Wednesday, January 30, 2019


Whenever someone is talking about "The Wall" in the media, it often features someone talking in front of a wall. This got me to thinking. If there's already a wall (or fence), why do we need another one? How much of our border already has one? What problem are we trying to fix?

I asked Google and found this:

Borderline - The Washington Post

Take a look. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Welcome Home

CNN: Washington is under a state of emergency as measles cases rise

" Last week, a person infected with measles attended a Portland Trail Blazers home game in Oregon amid the outbreak. Contagious people also went to Portland International Airport, as well as to hospitals, schools, stores, churches and restaurants across Washington's Clark County and the two-state region, county officials said. "
From The Columbian:  "The virus lives in the nose and throat mucus of an infected person, and can survive for up to two hours in an airspace where the infected person coughed or sneezed."

Like in an airplane?

We arrived at Portland International Airport yesterday from Phoenix. Our flight was packed and it seemed everyone was sneezing.

It started even before we got on the plane. We had to take a shuttle from the rental car area to the main terminal and we were surrounded by small children, most too young to know to cover one's mouth. We considered holding our breath for the entirety of our commute but figured we wouldn't last the two mile journey.

The flight was similarly packed with children. (On a Monday. Don't these kids have school?) Even the adults were coughing and sneezing, all around us.

Of the 36 cases of measles in Clark County, 31 involve people who were not immunized. According to the Washington State Department of Health, 7.9% of children entering kindergarten had a vaccine exemption - meaning a signed Certificate of Exemption excusing the student from one or more vaccinations due to medical, personal, or religious beliefs - during the 2017-18 school year in Clark County compared to 4.7% of the kindergarteners statewide. For all grades K-12, 7.5% of students in Clark County had some exemption from immunizations versus 4.9% for all of Washington (which breaks down to 7.5% for private schools versus 4.7% for public schools statewide).

Here in Clark County, 12.2% of students in the Battle Ground School District alone had exemptions (with an enrollment of 14,523). The worst school district in the state, by the way, is Orchard Prairie School District (40.7%) in Spokane County while the worst school is St. John of Kronstadt Orthodox Christian School in Yakima (68%) so I guess things could be worse.

I've been immunized against the measles as well as the flu but I loaded up on Vitamin C today anyway. And I plan to stay in bed until March as a safeguard.

Seriously, if you think you have the measles, call your healthcare provider before going to see the doctor to safeguard against spreading the infection to others in the waiting room. And, if you're a parent, consider getting your kids vaccinated. (The Washington state legislature has introduced a bill that would ban personal exemptions for the measles vaccine.)

Monday, January 28, 2019

Saturday, January 19, 2019

We Are Number Two!

Vancouver No. 2 ‘coffee city’ in U.S.

" In absolute terms, Vancouver’s 78 coffee shops are substantially outnumbered by Portland’s 246 and Seattle’s 278. But on a residents-per-shop basis, Vancouver outranks them both, coming in at No. 2 on the overall list with one coffee business for every 2,224 residents, according to the report. "
But we're No. 1 in 'hipster.'

Friday, January 18, 2019

Hotels Rooms

No matter where you stay, you will find similarities as well as differences. You might say there are variations on themes however there are some constants. The artwork is almost universally bad. There is a universal, sole supplier of hotel toilet paper. (It is not available to the public because the public would never buy it.) All bathroom mirrors are oriented so that you can see the TV either from the bathroom sink or the commode. The coffee maker, if there is one, universally makes bad coffee. However, a coffee maker in the room ranks much higher than one without. (Rooms where they bring you a pot of coffee always arrive late but are of the highest quality, strongly correlated with room price.)

Bed firmness positively correlates with room price as does the slight variations in mattress height.  Creakiness of bed frames correlate negatively. (This article does not cover hotel beds that take quarters but I'll send you a roll of quarters if you venture to stay in one.) While the quality of the furniture also correlates strongly with room price, all hotel furniture features a certain sheen of ick. (Ick sheen is negatively correlated with price.)

I have little to say about the free toiletries (other than none of them are good) while I have a lot to say about bathroom layout. While most layouts work reasonably well for a single traveler, many present a challenge for two. Electrical outlets not arranged near mirrors make hair drying difficult (unless hairstyle is not important) while a lack of mirrors in some hotels makes simultaneous preening nearly impossible for a couple.

Sinks are a particular pet peeve. At one particular hotel, one sink has a residential sized kitchen faucet over an airplane sized sink making it nearly impossible to wash one's hands without the water cascading over the counter and down the front of one's pants. The other sink has a faucet so small that it's impossible to wash one's hands without also rubbing ones hands along back wall of the sink (which brings us back to ick).

Beyond the bathroom, room layout varies from comfortable and inviting to "What were they thinking?" Doors that swing open to block access to something else such as a closet or sink, for example, or closets that are nothing more than a coat rack. Drawers at floor level to replace a typical dresser might be perfect for toddlers but can be a literal pain in the back for older folks.

Some have motion-sensitive nightlights (with varying degrees of brightness and sensitivity) while others are pitch dark. We recently checked into a hotel room and after I claimed my side of the bed, I noticed our room's lack of nightlights, automatic or otherwise. My side was farthest from the bathroom; that plus the room's layout made reconnaissance necessary. A midnight trip to the bathroom would require navigation around the bed, avoidance of an ottoman (Dick Van Dyke style), and walking down a short corridor to a door that automatically swung closed to the dark and windowless bathroom. I made note of the orientation of the commode. (Which way did it face?) I made note of where the toilet paper was. (Would it be on my left or right?)

There's nothing more disorienting than waking up in the middle of the night in unfamiliar surroundings, unable to see, with an urgency to pee.

I moved the ottoman out of the way and propped the bathroom door open. I filled the coffee maker with water and loaded it with a plastic coffee pod. I brushed my teeth and readied for bed. When I climbed under the covers and snapped off the reading light, I discovered the light from outside our window would be glaringly sufficient to light my way (or see from outer space). My logistical preparations, which have become standard operating procedure, were completely unnecessary.

The coffee was still terrible.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Tax Season - sorta

I can't really work until the new tax software arrives. It's updated every year, at a minimum, to account for inflation adjustments to standard deductions and various phaseouts, and changes in mileage allowances, etc. Congress will often enact tax law, usually late in the year, which requires additional programming that must be substantially completed before the software can be delivered. (Updates are made throughout the tax filing season.) This year, the changes are drastic, requiring all new tax forms and schedules.

This means my workload around the Holidays is somewhere between nil and something I can do before my coffee gets cold. All I can do is get ready because once the tax software arrives, it's time to get to work.

The tax software arrived last Friday. Yippee!

As far as the IRS is concerned, however, Tax Season doesn't start until January 28th and that's if they can get anyone to show up for work. While the IRS doesn't usually process refunds during a government shutdown, this year they say they will. This means they will be recalling furloughed workers who will not be paid until the shutdown ends. The IRS expects to have enough employees to answer 60-70% of phone calls from taxpayers needing help.

You can prepare your taxes but no one will care for another three weeks. And then, the IRS will care about 65%.

This is news. Just a week before, the IRS's contingency plan for a governmental shutdown did not allow for the processing of refunds although taxes owed would still be due. Phone calls would not be answered and amended returns from prior years would not be processed. The contingency plan has now been updated to include refunds although no one is exactly sure how that will happen. I still haven't received my refund for the 2017 tax year and that's not bound to be fixed anytime soon.

People who are expecting refunds usually file early and while tax preparers now have the software to prepare 2018 tax returns, the IRS won't accept them before January 28th. On the other hand, people who owe generally file later; whether they file an extension or not, taxes are due April 15th.

Unless it's April 17th.

How can you not get excited about this stuff?

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Just In

I'm sure I've lamented here before about the upstairs neighbors we used to have. We were temporarily living in a mother-in-law unit on the bottom level of a massive house in an affluent neighborhood. The unit was small but it was comfortable, furnished, and private. We had a large, west facing deck that offered peek-a-boo views and plenty of shade. One of its few drawbacks was schlepping groceries in the rain from the curb around back to our entrance. That, and our upstairs neighbors.

Our landlords, who lived above us, were a married couple. She was a tightly packed, petite woman and was home during the day most of the time. Small as she was, she was a heavy walker. Back and forth, we could hear her and it seemed she never stood still.

In the evenings, as we heard her - back and forth, back and forth - we imagined that she cleared the dinner table one spoon, fork, and knife at a time. Stack your dishes!, we would yell at the ceiling. Save yourself a trip!

The husband traveled and was often away on business. We could always tell his comings and goings because we could hear him dragging his rolling bag across the kitchen tiles. Early in the morning, we could hear him - padump padump padump - as he rolled over to what we imagined was the coffee maker. Then - padump padump padump - back to the kitchen table. Then - padump padump padump - to deposit the cup in the sink. Then - padump padump padump - out the front door.

If he was home on the weekends, he would work in his wood shop which was located on the bottom floor next to our bedroom. Late at night, we could hear him using a buzz saw just on the other side of our headboard.

They didn't entertain much. Once, there was a cocktail party held on the deck above ours. It seemed jolly but not raucous. The footsteps on the deck above didn't resonate like they did inside the house. Another time, however, she hosted a birthday party for one of her small grandchildren. On that occasion I could have sworn that she hired dancing elephants. It was a whole family of heavy walkers!

We lived there for less than a year before we purchased a condo and moved. The new location was in the flight path of a major airport, a half mile from a small regional airport, yards from a railroad and state highway, and steps from a major river supporting tug and barge traffic. Even with all that, it was quieter than the mother-in-law unit we previously occupied.

Our condo is a three story, townhouse style place. No neighbors above, but we have neighbors on either side. When we moved in, a confirmed bachelor was on one side and a librarian lived on the other. Both were sociable but quiet neighbors. For two years, all was well until the librarian moved out.

A self-described hedonist moved in and we can hear everything. He likes to crank up the stereo at 6 am and entertain women at night. When I say we can hear everything, I mean we can hear everything. We know how many women he entertains, how often, and for how long. We've approached him about this and even tried to befriend him to no avail.

In the summertime, when he cranks up the music and starts to cook an odoriferous meal, we could just jump on our bikes and pedal to a brewery, sit in the sunshine, or attend the local independent movie theater. Now, our prospects for escaping are more dismal. It's not impossible to get away, to avoid the noise. Sometimes, we escape to a different floor, one he isn't occupying.

There may be an assessment coming and we welcome it; the required repairs are necessary. We've been here long enough, and bought at the right time, to have the equity to support such an assessment. Our neighbor, however, just bought in at a $100,000 more than we paid next door. He's not so happy about it. While the repairs won't fix the soundproofing between units, we're hoping it improves the neighborhood. (We hope he moves out.)

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Slipping into 2019

This morning, I made the last entry into my 2018 (paper) diary that was sent to us when we subscribed to The Economist. I enjoyed writing in it more than I thought I would. In fact, I’m not sure I started writing in it right away since I already keep an electronic journal plus two blogs.

I left it on the kitchen counter thinking it would be part diary and part guest book. It was never intended to be the kind of diary where I recorded my most secret feelings. (That’s in my electronic diary. Even there, I don’t like to disparage anyone, much, lest someone were to actually read it.)

Either we didn’t have people over much in 2018 or when we did no one was nosy enough to crack it open, much less contribute to it without invitation.

There are a couple pages in the back to tide me over into the first week of 2019 but I’m afraid I will miss the practice of writing each yesterday’s events down as I make my morning coffee, a brief but comfortable ritual. A mini-time-out for myself. One last quiet moment before my day begins.

No, I did not expect to like that 2018 diary from The Economist but even one day later, on New Year’s Day, I already miss it. I guess I’ll have to get another diary. (Maybe I should renew my subscription to The Economist while I’m at it.)

2018 is over; that book is closed. It's time to turn the page and to slip into 2019.