Monday, May 20, 2024

There Once Was a There There

What did Oakland use for traffic control before stop signs? Traffic lights!



Don't blame Republicans. John H. Reading was Oakland's last Republican mayor from 1966-1977. Wikipedia:
In 1968 Charlie Finley moved the Athletics baseball team from Kansas City to Oakland during Mayor Reading's tenure. The Oakland Athletics won three World Series while Reading was mayor. He was instrumental in gaining funding and supporting construction of the new Oakland Coliseum and expansion of the Oakland International Airport.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Pentecost 2024

In contrast to the sparse attendance of last year, this year's Pentecost was a well-attended, joyous affair.

Half the congregation was dressed in red, symbolic of the spiritual fire that swept through the early Church, and a children's choir and guest soprano enlivened the music.

Four readers took turns reading the passage from Acts 2 in English, Cantonese, French, and Spanish:
When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
It's wishful thinking, but I'm hopeful we're on the verge of another Great Awakening.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Loud Budgeting

I missed this new term in personal finance: loud budgeting.
Lukas Battle (Instagram)
Loud budgeting began as a joke, said Lukas Battle, the 26-year-old comedian who coined the term in a December TikTok video after a night of overspending.

When Battle’s friends then messaged him asking to go out to an expensive Italian restaurant in Manhattan’s East Village neighborhood, he proposed they all cook dinner at someone’s house and have a game night instead. It was a riff on “quiet luxury,” the trend of favoring well-made, expensive, but understated fashions.

Battle’s video took off, generating over one million views and more than a thousand comments. Hundreds of people have shared their own examples of how loud budgeting helped them save money.

“People want a break or some sort of relief from this constant need to be spending and buying,” said Battle, who lives in New York.

Loud budgeting has helped some combat the peer pressure to spend.

Madeleine Burke (WSJ)
Madeleine Burke, 26, said her best friend visits the nail salon every two weeks for a manicure and pedicure. The last time Burke went with her, she paid $45 for a pedicure and instantly regretted the decision.

“I cannot believe I paid for that and I could’ve done it at home,” said Burke, who lives in New Orleans. The next time she was asked, she felt more comfortable declining. She credits loud budgeting with helping change how she approaches spending.

Burke said her friends now host more potlucks at each other’s homes and go secondhand shopping together.
Your humble blogger admits that during his career he yielded to social pressure by going on expensive outings that he didn't want and couldn't afford--or, to be more accurate, could pay for if he defunded activities that had a higher priority (e.g., retirement savings, replacing a 15-year-old car).

If proclaiming publicly that you don't have the dough gets your non-wealthy status out in the open, that's a welcome improvement over "my spouse and I have other plans" or "we can't find a babysitter." Any friends you may lose aren't really your long-term friends anyway.

Friday, May 17, 2024

Satisfaction

Free shredding last Saturday
More than half of the companies (financial, telecommunications, medical) that I deal with have experienced data breaches. To allay customers' worries they always offer a year's free subscription to a security service that will monitor suspicious activity--for example, new credit cards taken out in customers' names--and provide insurance against ID theft losses.

I signed up for one or two of these protective services in the past but have stopped doing so. They always involve sharing with yet another company very detailed information, such as date of birth, social security number, bank account and brokerage account numbers, where one has lived for the past forty years, whether one owns or rents, etc. To me the risk of that new company being breached by a hacker or a crooked employee is greater than the benefit of that company's protection.

So I go back to the traditional method of checking credit card statements and reconciling (what's that kids? look it up) financial accounts monthly--stuff I had been doing for thirty years before the internet existed. Other than a few times my credit card number has been stolen to make some purchases for several hundred dollars, I have never had a problem with ID theft (knock on wood).

As for preventing leaks from paper sources, we bundle the documents that need to be destroyed--old tax returns are too voluminous for our home shredder--and take them to City Hall for Foster City's free-shredding Saturdays.

There was a grinding sound as the papers were lifted into the machine and pulverized. You can't get that satisfaction from cleaning a hard disk.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Nvidia and Apple: Matters of the Heart

Nvidia's Santa Clara HQ (NY Post)
Homegrown $2.3 trillion-dollar tech giant Nvidia gives a much needed shot in the arm to the Bay Area economy.

Headline: Nvidia widens South Bay property holdings with $350 million-plus deal
Nvidia has bought several office and research buildings in Santa Clara in a deal that tops $350 million and greatly broadens the fast-expanding tech company’s holdings in Silicon Valley...

The sites Nvidia bought are adjacent to and near the tech company’s modern and futuristic-looking headquarters complex at 2788 San Tomas Expressway. The just-bought properties could be redeveloped with new office and research buildings, potentially totaling up to 2 million square feet, according to Santa Clara city planning records.
Unlike big-name companies (Tesla, Oracle, HP) that have moved their headquarters from California, Alphabet (Google) and Meta (Facebook) have indicated that they are staying put by continuing to add people and real estate in the Bay Area, recent layoffs notwithstanding.

But Apple and Nvidia are special cases. When Apple built its $5 billion spaceship headquarters in Cupertino, it was an announcement to the world that it would always be based in Cupertino. Similarly, Nvidia bought, not rented, additional real estate, a signal that it, too, would not only be staying but expanding in Silicon Valley.

Cost-benefit analysis always produces the same result: expand anywhere outside of California because of California's high-cost housing, high taxes, and onerous regulation. Sometimes, after succeeding with a far-flung workforce, these companies move their headquarters away.

But Nvidia and Apple won't be moving away for the foreseeable future. Nvidia and Apple's founders got their start in the Bay Area, have a great deal of affection for their home towns, and most importantly controlled their companies. And who knows...the heart sometimes sees the future better than the head.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Lucky to Have It

Once upon a time, kids, I highly valued a
CSAA membership because of its maps.
After reading about all the difficulties that California homeowners have had in obtaining insurance, I breathed a sigh of relief when I opened the renewal invoice from CSAA for July 1, 2024 to June 30, 2025. I was doubly relieved that the total premium was under $2,000, less than double what it was ten years ago. Other California homeowners covered by CSAA aren't as lucky as I am, but so far they're being renewed. [bold added]
Over a million California policyholders insured through AAA are seeing their home insurance rates rise — sometimes by substantial amounts.

CSAA, the Northern California insurance affiliate for AAA, was approved last Friday to raise its average home insurance rate by 6.9%. Some homeowners may see their rates go up as much as 23.3%, though a small number of others may see their rates decline as much as 11.3%, according to filings with the California Department of Insurance.

The approximately 448,000 customers affected by the rate change can expect to see their new price at their next renewal date on or after August 1, according to the company’s filings.

And in Southern California, 865,579 policyholders with the Interinsurance Exchange of the Automobile Club — another AAA-affiliated insurer, sometimes known as the Auto Club of Southern California — are seeing home insurance average rates rise by an average of 20% when they renew, in a rate rise that went into effect in March.
Part of the reason the premium didn't go up much for us was due to the calendar: the approved increase affected policy periods beginning in August. Also, the Northern California territory (average 6.9% increase) is perceived to be less risky by the insurer than the Southern California territory (average 20% hike).

Like a sleepy stock that suddenly becomes an investment darling, Foster City is now taking off as a high-benefit, low-risk place to be.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Another Sign that Global Warming Alarmism Has Peaked

If an extinction-level asteroid headed towards earth, politics would be set aside. If it meant that the U.S. and China had to share their most advanced technology to save the planet, cybersecurity, intellectual property, and job protecting concerns would vanish, or at least tabled for the future, if the human race were to have a future.

By their behavior we know that no government's leaders truly believe that global warming poses an existential threat to humanity. "Net-zero" emissions by 2050 cannot be fulfilled by anyone in power today, so it's a hollow promise meant to satisfy noisy activists, who call anyone who questions their data and conclusions as "deniers" who do not "follow the science." So let's look at the science. [bold added]
When politicians tell us we must “follow the science” toward extreme climate policies, they are really trying to shut down the discussion of enormous, unsustainable costs. We shouldn’t let them.

Climate change is a real problem but isn’t the imminent existential crisis of which the media and activist politicians breathlessly warn. They run headlines and give speeches about extreme weather events, though the United Nations’ panel of climate scientists hasn’t been able to document evidence of most of them worsening. The data show that climate-related deaths from droughts, storms, floods and fires have declined by more than 97% over the last century, from nearly 500,000 annually to fewer than 15,000 in the 2020s. That’s a real human cost but far from cataclysmic. More people die in traffic accidents in an average week...

The world still gets four-fifths of its energy from fossil fuels, because renewable sources rarely provide good alternatives. Half the world’s population entirely depends on food grown with synthetic fertilizer produced almost entirely by natural gas. If we rapidly ceased using fossil fuels, four billion people would suddenly be without food. Add the billions of people dependent on fossil-fuel heating in the winter, along with our dependence on fossil fuels for steel, cement, plastics and transportation, and it is no wonder that one recent estimate by economist Neil Record showed an abrupt end to fossil fuel use would cause six billion deaths in less than a year.

Few politicians advocate solutions this extreme, but many use activist paranoia about global extinction to justify proposals with only marginally more sensible timelines. Rather than knocking speed limits down to zero in one blow, they plan to force them to a crawl across several decades. It’s still a destructive idea. Politicians suppress discussion by grandstanding about the existential threat climate change poses. Weigh the actual costs of the proposals, and it becomes obvious that they’re preposterous.
(image from ptc.com)
The latest evidence that President Biden doesn't really believe in the threat posed by fossil fuels is his imposition of a 100% tariff on Chinese electric vehicles earlier today. (For that matter, former President Trump said he would make the tariff 200%, but at least the latter never claimed that global warming was going to destroy the world.)

One of the biggest obstacles to Americans' acceptance of EVs is the sticker price, and Chinese EVs cost less that $15,000 in China. Despite generalized worries about low reliability and shoddy workmanship of Chinese-made products, a report from the Beijing Car Show indicates those fears are unwarranted. President Biden, in order to get re-elected, is pandering to the American Auto industry and its workers by eliminating competitors who could save the world--if he really believed the world was in danger.

Monday, May 13, 2024

Gimme Some of Those Induction Cooked Ribs

2021: Oakland food hall (Chron/Getty)
One of the underpinnings of the urban lifestyle is at war with urban culture's aspirations.

Headline: the surprising force stalling climate progress: California restaurants [bold added]
When Berkeley became the first city in the country to ban the extension of gas pipes into new buildings, it targeted a contentious source of climate pollution...Berkeley was the first to try to stop this climate problem from becoming bigger. Since it enacted its ordinance in 2019, more than 100 cities, counties and states across the country have followed.

Today, these efforts are reeling. The California Restaurant Association took the city to court in November 2019, arguing that its 20,000-plus members preferred cooking with a gas flame and that, even though the rule wouldn’t require changes to existing buildings, such an ordinance would limit their options when opening new locations. Moreover, they argued, federal energy laws preempt these aggressive local ordinances.

After a see-sawing legal battle, the restaurants prevailed...

Now, Bloomberg Green has learned, a coalition of gas companies and their supporters are planning to wield the restaurants’ legal victory to beat back similar rules across the western US. This puts restaurants directly at odds with a hospitable planet, as there’s no feasible pathway to avert catastrophic warming if places like California don’t sharply reduce gas combustion in buildings, according to climate experts.

“It’s rather irritating to have restaurant owners put their heads in the sand,” says Robert Howarth, a professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell University. “We have to move away from natural gas. The planet demands it.”
Comments:

1) Travel and dining-out shows heap effusive praise on fancy restaurants, street-food vendors, and everything in between around the world. These places all cook over an open flame. I've never seen an induction heater (the warmists' cooktop of choice) on any of these shows.

2) Restaurants are going out of business across the country, a post-COVID phenomenon that's not related to the ban on natural gas. One just has to be patient for dining-out economics to take hold, and carbon emissions will go down on their own accord without the need for government intervention.

3) Banning gasoline-powered cars and natural gas stoves in the U.S. pales before China building two new coal-fired power plants per week, but that's just me.

4) Old-time believers claimed to speak to God. New time religionists speak to Gaia ("the planet demands it.")

Sunday, May 12, 2024

The Long March Claims the Methodists

Chaplain at UMC convention on May 1st. Crucifixes not
required, just your obeisance to the rainbow. (WSJ photo)
The Methodists are among the last Protestant denominations to bend to the cultural winds: [bold added]
The United Methodist Church at its General Conference last week voted by large margins to lift its ban on practicing homosexual clergy and to eliminate from its “Social Principles” the statement that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. The decision is significant for what has long been one of the nation’s biggest religious groups, with more than five million members.

As with every other mainline Protestant denomination in America, there has been a long struggle over the church’s traditional teaching that homosexuality is wrong and that marriage is between a man and a woman. The UMC stood its ground for longer than many other denominations, even reaffirming its position and strengthening the penalties for breaking the rules in 2019. That, however, was also the year the UMC adopted a policy that allowed congregations to leave the denomination with their property. Traditionalists did so in droves, with more than 7,000 American churches departing in the past five years, preparing the way for the progressives’ triumph.

The recent changes weren’t surprising. Liberal Protestantism has always been a religious reflection of the broader culture. In the 1950s that meant supporting the Cold War, with John Foster Dulles being perhaps the most prominent liberal Protestant in public life. The 1960s, the Vietnam War and the civil-rights movement changed that. Liberal Protestants continued to do what they have always done, adding a pious blessing and an air of divine sanction to the cultural politics of the day, but the politics moved left. As the notion of civil rights fused with the sexual revolution, supporting abortion, homosexuality and then transgenderism became the imperative of divine love.
We saw this phenomenon occur in my Episcopal Church decades ago. When non-chaste homosexuality became approved--not just in congregations but in priests and bishops--the Progressive takeover began, and millions left the Episcopal Church.

Today Progressives' triumph is complete (my retiring Bishop admiringly quotes Marx), with clergy openly lobbying not only for LGBTQ+ causes but for giving illegal immigrants the rights of citizens, free medical care for all, and the forced conversion of fossil-fuel power to wind and solar.

Someday I'd like them to explain why they repudiated nearly everything the Church told us 50 years ago, and why today's principles are the Way, the Truth, and the Light. But I'm not holding my breath. As Marx--the one whose followers didn't kill tens of millions--said, "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others."

Happy Mother's Day

It's Mother's Day, but today we were moved by this father's love for his child and how it turned out 16 years later.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

Neither a Lender or Borrower Be (to Relatives)

(Image from Etsy)
In many families the Bank of Mom and Dad (or Grandma and Grandpa) start as the lenders of last resort.

As the borrowers find out that their monied relatives can often be sweet-talked into loan extensions or even loan forgiveness the BOMAD becomes the lender of first resort.

(Disclosure: your humble blogger luckily does not have this problem in his immediate family but has first-hand knowledge of adult children and grandchildren who never fulfilled promises to repay "loans" for purchases of cars and houses.)

Now technology has stepped into the breach by formalizing and tracking these loans, making it less likely that relationships will be permanently strained. [bold added]
relationship-based loans come with inherent risks, and financial advisers generally recommend avoiding them. Roughly a third of Americans have had a falling-out over money, and the most common reason was because a loan was never paid back, according to a November survey from price-comparison platform Finder.

“Lending money puts your relationship as collateral for the loan, which is risky and can lead to resentment,” said Chris Hostetler, a financial adviser at Hilltop Wealth Advisors in Durham, N.C.
It should also be noted that the presence of "responsible" siblings complicates the situation. Resentments, especially if unequal treatment has been perceived since childhood, often come to a head when the failure to repay the loan is discovered and can poison relationships even after the parents die. Here's how software can reduce the risks of estrangement:
Platforms and apps like Namma, Pigeon and Zirtue have facilitated more than $100 million in loans between friends and family since 2020, offering practical tools and assisting with some tax record-keeping. These three services have reported low default rates, a trend financial advisers attribute to the accountability fostered by close relationships.

These loan apps and services can turn verbal agreements between friends and family into official, written contracts. They also keep track of payments and terms, and assist in adhering to other IRS guidelines, such as establishing a fixed repayment schedule.
There's anecdotal evidence that using these apps increases the likelihood of repayment. Borrowers agree to use them because a) they're in no position to argue and b) the terms are customizable and are almost always better than any bank. However, an app is not a panacea:
Even with the growth of these apps, financial advisers say those lending money should probably consider the money as a gift—if you can afford to go without it.

“If it’s a gift, then getting any money back from them is a treat,” said Tommy Lucas, a financial adviser at Moisand Fitzgerald in Orlando, Fla. “If they can’t get it elsewhere, there’s a good amount of risk that it may not be paid back.”
The old advice holds true: never lend money to a relative or friend unless you're willing to have it never paid back.

Friday, May 10, 2024

God Giveth, and California Regulators Take It Away

"Lake" Oroville on July 22, 2021 (Chronicle photo)
In 2017 the Oroville dam was in danger of breaching, and downstream communities had to be evacuated. In 2021 the Oroville hydroelectric plant was shut down due to lack of water (picture, right).

Today the Oroville reservoir is at capacity. [bold added]
Lake Oroville contains 28% more water than it historically has on this date. While the lake also filled to the brim last year, three years ago water levels sank to their lowest point ever, a testament to California’s increasingly variable climate.

Oroville today (Chron photo)
This year, snowpack in the northern Sierra measured 123% at its peak, according to state data, helping boost flows in the Feather River, which feeds Lake Oroville.

Federally managed Shasta Lake, which is California’s largest reservoir, was 97% full on Monday, or about 115% of average.
At the beginning of this rainy season water managers were worried about too much rain.
Heading into the winter, many water managers were concerned that if huge atmospheric river storms pounded the state in November and December, that could have caused major flooding because there was less space left in the big reservoirs than in most years to catch runoff
Whether by luck or divine intervention California had a Goldilocks winter--above average rainfall but not too much to cause flooding. With plentiful water for everyone there would seem to be no need for austerity---unless regulators make Californians cut back because they know what's best for everyone.
Even with Lake Oroville at capacity, and other reservoirs above average, state water officials have said they expect to provide only 40% of the water requested by communities and irrigation districts in the coming year...

One of the reasons for the limited deliveries, state officials say, is an ongoing issue with the pumps that move the water. The State Water Project pumping facility in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta often draws in fish and kills them, including delta smelt, chinook salmon and steelhead trout. In response, the state reduces how much water is pumped.
Who built the faulty pumps? Who decided that fish were more important than the needs of millions of Californians? Those questions are never answered in the one-party State, whose decrees must be obeyed.

Thursday, May 09, 2024

Apple's Ad Misfire: Grist for Social Media But That's All

In the age of social influencing, quick first takes, and harvesting of clicks, the crowds swarm over topics important and trivial, then move on to the next thing.

One of Apple's ads for the new iPad has attracted negative attention:[bold added]
An Apple advertisement that depicts a patchwork of creative tools being crushed and revealing a new iPad in their place is facing broad criticism on social media.

The ad, which Chief Executive Tim Cook posted on X after Apple unveiled new iPads Tuesday, depicts a studio filled with musical instruments, a record player, cans of paint with vibrant colors and other items being physically crushed by what appears to be a giant compressor.

When the compressor lifts, an ultrathin iPad is all that remains in place of the tools.

“Apple’s new iPad Pro ad is a rare fail from a normally flawless advertiser,” Peter Intermaggio, a former marketing and advertising executive for companies including Comcast, wrote on LinkedIn. For a brand that “elevates creators, this is an ad that celebrates destruction. It is heavy handed and nihilistic.”

While the ad, named “Crush!” emphasizes the thinness of the iPad, a point Apple executives highlighted when they unveiled the device, some critics saw it as an ominous symbol of the company’s power, the rise of artificial intelligence and its potential to replace human creativity.
Your humble blogger felt a little uncomfortable watching the artifacts of his era being "crushed" and amalgamated into a new iPad.

Not liking this ad should have no bearing on customers' decision to purchase an iPad. Dear reader, if that was the determining factor in not buying a thousand-dollar item, your decision-making process likely needs some work (in my humble opinion).

Below is the ad in question.



Update - 5/9: Apple Apologizes for iPad Ad Depicting Crushed Creative Tools

Wednesday, May 08, 2024

Threat to Democracy in California

California Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero
One never knows until the ruling is issued, but so far the California Supreme Court appears reluctant to pull the tax initiative (discussed yesterday) from the November ballot: [bold added]
The state Supreme Court seemed reluctant Wednesday to grant Democrats’ request to remove from the November ballot a business-supported initiative that would require voter approval for any increase in state and local taxes or fees. But the justices appeared willing to put the tax-cut provisions on hold if the measure passes and then decide their legality.

As the hearing began, Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero asked a lawyer for Gov. Gavin Newsom and Legislative Democrats why the court should take the rare step of blocking the ballot measure “instead of allowing the voters to consider it.”

Justice Joshua Groban asked a similar question, and Justice Martin Jenkins said less-drastic actions were available, like a freeze on provisions that would slash government revenue. Justice Leondra Kruger noted that the court usually considers a ballot measure’s challenged sections individually rather than taking up the entire measure, and asked, “Why shouldn’t we do so here?”
Governor Newsom and the Democrats argued that the legislature's power to control taxation is in the California Constitution, and the people's ability to supersede the legislature through an initiative is therefore un-Constitutional.

Your humble blogger is not a lawyer or historian, but because California initiatives have been around since 1911, the constitutional arguments would seem to have been settled.

To be frank (and a little childish), I like seeing the single-party State squirm a little and, after denouncing Republicans as a threat to democracy, argue that the people should not have the ability to decide.

Tuesday, May 07, 2024

To Make Our Displeasure Known

Last year the EDD lost $20-$33 billion because of fraud.
On specific categories (income, property, sales, gas) California may not be the highest-taxed state, but there's no question that in the state rankings of the overall tax burden California is #1 or #2.

The pain would be lessened if the monies were employed somewhat effectively, but California continues to spend $billions on homelessness, high-speed trains to nowhere, and public education, with no signs of progress. And we've not even mentioned the $billions lost to fraud.

We've lamented the situation for years, but the voters keep re-electing the same people, and the one-party state rolls on, more dominant than ever in its taxing and spending and wastefulness.

However, once in a blue moon the political process still has the capacity to surprise (pleasantly).

Headline: These California taxes could be overturned by ballot measure before state Supreme Court [bold added]
The initiative, a proposed state constitutional amendment, would require any increase in state or local taxes or fees to be approved by the voters — and by two-thirds of the voters if the funds are for a specific purpose, like housing or zoo maintenance, rather than general government revenue.

Perhaps the most far-reaching feature of the measure is that it would apply retroactively to taxes and fees passed since the start of 2022. They would be rescinded unless voters gave approval by the required majority no later than a year after the initiative took effect.

Overall, state officials say the retroactivity standard would affect 15 bills signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom that could affect statewide fees or taxes, and at least 131 such measures passed by local governments since the start of 2022.
This initiative received enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot, but, not unexpectedly, Governor Newsom and Democratic legislators have filed "emergency" lawsuits with the State Supreme Court to have it removed.

The initiative threatens to halt the endless cycle of tax and spend, and strikes at the heart of the one-party State. Your humble blogger doesn't give the initiative much of a chance of surmounting the obstacles in front of it, but at least those of us who are fed up with the way things are finally have a chance to make our displeasure known.