Tuesday, May 10, 2016


We have been AT&T customers for as long as we have had cellular phones/mobile phones. In fact, we were their customers before they were AT&T Mobile (McCaw Cellular, in the beginning). To their credit, AT&T has always given us top-notch customer service, even though the actual phone coverage was not always the best.

But I have jumped ship, and I am now a customer of Project Fi. That's Google. It is mobile phone service using VOIP (voice over internet protocol). And so far, it totally rocks my boat!

Let me explain.

Project Fi service has a very simple pricing plan - yep, just one plan for everyone. Basic service is $20 per month; that includes unlimited calls and unlimited texting. Data is charged at $10 per GB per month, and you can sign up for as many GB per month, at $10 per, as you want. I rarely use 1GB of data per month, so guess what? Project Fi credits my account for whatever part of 1GB I don't use. If I use 0.5 GB in a month, they credit my account $5. If I use 1.5GB in a month, they charge me an extra $5. Nice! And, of course, I was able to port my mobile phone number over to Project Fi.

But Project Fi has also solved a problem I have had for many years; what to do for mobile phone service when traveling out of the country. This has been a very major issue for me, and lots of other people who travel a lot. The answer is simple: Project Fi works in lots of countries! For example, every European country we have visited is on the Project Fi list. The only difference in pricing is that phone calls using the cellular network are $0.20 per minute. That's a helluva lot better than the $1.00 per minute AT&T charges me after I give them an extra $30 per month for Global Roaming. And for that $30 per month, AT&T gives me 120MB of data - I can use 120MB in a day, especially if I'm navigating with Google maps.

Keep in mind, Project Fi is VOIP. Here is how it works, and what that means for the customer (me). The Project Fi SIM card monitors the T-Mobile and Sprint cellular networks, as well as available wi-fi. It determines whether or not the available wi-fi is trustworthy. It switches the phone between these three choices based on which offers the best signal. So if I have a good wi-fi connection, my phone calls use that, and it's charged as data, not at $0.20 per minute. I haven't tried it yet outside the USA, but we will be in Europe again this summer, so I will be testing it. I do have to say that so far during our travels in the USA, it has worked almost perfectly everywhere. And it worked great at the Oregon coast in a location where AT&T is always iffy.

And customer service? The best! I have a terrific and simple Project Fi app on my phone that shows me exactly how much data I have used for the month, has my billing info, and has customer support - you request support and someone calls you almost instantly!

Is there a drawback to Project Fi? Well, first, at this time it only works with the newer Google phones, Nexus 5X and newer. I had a Nexus 5, so I bought a 5X. And btw, the Nexus 5X cost me $250, compared to a new iPhone that costs $650 or more.

The second drawback, for some people, is that it is Google; the Evil Empire. Yawn.

I don't know what the Project Fi business plan is. Will it be available for all phones in the future? Will the pricing remain very affordable? Time will tell. I do know that, for me, it is kicking the crap out of AT&T! I think the difference is that Google has looked carefully at mobile phone needs and how the established providers dish out service. The biggies have so many plans it is dizzying. And they rack up costs for everything. I have changed plans more times that I can possibly remember with AT&T. So Google very likely decided; let's offer cell phone service that is affordable and very simple - one plan for everyone. Does this work for everyone? I don't know; maybe a family with a bunch of teenagers can get a better deal with ATT or Verizon, but maybe not. Maybe Project Fi is a better fit for business people who travel, or for one customer, rather than a family.

All I can say is, thanks Google, you have solved some major issues I've had with mobile phone service, and I can check that box on my wish list.


Thursday, May 05, 2016


I have a family tree printed in 1993 on many sheets of paper that were taped together to form a roll about 10 feet long. Cousin Mel Pollack made it, and my uncle Louis Fishman did an earlier draft by hand. 

I’ve been thinking lately about family history; maybe a lot of people my age do this as we watch the precipice getting closer. One thought has nagged at me for many years: what relatives of mine were killed during the Holocaust? 

Below is a list of names from the Pollack (Pulik) family tree, of families for which all or many of the members died the same year during World War 2. I don’t know the circumstances of these deaths, and so I am making an assumption that they were killed by the Nazis or Nazi sympathizers in Poland, Russia or elsewhere. 

Yetta (Yentle) Pollack (1909-1942) and children Shulamis Oberman (1934-1942), Henya Oberman (1936-1942) and Malka Oberman (1936-1942)

Kossel Pollack (1912-1942) and wife Chaya Suchman ( - 1943)

Chaim Lieb Pollack (1917-1942)

siblings Yossel Pulik (1907-1941); Berrel Pulik (1909-1941); Yentel Pulik (1912-1941); Siegel Pulik (1914-1941) - (brother Aaron Paul (Pulik) survived and wrote a memorial book (Yizkor Book) about the town of Motol where my father’s family lived before coming to the United States

Benjamin Pollack and wife Tzaitel and 6 children: Raisel, Yossel, Yentl, Schloime, Osher and Herschel; all died in about 1942

Chaike Fishman and husband Chaim Tevyansky, and 3 children: Zloty, Sorreh and Masheh Tevyansky; all died in about 1942

Reva Pulik (1874-1943) and husband Moishe Pruzansky (1872-1943) and 5 children: Sorren, Yudel, Tanye, Channah and Dora Pruzansky - all died in about 1942; (daughter Cyril Pruzansky (born 1908) survived and married Charles Glassman, I knew them and their sons Art and Jeffrey when I was a kid in Chicago)

Peril Pollack (1895-1943) and husband David Aizenberg (1892-1943) and daughter Chaske (1919-1943)

I don’t know, and can not imagine, the suffering these people went through before they died. I don’t know if they were murdered outright, tortured and murdered, or rounded up and sent to the death camps to be murdered. I do know that they, and all others killed in genocides, should be remembered. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016


Senator Bernie Sanders knew from the beginning that his bid for the Democratic nomination for POTUS was a long shot. His early remarks, before he officially declared himself a candidate, were more about pushing the Democratic Party to the left by running, rather than actually winning. I think he was surprised, as were many of us, by the amount of support he has had from voters, especially the younger generation. For awhile, it looked like Bernie might actually have a chance to beat the Democratic establishment political machine; now that possibility is all but gone.

However, I still think Bernie can win. He can win if, and only if, the people who so vociferously support him stay in the political game during and after the 2016 election.

The Bernie movement is a political revolution. The movement is criticized by the establishment for being focused on one theme: the inequality of those with lots of money and those without. But the reality is that this huge (or yuge) and growing wealth gap IS the major problem in the United States, and it affects everything in our society. The projected outcomes of this expanding wealth gap are getting more obvious.

Big money rules everything. A recent post on my blog was about a research report that found corporations and their lobby groups are very successful getting legislation passed at the federal level, while citizens and citizen lobbying groups are not successful. In other words, the power in government is in the hands of big money; citizens have no political power.

Elections, such as the current race for the presidency, are based on big money. Sanders points to Clinton's ties to big money, which are many, as a symptom of the problem. A recent fund-raiser for Clinton and the Democratic Party hosted by the actor George Clooney was a big money event; seats at the main table cost over $350,000 each. Clooney himself told an interviewer that this is obscene; however, that's the way things work, and until campaign financing is changed, well, that's the way it has to be.  Until when? Well, until a political movement with Bernie Sanders' values gains political power.

And this is how Bernie can still win. If the Bernie supporters go away after his candidacy ends, if they turn their backs on politics out of disappointment or anger, then Bernie's efforts were for naught. "Bernie or Bust" isn't a political strategy, it is political suicide. Instead, a Bernie Movement, or let's call it building a Democratic Socialist Party in the United States is where the Bernie Revolution needs to go. Young voters need to work at the local level, state level, and federal level to build a political revolution that addresses and ends the rule of big money in this country.

This doesn't mean the end of capitalism and big business; it means the end of government of, by and for the super wealthy class. It means social justice. It means living-wage jobs doing meaningful work. It means housing available for everyone, and at affordable rates. It means working together as a society to slow down the rate of climate change. It means educational opportunity for everyone. In other words, it means Bernie Sanders' platform of common sense politics.

The dark side of this election cycle is the Trumpization of American politics. Donald Trump is, unfortunately, not just a quirk. Trump represents the resentful and fearful feelings of more than 10 million people who have voted for him to date in the primaries. And these people, and their brand of politics will not go away anytime soon. In fact, I fear that if a President Illary Clinton continues the business as usual establishment politics of the Democratic Party, something I predict she will do, the Trump people will only gain more strength. This is because the business as usual politics of the Dems does not address the core issues in our society that Bernie and Trump talk about, from very different perspectives, of course. A continuation of the big money politics in America clearly does not lift the majority of Americans out of the stagnation they have been in for so long.

So yes, Bernie Sanders can be the eventual winner in this election cycle if, and only if, the young voters who have been energized by Bernie stay in the game. The first thing they need to do is be certain our next President is Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump. Second, they need to hold Clinton's feet to the fire and not let her immediately jump back to the center, which she is already drifting towards, now that Bernie's challenge has been beaten back. Third, and most importantly, young people, and oldsters like me who still have breath in them, need to build on what Bernie started. Build a movement, a political party, united around core principles of democratic socialism, and slowly take back our government from the big money class.

Feel the Bern! And take to heart the words of Joe Hill (google him): "Don't mourn; organize."


Tuesday, April 05, 2016


Social networking: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and myriad others. These internet sites and applications fall under this rubric on the basis that they facilitate social interactions between people, and therefore, one would assume, draw us closer together. 

But I wonder.  Does Facebook really connect us with other people? Do we interact socially on Facebook more than we otherwise would? I tend to think not.

Look around you. If you go into a coffee shop, walk around a park, watch people everywhere you go, how many are interacting with people around them, and how many have their attention on a screen? I once sat in a large Starbucks with my cousin Gary arguing politics, debating great global themes, telling funny stories - all while sipping coffee. I looked around the immense room filled with customers at tables and stuffed chairs and couches. Gary and I were the only people actually talking to each other; the rest were each focused on a smartphone, tablet or laptop in front of them.  It would not surprise me if some of them were in a texting exchange with the person next to them! 

I’ve had a Twitter account for a few years, although I have still not figured out the purpose of and reason for Twitter to exist (with the exception of instances where masses of people can be organized or stay informed about unfolding events). When I occasionally open Twitter, I marvel at how much time certain people spend tweeting. Do they have time for anything else? 

I use Facebook. In the past few weeks, I have purposefully not opened the Facebook app, and I don’t miss it. For me, the greatest benefit of Facebook is to keep in touch with people I otherwise would not see very often. I have also reconnected with people from my past. This is good. 

But here is my issue with Facebook: unless I open it at least several times a day, I will miss a lot. And so when I only open it once in awhile, there is a tendency to keep scrolling down in case I missed something important, or interesting. And yes, there are a number of posts that are important or interesting, but there are many more posts that are kitty cats, dogs, funny “posters” and witty sayings, and links - lot and lots of links to articles and videos and photos and……more time diverters. 

I have been guilty of posting this stuff; oh yes I have. I have posted hundreds of my photos because I want to share them. But what is the real purpose of this? Is it to see how many “likes” I get? How many comments I get? Do people like me? Am I popular? Do they compliment me? 

If this is what social networking is all about, maybe I don’t need it. Maybe the novelty has worn thin for me. Maybe, just maybe, I would do all the other things I keep wanting to do but just can’t - or don’t - find the time for. 

A few weeks ago I thought about making a cardboard sign on which I printed the words: “Let’s have a conversation!” and then holding it up while sitting alone at a table in Starbucks or some other neighborhood place. The idea, of course, would be to engage my neighbors, most of whom I don’t know, in a real conversation. Social Networking! No screens allowed! I still might try this.

The internet has spawned amazing technologies, including the smartphones, tablets, laptops and other computers and all the apps that go with them. Many times I feel it is too much. The Googles, Facebooks, Twitters, Apples of the world know too much about me, bombard me with too many ads, try to rule every moment of my life, ostensibly to improve my life. After all, if I didn’t have internet social networking at my fingertips, would I be doomed to a solitary and lonely existence? 

I’m wondering what the next paradigm shift will be in internetting (yes, I made up a word)? Will we continue to be used more and more as vessels of data to be sold and bought by ever-expanding corporations? Or will the geeks of the world figure out a more democratic internet that helps us use our time wisely between the real and virtual worlds? 

And yes, this blog is a virtual conversation. I would truly prefer to sit with other people, sipping coffee or wine, and have this discussion. Perhaps I can initiate a multi-party on-line video discussion group that would include people I know all over the world. Now that would be fun!


Saturday, March 12, 2016


The ascendency of Donald Trump to the lead position in the race to be the Republican Party nominee for President of the United States has created surprising turmoil within scientific and theological circles. 

Scientists who support and lecture about evolutionary theory have recently begun to use Donald Trump as an example that, in fact, the science of evolution might not be correct, after all. And theologians who argue strenuously that everything in our world is the result of intelligent design have recently advanced the position that, in retrospect, Donald Trump clearly demonstrates that intelligent design is not a correct view of the world.

Professor Howard J. Krumbein, a leading evolutionary biologist, stated in an editorial piece that: “Recent research into the Donald Trump species has confounded our understanding of the origins of life and it’s biological diversity, to the point that new theories are being tested. The mounting evidence is that the Donald Trump species cannot be explained without incorporating an act of Divine intervention, or, as we say in evolutionary science, “bizarre tinkering.”

Meanwhile, in a major theological publication, His Most Reverend Dr. Gene S. Plicer has postulated that the many years of intelligent design explanations for the natural world have been focused on incorrect assumptions concerning the abilities of God. HMR Plicer stated: “We will in no way take the blame for this strange fellow - he is not ours, he is the evolutionist’s nightmare.” 

Whatever the source, Donald Trump continues to confound all reasonable and sane humans as to his origins. 


Friday, March 04, 2016


This is our street.  

And these are our street.

The City of Portland, Oregon doesn’t have the money to fix our street. Or most other streets. It seems that the City of Portland spent a lot of the street maintenance money for other things, special projects and pet projects. And so the City of Portland needs $40,000,000 or more to fix the streets, and they don’t know where to get the money. 

Our mayor and the councilman in charge of the Bureau of Transportation proposed a special street maintenance tax last year. They got hammered by public and business opinion. So they retreated and regrouped and proposed a different kind of street maintenance tax. This one was even nuttier than the first, and they got hammered by public opinion, so they retreated again. Then they mumbled something about maybe a new gas tax, or maybe the State of Oregon would bail them out, or something. And then they were quiet. And now it is an election year, and everyone seems to have forgotten that our streets keep getting worse. 

As I rolled around the corner on my recumbent trike today, one of my tires hit a round stone and sent it flying at dangerously high speed - sproinggggggg! If you look at these photos of our street, you see all the rounded rocks that have eroded out of the decomposing concrete. These round rocks are all over the street as a result of being sproinged by car and truck tires. This seems very dangerous to me. 

When you drive around Portland in your automobile, or on your cycle, you often feel like your fillings will be jarred loose by all the potholes and washboard pavement and ruts and cracks. I wonder how much this costs me in terms of car maintenance? 

And then there is the muck. All the leaves that sit on the street, in the rain, getting rolled over by tires all the time until they turn into soggy muck. The occasional street sweeper goes by, but only around the parked cars - mostly down the middle of the street. And it misses the muck. Yuck. 

And the muck takes over. The muck fills the storm drain grates so the stormwater has nowhere to go. And the water sits there. And the muck sits there. And it really drives me nuts! 

Come on City of Portland. What the muck are you doing? Get it together. We pay taxes. Fix the damn streets and clean up the muck. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016


 Homeless, or what we now are told to refer to as houseless people, are now a major part of the Portland landscape. Tents and vehicles and sleeping bags and shopping carts and piles of stuff are under every overpass and also lining the sidewalk in sections of many neighborhoods. It's very sad, for sure. It's also very frustrating.
How and why did this happen? What should the city government do about this? Is this really how we want people to live who are down and out? Is this really what we want to see every day, everywhere we go in our once beautiful city?

In some ways, Portland is a mecca for people who are houseless. I talked to a woman recently who lives in a tent near the river and asked her why she is living outside. She said that she really doesn't want to live outside like this, and that she has been on the housing list for over three years. She also told me that when she has traveled, people all over the country say that they want to go to Portland because we are so nice here and don't hassle them the way other cities do. Great.

It is actually unlawful to camp on public property (sidewalk, street, park) in Portland, which includes in a sleeping bag, tent or vehicle. At least it was until last week, when our mayor and City Council instituted a new "temporary" measure allowing people to sleep on the sidewalk, but not with a tent, during nighttime, as long as their stuff is gone during the day. The city will also be identifying properties where people can set up their tent and live, and the city will provide some kind of toilet facilities, lockers for personal belongings, and maybe even showers. Camping in city parks is also unlawful, but a lot of people do it anyway, and it seems that this is also being condoned.

We have a tent city in Portland that has been occupying an empty lot downtown, with the owner's permission, for a few years. This camp is known as Right to Dream, Too (R2D2), and is self-regulated by the people who live or shelter there. They have rules, including no drugs or alcohol, there is a kitchen, there are lockers and toilets. People can stay for up to 12 hours, which is unlike any other shelter; although some people have lived there full-time for 3-4 years. The city has now voted to move the camp to a city-owned property in the eastside industrial district, and the city will provide toilets, showers, power and etc.

Tent cities - modern Hoovervilles. Is this Portland's answer to houselessness? It is Portland's temporary solution, we are told, until a better solution is in place. Great. And what is the better solution? I'm actually not sure.

In the meantime, Portland is in the midst of an incredible apartment and house building boom. Huge apartment buildings are springing up like fungi all over town. New homes are springing up in every neighborhood. The problem is that the rents and purchase prices are almost the highest in the nation. People working low-wage jobs can't afford these apartments. The new homes being built are in the $600,000 - $800,000 range, not what one would call starter or affordable homes. And a lot of these are being built where older, smaller houses have been bought and demolished by big development companies.

With all the new construction, you would think the city would require a certain percentage of affordable houses and apartments. But this isn't the case. In fact, Oregon and Texas are the only two states in America that, by law, prohibit local governments from requiring a percentage of affordable units. That sucks big time.

So we have a choice here in Portlandia, love it or leave it. Some businesses have decided to leave it and closed. Some people like us are trying to think about where to go.

The police are stymied, by the way. They are powerless to do much in this situation except try to ask people to be reasonable and use good behavior and try not to be in the way. A friend of ours who owns a restaurant nearby has to put up with a man living in one of the three doors to her restaurant. He sleeps in the covered doorway every night, and leaves his loaded shopping cart and other junk on the sidewalk next to the door all day. The cops have been out many times, but are helpless to do anything about it.
Around the corner from our home at a local restaurant. He was sleeping in on this day.
As for the how and why - well, this is a topic of discussion every day with everyone we know. The recession. Reagan booting people out of mental health care facilities and closing them. The list is long. But my aha moment recently was this, the reason we now have so many people living on the streets of America is the Republican-controlled Congress. Every measure that would help people stay off the streets has been defeated or discontinued. Funding has been cut for social welfare programs, health care, education and many other things. Yes, unemployment is down, but that is only a measure of the people who are looking for work, not those who have given up and are now living under a bridge or in a doorway.

I won't get into my rant about politics, politicians, big money interests, and this election cycle. But you know what I would say if I said it, don't you?

This situation is out of control. People should not be living on the street. This should not be the new normal in America, but it is.