Category Archives: Thoughts

More on the Cabooses in Cle Elum

In Thursday’s Spelling Bee post I wrote about the the cabooses in Cle Elum, Washington.

I decided to try to see if the cabooses are still there. I couldn’t imagine that they weren’t there, but it’s been about six years, and I was hoping that there would be more. Especially because the Cascade Rail Foundation states that they intend to acquire more rolling stock as it becomes available.

I looked at Google Maps and finally found the cluster of cabooses that are behind me in those pictures. In December of 2014, I had tried the doors of these cabooses with the hopes that I would get to see inside. I had been in a caboose as a child, and it was pretty cool.

I also learned that cabooses are shaped the way they are so those riding in the caboose can see the entire train in when there’s a curve in the track.

But back to these cabooses in the Cascades.

The stairs leading to the platforms next to the doors led me to believe that they were preserved or restored cabooses. I had wanted to look inside, but the doors were locked. Figuring it was a museum that likely operated only in summer months, I was content to observe them from the outside, but that didn’t stop me from try the doors.

But on Friday I saw that the there were photos on google maps of not just the outsides of the cabooses but also dots that were inside them! So I finally got a tour!

But it wasn’t at all what I’d expected.

I saw newer-looking beds with clean bedspreads. I saw television sets. I saw minifridges.

As I progressed through the first caboose, I realized that these were not true-to-the-era caboose interiors but hotel rooms!

I hadn’t been trying the doors of the temporary homes of people! And they most certainly rent those out in December.

My initial horror has turned into glee, and I’m proud to share this story. It’s one of those that gets the response: “Oh, man. Classic Matt.”

Covid Haircuts: Part 1

When lockdown/isolation started in California in March and salons were not considered an essential service–even in Beverly Hills(!)–the #longhairdontcare trend really took hold, as we all know.

By June, I was looking pretty shaggy. So much so that I finally got to try to re-create the picture of W. C. Davenport, taken by Elmer Chickering, given to me by my sister long ago.

My fiancee took the time to style me up like the old photo and then was patient with me as I tried to sit still without messing things up. I had grown out my mustache so long that it was starting to have split ends. I probably was doing something wrong, but that’s how it goes.

I don’t know these people. If anyone knows this Eleanore Davenport or W.C. Davenport, please send an email to

The result of that June afternoon’s work, side-by-side with the original:

It wasn’t until the end of the month that she first cut my hair. And then yesterday I cut hers. Stay tuned.

Joe Biden is coherent if not downright presidential

The other morning, Joe Biden had a roundtable discussion with veterans at a Tampa community college, and it may have been the most underrated event of the campaign season.

In the roughly hour and a half meeting, Biden didn’t answer rapidfire questions; rather, he took time to address each person’s point. I’m not used to seeing this outside civil discourse (I know! I miss those days, too!), and it’s entirely foreign to me when it comes to presidential primary winners in advance of the general election.

Biden provided no material for soundbites, either, which have been a staple of campaigns and apparently had shrunk to nine seconds in 1988.

Nine seconds?

The way Biden addressed people in the room, it seemed as though he had forgotten that the cameras were there at all, and I felt like I was able to spy on a private meeting he’d have while running this country. And, to me, what I heard was awesome: He was prepared, he was confident, he was humble, and he cared.

In some cases, he wasn’t afraid to say he didn’t have an answer immediately but would consider what was being said.

It is a welcome break from Trump, who has reportedly boasted about driving the media crazy intentionally as a game and is no doubt an entertainer.

Also, have you noticed how Trump’s hands don’t veer far from his body when he speaks? It looks super weird until you cut off the sides of the image to limit the picture to the old 4:3 aspect ratio. He’s been on TV so long that now he stays in frame even when he’s speaking at a rally (and even though we now have the wider 16:9 TVs).

Those who are used to the entertainer approach easily could see the Biden roundtable as boring and slow, and many comments reflect that. But I listened to what he was saying and how he came to answer what was asked. I was pleasantly surprised. He provided background to his answers so they made sense. And this is really important when questions are asked that are too narrow in scope for a brief answer to be useful.

Imagine you’re not used to making spicy food and are asking a friend advice on how much chili powder to use. If your friend gives you an answer, you might find out that your mouth is ablaze. But if your friend explains the difference between chile powder and chili powder and the effects of jalapeño peppers and habanero peppers that you might want to consider but didn’t know to, but that you should probably add some and then taste it and then adjust because it’s a preference thing, you may react poorly because that’s a long-winded answer with no conclusion when you were just asking for an amount, or you may be thankful because the longer answer enabled you to enjoy what you’re making.

A question about Trump’s proposed end of social security yielded an answer that started, “This is both simple and complicated,” and then went further.

He first established a baseline of understanding: Employers and employees split the funding for social security through paychecks.

Then he explained his experience with economic stimulus during his vice presidency and how Trump’s promised elimination of the payroll tax for social security is a terrible idea.

So detractors will say he gets lost, but those who listen will understand that Joe Biden’s approach is one based in logic. And ignoring the cameras completely and having an honest discussion is what we need right now.

Joe Biden does have his flaws, but there certainly are more reasons to vote for him than that he’s anyone but Trump.

I had a good birthday!

It was a real surprise to me because I had been dreading it. I miss being around people. A birthday during covid can feel as lonely as when you give a clue in Codenames that you realize a moment too late is severely flawed.

I was saved from that.

My folks, my sister, my brother-in-law, and my fiancee joined forces to create a Floor Is Lava-type obstacle course at home. It clearly took a lot of work and many days to prepare.

And they all kept it a secret from me.

It was a way I got to feel like I was surrounded by family in a time when social distancing prohibits contact.

I still can’t believe it’s coming up on six months since I’ve even hugged anyone other than my fiancee. Wow. Bummer. Soooo enough of that for now.

To know that they collaborated to make this happen was amazing, and while I went it alone on the obstacle course while Calah captured my progress on video, it was a needed boost in feeling cared for.

And when I finished the course, I was met with a cameo from the Floor Is Lava host, Rutledge Wood.

Later, Calah and I watched Duck, You Sucker! It was the first time either of us had seen it, and it was a great choice. Like many Westerns, you have to give it a little time to pick up speed. It has no James Bond-style open. But it builds and builds.

Today was way, way more fun than I’d expected when I went to sleep last night.

This is not America: Awful Immigration Changes Under Trump 9-8-20

Day 7 of this fee-on-asylum-seekers series.

The first comment of today’s post is kind of snarky, and it makes me a little happy that snarky made the cut:

Comment: One commenter stated that USCIS is promising the same inadequate service it has been providing in the past few years and is asking immigrant and refugee families to pay more to not get their applications processed.”

The comment then addresses a fee change schedule under Bush 43 that affirms the asylum seekers shouldn’t be charged.

But DHS, as it has been doing, responds that they’re allowed to charge a fee and that it will help out with the backlog.

While they say that the $50 will offset some costs, we’ve well established that the amount is less than 14% of those costs. Also we’re back to slowing down applicants by charging a fee.

They nod to the snark by acknowledging the delays and by posting that part of the comment.

Skipping down to the next non-repeat, a commenter points out an issue with an asylum-seeker not being able to apply for the work authorization (because there’s a mandatory delay of a year until eligibility to file a work authorization form. Since the person won’t be able to make money legally, illegally performed work could be grounds for deportation.

You know, unless that person is financially stable. In that case, the person totally can take time to hang out for a year without employment.

But DHS has a simple solution: don’t work illegally.

This type of stonewalling is not what we need from our government. This is a cruel response to rational, reasonable discourse. Let’s get this approach out of the Executive Branch in this election.

This is not America: Awful Immigration Changes Under Trump 9-7-20

Now in the sixth post of this series about how this country has recently started charging asylum seekers to enter this country, we get comments that I will summarize but that you can click on to read on your own.

First off is a comment about how there shouldn’t be fees to seek asylum because asylum seekers work and pay taxes.

I think this is a terrible argument. An easy rebuttal is that if that were the case, there should be no fees. For anything. And no restrictions. Like if someone comes from Europe as a tourist, that person should not be able to work as long as taxes are paid and the money earned is spent in this country. That’s crazy talk. The idea of this is that asylum seekers are special.

The response agrees with my point by starting out with: “DHS acknowledges that asylum seekers invest in their educations and pay taxes like other immigrants do.” But these aren’t the same as other immigrants. These aren’t people moving here because it’s a thing they want to do because they think it would be cool to live in America. They’re escaping for fear of not being safe. There’s no other option for them.

It continues with the same old line: “USCIS has experienced a continuous, sizeable (sic) increase in the affirmative asylum backlog and explored ways to alleviate the pressure that the asylum workload places on USCIS.” And this, of course, sounds like if we put a fee on it and make it tough, fewer people will want to file new cases. Yet they maintain fees are not being imposed as a deterrent.

The next comment is about gender-based violence. Women whose right are limited in their countries flee to this one because it’s their only hope of survival. This relates to things including sex trafficking and domestic abuse. Having to pay a fee would make it impossible to pay a fee when they have control over no money.

But it gets worse than that because financial plight is a way for the asylum seekers to remain victims all the way through the immigration process: The $50 fee can be paid by smugglers and traffickers as a way to extort (whose etymology is essentially arm-twisting) those seeking asylum. We don’t need that kind of quid pro quo or even to worry about that kind of quid pro quo.

But the DHS responds that it’s just $50–an amount that isn’t prohibitively expensive. And that’s a big problem with this entire process. A $50 fee is a clear barrier to those who cannot afford it while being an amount that’s palatable to the public at large. And this is new under Donald Trump. But at least now we know the cost of the process for each case: $366.

I’ve yet to be convinced that this fee is a good idea. And a recoup of less than 14% of the cost seems so negligible that it’s unreasonable to demand it.

More tomorrow and with the new summary format so you can click through to the full text.

This is not America: Awful Immigration Changes Under Trump 9-6-20

Comments about the new $50 asylum fee introduced this year under the Tump administration continue in this fifth installment of this series.

So far I have yet to be convinced by the Department of Homeland Security that charging people a fee to seek asylum in this country is something I should support. Also that that joining Iran as one of four countries that directly charge a fee (not including Russia that allows for free entry but requires a medical assessment that does cost money) is not giving me confidence that we should do this.

So the next comment raised:

Comment: With regard to the Form I-589 fee and the fee for an initial Form I-765 filed by an asylum applicant, commenters stated:
-Asylum seekers should not have to pay for an asylum application or an associated work permit because they are not authorized to work for months once in the United States and would have no way of earning money to pay for the fees.
-Asylum seekers in detention, who earn at most $1 a day would have no way to pay the $50 fee.
-Asylum seekers are not allowed to work more than 4 hours a day and are thus unable to pay increased fees.
-Asylum seekers who are poor or need to “quickly flee situations of peril or harm” would be harmed by the asylum fee proposal, and that such individuals would not be able to earn enough money to pay asylum fees once in detention.
-Asylum seekers are often minors with no means to support themselves and therefore cannot afford an asylum fee.

My analysis:

First off, Form I-765 is the Application for Employment Authorization. The fee for this form has gone up this year by more than 34% to $550 from $410. Those who seek asylum cannot work without authorization, so unless they have supporters who are here already, they’re kind of stuck if they want to do things legally.

Also asylum seekers are only recently barred from even applying for work permits at the same time they file for asylum. Now they have to wait a year until they can get a job legally.

I am uncertain but am guessing that those who are in detention are because they came here illegally but are seeking asylum, which is allowed by our government. If they are eligible to work, it would be at a rate that would make $50 about impossible to raise alone. I encourage someone more knowledgeable in this area to help me with info in this area if I am mistaken.

This all seems like creating barrier after barrier to make sure that people can’t come in or don’t want to come in or can’t stay. And if they have legitimate claim to be here, we can adopt them.

Response from the Department of Homeland Security:

Response: DHS acknowledges the commenters’ concerns about asylum seekers’ ability to pay the fees for the asylum application and associated EAD. DHS considered the effect of the fees on asylum seekers and believes the fees would not impose an unreasonable burden on applicants or prevent asylum seekers from seeking protection or EAD. DHS also acknowledges that the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008, provides a range of protections for unaccompanied alien children. As such, DHS excluded unaccompanied alien children in removal proceedings, a particularly vulnerable population, from the imposition of the $50 asylum application fee.
The services that USCIS provides at no cost or below cost impacts the final fees imposed on other fee-paying applicants. However, DHS seeks to make the USCIS fee schedule more equitable for all applicants and petitioners in this final rule. Therefore, DHS declines to make changes in this final rule in response to these comments.

My analysis:

They maintain it’s not too expensive. Just straight disagree. They refuse even to acknowledge any of the work eligibility points.

And to say that below-cost services means that they have to shift the expenses elsewhere? First of all, do they? We have a lot of government programs that only are intentionally money-losers. Like the NEA. Sure, some people are against funding the NEA, and I probably don’t appreciate everything the NEA funds, but this year they granted $20,000 to the Appalachian Artisan Center of Kentucky for Metal Works for the Modern Muse. It teaches kids how to be blacksmiths. I think that’s really cool. But also that’s 400 asylum seekers. I’m not saying take away that award, I’m saying we don’t have to recover all costs.

Second, if they have to make up for it somewhere else, let them do that. I’m still against any fee for asylum seekers.

More tomorrow.