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.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Autographs - Michael Hiltzik

Michael Hiltzik was autographing his new book this week, but kindly agreed to autograph this old one for me.

I bought the book when it came out (1999) because of my own time at Xerox PARC. This reminds me that I should write a blog post about those amazing years.

(Index of autographs)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Lassen - Shasta (June 2015)

Mt. Shasta

Burney Falls

Link to more photos.

This was another Road Scholar tour.

There was plenty to see and do in the area, much more than I knew about. The one problem we had was that the van forced on us by the small size of our group was a bit cramped, and not everyone could see everything when we were on the road.

We were based in Redding. I didn't know how hot Redding typically is. It was over 100° on several days. Fortunately, we went elsewhere almost every day.

I very much liked the time we spent in Lassen Volcanic National Park. Although we spent most of a day there, we saw fewer than half of the sights. I wanted to see more.

Because I had toured Hoover Dam in the past, our tour of Shasta Dam wasn't very interesting for me. I liked our time on Shasta Lake, in Lake Shasta Caverns, and on Mt. Shasta itself.

Turtle Bay (animals and botanical gardens and "Mindbender Mansion" exhibit), Sundial Bridge, and walking a portion of the Sacramento River Trail were all great fun. I have long admired Santiago Calatrava's work, but I didn't realize that one of his bridges was in Northern California. Burney Falls was very good, too. I wasn't into Weaverville much.

This trip began just two days after my trip to Boston and Maine! Happily, on this trip I ate a little less, walked a good deal more, and did not put on more weight.

Maine (June 2015)

Thunder Hole, Acadia National Park

Bibbed and ready for lobster

Link to more photos.

The forecast was not very good -- rainy for most of the week I would be there, but in fact, the fog and rain let up after a few days. True, we couldn't see much on our day in Acadia National Park, but after that, things got better.

It was this tour.

In Boston, we went to "Gospel Night" with the Boston Pops. I would have preferred a different concert, but it was OK. The next day, I passed up Quincy Market and a harbor tour to have lunch and walk with a high school friend and his wife. We hadn't seen each other since high school.

I would have spent more time in Maine, especially given the rainy first couple of days. We only saw the southern half of the coast of the large state. I did enjoy what we saw.

Of course, I again ate too much and exercised too little.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Guatemala - May 2015

Victor & Rodney at a temple at Tikal

All-white peacock at Hotel Atitlan

Link to more photos

We took a ten-day tour of Guatemala. Tikal had long been on my list, this tour just fit within my already booked trip to Yucatán, and although it was almost too late, we were able to sign up for the tour.

It went very well, and despite a rainy forecast, there was hardly any rain. We saw Tikal and other Mayan ruins, several cities and villages, lakes, mountains, volcanoes, and interesting hotels.

Our tour guide gave lessons in Guatemala history, politics, and current events. When that was too much, there was the scenery.

As usual, I ate too much and exercised too little, but other than that, we had a great time.