Online passport renewal takes longer than mail-in

My U.S. passport expires in September so I’ve been looking at renewal options.

The State Department has an online renewal system that they’re offering to a limited number of lucky taxpayers every day. I was excited about this because it doesn’t require mailing in the old passport. I would thus be able to keep using my old passport while waiting for the new one. That assumption turned out to be incorrect:

Only slightly discouraged, I thought “well, at least it will be quicker because the mailing time will be cut out.” That was also wrong, wrong, wrong:

An online application will result in one’s current passport being immediately invalidated and the new one not being sent out for up to 8 weeks. A mail-in application, on the other hand, can result in a new passport after about 3 weeks (if one pays for “expedited” service).

Given that our borders are effectively open to anyone without documents who wants to collect four generations of welfare, I can’t figure out why the Feds persist in pretending that the border is tightly controlled and, therefore, that taxpayers must jump through hoops to keep their documents current. A friend’s U.S.-born wife couldn’t get on a plane to Ireland, for example, because her passport was a few months out of date. When we returned from Portugal to the Newark Airport, they CBP has 2-3 officers processing passports from multiple jumbo jets, thus resulting in an epic line. It would have been faster to fly into Mexico and walk across the border. During the hour-ish wait (my Global Entry status wasn’t useful due to the fact that we had the kids with us and they’re not set up on the program), I wondered why the U.S. checks commercial airline passengers with U.S. passports. The passports were checked three times prior to departure by different groups of qualified personnel in Portugal working in three different parts of the airport (front counter check-in; immigration border; gate). Why couldn’t we just be waved in? Why is it a problem to admit a U.S. passport holder whose passport was just checked and stamped by a Portuguese immigration officer? If there is some additional information they want they could ask the airline to collect it or ask the Portuguese to collect it (at a tiny fraction of the cost of paying a U.S. government worker).

I’m also wondering about the simpler question of why, if the process is entirely online and they don’t want the old passport mailed in, there must be a gap in passport availability. Why would it complicate matters for the government to allow the use of the old passport through about 90 days after the issuance of the new one? (this would account for a taxpayer leaving on an extended trip just before the new passport arrives)

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California’s next senator says Donald Trump will undermine the very foundation of our democracy

In Why do the non-Deplorables deplore the Trump shooting? I highlighted the apparent contradiction between saying that Donald Trump will end American democracy and also that one is praying for Donald Trump’s long life and good health.

“Schiff Calls on Biden to Drop Out of Presidential Race” (NYT, July 17) quotes the person who is 99% likely to win the California Senate race (since he/she/ze/they already won the Democrat nomination and California is controlled by one party):

Representative Adam Schiff of California said on Wednesday that President Biden should end his campaign, restarting a drip of opposition within the Democratic Party that had paused after the attempted assassination of former President Donald J. Trump over the weekend.

Mr. Biden “has been one of the most consequential presidents in our nation’s history, and his lifetime of service as a senator, a vice president and now as president has made our country better,” Mr. Schiff, who is running for Senate, said in a statement to The Los Angeles Times. But, he said, “A second Trump presidency will undermine the very foundation of our democracy, and I have serious concerns about whether the president can defeat Donald Trump in November.”

Let’s ignore the curious situation of the party elites, who were in daily contact with Joe Biden, telling the peasants to vote for Biden just a few months ago and now saying that the will of those who voted in the Democrat primaries should be disregarded. I want to focus on the “undermine the very foundation of our democracy” statement. I think that’s pretty much the same allegation as “Trump will end American democracy” since, once undermined, democracy must necessarily topple.

Why wouldn’t this statement by Mx. Schiff, if believed, justify violence against Donald Trump? Schiff presents Americans with a choice between potentially becoming slaves/subjects (no more democracy) and eliminating the identified cause of future slavery.

Separately, here’s Mx. Schiff, a few days earlier, wishing that the person who will “undermine the very foundation of our democracy” recovers swiftly:

Separately, it looks as though Democrats will do a COVID-safe “virtual roll call” for the formal nomination of Biden as their candidate in November 2024 (see below). That’s certainly consistent with their support for lockdowns and public school closures!

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John Deere promises to continue discriminating by skin color and gender ID

Here’s a post that is being celebrated by Deplorables as evidence that Social Justice is under pressure in Corporate America:

If you read to the bottom however, the company promises to “continue to track and advance the diversity of our organization”. Isn’t that a promise to continue discriminating by skin color and gender ID? If they don’t discriminate how are they going to “advance” diversity?

Here’s another story where you need to read beyond the headline… “Microsoft laid off a DEI team, and its lead wrote an internal email blasting how DEI is ‘no longer business critical'” (Business Insider). In fact, the article body quotes Microsoft saying the opposite:

“Our D&I commitments remain unchanged,” a Microsoft spokesperson, Jeff Jones, said in a statement. “Our focus on diversity and inclusion is unwavering and we are holding firm on our expectations, prioritizing accountability, and continuing to focus on this work.”

In case the above tweet is memory-holed:

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I got $100 for my Tesla Solar Roof and the lawyers got $1.5 million

During coronapanic I decided to save our beloved planet by paying $71,533 for a Tesla Solar Roof to sit on top of our house in Maskachusetts and provide backup power for the week or so per year that we would typically lose power. About six months later, Tesla told me that the price would be changed to $84,137 (see Tesla Solar Roof (the price is not the price)) and about six months after that they offered to install the roof for $71,533 as originally contemplated (by which point we had sold the house and escaped to the Florida Free State).

In retrospect, considering the raging changes in price that were happening in 2021 (not to be confused with “inflation”, which is a figment of conservatives’ imaginations), I’m surprised that the price bump was so small.

Apparently, there was a class action lawsuit around this debacle. Without having taken any action or signing up for anything, just this month I received a check for $100 for my role in the small drama. What did the lawyers get? $1.5 million.

I actually wish that Tesla would make a Spanish barrel tile version of its roof and then we could re-roof in Florida with their product. I’m not sure that it would be worth paying for their batteries, though, given that we lose power only for a few minutes per year. Maybe the batteries would be great during a once-every-20-years major hurricane, but $20,000 for batteries could buy a lot of hotel nights in Orlando.

(Solar gear on top of a Florida roof is an idea that frightens roofing professionals.)

Spend the $100 on a trip to Titusville, Florida to watch a SpaceX rocket launch? Or how about one of these EMF-blocking hats so that I can stop lining my own hats with aluminum foil (not a “tin foil” hat liner because those are for the paranoid)? Facebook’s AI correctly discerned that I would be a likely customer for this product, named after pioneering Scientist Michelle Faraday (maybe a “no brain fog” hat should actually be named “the Dr. Jill Biden, Ed. D. hat”?):

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What would the Secret Service have done differently if they’d wanted a random kid to shoot and kill Donald Trump?

We’ve been getting some details about the face-off between the arch criminal below and the $3 billion/year Secret Service.

Wikipedia says that the building from which Thomas Matthew Crooks shot at Mr. Trump was identified as an ideal location for an assassin, that police snipers were sitting inside the building eating donuts and drinking coffee rather than risk falling off a mostly-flat roof, that law enforcement ignored the crowd’s attempts to warn them of Mr. Crooks’s activities, and that Crooks’s use of a rangefinder wasn’t considered sufficiently suspicious for anyone to take action. The state of knowledge as of July 16, 2024:

According to WPXI, Crooks was photographed twice by security officers prior to the shooting. Prior to 5:45 p.m. EDT, a police officer saw Crooks on the ground and reported him, with a photograph, as a suspicious person. An officer searched for Crooks but did not find him. Multiple local law enforcement officers identified Crooks and believed that he might have been acting suspiciously near the event’s magnetometers; they expressed their suspicions over the radio, and their radio communications were available to the Secret Service.[38] At 5:45 p.m., a member of the Beaver County Emergency Services Unit (ESU) tactical team saw Crooks on a roof, notified other security services, and photographed Crooks.[47] According to Forbes, in one of the two cases of Crooks being photographed, the police officer who photographed Crooks saw him “‘scoping out’ the roof and carrying a range finder”.[43] Reports indicated that several bystanders also witnessed a man carrying a rifle on the rooftop and alerted the police about him nearly a minute and a half before shots were fired at Trump.[48][49] A Butler Township police officer attempted to climb to the roof of the building in search of Crooks, hoisted by another officer. Crooks spotted the officer while the officer’s hands were clinging to the edge of the roof and aimed his rifle at the officer, at which point the officer let go, falling 8 feet (2.4 m) to the ground and severely injuring his ankle. Crooks undertook the assassination attempt immediately following the confrontation with the officer.

My question for today is “Suppose that the Secret Service and local law enforcement actually wanted a random kid to be able to shoot and kill Donald Trump. What would they have done differently?” Short of actually handing out rifles, scopes, and ammo, how would it have been possible for the Secret Service and police to facilitate what young Mr. Crooks was trying to do?

Note that the Secret Service was supposedly at its most vigilant last weekend. “U.S. Detected Iranian Plot to Kill Trump Separate From Last Weekend’s Shooting” (NYT):

U.S. intelligence agencies were tracking what they considered a potential Iranian assassination plot against former President Donald J. Trump in the weeks before a gunman opened fire last weekend, several officials said on Tuesday, but they added that they did not believe the threat was related to the shooting that wounded Mr. Trump.

The intelligence had prompted the Secret Service to enhance security for the former president before his outdoor campaign rally in Butler, Pa., on Saturday, officials said. Yet whatever additional measures were taken did not stop a 20-year-old local man from clambering on top of a nearby warehouse roof to shoot at Mr. Trump, grazing his right ear and coming close to killing him.

American progressives now agree with Iran on both (a) Palestine, and (b) the importance of getting rid of Donald Trump?

Separately, at least according to Joe Biden and/or his minders, here are some of the threats that Mr. Crooks came close to eliminating:

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Why don’t cars monitor 12V battery condition and suggest replacement before failure to start?

I’m not sure what caused our rented-from-Sixt Mercedes E 300de to fail and refuse to start even with a jump, but I am suspecting 12V battery health. The battery measured 12V on the tow truck guy’s multimeter, which sounds good for a 12V battery, but the chart below (source) says 12.4 is more of a practical resting minimum:

Today’s question is why cars don’t all come standard with battery health warnings, similar to the warnings regarding when it is time to change the oil.

  1. The car knows the battery voltage before start and after engine/generator shutdown.
  2. The car knows how long the last trip was (i.e., duration of most recent charge).
  3. The car knows how long it was sitting since the last trip (i.e., expected voltage drop from self-discharge).
  4. The car knows roughly how hot it has been (maybe use the temperature at startup for this and apply it to the sitting period and, if refinement is desired, tweak for the time of day).

If the car sees consistently lower-than-expected voltages, shouldn’t it flash a “replace battery ASAP” message to the owner?

Bosch seems to have a product that tries to do this, but I haven’t seen it in action:

I’m not sure why the Bosch hardware is needed when the car already has voltage and outside temperature sensors, plus a clock.

Our dead Mercedes displayed a “low battery” warning, but only after the total failure. It also said “towing not permitted” (what is the alternative if the car won’t start?) and “See Owner’s Manual” (we weren’t supplied with one):

Ford says that an owner should come to the dealership after he/she/ze/they “Constantly experience charging or electrical system problems” or “Experience trouble or difficulty getting your engine to start”. Why is this the best that modern electronics and software can do?

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Meet for coffee in Milwaukee? Or at Oshkosh? iPhone Camera Not Recognized theories?

I’ve decided to travel to the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee and see if the Biden administration’s Secret Service is making efforts to protect Donald Trump from local armed teenagers. To avoid crowds, though, I will arrive on Friday, July 19 and my inspection will last through the morning of Sunday, July 21. If anyone wants to get together for coffee in Milwaukee, or between July 21 and July 27 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin (EAA AirVenture!), please email Thanks in advance!

Here’s a 2002 digital SLR photo from the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Calatrava-designed wing that I took. I’m 99% sure that a smartphone today provides higher image quality:

Well, maybe not my iPhone 14, which I had hoped would last at least through the glorious release of the iPhone 16. Here’s what it is doing as of today:

The phone wasn’t dropped or, as far as I know, recently updated. It’s running iOS 17.5.1, which I think is a month old. The camera actually seems to work reasonably well. What seems to have gone wrong is Apple’s system for monopolizing parts and service. The phone isn’t recognized as “genuine” and that triggers a limit on what the software will do with it. I called Apple Support and was connected to a woman with a heavy Indian accent. She asked where I’d bought the phone and I responded “Verizon”. She had never heard of Verizon so she came up with a theory for how the fly-by-night vendor might have installed a third-party camera into the phone 1.5 years ago (this treacherous act not having been discovered by iOS until today).

[Update: Despite being kind of an Apple hater, I must admit that the repair was convenient. 12-minute drive, meet the genius at 6:50 pm, leave phone at 7:00 pm with a diagnosis of “needs new camera module”, hit Shake Shack in the mall food court, return just before 8:00 pm, receive phone and pay $219 (to the virtuous rainbow flag-waving (except in Muslim countries) Apple) plus tax (to the hated dictator Ron DeSantis) at 8:15 pm. How does it work when a Samsung or Google Pixel phone needs service?]

A 2019 picture taken from the EAA Bell 47 helicopter ride:

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How to get free museum admissions for life: sign up for food stamps (SNAP/EBT)

We’re right in the middle of National Anti-Boredom Month. If you have a family of four and want to escape into interesting air-conditioned spaces it will probably cost you at least $100 per day. Unless…

A young friend who lives in the Boston area had a period of unemployment after finishing a degree and before moving to another city. She signed up for what used to be called “food stamps” (now SNAP) and received an EBT card. The expectation of what used to be called the “welfare system” is that an American will stay on it for the rest of his/her/zir/their life. Therefore, the card has no expiration date. “I haven’t been on SNAP for years,” she said, “but I still keep the card because it gets me into almost every museum for free.”

From my July 2022 post Why you want to be on SNAP/EBT:


  • has a partial list of museums that are free to those who, at least at one time, signed up for the benefits to which they were entitled
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Portuguese cheese and wine research

If I’m going to hold an EU passport I should probably learn something about cheese and wine. While in Portugal on this recent trip, I decided to try to put the cheeses in “10 Portuguese cheeses you must try” in front of an expert panel (includes two tasters aged 10 and under).

For Serra da Estrela, we got what the lady at the Continente hypermarket across from Gare do Oriente, the main train and bus station next to the public aquarium said was equivalent: Casa Matias SEIA‘s Quejinho de Ovelha (the same company also makes the cheese identified as “Serra da Estrela”; I think the nomenclature has to do with the precise fields in which the sheep graze). Kids rated this cheese “excellent”. Azeitão cheese is a more challenging flavor, but nonetheless rated “amazing” by the 10-year-old panelist.

El Corte Inglés is where a banker told me to shop for cheese. When I asked for Rabaçal, the ladies gave me the following:

I’m not sure that this is Rabaçal (might not even be the right milks), but it was a huge hit with the kids. It’s smooth and unchallenging. The opposite might be said of São Jorge, which was available aged 3 months, 4 months, 7 months, and 12 months. The cheese section lady recommended 4 months and that was rather sharp/sour/bitter.

The Queijo de Nisa, from a town to the east of Lisbon, is sharper and not as creamy as Quejinho de Ovelha. Nobody on our tasting panel liked it as much as the Serra da Estrela. Evora cheese: rejected by all (too sharp). Terrincho was rejected by the young tasters.

Here’s a cheese that isn’t on the “10 must try” list, but we loved it: Ovelha Amanteigado (“buttery soft sheep’s milk”?) from Serra Gerês. It was kept more or less at room temperature in a mini-market in the mountains near Portugal’s only national park. The consistency was more like a dip than a cheese. Everyone on our panel loved it. The web site referenced in the label below didn’t have any further information. It seems unlikely that this will show up at Publix or Whole Foods.

Here’s another cheese from the same area that we enjoyed at a restaurant, this time from cow milk:

And, to complete the circle, Serra Gerês goat cheese (excellent):

An expensive cheese at Pingo Doce that I didn’t love was Quinta do Olival. It’s a “cured” goat’s milk cheese that has won a lot of awards, but it tastes too smoky/sour (I don’t think it is actually smoked). The family was more positive regarding this one.

If you’re desperate and need some cheese that can be found in even the humblest of markets, Terra Nostra (from the Azores) proved mild and acceptable to the kids:

How about some wine to go with the cheese? Daily drinking in Portugal need not be costly. The typical bottle of wine for sale in a supermarket seemed to be 3-5 euros. We found 5 liters (6.7 bottles’ worth) in a name-brand box for 8 euros at a small town fruit market. If you’ll go through more than 5 liters between supermarket trips, here’s 10 liters for $11 (supermarket in Terras de Bouro, a mountain town named after the Buri people). That’s 13 bottles of wine for less than $1/bottle.

Garrafeira Estado d’Alma, the wine shop around the corner from our Lisbon hotel, recommended a 19-euro Syrah-based wine from south of Lisbon (i.e., not from the famous Douro region; apparently this entire Alentejano region produces excellent Tuscan-style wines):

I served it to a discriminating law firm partner and he pronounced it excellent. The wine merchant also said that Madeira wine lasts longer, once the bottle is open, than Port. If immigration hasn’t made the average European rich, it certainly seems to have helped the elite. I asked if it wasn’t damaging to leave a 6,800 euro bottle of Champagne in an upright position. Portugal is the world’s leading producer of cork and shouldn’t he realize that the cork could dry out and start letting air into the bottle? “You’re right,” he said, “but we’ll sell the bottle within about two weeks so it doesn’t matter.”

He was kind enough to take us (including the 8-year-old member of the panel) to the basement to see the 10,000 euro bottles:

After trying about 10 more wines during the three-week trip, I concluded that I prefer Alentejo wine to Douro wine. So does IKEA, apparently because that’s what they serve at their Michelin-starred cafe in Braga:

A mid-priced Alentejo wine that I found in Continente and enjoyed is Pêra Doce. Their “premium” wine costs about $5 in Portugal and was rated 91 points in Wine Enthusiast (I found this out after tasting their $15 “special edition” wine, which was marked down to $6, so the rating did not affect my opinion).

Even allowing for the government-limited market for imported cheese here in the Land of the Free Market (TM), I can’t figure out why Portuguese cheeses and wines aren’t widely available in the U.S. I’m guessing that there is too much fragmentation. Serra Gerês cheese is good enough to compete in the American market, but probably there isn’t enough made to supply even one U.S. state. Therefore, it would be tough to get a return on investment from educating American consumers about these superb cheeses. Murray’s in NYC carries just two Portuguese cheeses, neither of which I noticed for sale in Portugal:

(the prices have to be at least 4X what these cheeses cost in the domestic market)

I guess we also do have to factor in the import barriers imposed by our government at the behest of the dairy industry (we would call them “cronies” if we were talking about a Third World country). Given these barriers maybe it makes sense to import only those cheese with which American consumers are already familiar and willing to pay a big premium.

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NYT: Being shot is part of a “narrative”

From the Newspaper of Record:

If getting shot is part of a “narrative” then “be the author of your own story” seems like either pretty good or truly terrible advice, depending on whether being shot is a required part of any narrative.

Separately, let’s have another look, courtesy of the New York Post, at the threat to a single human that overwhelmed the Biden administration’s $3 billion/year Secret Service:

Then recall that we are informed by the media that the same administration is more than qualified to tackle what it says is an “existential threat” to all humans.

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