right thing but can’t seem to figure out what that is.

Second is that Steve is a villain who becomes good because of LOVE, which is a wildly popular trope. I’ve never really understood the visceral appeal of the Reformed Bad Boy, but I recognize that it has a powerful effect on some people. Adding it to Steve’s S1 arc is bound to give him a huge boost in popularity.

Third is that the show provides him with two friends who take on the role of scapegoat when he finally has his big villain moment[3]. It’s not Steve who does the spray-painting, it’s these other guys. Steve’s big regret is not that he tried to ruin Nancy’s reputation, only that he stood by and did nothing.

Fourth, that big villain moment, which usually occurs at the climax of the story, is actually shunted to episode six. And why not? The love triangle is a D-plot at best. The real resolution to this story comes from the confrontation with the Demogorgon/Brenner/the upside down, and a showdown with Steve in the middle of all that, would be a distraction from what’s important.

That leaves plenty of time for the previously mentioned reformation of poor Steve. The show transitions from Hopper saying “Losers? What losers?” straight to Steve and his friends. Tommy talks about plotting some further revenge [4], but at this point Steve has nothing but regrets. So, instead of lashing out yet again, the rich, popular Guy Who Seems Right At First But Isn’t does a sudden face turn.

And why not? There are two episodes left, and the plot is not interested in Steve’s heartbreak. The plot is bringing all these separate story lines together for the final confrontation, and the writers have to decide if Steve is going to be part of that, or if he’s going to vanish from those episodes. Or if he’s going to die.

So, face turn it is! And by the end of the season, he ends up with Nancy even though he’s STILL the Guy Who Seems Right At First But Isn’t.

And the right guy, judging by Nancy’s Christmas Gift Look (and subsequent seasons) is 

Jonathan

which invites an interesting question: At what point does Jonathan begin to have feelings for Nancy? 

I’ve thought about this for quite a while–and I think the show is a little confusing on this–but I don’t think Jonathan really begins to care about Nancy until the scene where he rolls out the flowery sleeping bag on the floor of her bedroom. 

This is going to take a little bit of text, but bear with me.

There’s a certain trick directors use when they want to show that one character secretly/quietly loves (or is infatuated) with another: The two characters have a scene together, usually a conversation. One of them walks away and it feels like the scene has ended. But no, actually, not yet, because there’s an extra shot that shows a character staring after the one that’s leaving with a look of blank interest. Call it a look of yearning or fascination, maybe, but their eyes are intently focused but the rest of their face is expressionless.

In the first scene where Jonathan and Nancy interact on the show, Jonathan gets one of those lingering shots of her as she walks back to her friends.

Except his expression is all wrong. He looks mildly confused, not fascinated. What’s more, the shot holds on him long enough to show him look away and walk toward the door. That is definitely not an unrequited attraction shot.

Context for the scene: Jonathan was all alone at the high school corkboard, hanging a flyer about his missing brother, and Nancy’s new friend group were standing in a row in the middle of the hallway, staring at him as though he’s some kind of zoo exhibit: The Weirdo and his Unnerving Tragedy.

Then Nancy crosses the space between them to offer her support and reassurance (the previously mentioned “first cool thing”) and Jonathan seems genuinely surprised. Is Nancy Wheeler one of them–the Steves and Barbs and Tommy Aitches standing across the hall, watching him like he’s barely a real person–or is she better than that?

Later, when Jonathan is taking pictures of the scene where his brother vanished, he hears a scream, runs toward it, and discovers Steve’s party. Now the situations are reversed, and it’s Jonathan looking at Steve/Barb/Tommy, etc as though they’re a zoo exhibit: The Social Habits of the Upper Class Suburban Teen. 

And because, as he later admits, he’d rather observe people than talk to them, he starts taking pictures. (I’ll get back to this in a bit)

There’s a final, lingering shot of Jonathan in the scene by Steve’s pool, too, but he doesn’t have a look of fascination here, either. It’s disappointment. Nancy has chosen Steve, which means she’s chosen the boring, normal people.

And of course, up until now we like Jonathan. He’s suffered a terrible tragedy, and he’s doing his best to look after his mother. He’s gotten a hero’s introduction, and because Nancy dared to leave her himbo boyfriend to talk to him, Jonathan is positioned as the Someone Else, the quirky, artistic outsider who’s a bit of a weirdo, who is also the right guy for Our Heroine. 

Right up to the moment we see him snapping pics of Nancy undressing in Steve’s bedroom window. He’s not supposed to be that much of a weirdo.

I get that the plot requires those photos for Nancy to spot the demogorgon so the show can combine the teenage Will and Barb plotlines. They really needed that cross. And sometimes, when the need for a plot solution is powerful enough, you can find yourself defining characters so that they fill that need. 

Which means that Jonathan, a caregiver character who makes breakfast for his family, works extra shifts (as a high school sophomore) to help cover bills, and who is trying to comfort his mother so she doesn’t go spinning off the rails, is also a creepy stalker dude who takes secret pictures of a girl during a very private moment.

That’s a bad look for the guy who is slotted into the role of the romantic lead of this particular subplot. So what the fuck?

I puzzled over this for a while. Sure, the show needed to have Jonathan accidentally snap a photo of the demogorgon, but why did it need him to take photos of Nancy in Steve’s bedroom window? Why not just have him see them, get that look of disappointment, then have him see Barb on the diving board. A lonely teenage girl sitting by herself, full of sadness, is a solid choice for an artsy photograph. Click. Demogorgon captured on film

Or why not have him snap a few photos of the kids by the pool, so they could keep the scene where Steve punishes him, then, through the viewfinder, he sees Nancy undressing in the window but doesn’t press the shutter. Let him make his disappointment face, then take the plot-necessary photos of Barb? 

Why not draw the line on the correct side of a picture of Nancy undressing?

I keep thinking about that absolutely electric scene with Dacre Montgomery and Cara Buono at the end of season 2. If the show had paid it off in season 3 with a night (or series of nights) at a no-tell motel, that would have been fine by me. Logical, even.

But there’s a significant portion of the population that has been badly hurt by real-life infidelity, and they would hate Karen forever if she cheated on Ted. Nevermind Karen’s loneliness or Ted’s neglect, they’d turn on her because she did things “the wrong way” (ie: not getting a divorce first). Therefore, the show has Karen back out of the tryst.

Part of me wonders if they made that decision because of the way fans responded to the stalker shit that Jonathan pulls in season one.

But Jonathan is a character, not a real person, and I’ve been wondering what character motivation, if any, they give for him to have taken that shot. 

I think the answer is revealed in the moment of conflict when Nancy and Jonathan are out in the woods with Lonnie’s gun, actively hunting the monster. In the earlier darkroom scene, Jonathan said he takes pictures because he thinks they’re “saying something” and he wants to capture that moment. In the woods, Nancy asks him what she was “saying” [5] when he took her picture, and Jonathan says that he could see a girl who was trying to be something she wasn’t.

Nancy immediately recognizes that as a dig and rightly calls bullshit. Jonathan, who apparently thought “I can see that you’re better than those people you call friends even if you can’t” was some kind of compliment, tries to retreat, but she keeps pushing him. He admits that he doesn’t like (most) people and then they trade insults. 

And they insults they choose are revealing. 

Nancy’s dig at Jonathan is specific to him (and aimed at his reputation). “Maybe he’s not the pretentious creep everyone says he is.” Oh no! His reputation is accurate! Better to stick with Steve, because why else would she date an earnest dope like Steve who (to quote Steve himself in another context) “is cute and all, but [is] a total dud” except that he’s the BMOC?

In contrast, Jonathan’s dig at Nancy is not specific to her at all. He talks to her as if she’s a type of person, a generalization instead of an individual. “The suburban girl who thinks she’s rebelling…” etc. [6]

Because Jonathan does not think of people outside his tiny circle as individuals. He sees them (to use his own words from season two) as “normal”, as people choosing to travel inside the ruts that society carved for them because those ruts are easy. They have pre-fab interior lives. They’re people with nothing interesting or worthwhile to offer. 

That’s why he was so contemptuous of Bob in the second season, and was also so very wrong about him.

That’s also why, when Nancy approaches him at the corkboard to offer a few supportive words, Jonathan looks back at the crowd she left–Barb with Steve and Tommy H and Carol–and they are framed as a cohesive group, all standing together the same way, looking at him with the same expression. To Jonathan, those are all the same type of people: normals. To him, it’s unremarkable for Barb and Tommy H. to be standing next to each other, because they’re both in the “vast majority” and his vision of them doesn’t recognize divisions of conflicts between them. They’re just… all hanging out together, as far as he can tell.

That is also why, I believe, he takes that picture of Nancy. What privacy do people like them really need when he’s so sure he already knows who they are, inside and out?

So we pit Steve, the villain with the hero’s flaw (he needs to figure out what’s *really* important) against Jonathan, the hero with the villain’s flaw (thinks most people suck and are beneath him) which is one of the reasons this dopey show about petal-faced monsters and psychic little girls has such interesting characters, and why all the talk about nostalgia and borrowing from other sources misses the subversive touches that make this show compelling. 

To circle back to one of the earliest questions I had about this subplot, when does Jonathan actually start to have feelings for Nancy?

After he’s arrested, Flo says he beat up Steve because he’s in love with Nancy. Is she right?

I’m sure Flo heard about the circumstances of the fight: seeing the movie theater graffiti, beating Steve like a rented mule, then bloodying a cop’s nose. Nevermind that Jonathan didn’t mean to elbow Callahan in the face, no cop ever believes they got hit by accident. To Flo, it would make sense that there’s a coherent through line with these elements, and that Jonathan was motivated by love.

However, watching the scene again, its pretty clear that Jonathan doesn’t start throwing punches when Steve is insulting Nancy. At that point, he’s saying “Let’s leave. Let’s leave.”

It’s only when Steve starts insulting Jonathan’s family, saying Will is missing because he’s a screw-up from a family of screw-ups,[7] that Jonathan throws that first punch. The fight is evidence that Jonathan loves his little brother, not the cute girl beside him.

Even so, I don’t think Flo is entirely wrong, even if she uses flawed evidence to reach her conclusion. I think Jonathan does already care about Nancy by that point. Maybe it’s not full-blown, let’s-portmanteau-our-names lurve, but I think he started to care for her from the moment he pulled her out of the tree to safety, then rolled out the sleeping bag onto her bedroom floor. Before that, he was sort of figuring her out, swapping stories about their parents while they were shooting cans, talking about his photography, whatever. He was getting to know her.

Once Nancy crawls through some extra-dimensional mucus portal into a world of murder monsters, she levels up to Proper Show Hero. And when she returns to our world, she’s a complete mess, justifiably freaked out to have accidentally ventured into an alternate Earth where she was hunted by a monster.  

Jonathan is a care-giver and a helper. He cooks the family breakfast. He shops for a coffin, alone. He tracks down his deadbeat dad. 

Then he and Nancy venture into the woods to find the monster, and she’s confronts it all by herself. His voice leads her back to safety. He’s the one comforting her, just as he had to comfort his mom and would try to comfort Will in season two, when the kids are calling him zombie boy.

He also offers to crash on Nancy’s floor so she won’t have to be alone, if that’s what she wants[8], and when he says that, his tone has completely changed from the “What’s the matter? You tired?” moment from earlier that night. His relationship toward her has done a 180, because she needs his help and he’s giving it.

I’m pretty sure this is where Nancy genuinely starts to care for him, too. She’s intelligent and full of initiative, and she needs someone who can help her get shit done. Jonathan does that for her, while Steve very much doesn’t.

In the morning, when Karen tries to open the door, they do that panicky hand-grasp thing, a Stranger Things-specific indicator of growing closeness between two characters (of different genders, of course). Murray will call it “shared trauma” but up to this point, it’s Nancy’s trauma. Jonathan is just there to make it better.

Of course, later he gets monster snot dripped into his open mouth, so he eventually gets his trauma, too. 

There’s more to say about this triangle in the second season, when Nancy is trying to get Jonathan to go to a party so he could maybe meet someone, which he does and he does, and poor Steve, like so very many boyfriends and husbands, is shocked to discover that his partner is unhappy. Plus, Dorothy Sayers. But this post is already too long. 

Stranger Things! Where everyone sees the references to older stories, images, and tones, but no one seems to recognize how the show undermines them. [9]

If you’ve read this far, thank you! (Also: I write books)

 

 

[1] I joked about this with my son and he immediately started saying: “Do you want to make a video essay?” in the tone I always used with him when I was offering to jump into a big project. Like, he would help me make a video essay. I brushed it off, because of the time it would take, and also my ugly face and weird voice, but I’m sure that was a mistake. 

[2] Nancy doesn’t actually redeem that door slam until the Snow Ball at the end of season 2, when she finds poor rejected Dustin crying by himself, dances with him and tells him that everything is going to be all right. Of course, she also tells him that girls his age are dumb, which… come on, Nancy. No need to build up a young boy by dumping on young girls.

[3] Stranger Things has two types of human villains: First are the Connie/Troy/Billy types, people who are cruel or violent and who do traditionally villainous acts like punch, humiliate, or kill.

Second are the Lonnie types, who aren’t going to slap someone around or whatever, but who are selfish and lazy. Their priorities suck, so when Joyce calls Lonnie about Will, Lonnie does nothing. He doesn’t even return her call, because he’s hoping the situation will resolve itself without him having to be inconvenienced. And he shows up for Will’s funeral with a flyer from an ambulance-chasing lawyer, because he figures his son’s death is somebody’s fault, and he’s going to cash in. He’s selfish.

Hopper starts off the show as a Lonnie type. That’s why he responds to news of a missing kid with “Coffee and Contemplation.”

Early S1 Steve is a Lonnie-style villain, with his “Don’t tell them about the beers” and “Why don’t we see All The Right Moves tonight?”. Nancy has her priorities right: her friend is missing and must be found. Steve still thinks he can ignore all that and go on dates. He’s selfish. He doesn’t transition to the more active villain type until he and his friends try to ruin Nancy’s reputation with the movie theater graffiti.

[4] The way I see it, if Steve hadn’t made that face turn, and stuck with Tommy and Carol, he would most likely have died at the end of S1. If the three of them had turned up with some kind of stupid revenge scheme in the middle of the Demogorgon confrontation, it would have killed them. That’s just story logic.

And while “Complete jerks do something stupid and get themselves ganked by the monster” is so 80’s that it was designed by the Memphis Group, that has more of a slasher vibe to it. It wouldn’t fit the tone of Stranger Things, which is more about community and coming together. 

[5] For the second time. The first time she asks, he gets all embarrassed and apologizes. Which makes me realize that I can’t remember another time, in all three seasons, when he apologizes to anyone. He makes (well-intentioned) mistakes and he’s often wrong (Then again, anyone who disagrees with Joyce is going to be wrong) but the closest he comes to apologizing again is the hospital elevator scene in season three, where he admits that he was “mortifyingly wrong” but he never says that he’s sorry. Then again, “I was completely, mortifyingly wrong” might be better than “I’m sorry”.

[6] I thought it was pretty funny that Jonathan’s dig at Nancy, which is that she was on a path to an ordinary boring suburban life, is exactly the future that Steve, former jock, offers her in S2E1 when he says that he could skip college, stay in Hawkins with her, and go to work for his father. 

[7] Seriously one of the worst Steve moments of the entire series. It might not be as harmful as the movie theater graffiti, but it is absolutely vicious, and I never hear anyone talking about it.

However, it’s clear that Steve knows he crossed a line he shouldn’t have. When it’s time for him to bang on someone’s door and shout that he wants to apologize, he doesn’t go to Nancy’s house. He goes to Jonathan’s. 

[8] Another fun contrast between Steve and Jonathan: When Steve enters Nancy’s bedroom, it’s right after she’s explicitly told him not to come in. Throughout the rest of the scene, he tests her boundaries over and over, trying to get her clothes off, until she loses her temper. Then he gives a cutesy apology and everything is fine. Jonathan pushes exactly zero boundaries when he’s in Nancy’s room, checks with her that it’s alright for him to stay, and only gets into the bed (on top of the covers) when she asks him to. Steve is a guy who is accustomed to pulling shit on people, while Jonathan does not.

Unless he has a camera and you’re part of “the vast majority”. Get over that shit, Jonathan.

[9] Crap! I planned to talk a bit more about the original (and quite excellent) pilot for the show, but it’s just too much. It was called Montauk, and if you want to read it for yourself–tv pilots are quite short–you can do so here.

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Indian Tribes Are Governing Well. It’s the States That Are Failing

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When a government official starts talking about sovereignty, most of the time you can bet they’re trying to justify a bad policy or decision by invoking the sovereignty won by the Founders from the hated British. Shouting sovereignty to obfuscate political failure is a tried-and-true American political tactic going all the way back to the southern slave states. In the arena of Indian affairs...

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Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers: the End is Nigh

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This is a one-time post to pull together resources, links, and info on a topic I’ve followed for a long time. Let’s start with a brief quiz.

Check out the two photos below. One, of chronic congestion on freeways in my Southern California homeland. The other, of familiar modern “gardening” practices.

Which do you think is overall a greater contributor to certain kinds of air pollution, carcinogenic emissions, lung disease, and hearing loss, in our nation’s most populous state? (Both photos via Getty Images.)

Above, a defect of modern urban life.

Below, another one—which is much more easily correctable.

By the way I’ve posed the question, you already know the answer.

Pound for pound, gallon for gallon, hour-for-hour, the two-stroke gas powered engines in leaf blowers and similar equipment are vastly the dirtiest and most polluting kind of machinery still in legal use.

  • According to the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the two-stroke leaf blowers and similar equipment in the state produce more ozone pollution than all of California’s tens of millions of cars, combined.

  • And according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, two-stroke engines expose their operators to unusually high levels of carcinogens, include benzene and other dangerous substances. From an EPA paper:

“A more cogent concern is their [two-stroke engines] potential as a source for air toxic exposure to operators. Laborers in the landscape industry frequently operate these devices for extended periods, thus exposing themselves to high concentrations of exhaust gases over a prolonged period of time.
”Since the exhaust gases consist of large fractions of unburned gasoline, there is a likelihood that workers are being adversely exposed to benzene, 1,3-butadiene, and other possible toxic compounds [including formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, particulates, and poly-aromatic hydrocarbons] contained in gasoline.

”Toxic compounds produced during combustion may also present a hazard.”


How can such little engines do so much damage? It’s all about technological progress, and the lack of it:

  • Over the past 50 years, gasoline engines for trucks and automobiles have become so much more efficient that they have reduced most of their damaging emissions-per-mile by at least 95 percent. This is not even to mention the rapid onset of electric-powered vehicles. Per the EPA, here is the trend for overall U.S. emissions since 1990, with a significant part of the improvement coming from cars and trucks:

  • Two-stroke engines, by contrast, are based on long-obsolete technology that inefficiently burns a slosh of oil and gasoline, and pumps out much of the unburned fuel as toxic aerosols. If these engines were shown on the chart above, their emission levels would essentially be a flat line. They’re the basis of noisy, dirty scooters and tuk-tuks in places like Jakarta, Hanoi, Manila, and Bangkok, where they’re being phased out as too polluting.

    Using a two-stroke engine is like heating your house with an open pit fire in the living room—and chopping down your trees to keep it going, and trying to whoosh away the fetid black smoke before your children are poisoned by it.

    A two-stroke scooter in New Delhi. (Getty Images)

But these machines persist in American landscaping because they are cheap. And because—to be brutally honest—the people paying the greatest price in much of suburban American are the hired lawn-crew workers.

Those workers are convenient to hire, at the moment. But they are not likely to be in the neighborhood 10 or 15 years from now, when they are deafened, or have lung disease, or need other forms of care as the worst long-term health consequences kick in.


Here is the four-point summary and guidebook to all the links and information included below.

  1. Gas-powered leafblowers seem like a niche concern, but they represent a significant public-health challenge. From an air-pollution point of view, avoiding them is one of the easiest single steps householders can take to reduce the damage they do. And hearing loss, especially among lower-wage people, is one of America’s fastest-growing public health threats.
    You may be “annoyed” by a leaf-blowing crew working five households away. The crew members are earning a living at the moment, but they are likely to suffer permanent hearing damage, which leads to many other problems.

  2. The use of damaging lawn equipment is an environmental-justice issue. By tolerating it, householders are saying: It’s not really my problem, if these workers are deafened and exposed to benzene and high PM2.5 emissions. At least my lawn looks neat! And the bills are low. Plus, I can be away from the house when the noisiest blowing is going on.

  3. The noise produced by two-stroke engines really is different from other sounds. New acoustic research shows that its distinctive low-frequency noise penetrates vastly further than other machine-generated sound waves. It goes through solid walls.

  4. There is an obvious, rapidly improving alternative. That is battery-powered equipment (to say nothing of rakes). It’s following the worldwide trend in becoming cheaper, more powerful, and more practical. Here’s one of many illustrations of the price/performance/ power improvements in batteries.

If batteries can power a multi-ton F-150 truck, it is fatuous for landscapers to say that they aren’t strong enough for a dozen-pound leaf blower.


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That’s the summary. Now, here are some references, which are the main purpose of this entry:

  • For an overall guide to these issues, please see this Atlantic article; this site from the civic organization Quiet Clean DC; and these two pages (here and here), with many other references.

  • For some other organizations working on this issue, please see Quiet Communities, Quiet Clean Seattle, Noise Free America, and the many links they provide.

  • For why dealing with this gratuitous source of pollution is not a “first world problem,” but instead a question of environmental justice for hired lawn crews, please see this entry—which, to be clear, is from me;

  • For why the noise from gas-powered leafblowers is uniquely penetrating, please see this acoustic study, and this explanation from an earlier article. Summary:
    “Gas-powered blowers produce far more ‘sound energy’ in the low-frequency range. This may seem benign—who doesn’t like a nice basso profundo?—but it has a surprising consequence.
    “High-frequency sound—a mosquito’s buzz, a dental drill—gets your attention, but it does not travel. It falls off rapidly with distance and struggles to penetrate barriers. If you’re in the next room, you may not hear it at all.
    “By contrast, low-frequency noise has great penetrating power: It goes through walls, cement barriers, and many kinds of hearing-protection devices. The acoustic study found that in a densely settled neighborhood, a gas-powered blower rated at, say, 75 decibels of noisiness can affect up to 15 times as many households as a battery-powered blower with the same 75-decibel rating.”

  • For the testimony that persuaded the elected Advisory Neighborhood Commissions all across Washington D.C. to support a phase-out of gas-powered equipment, and the D.C. City Council unanimously to vote in favor of a ban, please see this, plus this, on the D.C. changeover that will soon take effect.

  • For a list of companies making battery-powered equipment, start here and prowl around. We are fans of the EGO line of battery equipment, which we have bought and used.


We look back in (disapproving) wonder at the citizens of turn-of-the-century New York and Chicago, who allowed horse manure to pile up on their streets by the countless tons per day. We look back on the U.S. motorists of the 1950s and 1960s, zooming around with no seat belts and fully-leaded gasoline.

Someday soon, people will look back in disapproving wonder on the several-decade toleration of these two-stroke nuisances.

That someday cannot come soon enough.

One of the good uses of leaf blowers: working against tear gas, in Hong Kong. (Getty Images)

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pawnstorm
66 days ago
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It always seems strange to me that noise ordinances say that band practice at 60db is too loud but lawn equipment at 80db is just fine. I’d rather hear my neighbors trying to make music than have to yell over someone else’s riding lawnmower.
Olympia, WA

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In our last article, we showed how, if Portland used districts, many Portlanders wouldn’t get a candidate of choice on the city council. It doesn’t have to be that way. In several American localities, 80 or 90 percent of voters successfully elect someone they want onto the city council. Rather than using winner-take-all races, where up to half of voters “lose” and don’t have someone representing them in city government,...
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