Sunday, July 22, 2018

Babylon Berlin NEIN

I follow NEIN ('No' in German)  (@NEINQaurterly) on Twitter.  I think I saw his book first in a Seattle bookstore and then his Twitter feed.  He tweets with extremely wry irony and wit.  He tweets in German but mostly in English.

We've also watched the Netflix series Babylon Berlin which takes place over a couple of years prior to Hitler's rise to power.  (Well, while he was rising, but not yet there.)  It's an incredible production.

For those who dismiss anyone who makes comparisons to Nazi Germany, I highly recommend this show.  Yes, the soup Nazi and other such inappropriate usages have often diminished more serious comparisons.  And to a certain extent, the omission of ways Hitler improved the lives of many Germans, has blinded Americans and others to how someone like Hitler could have risen to power.

So a show like Babylon Berlin is important in getting a better understanding of the conditions in which a person like Hitler could come to power in a country that had been the cultural, scientific, and intellectual power of Europe.

So when I saw this Tweet today, I'm intrigued - an online course on Babylon Berlin.

I was hoping this was an online class, but it appears it will be limited to a few folks in New York who can get to DeutchesHauseNY.  But there's some extra reading here to follow up on.

If you have Netflix and haven't seen this series, at least watch the first episode.  Great characters, powerful story, and it will pique your interest in the times, which are definitely relevant (not the same as but relevant) to what's happening in the US.


*To Ashes. To dust.
Stolen from the light.
But not until the 20th of September.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Surprise! Departure Time and Costco/Citi Bank Billing

Surprise 1:  Departure Time

I got up yesterday (Thursday) thinking that my daughter and granddaughter were flying home today (Friday) - that we had one more day of human sunshine at the house.  But my wife informed me they were leaving that day (yesterday) at 3:30pm.  This was about 9am.

Whoa, how could I make that big a mistake?  I checked my computer calendar and I had them down for today - the 20th.  So I looked for the email and got the Alaska Air reservation.  There it was:  July 19.  But it wasn't 3:30pm.  It was 11:07am!  (3:30 was their arrival time.)

Needless to say when I told my daughter, who was still in bed, there was a bit of hustle and bustle. But we got them to the airport ok.

It hurt to see them go.  But the last minute burst of packing and rushing was distracting.  

It means we can get back to our cleaning out the house activities - more paper shredding, more sorting, tossing, giving away, the crumbling front steps will be replaced.   I think I've decided to not put so many pictures back up on the walls.  Instead, we'll just change what is up now and then and leave many of the pictures in the 'archives.'  It's just that we're trying to minimize storing stuff we don't use that much.


Surprise 2:  Paying Costco Bill Still A Pain

It's not the amount that's the problem, it's the complicated way Costco and Citi Bank (their credit card) do things.

When we had to change to the Citi Bank Costco credit card last November, we didn't realize that we would get two cards with two different numbers.  And since my wife happened to be the person who signed up for them, she was automatically the primary card holder.  I have no problem letting her be 'primary' except that I'm the one who pays the bills.  So the first bill we got I had lots of trouble - the website didn't recognize my card number.  You see, when I use my card, it all goes to her card number.

And I couldn't even call in and work it out.  I had to give the phone to her to get permission to pay the bill.  She gave it.
So I was able to set up the user name and password.

Until a couple of months later, they didn't work.  I couldn't get past the security questions.  Turns out my card number has no value at all in identifying myself.  I have to use her number, but she still had to give permission.  Despite our pleas to let me have the ability to call in and talk to them without getting her permission - and their saying ok they were doing that - it didn't happen.

So when I tried to pay the bill they emailed me today, it didn't work again.  The rep this time was much more sympathetic than last time.  (Last month she denied that I had ever been made an 'administrator' even though we knew we'd called in and asked for that to happen.)  So Jazzalin made me an administrator yet again.  But I can't change a mailing address or security questions without my wife's permission.

I understand that some couples might want to put restrictions on one another or other users including children, but I don't understand why we can't have the option of one card number and equal access for both of us.

But then I got transferred to the tech side to figure out why I couldn't log in.  The rep did say that I had logged in successfully at 2:06pm (so I knew he was on East Coast time).  But the messages I got all said something like "Your info does not match our records."
He asked how I had gotten to the website.
Me:  "I used the link in the email statement I got."
Him:  "Ah, don't use that.  Go straight to CITI.com"
Me:  "You're saying the link in the email statement doesn't work?"
Him:  "There have been some problems."

There are enough refunds using Costco's preferred card to make not using it a real decision.  Besides, using their credit card doesn't give them any more information on what I buy than they already get from their membership card, and I don't usually carry much cash on me these days, and you have to have the credit card to get gas there.  So I'm resigned to using the card.

He also said it was Costco, not Citi, that requires the two different account numbers.  So I did send in my complaint to Costco too.

Another issue we discussed was Security Questions.  He said he's asked at meetings how and why they pick the obscure questions they pick.  He was told that so much info is available on social media these days that they need to be more obscure.  But he also realizes that some people - particularly older people - don't remember 'their first' whatever any more.  And I pointed out that you have to remember exactly what you wrote.  Spelled exactly the same.  Did you give your youngest brother's birthday as July 1, 1996 or just July 1?  Or July1?

But I also raised the issue of potentially giving hackers even more detailed information about a person.  Think of the recent scam attempts lately where someone calls and says, "We've kidnapped your granddaughter and you need to buy gift cards for $5000 and give us the codes within 30 minutes."  They now can convince grandma with obscure details like her granddaughter's first dog's name, or first car or the street she lived on when she was in elementary school.

Or someone stealing your identity can have that information too.

How much are we willing to pay for convenience?  And is it our convenience or the company's convenience?

I've spent at least three hours of my time dealing just with Costco billing in the last six months - that really isn't convenience.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

A Story Recalling Meandering, And the Flaneur


This all started out fairly early Tuesday as I went along with my daughter and granddaughter to watch the little one bounce for a couple of hours.

But to be an observer I had to fill out an online waiver.  I understand.  Trampolining can be dangerous.  Someone I know broke his neck at a place like this (maybe even this one.)  He was lucky and after painful, scary months and months we was pretty much back to normal.  But there's a lot of liability with a place like this.

But I was only there to observe.  And the online form there asks for dribbles of information.  A paper form you can see what they're asking for all at once and decide if you want to share it all.  So I asked - how much more are they going to ask?
She didn't really hear me and said, "everyone has to fill one out."
Me;  "But I'm only observing."
She:  "Observers can be injured too."  [Isn't this the time people should leave?]
She:  "They don't use the information."
Me:  "Then why are they collecting it?  [I was being snarky.  I understood what she meant - that it's only in case of an accident.]  But even if they don't, someone can hack the computers."

Out of principle - that way too much information is collected about all of us - I decided I would not stay.  Besides I really didn't want to see my granddaughter risking her neck.

So I decided instead to walk around this South Anchorage neighborhood - between Old and New Seward Highways -

I'd only driven by on occasion, but had never really looked at carefully.  It's a funky sort of place with all sorts of housing and yards.

[I'd note the meandering reference in the title beckons back to a long ago post about meandering that comes from Charles Dickens opening to David Copperfield.  It's also a good description of how I often write.  The Flaneur references a post I did about a book by that title that I read while we were in Paris and is about just wandering with no goal through neighborhoods.]


This sign below the mailboxes - click to enlarge so you can read it - was the first that suggested people weren't cleaning up after their dogs.  "Attention Humans:  Please Pick Up After Your Dogs, Thank you."  Then it addresses the dogs.












There were big houses with big yards and gardens.  This one was next to a lot with a  double wide trailer.















Here's another inviting tree filled green yard that reminded me more of the mid-west than Anchorage.









Near another lot that reminded me of old Spenard.

















And there were lots of trees and green.



But there also were dozens of zero lot line condos (presumably) scattered in the neighborhood.  Some had more green space around them than others.












If you look closely, Spyglass Hill is a private street, so I didn't go there.  As I wandered around I only saw one other pedestrian.  A woman with a walker and a tiny dog that took his job as her protector seriously.  She was laboring up the steepest hill in the neighborhood.

But I did wonder whether people might not be alerting NextDoor  (I think you may have to sign in to get to the link.) or the police if I had been black or worse dressed than I was.    Especially since I was taking pictures of people's property.

After wandering streets and alleys a while, I got to a bike path that started green and shady, but after about a quarter mile I ended in an industrial area.




It came out near a school district complex.













Past the student nutrition area was a nursery I had never seen before.






I wandered around outside, excited by this find.  (It turned out everything was outside.) But when I saw this item, I realized why all the rocks in my garden were picked up along highway construction sites.  A cubic yard of 'angular boulders"  was $195.  Gravel was only $95.  A cubic yard of gravel is a lot of gravel, but I suspect a cubic yard of the boulders has lots of empty spaces.



There were also also lots of different kinds of trees at serious prices as well.  I quickly deduced this was more for professional landscapers, but homeowners can buy here as well.


Lots of ways to spend your money on things I didn't know I needed.



This natural stone table (and stools) was only  $2786.













Rows of critters of all sorts.


I can see possible uses for these planters.




This dragon was certainly the most interesting item. I didn't check the price tag.



It's interesting to know this is in town in case I ever need something like this.







But then I made my way back out and got to a small strip mall.  I don't know what they do at this place, but it doesn't sound like a place I would ever want to need.

Then as I got back to Old Seward Highway. . .



First I saw the cross. Then I saw the sign.


I checked on line to find out who Justin was.






From his ADN obituary:
Justin Grey Ashley was killed in a tragic motorcycle accident Monday evening, July 8,
2013.
Justin was born on July 9, 1992 in Fremont, California to Brian and Charise Ashley. He grew up playing soccer and baseball and loved to ride his bike with his two childhood friends, Josh and Alex. He was a Cub Scout and bridged over to become a Boy Scout.
Justin moved to Alaska with his family when he was 12. He quickly made friends. . .
So yesterday was just a few days past the fifth anniversary of his death.   My sympathies to his family.  My brother was two years older when he died, so I have a sense of their terrible loss.




As I passed Judy's Cafe it reminded me of the place where they charged me an extra $.50 to NOT have cheese in my omelette.  I checked with K who was with me at the time and he said it was not Judy's.














I was getting close to full circle back to pick up the jumpers, when this car with a Begich sign pulled up onto the sidewalk in front of me.  He got out and struggled to get some sandbags that
were at the curb into the car.  I did mention to him that it didn't reflect well on his candidate to be driving on the sidewalk, though parking in the street wasn't a good idea either and he clearly couldn't move the sandbags very far.


At a dog kennel nearby, a woman pulled up and parked right in front of a No Parking sign and went in.





Almost back and I passed what looked like a single family home, but it had four mailboxes in front of it.


I got back just in time to get into the car and open the newspaper before my bouncing family members came out.  I'd had my adventure too.

I thought of the year we lived in Hong Kong when we decided that we could take urban hikes - and just walk three or more miles as we would in a more wild setting.  And there we could catch public transportation home from wherever we ended up.

The Road to Sleeping Dragon

I mentioned Michael Meyer's book The Road To Sleeping Dragon in the last post.

Meyer went to  a rural Sichuan province as a Peace Corps English teacher in the 1995.  I'd gone to rural Thailand as a Peace Corps English teacher in 1967.   I'd first gone to Beijing from a year teaching in Hong Kong, twice in spring 1990, with a followup month of research in 1991, and a again a couple of years later when I taught a class on Chinese Civil Service Reform, which included taking the class for ten days to Hong Kong and Beijing.  In 2004 I taught three months in Beijing, which gave me some opportunities to visit Xian and Shandong provinces as well.

So there are lots of reasons for me to enjoy this book, which modestly (and reasonably) states early on that it's not even a
 "book of reportage but rather of mostly chronological impressions, of lessons learned over time.  Although my understanding of China has deepened over twenty years, I can't pretend to be a "foreign expert," as my work permit alleged."
My first choice as a Peace Corps volunteer was China - but there were no Peace Corps volunteers there until much, much later.  Americans were not even allowed to travel there back then.  Thailand was a much easier place to serve.   Meyer falls in love with a Chinese woman which helped his Chinese greatly, I'm sure, and gave him continuing ties to China.

I've enjoyed comparing his insights to my own impressions.  (We both despaired at the decisions to tear down whole neighborhoods completely and replace them with high rise apartments.  Particularly the hutongs.)  He filled in details about other things.  (That the son of Hitler's architect Albert Speer Jr. played a role in the designing of the new Beijing.  The author's role in lobbying for the World Wildlife Foundation for a more natural Panda preservation area. And I enjoyed the short description of his meeting with artist Ai Wei Wei.)

Much of the book feels like it was taken from articles he's written over the years about China.  While following a basic chronological path through his life in China, it does jump around a bit.  But it does hang together.

And I'm also reminded of the wonders of traveling to places unknown, facing daily situations where you have to try new things, take chances.  You have no choice.  And as you do, you discover inner strengths you didn't know you had.  And you expand your known world.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

From Early Airport Run To World Cup To China

Our guests of two weeks had a 6am flight, so we left the house a little after 4am.  D's family is family and it was great to have the three here.  Despite having a full house including a four year old and five year old, we got along smoothly, eating well, talking serious and fun, and enjoying the kids and keeping them occupied.  I've got my daughter and granddaughter for a while longer still.

From the airport to home, unsuccessful attempt to get a couple hours more sleep before heading with my daughter to the Bear Tooth to watch Croatia play well in their final loss to France.  When I watched Croatia beat Russia, it was easy to root for the small country over Putin's team.  We say sports transcends politics, but not really.  In international events people get very nationalistic - US media seem more interested, say, in the medal count than in the events.

Then Croatia beat England.   They were now my team.  For a while.  The political backdrop then interfered as I realized Croatia was an all-white team and France had a mix of colors.  Should this matter?  If everyone were equal, and race and immigration weren't tearing countries apart (and I don't doubt Putin, once again, has had his hand in this in Europe as well as in the divisive social media campaign in the US), it wouldn't be a factor.  But if Croatia won, I knew that the white supremacists would be touting how racial purity (and I have no idea exactly what that is supposed to mean and which tests of such purity the Croatian player would pass or fail) had won.  And if France won, those championing the humanity of the those fleeing political and economic oppression would use their victory as proof that immigration made a country stronger.

My compromise was to root for the individual players of Croatia and the French team.

The Bear Tooth was packed this time and when Croatia scored it was clear they were the crowd favorites.  They played hard and seemed to possess the ball much more than France.  They just couldn't maneuver the ball into the net.  France's first goal was a free kick with a boost from a Croatian head that seemed to put it just out of the reach of the goalie.  Croatia came back with a penalty kick goal.   Then the French got another gift - the ball hit a Croatian hand in front of the French goal.  In the second half the French got two more solid shots into the goal.  Croatia managed another goal by charging the goal keeper in what should have been a routine ball retrieval on the goalie's part.  Sports Illustrated has the highlights.  All in all, I left the game satisfied.  Croatia played well and France won.

And when I checked Twitter when I got home, the first Tweet I saw was already claiming the victory by the multi-colored French team repudiated Trump's nasty London comment about immigration ruining European culture.


Home for some brief interaction with my granddaughter who then went with her mom to visit mom's old Anchorage friends.  I napped and then enjoyed the luxury of  just lying in bed reading.  I'd picked up The Road To Sleeping Dragon by Michael Meyer at the library when we took Little J there.  I'll do more on the book in another post.


Saturday, July 14, 2018

Economist Dr. Adele Morris' Compelling Talk On Why Price On Carbon Is Best Way To Slow Down Climate Change

This month's Citizen Climate Lobby meeting was this morning.  Groups from all over the US (representing 85% of all Congressional districts) and many countries beyond the US borders met in a conference video call to catch up on this month's actions and to hear, economist,  Dr. Adele Morris talk about her research on implementing a carbon fee.

The introduction to Adele Morris starts about 3:12.  It's worth starting there so you know who she is and why she's worth listening to.  She begins about 4:57.




The basic point is explaining
"why economists are so unanimous in supporting a price on carbon whether through a tax on carbon or a cap and trade program.  I happen to favor a carbon tax approach for a variety of reasons.  But the point is very clear, and this is a huge consensus in my profession, that is that it's the most cost-effective way.  If you have a cost on carbon, you're incentivizing all the lowest cost ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and you're doing it in a heart beat.  Like as soon as you have a price on the carbon content of fossil fuels, that instantly changes the incentives for which power plants are going to operate more and which sources of energy are going to be more cost effective.  It gives a boost to renewables relative to their fossil competitors.  It's just the absolutely most competitive way to create a wide range of incentives across the economy."
It's much easier to just play the video and hear her clearly explain this.  She's impressive!

She goes on to briefly talk about the eleven essential questions for how to implement a price on carbon.  I've taken these from her Brookings Institute webpages:
"Click on a question below to jump to its discussion: 
1. What is the name of the carbon pricing policy? 
2. What greenhouse gas (GHG) sources and gases does the policy cover? 
3. What’s the initial price and how does it change over time? 
4. Who pays the carbon charge? 
5. Who collects the revenue? 
6. What happens to the revenue? 
7. Does it change other Federal climate and energy policies, and if so how? 
8. Does it constrain state-level policies? 
9. Does it allow offsets (alternatives to paying a fee)? 
10. Does it give credits or rebates for certain activities? 
11. Does it include measures to reduce effects on U.S. competitiveness and emissions leakage? "
If this is all new info for you, you've got some serious catching up to do.

Being a member of  Citizens' Climate Lobby over the years has convinced me beyond a doubt, about Morris message:  that the most efficient, effective, and practical, and politically feasible step in slowing down climate change is a carbon fee.  

And why does this matter?  Because if climate change doesn't get slowed down, terrorism, cancer, traffic, privacy, the Supreme Court, and every other issue people are concerned about won't really matter.  We're already feeling the consequences of climate change in the loss of sea ice, in hotter summers, in fiercer storms.  All these changes will intensify and have huge impacts on human life, on what crops grow where, on the availability of water.  People will either die or move.  That movement will cause huge disruptions in agricultural output and everything else.  We are already seeing the destabilizing effects of immigration in Europe and in North America.

There is no more important issue facing human beings.
You can find out more about Citizens Climate Lobby - the most effective and efficient group I've ever seen - here.

I'd note the Anchorage group meets the second Saturday at 8:30am at UAA's Rasmuson Hall 220.  (Yes, it's early, but it's an international group video call.  And then you have plenty time left to do all your Saturday activities.)

You can find your nearest local chapter here.  There's at least one in every state and most US territories.  And in over 40 other countries.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

More Bike Lessons

The five year old and I were in another parking lot so she could practice riding her bike.  There was less space (but still lots of room), but she was having problems.  She had the pedals so that she was braking when she wanted to start.  I picked up the rear tire so she could adjust the pedals.  She wanted to know why the front pedal didn't move when you turned the pedals.

Ah.  So we turned the bike over and saw how the chain and the teeth mesh at the pedals.



And then how the chain moved to turn the wheel.


We watched how far the nozzle of the tire went around each time the pedal went around (twice.)

So, how does the front wheel turn?  She pushed a wheel barrow Tuesday at the Learning Farm.  I asked her how that one turned.  I pushed it.  So that's how the front wheel turns on the bike - the back wheel pushes it when you turn the pedals.  And that's why I only have to pick up the back wheel to move the pedals.

With the bike upside down, she did a lot of hand pedaling and braking.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Croatia Beats England at Thai Kitchen

It was sort of rainy.  Z wanted to ride her bike, but I argued the parking lot where she wanted to practice wouldn't be empty today and the wet pavement would be more slippery for her.  We're going to a surprise place - somewhere you've been and I want to see if you remember.  She wasn't impressed.  Put on your boots - it's wet out.  No.  Mom wanted her to put on socks.  No.  Grrrrrr.  Before I knew it both kids were in the car ready to go.  No boots, no socks, just rubber sandal like shoes.

I'm hungry.  I'm hungry too.

OK.  We're going someplace you've been before but you've never been there.  Can you guess where?  That's not possible.  Yes it is.  Tell me.

We pulled into the Thai Kitchen parking lot at just about 11am minutes before they opened.  She knew it was Thai Kitchen, where she'd been before, but they've moved several spaces down the
mall to a new location she hadn't been before.

The kids picked beef - broccoli from the buffet.  Croatia - England was on the big screen tv.  It was 1-0 England.  They ate lots of broccoli and lots of beef.  And rice too.  I needed to get more.  Finally they were done.  It was now 1-1.
We went next door to the Yogurt Works where they have lots of board games and we watched the game further.  And got yogurt with sprinkles.  They played Chutes and Ladders and CandyLand while I watched the game.  Z's brothers all play soccer, so she's been to lots of games and was sort of paying attention.

Croatia scored again and eventually the game was over 2-1 Croatia.

Now we were off to Campbell Airstrip where Z cross-country skied the first time when she was here in early April.  I wanted to see if she'd recognize it without snow.  No problem at all.  This is where we skied she said as we parked.




As we got out a man with five dogs, some on leashes, some loose, got on the trail too.  Z was not excited about a bunch of dogs sniffing, but after yesterday at the Learning Farm, she was much better about it.  And there was a big sign at the beginning of the trail.

We walked over the bridge and looked for salmon in the creek below, but there were no fish.  But there was another sign.








I thought, even with bear spray, I didn't want to meet a bear on the trail with two little kids.  Especially after I asked Little J what he should do if he saw a bear.
Run away.  Wrong answer.  And even after I explained that was a bad idea, I'm sure that's what he would have done if we saw a bear.

So we went back down the road to the botanical garden, where they rubbed every leaf in the herb garden and declared how good or bad they smelled.






More of the peonies were blooming.









And this spectacular huge red poppy.



They ate the fig newtons at the garden.  But they were asking for the apple slices before we got to the car.  We all had a great time,  and everyone at home was happy to get some peace and quiet for several hours.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Energy Of Youngins





I accompanied my granddaughter to the Learning Farm for a half day of farm stuff.










There was goat feeding.

Chicken feeding.  




Collecting eggs.


A ride on a horse.


Some snack and story time.  

Cleaning out the horse stalls.


At first Z was afraid of feeding the goats.  The chickens were different because you crunched up the crackers then dropped them on the ground.  She didn't have to put her fingers near their mouths.  But later, when we played with the baby goats, she asked for a cracker to feed the mom and then she was hooked.  

This was a fun activity to do together.  We opted for half day, but you could stay the whole day.  Some kids come several days a week.  When I asked if some parents use the farm as day care, the lady said, yes.  I was the only adult who stayed with their kid.  

When we got home, there was a quick lunch and then Grandma took her swimming while Grandpa took a nap.  

Monday, July 09, 2018

Getting Into Alaska With The Kids

We've spent way too much time in Anchorage.  I do like our backyard.  Sitting out on the deck surrounded by lots of trees in the warm weather was nice.  And traffic out of town around the 4th of July is always awful.  But I was getting antsy and wanted to take the kids down to Portage.

First stop, 30 minutes out, was Bird Point.  It was supposed to be a short stop, but the kids enjoyed running around, playing statue on various pedestals on the overlook walk.  Then under the bridge
and back.  Over the fence, across the tracks to check out the beach.  But the five year old started saying she was hungry (we'd been feeding them since we stopped).  But most of the way back she said she lost her gloves - it was almost raining and very windy, maybe 60˚F - so the 4 year old I went back to look.  But we didn't find them.  His cheek found a big rock though when he missed a step in the rocky part.  He had a good reason to cry and he did.  We got back to the parking lot and they deduced, by looking at the pictures D had taken, the last place Z had her gloves.  So she and I went back and found them.

Then to Portage.   At the lakeside parking lot the rain was coming down hard, horizontally.  The
wind was slamming car doors.  BUT, there were icebergs too.  I'd thought those didn't happen often since the glacier retreated out of the water and up the mountain years ago.  And they weren't the giant ones that used to float around, but they were icebergs.






But it was so rainy and windy that no one wanted to stand around outside very long.  The visitor center was a big hit with the kids.  Lots of buttons to push (raven calls, sandhill crane cackles, wolf howls), a kayak to climb into and lots of things that caught their attention.  And we saw part of the movie.











A stop at Black Bear Campground, which was totally empty, and lushly beautiful.  I'm sure the rain had something to do with both conditions.








Soup at the Bake Shop or ice cream at the cone shop at Alyeska?  The kids won that vote.



A potty break at McHugh Creek, so we walked up to the bridge.


Finally a  brief stop at a Potter Marsh pullout.  You can get a sense of the wind by the ripples in the water and the leaning grasses.  But this was nothing compared to Portage.


A fun day of sightseeing, lots of eating and laughing, running around, and seeing new things for the kids.