Sunday, May 15, 2016

Western Pennsylvania - May 2016

My version of the iconic view of Fallingwater

Part 1: Frank Lloyd Wright

A tour of three Wright houses, including, of course, Fallingwater. I had long wanted to see Fallingwater. We had a great time. Although it rained off and on all week, it didn't rain while we were walking around the outside of any of the three houses.


After the tour, I hoped to hike most of the afternoon Thursday, but it started raining after about 45 minutes, so I had to cut it short. 4 photos of Ohiopyle State Park

Part 2: Family History

Mark Rodney, me, John Rodney

My father grew up in Republic, Pennsylvania. I had never been there before.

I spent all day Friday with my second cousin Mark Rodney. We went to gravesites, houses, the library, and more. I also had dinner with him, his wife, and another second cousin and his wife. I met Mark and John for the first time Friday. They are first cousins. My grandmother Bertha Rodney Hoffman and their grandfather Charles Rodney were siblings.

Hoffman-Rodney Department Store in Republic, PA

This was always my favorite old family photo, of course! I think it is from sometime in the 1920s. My grandfather J.W. Hoffman and my great-uncle Aaron Rodney owned the store. The building is no longer there. A Hoffman brother and sister married a Rodney sister and brother. The two store owners were double brothers-in-law.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The weakness of radical Islam

I sent the following letter to the Los Angeles Times (not published):

Islamic fundamentalists in Bangladesh continue to circulate a "hit list" of secular writers, five of whom have been murdered since 2015.

Their actions prove the weakness of radical Islam.

The fundamentalists themselves must not believe their version of Islam is very enticing, since they fear adherents would drop away with mere exposure to secular ideas.

If a belief system is so fragile that it cannot survive free speech, it deserves to wither away.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Autographs - Lillian Faderman

Stuart Timmons autographed this book many years ago, when it first came out, and more than a year before his stroke.

I finally caught up to his co-author, Lillian Faderman, at this year's LATimes Festival of Books.

(Index of autographs)

Friday, April 8, 2016

Autographs - Helen Macdonald

Helen Macdonald (click here for her blog) spoke at the Los Angeles Library's ALOUD series this week.

I love the red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks in my neighborhood, especially watching them circle in the sky. (You can see one photo here.) I have long said that if I have a next life, I want to come back as a hawk.

(Index of autographs)

Monday, March 28, 2016

Whales in Mexico - March 2016

Victor and I spent three days watching, touching, and even kissing California Gray Whale mothers and their two-month old calves in remote Laguna San Ignacio, Baja California Sur, Mexico. A 3-day adventure with Kuyima.

The whale-watching was great! Every time we went out, we all got to touch the whales! They are accustomed to coming right up to the boats and interacting with people. Sometimes a mother and calf will just swim nearby and not approach, but each day, at least one pair and usually several came up to the boat.

It was tough to get good photos, since the boat and the whales are in constant motion. I got many pictures of the water, where I just missed the shot of the whale. Click here for an album of 14 photos.

It was also tough just to get there! Click here to see Laguna San Ignacio on a map. From Mérida, we flew first to Mexico City, then to La Paz. From there, a six-hour bus ride brought us to Loreto where we spent the night. The next day, another five-hour bus ride took us to San Ignacio, where we spent the next night. Finally, the next morning, Kuyima's van took us the last 90 minutes to their cabins (seen in the first photo in the album). The last half of that was over a rough unpaved road. I made one mistake: Both Kayak and Google showed no direct flights between Mexico City and Loreto, but there are some. I need to figure out what flight search will show more.

By necessity, the facilities were spare. There was no wifi, no cell phone service, no radio, no TV, no news. The solar power meant we had to turn off the one light bulb in our small cabin by 10 pm. There was a small simple toilet for pee in the cabin, but for everything else, including washing up, we had to go outside.

Each morning, a 30-minute boat ride would take us to the whale observation area. In the afternoon, there was sometimes an organized group walk. The weather was warm in the middle of the day, with strong chilly winds in the morning and evening.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Fixing Social Security

In response to this op-ed column, I sent a letter to the L.A. Times last week (not published):

Andrew Biggs says, "A policy such as eliminating the $118,500 ceiling on wages subject to payroll taxes, a favorite of progressive advocates, would raise U.S. taxes to Scandinavian levels without fixing the long-term shortfall." He offers no explanation.

I strongly support eliminating that ceiling. Would Biggs or someone please explain why that wouldn't alleviate the shortfall?

After the letter didn't appear in the paper, I sent my question directly to Biggs, who did reply, saying

... eliminating the payroll tax ceiling would fix between 40-70% of the 75-year funding imbalance[, but] employers will “pay” the extra payroll tax by reducing wages for their employees [so that] less payroll is subject to federal income taxes, Medicare taxes and state income taxes. There’s also the way in which higher tax rates provide a disincentive to work....

I definitely still think such a simple fix for 40-70% of the 75-year problem is worth it. And if it helps decrease obscene wages and raises for the 1%, all the better!

Friday, January 15, 2016

My achy back

Victor and his dog Chester

When I'm in Mérida and Victor is at work, I walk a lot. Sometimes I walk with his dog Chester. On Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 22, I was walking Chester in a nearby park, wearing my billed cap as always. At one point, I had my head down looking at Chester, and walked right into a large tree branch, hitting myself on the top of my forehead.

The hit wasn't very hard, but in my surprise, I stumbled back half a step and then fell down hard on my butt, and a moment later, I was flat on my back on the ground. Slowly bringing my knees up and then sitting up was painful. I slowly stood up, in pain, and moved to a nearby curb to sit down. I felt like I needed to sit higher, so I moved to a nearby raised sidewalk and sat there. Still painful.

I decided what I most wanted was to lie down in bed. Doing everything slowly and in pain, I stood up and walked with Chester three blocks back home. Being on my back in bed felt a bit better, but not pain-free.

What I think I have is tailbone pain — coccydynia. I read multiple pages such as this about treatment.

I didn't sleep very well that night. In the following days, I cut way back on walking (sigh). I bought Advil and took one just before bedtime, which helped me sleep a little bit better. I also used Victor's sister's massage chair a few times.

I left Mérida 2½ weeks after my fall. On the web, I saw that some people used a neck pillow as a coccyx cushion. In the Mérida airport, I bought one, tried it before the flight both under my legs and behind my back. With that behind my back and with Advil, I managed both flights. Now home in Los Angeles, I have prescription-strength ibuprofen, and I'm taking one before bed.

The pain is definitely lessening, and I'm sleeping a bit better, and I'm walking the Great Dane (slowly) for more than an hour each day. I haven't yet seen a doctor. If the pain continues to decrease, I probably won't.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The latest on Victor not visiting the U.S.

As I had decided previously, we applied for a U.S. tourist visa again. Twice in the last five months, actually. After all, I think we have a compelling case:

Why Victor will not overstay a tourist visa and will return to Mexico:

I am a U.S. citizen. Victor and I have been in a long-distance relationship since 1993. I come to Yucatán multiple times every year to be with Victor.

If Victor wanted to stay in the U.S., we would apply for a K-1 fiancé visa and get married.

But his mother and other family are still in Yucatán, and he is not yet ready to retire, so he does not yet want to move to the U.S.

Victor’s salary is irrelevant. I pay for our trips together, within México and internationally (Costa Rica, Canada, Argentina, Netherlands, South Africa, Guatemala). If Victor receives a tourist visa, I will pay for his travels to and within the U.S., including his room and board. I paid for his visa application. I give Victor additional money when I visit.

Victor's hoped-for trips to the U.S. will be brief, 2-3 weeks, each devoted to visiting and sightseeing. No work.

All we want is to be able to exchange visits, instead of my always coming to Yucatán, as I've been doing now for more than 22 years.

Despite the visa application being many pages long and asking about all kinds of things, there is no place to insert the above information. For our first 2015 application, I sent the note as an email to the consulate. I received a rote non-response, including "... your daughter-in-law must demonstrate to the interviewing consular officer... " WTF?!

When we arrived for Victor's interview, I asked whether I could join him, and was told no, only a potential employer could go. Victor answered questions, but was not assertive about saying more. He was told his salary was insufficient and he would not get a visa.

For our next attempt (yesterday), I gave Victor multiple signed copies of the above note, with firm instructions to insist that the interviewer read it, and if they did not, to insist again after the next question and hand over another copy. He did that, repeatedly, and the woman refused to look at it! Grrrr. Of course, all other information being the same, Victor was again refused a visa.

So let me recap the stupid parts of the U.S. visa process:

  • They wrongly assume all married couples must live together.
  • They wrongly assume their lengthy visa application captures all relevant information.
  • There is no space on the visa application for additional information.
  • They won't let another relevant party join the interview.
  • They won't accept additional information by email on on paper.

If you know someone in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) who will actually hear me out, please let me know!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Autographs - Kittredge Cherry and Audrey Lockwood

Kitt Cherry and Audrey Lockwood are my nearby neighbors and friends.

This was Kitt's first book, and intersects with several of my interests.

(Index of autographs)

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Faith and reason are not compatible

In response to this op-ed column by a Catholic bishop, I sent a letter to the L.A. Times this week (not published):

I cannot agree with Barron that "faith and reason are complementary and compatible paths toward the knowledge of truth."

Faith accepts supernatural answers, discouraging people from even considering scientific investigation.

Faith precludes doubt; it's impossible to argue with someone who believes they've talked to God.

Society encourages people to give undeserved deference to religious beliefs.

Faith is inimical to scientific inquiry.