Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Israeli-Palestinian Fantasy

I've come to believe the problem is intractable. Too many years, too many problems, too many people from all sides trying to stop any kind of peace. I'm not picking sides. I'm on both. And neither. When my son asked me years ago which side I was on, I answered him that by this time there were no angels on either side.

For an intractable problem you need an impossible solution. A miracle, if that's in your belief system. I'll settle for calling it a science-fiction fantasy. Impossible. Impractical. But what if...?

Start with a dome. Think of it kind of like the one on TV, inpenetrable from either side, physically, visually, electronically. Sunlight can penetrate for growing, air can exchange to stay fresh but no toxins can cross. Have it cover both areas as one. Remove all the weapons. ALL the weapons. Provide enough food and water for everybody. Anybody who tries to harm another dies. Period. Dead. Add whatever rules in how the dome works that are necessary to keep the rest inside alive, and keep the rest of the world out completely.

Then make everybody infertile for a couple years, just enough that everybody gets the idea. No more babies. Follow that with making the only coupling that ends in reproduction to be that between the two sides. A Jew is only fertile with a Palestinian. All new children are cross-breeds. Wait a couple generations to drop the dome, maybe three. Maybe, just maybe, then there would be a chance for peace.

Until, of curse, the rest of the world steps in and tells them there should be hatred and fighting because....

Monday, July 21, 2014

Retirement: Set!

It's finally scheduled. Not the original plan, where I worked until age 70 and got maximum SS benefits, but the old bod was working hard to get my attention, telling me that kind of wait just wasn't going to be working. No pun intended.

First, Minnesota changed their requirements to pass the DOT physical. The bouts of A-Fib were going to make passing my next one this fall problematic. Everybody was telling me to go to such-and-such clinic: they'd pass anybody. Not any more. The new laws went into effect this spring. I had warning, and a few months of grace to make plans.

I had my scheduled phone calls with the Social Security folks last week. I'd been going on the summer notices they have been sending out. If you are "of a certain age", you've seen them. They start out with "if your income continues at its current level until the year..." then fill in what they will pay you if you retire at each of several different ages. That's why I was planning on retiring at 70. I hadn't seen one of those notices for a while, and only had saved old notices to go on to estimate income.

My problem was that recent years' income had gone down. I'd heard that SS was weighted toward the last years, with a lower income just before retiring producing a lower income after retiring. I was dreading that phone call. My latest figures were from 2009. Retirement this year was already going to be tighter than wanted, and a decrease.... Uff!

I was given two choices. My marrieage to Paul Sr. meant that I could take half of his income until my reaching 70, then get my own full SS from then on. Half of his would mean a couple hundred less per month for 4 years. Pinch! I was surprised to hear that doing that would not actually take away from his income, and he would never know whether I picked that option or not. In other words, never worrying about him showing up at the door with a shotgun in revenge for "stealing" his income. Then I was quoted my own SS income. I was happily surprised to heat it was about $100 a month over what the 2009 figures had estimated, not less as I'd feared. Taking out Medicare first brought it back down to what I'd figured originally: tight but should be survivable.

Then there was the second part of my retirement plan: selling the Minnesota house. The Arizona house is paid for. No mortgage, no rental payments. Just a few major repairs/upgrades planned. The Minnesota house got paid for several years ago. The plan had always been to sell it and use that as supplementary income to SS. Just not yet. I'd wanted to give the housing market time to recover more from the economy. Oh well.

Two questions had to be asked. First, did Paul want to buy the house?  Yes, if he could. So the second: could he afford it? We agreed to hire a reputable appraiser in the area, calling a local realtor I knew for a reference, and go with whatever price came back.  Paul figured out what he could pull together for a down payment, and a website figured out what principal + interest would be over 30, 25, and 20 years for the remainder. The upshot is that we have an appointment with my attorney this week to draw it up legally.

I will hold the mortgage, thus getting income from the house for the next 20 years, plus larger chunks for the next 4 years as the CDs the down payments sit in come mature. Should I die before the house is paid off, from any cause other than his murdering me, he gets the rest of the house payments forgiven, a plus for him. I get principal plus interest, a plus for me. The down payments would still be paid, though to Steve were I to die, for repairs to the AZ house. I also don't have to repair anything in this house. Paul will buy it as is, and having lived in it for the last 23 years, he has a reasonable expectation of what that is. We had a long discussion of expenses, anticipated repairs, and whatever details of home ownership I could dredge out of memory.

It seems like the best possible solution all around. And I get to retire much sooner than anticipated. I checked in at works, and sent in my written notice for September 19th. Now every little annoyance, every package where the customer lies about the weight so 5 lbs. turns into 45, every stop where front desk turns into a demand to haul it to the dock or vice versa, every day of sitting in construction traffic, each of them contributes to  that day seeming better and better.

Now I just have to hold out that long. Last week I pulled something in my back, just getting out of the car. I took Friday off, planning to return this morning. It's not great yet but better enough, I think, for easy duty. Packing is getting planned. So is moving out of "my" bedroom and into the one Steve has had for his own, leaving Paul better access to his home while we still have a summer place to hang out up here.

We're still talking about rent.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Surfing the Corn

There is a cornfield on the south side of Hwy. 95. OK, there's a bazillion of them, I get it. You need better detail. This particular one is between mile markers 28 and 29, putting it a bit east of Princeton, MN. Its owners have a bit of whimsey.

Its corn is fairly tall for this miserable growing season. Nearby fields have large bald spots where heavy rains drowned rather than germinated the corn seeds. Stalks which actually survived in other fields are stunted, many yellowed. Even as relatively healthy as it is, the corn hasn't tasseled yet. But odds are good it is one of the very few this year that made the old standard of "knee high by the fourth of July." Many of its neighbors still haven't.

None of those things are what draws the eye to this field. Somebody drove a bunch of tall stakes into the ground in the middle of this field, and mounted on each in slightly differing positions and heights, black metal silhouettes of dolphins, backs arched, giving the illusion of a pod of them surfing their way playfully through the corn. It's almost tall enough now to hide the last of the stakes.

Check it out next time you pass.

The Climate Change Denier

It happened in a checkout line a few weeks back. The latest serious climate change warnings had just come out, emphasizing glacial melt affecting sea levels, and the right wing had already jumped in with its blind denials. Their bad analogy was an interesting one. The discussion was an agreement between the checkout lady and her 7-ish customer, and being next in line, I shamelessly eavesdropped.

He was spouting nonsense about ice cubes melting in a glass, claiming the water level wouldn't rise a bit once the ice melted, further citing that "fact" as proof that melting glaciers would have no effect on sea levels.

There were just two things wrong with his argument. First, the glaciers in question are currently mostly sitting high and dry above the sea, not floating on it. They will melt, move down, and add to the total liquid water in the oceans. The amount of total ocean water will change.

Second, he apparently has never actually watched ice melt in a glass. Try it. Add ice cubes to water so that they are just floating, not standing on the bottom. Make a mark on the glass for the water level. Notice that some amount of the ice sits above that water level. Let it melt and check out the water level again. Yep, it will be higher.

Those ice cubes represent the floating glaciers. Only 1/8 of them actually sits above the water level. Still, 1/8 of them does sit above water level, and when they melt, will raise that level too, same as the land glaciers will. The amount of water does not change, just the amount of liquid water.

Ain't a little bit of actual science grand?

Of course, the two deniers holding forth in front of me were not likely to be dissuaded by anything resembling facts or observations. I didn't figure it worth my time to step in and start that argument. I wanted to get through the line myself before my ice cream melted. Its frozen condition wasn't as long-lasting as any glacier, and I prefer the taste/texture in its original condition.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Little Looney

It's that time of year again, though a bit later than usual due to cooler weather. I'm speaking of loon families. Thanks to friends and family, I'm enjoying a rather unique opportunity to compare them in two different parts of the state.

Having grown up with them, the birds are more than a nice picture of our state bird. Their call is evocative of carefree summers, country lakes, camping trips, fishing excursions - all the best things from youth. They were rarely more than a distant form on the water and that wild set of calls, however. This year my brother has been sending me pictures of his local loon family. Each year they set out a floating platform in their lake bay for nesting. Just last week he sent pictures of a 2-day old chick with a parent, being fed or just swimming along and yawning after a strenuous day for a chick. Modern photography equipment and his well-honed skills make the pictures as good as being right next to the birds, details sharp and clear.

Recent news reports have warned of black flies up in the northern part of the state driving parents off the nests before eggs have a chance to hatch, requiring a second nesting. Here, at least, is proof of one successful brood, just outside of Bemidji. The baby is a dark grey fuzzball in contrast to the black and white checkerboard of its parent.

This weekend friends invited Steve and me out fishing on their new pontoon boat. For the record, I never touched a pole, having no license this season. (I figure next year, being retired, there will be plenty of opportunities to fish, making the cost of license worth it.) There was solid cloud cover, ideal fishing weather, and the fish didn't care if they were offered leeches or worms. While everybody else was reeling in crappies, sunnies and one small bass, I was reveling in just being out on a lake in great weather, and conversation in good company. And of course, the lake had its own loon family. We were told they were there as our friends had watched them both from their dock and while out checking out the various fishing spots. We heard them go through several of their calls when one boat got a bit close early in the afternoon. Luckily the boaters were sensible and traveled slowly past and out of the area.

Mostly the loons were a set of three specks in the distance, diving reducing their numbers to two, one, or zero periodically.  Once we were close enough to observe them more closely. The baby is just over half the size of the adults, and mostly reddish brown with a white bib. I hadn't seen a young loon this age up close before, and the brown was a surprise to me. I figured they would go from dark grey fuzz to black and white feathers. Apparently not.

The loons were not the only birds on the lake. One great blue heron flew across the lake near the pontoon, and just after launching and passing a wide swath of cattails, some kind of brown duck with a black crest, almost a mohawk of feathers, startled up from the reeds and settled back into them again, out of sight. Somewhere in the distance a bluejay called briefly. And bullfrogs sounded from all sides of the lake as we traveled around in search of new fish to feed.

It was a great day, ending too soon as all great days do, but with promises of future repeats.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Supremes Outrage

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." Well, maybe Congress can't, not for lack of trying, but apparently 5 old Catholic men on the Supreme Court can! Keep your damn (yes, as literally as that can be meant) religion off my body, my reproductive choices, my interactions with my chosen doctor. And off those of my fellow women all over this country.

Hey, remember back when Dubbya was appointing justices and the catch phrase was "stare decisis"? It was supposed to mean that a judge/justice would follow previous laws and decisions, not wander off and start making new laws. Yeah, right, that pledge has meant a lot of nothing. Of course, following that principle back to the point of absurdity, though it was promoted as sounding like a good thing at the time, was the phrase "originalism". Back then we thought that nobody, but nobody, would take that all the way back to making negroes a fraction of a human, denying them, women, and non-property-owning men the vote, or rolling back everything else we consider progress in the last couple hundred years.

But here we are. Chip. Chip. Chip.

One of the guys claimed that birth control wasn't real healthcare. Ask all the women who've died in childbirth if they would have considered it "real" healthcare. Or the ones with endometriosis. Or the ones who got raped. Or any of the many hundreds of thousands with any other medical issue that makes birth control medically necessary. You want non-necessary medicine? How about Botox? Or, hey, Viagra? Now there's a non-necessary drug.

All you women out there who will be denied birth control because some supposedly religious boss thinks it's their business to get into yours, while not paying you enough to cover the now added costs - here's a suggestion: get all Lysistrata on their asses. Or as Nancy Reagan would -and did - say, just say "no!" No birth control? Simple. No sex. Then we might see just how necessary or not birth control, as decided between a woman and her doctor, really is.

Oh, and by the way, Hobby Lobby? There is absolutely nothing you have to offer in your stores, no matter how much I thought I might have wanted it, how difficult it may be to find an alternate source, that will ever entice me to enter one of your stores. Not even if you were the only bathroom in a hundred miles. Not even if it means standing outside and peeing on the sidewalk.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Thank You, Capitol One

Much as I hate U S Bank, I appreciate Capitol One. They're "in my wallet". They have been for years. I get a great interest rate, a generous credit limit, a user-friendly website that's full of all the info I could want and makes bill-paying simple.

Last week they showed me one other reason why I appreciate them.

It started on a McDonalds drive-thru in Winona. It was a $2.14 charge, and I handed over the card. After running it a couple times, the fellow frowned, called in a higher-up, and watched while she gave him instructions in what he apparently already knew. It still didn't work.  Hmmm..... Something to check out later. Maybe the more-than-daily use had worn the magnetic stripe again? Anyway, I had another card and, worst case, cash to cover the purchase.

Once home, that evening, my spam box had an email claiming to be from Capitol One with a fraud alert. I get so much fishing spam that I almost deleted it, but the memory of the afternoon's denial had me examining it closer. This one asked me to call the number on the back of my card rather than clicking on some link, so I decided to pursue it.

Good choice!

The Capitol One employee and I went through a very long list of supposed purchases that had been either made or tried on my card that day. I verified a gas purchase, a KFC purchase, a bananas buy, and the Winona attempt, explaining how my job sends me all over the place. I do keep my receipts, so I could confidently verify the valid ones.

Luckily for me, the $300+ and $600+ purchase attempts at Ticketmaster and  Best Buy had been declined, possibly because about two dozen internet and adult entertainment purchases had also been tried during a short period of time with mixed results on acceptance. We went over each one - twice - and I was able to verify their validity or lack thereof. There were a bunch that I never heard of and had no clue what they might be for, except the hints in the company names. I wasn't charged a penny I hadn't personally charged to my account.

Upon instructions, I cut up the card whose number had been duplicated. We likely will never know how that duplication happened. Somebody at a location I'd used it? A lucky guess? It would never happen again on that number. A new card was ordered, since that is my main card and holds the largest available credit balance. I could use my other card short term, but that was a debit card, and rapidly draining my bank account this far from the last payday. Capitol One agreed to rush out the replacement card at no charge to me for the extra cost of speed.

Once the new card arrived, I immediately called in to verify it. Capitol One remained vigilant, to my small inconvenience, however. The morning gas purchase went through, but my next purchase was declined, requiring a new phone call. The security info I'd set up while dealing with the fraud assisted in verifying this was really me this time, and further purchases have gone through without issue. I'm still checking my statements online to see if any other bogus purchases are going through or being attempted. So far, nothing.

All the whole mess cost me was a little of my time. So thank you, Capitol One, for identifying the fraud pattern and being so easy to work with in clearing it up. After having to deal with years of crap from U S Bank, you've been a pure pleasure to work with.