Saturday, November 18, 2017

Things Will Get Brighter

High-res picture of my lens and retina.
"But doc, you said it would be ten years before I had to do something about it."

In 2015 he had spotted a cataract growing in my left eye.

Today he told me that the lens had clouded to the point where I could justify having the surgery now. He pulled out one of the favorite doctorly strategems ("if it were my eyes...")

[Sigh] at least the timing was propitious. It's open enrollment for another couple of weeks, so I'll check out the providers who cover cataract surgery in 2018.

I'm aware of one bad experience, but the dozen or so other people who have gone through it had excellent results.

Friday, November 17, 2017

We Are Wiser and More Believable Now

Sen. Gillebrand (NY Daily News)
Senator Kirsten Gillebrand (D-NY), a staunch long-time supporter of both Clintons, now says President Clinton should have resigned 20 years ago during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
The comment drew immediate fire from Philippe Reines, a top aide to Mrs. Clinton, who was first lady at the time of the affair. “Over 20 yrs you took the Clintons’ endorsements, money, and seat. Hypocrite,” he wrote on Twitter. “Interesting strategy for 2020 primaries. Best of luck.”
After decades of silence, Democrats are finding it advantageous to denounce sex-abuse and sex-crimes committed by members of their own party (during this period there's been no such reticence about pillorying Republicans), though it means throwing the Big He and She under the bus.
Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others.--Groucho Marx

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Don't Hold It Up for Me

Because both House and Senate versions of the new tax law eliminate the deduction for state and local taxes (SALT), the tax on long-term capital gains will go up for individuals in high-tax states:[bold added]
New York City residents, for instance, pay a top income-tax rate of 12.7%—8.8% to the state and 3.9% to the city. In California the top rate is 13.3%. Absent the deduction, then, New York City and California investors in the top bracket would pay a total—federal, state and local taxes—of 36.5% and 37.1%, respectively, on their capital gains.

The top federal rate on ordinary income is 39.6%, so deducting state and local taxes reduces their burden by that proportion for high earners. In theory that should lower the total capital-gains tax to 31.5% in New York City and 31.8% in California. In practice the figures are somewhat higher, since other provisions of the federal tax code—the alternative minimum tax and the Pease phase-outs of deductions—reduce the value of the SALT deduction for high-income taxpayers. But every investor who itemizes and lives in a state that taxes capital gains would face some increase under the GOP plans.
Higher taxes on capital gains cause taxpayers to be hesitant to take gains at the margin---from personal experience and that of acquaintances I believe this effect on behavior for certain individuals to be noticeable----and result in capital being being "locked in", i.e., appreciated assets are held onto longer.
The lock-in of capital gains reduces the mobility of private capital—and, more important, its flow to the new, small and rapidly growing companies that create the most jobs.
(Business Insider graph)
Two comments:

1) Despite the authors' claims, the lock-in effect on capital markets cannot be large. Two-thirds of equity investors (see chart) don't pay taxes; mutual funds, hedge funds, international, and other institutional investors are legally exempt or can afford the expertise to structure around taxes. Of the remaining third, i.e., households, only a small percentage reside in high-tax states. Only a subset of this subset are in such a high bracket that State taxes are the deciding factor against a capital asset sale.

2) Possible estate-tax repeal, and even high estate-tax exemptions, are a much more powerful inducement to hold onto appreciated assets than the lack of a SALT deduction. If a well-off taxpayer can afford to live the rest of her life without selling her home or her Alphabet stock, those assets will be "stepped up" to Fair Market Value at her death. There won't be much, if any estate tax because of changes to the law, and her heirs will pay much less income tax because the stepped-up basis will have shrunk the gains dramatically when it comes time for them to sell the assets.

BTW, your humble blogger lives in high-tax California and is sitting on some assets (hey, I mean that figuratively) that have grown fatter in recent years; I won't sell them unless it's an unexpected emergency, so go ahead and pass the d*** law already, Republicans, don't hold it up for me.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Business-Friendly Enough

Sen. Ron Johnson (Washington Times)
Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson opposes the current Senate tax proposal: [bold added]
Mr. Johnson said Republican plans prioritize corporations over “pass-through” entities—sole proprietorships, partnerships, limited liability companies and S Corporations—whose owners pay taxes through individual returns and at individual income-tax rates, rather than corporate rates. The Senate plan, like the House plan, proposes to cut the corporate rate from 35% to 20%.
As an owner and part-owner of various pass-through LLCs, your humble blogger is in favor of the bill in its current form though my LLCs won't gain directly. I am also an owner of publicly traded stocks that will benefit from lowered corporate taxes; from personal experience I know many LLC-owners who are in my position.

Furthermore, when a business achieves scale it often is structured with multiple pass-through as well as taxpaying ("C Corporation") entities, so many C-Corp beneficiaries are S/LLC/partnership owners as well. It is exceedingly rare to find a strictly pass-through owner who won't benefit from a lowering of C-Corp taxes.

The bill is business-friendly enough, and I find it hard to believe that Senator Johnson is letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

I'm Just Not Into Social Media

Last week's Economist rambles, but it's a rambling topic:

Do social media threaten democracy?

Social media initially appeared to be a positive force when it helped to overthrow authoritarian governments in the Middle East in 2010-2012 (the "Arab Spring").

However, internet practices such as doxxing ("to publicly identify or publish private information about (someone) especially as a form of punishment or revenge") and the widespread forwarding of "fake news" have halted the cheerleading.

Some remedies: [bold added]
The social-media companies should adjust their sites to make clearer if a post comes from a friend or a trusted source. They could accompany the sharing of posts with reminders of the harm from misinformation. Bots are often used to amplify political messages. Twitter could disallow the worst—or mark them as such. Most powerfully, they could adapt their algorithms to put clickbait lower down the feed. Because these changes cut against a business-model designed to monopolise attention, they may well have to be imposed by law or by a regulator. [blogger's comment: nope, regulators are not impartial; the cure is worse than the disease.]
I try to support trusted sources by buying subscriptions to Time, the Economist, the Wall Street Journal, and the San Francisco Chronicle (note: I do not support many of these publications' editorial positions), among others, all of which pre-dated the internet and, not coincidentally, adhere to standards of journalism no longer widely practiced.

I try to live outside a political bubble by reading publications--both free and paid--that I disagree with.

I try not to inflame others by using language that provokes (exception: stuff that I find funny), nor do I forward articles that leave out strong (IMHO) counter-arguments or, more importantly, facts that contradict the main arguments.

I still believe in the ultimate rationality of human beings, and that the truth will become known.

On the other hand I still think Donald Trump can be a good President though I didn't vote for him, so consider the source.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Same Persons, Different Decisions

We've always driven--and obviously owned--our cars for at least 150,000 miles, but when the 18-year-old Dodge Caravan finally expired in 2015 we decided to lease its replacement. The century-old automobile industry is undergoing such speedy technological change that it would be imprudent to absorb the capital cost of an asset that could well be obsolete in 3-5 years.

Over-capacity, a plethora of producers, and rapid obsolescence should make it a buyer's market for used equipment, such as cars coming off lease, but to almost everyone's surprise prices are holding steady. One of the reasons is hurricane damage.
The number of lease returns is expected to reach 11.3 million in the three years ending in 2019, 49% more than the same three-year period that ended in 2016, according to research firm J.D. Power.

Thus far, the market is absorbing the extra supply thanks to tighter inventory controls by various industry players and the loss of as many as a half-million cars to hurricanes in Texas and Florida.
If both new- and used-car prices go crazily upward in a year, that would be a compelling reason to buy the Lexus when the lease expires in October (at a fixed price of 70% of cost and mileage of 30,000). Otherwise, we're returning the best car we've ever driven.

We're the same persons today as we were decades ago, but our decisions sure are different.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Facing Facts

Artificial intelligence---and machines mimicking, if not having, consciousness and sentience---has revived arguments over what it means to be human.

The debate has its origins in antiquity, when philosophers reflected on whether animals were capable of rational thought (their answer: no).

Dolly, the first cloned sheep, circa 1996 (newscientist)
Modern scientists who have examined the communications and learning abilities of chimpanzees, dolphins, and other mammals have shaken that ancient certainty.

And then there are sheep, which can recognize people from photographs, even those taken from different angles. Scientists
trained the sheep to associate the image of one person, Barack Obama for example, with a food reward. They were shown both an image of Obama and another face next to it. When the sheep tapped the former president's image, it broke an infrared beam and dispensed the treat. Eight times out of ten, the eight sheep in the study knew which face to associate with food.

To truly test that the sheep were recognizing faces and not just familiar photos, the researchers also presented them with different images of each celebrity, including from skewed angles. When shown these different perspectives of each face, the sheep still recognized them more than half the time.
I enjoy dining on lamb and pork as much as the next person, but qualms about the morality of eating animals that evince some forms of intelligence are growing. As for chicken or fish, bring on that second helping.
“To my mind, the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Friday, November 10, 2017

Disappointing the Plaintiffs

Deep-pocketed PG&E has responded to a blizzard of lawsuits over last month's fires by stating [bold added]
last month’s Wine Country wildfires may have been started by electrical equipment not owned or installed by Pacific Gas and Electric Co., the utility said in a legal filing Thursday.

A filing Thursday from PG&E states that while fire investigators are still trying to determine what caused the Tubbs Fire, “preliminary investigations suggest that this fire might have been caused by electrical equipment that was owned, installed and maintained by a third party.” [snip]

October’s wildfires, which included blazes in the Sierra foothills and Orange County, caused more than $3.3 billion in damage, according to an estimate from the state’s insurance commissioner. California utilities can be held liable for economic damages from wildfires caused by their equipment, even if they followed all applicable safety regulations.
Marginally relevant: the aging telephone pole
outside my parents' home has more cables and
transformers every time I visit Honolulu.
Even if PG&E equipment did not initiate the fire, downed power lines likely contributed to its spread. The utility will have to cough up something, though that amount will disappoint the plaintiffs.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

A Hangup I Need to Work On

Alexa bought me a drink.
Standing in line at a San Bruno Starbucks, I was startled when the woman ahead of me offered to buy me a drink. It wasn't a cheap one either--a holiday peppermint mocha--but I had trouble accepting it.

She said it was a "free" drink on a Starbucks promotion. I made a final stab at resisting the favor: why can't you take it home for later or isn't there someone else you can give it to (dumb as soon as I said it)? No, she replied.

I fumbled in my satchel and pulled out four high-quality (wrapped) chocolates, which she took.

Those who have given most of their lives find it hard to receive, and, as age diminishes independence, that's a hangup I need to work on.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

It's "ow" and "garn" that keep her in her place,
Not her wretched clothes and dirty face

Standard English is important for business and social reasons, but you should not be a grammar policewoman 24/7. In fact there are benefits to speaking another "dialect" in one's home or local community. [bold added]
All children in Britain and America do need standard English. But they do not need it all the time. Indeed, there is absolutely no need for them to abandon their home speech; people are perfectly able to switch speech varieties. Watch the many talented black American comedians, from Richard Pryor to Eddie Murphy to the duo of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, whose effortless swapping between a buttoned-up English and black vernacular is played for laughs. For plenty of people this is a survival skill, one that deserves respect. Fortunately, it can also be taught.

The core of doing so is recognising how language varies naturally by occasion. Both teachers and students should be taught to think about this variation with curiosity. If both dialects and the standard are valuable, what is interesting is just when, and how, people switch between them.
Amazon sells the 1959(!) edition of the
grammar book I used in school.
Everyone in my neighborhood spoke pidgin ("do you want to eat?" is you like go eat?) and my young ears instantly picked up on the difference between how I should speak in school and how I should speak with some of my friends. It's all about being accepted, as I bounced back and forth between pidgin and "haole" English depending on the context. (BTW, I am envious of Chinese and Mexican kids who talk to their parents in their native tongues then switch to accent-less English at a moment's notice.)

Our society generously rewards those who can not only empathize but adapt speech to their audience. It's part of salesmanship, in other words.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Coming and Going

The Department of Agriculture has strict rules against importing animals (e.g., hamsters, lion fish, snakes) to Hawaii. And it's not just exotics: household pets, i.e. dogs and cats, that don't meet with the requirements of a 4-page rabies checklist may be quarantined for up to 120 days.

There are equally burdensome regulations against outbound plants and plant materials. Hawaii has insects and diseases that can cause extensive damage to Mainland crops.

Government agencies have come in for a lot of criticism for various security failures, but the USDA appears to have done a good job screening traffic in both directions for the half a century that your humble blogger has been flying.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Friday Folderol

Gridlock at Kapiolani & McCully
I had to pick up a small item at Ala Moana shopping center on Friday night. It was less than a mile, so I walked.

The choice how to get there was easy; President Trump’s visit had closed some of Honolulu’s busiest roads.

The lighting makes him look fake -- media bias!
(StarAdvertiser photo)
Even pedestrians were stymied, however. At my halfway point the police had closed Kalakaua & Kapiolani, one of Honolulu's most crowded intersections. People massed at the lights, while cars backed up a mile in all directions. Eventually the motorcade passed. It was accompanied by at least 30 police cars and motorcycles.

At the shopping center the parking lot was empty, atypical of a Friday night.

At Kapiolani the procession heads up Kalakaua.
Presidential visits may be good for business, but not everyone prospers. At least the Apple Store wasn't crowded, and I got a good look at the iPhone X.

Rather than walk home after the errand, I hoofed it to Waikiki along Ala Moana Boulevard. Once the Ilikai stood alone; now other towers had risen nearby, complete with restaurants and brand-name retail stores.

Halt! Besides, the Ritz isn't for the hoi polloi.
Automobiles on Kalakaua Avenue, Waikiki’s main boulevard, inched forward; traffic was made worse by the closure of Kuhio Avenue, parallel to Kalakaua. TV news had not reported where President Trump was staying, but it was easy enough to figure out; barricades stopped everyone, cars and pedestrians, a block away from the Ritz-Carlton.

On a warm, humid night, Waikiki didn't seem as much fun as I had thought.

It was time to walk home along the Ala Wai, where my dad and uncles used to swim.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Do As I Say

Cottons dried in a couple of hours in the Hawaiian sun.
In 2011 we were hopeful that the green elite would eventually embrace carbon-saving measures like drying laundry on clotheslines or forsaking non-business jet travel, but six years later we remain perplexed at the slow adoption of carbon-saving actions by these progressive leaders.

In the tony Bay Area, homeowners’ associations, which dominate new construction, continue to ban clothes lines.

If we didn’t know better, we would think that elites rather talk about virtue rather than act with virtue. They don't want to do good if it means looking bad.

Rules of a Peninsula homeowners' association.
In Hawaii, as home prices escalate and wealthy newcomers move in to neighborhoods, we are pleased to confirm that residents continue not to be embarrassed about hanging their laundry outside. It’s a small step toward saving the planet, yet it’s a step that seems to be too much for the much wealthier Bay Area to allow, if not encourage.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Proud of Something Trivial on Friday Afternoon

The usual route to the South King St. destination was to head northwest on Kapiolani, make a right on Piikoi, then right on South King, a driving time of 8 minutes. (On the map, start in the bottom right corner, go left, then up, then right, on streets marked in gray.)

Google Maps was smart enough to incorporate announced road closures from President Trump's visit and propose a circuitous route (pictured). However, the first recommended step--right on Kapiolani--was a non-starter; traffic on Kapiolani Blvd. was at a standstill.

And so it was that your humble blogger embarked on a journey that resembled a maze---winding roads, walls (i.e., police cars) that blocked promising routes, and going back in order to move forward.

Fortunately the GPS Navigator in the Nissan had no feelings, because I ignored her instructions 90% of the time (no, turning left leads to a closure, Nissan, so I'm turning right). The Navigator was useful in bypassing little neighborhood streets that had become one-way--yes, traffic is that bad--during the past 40 years.

It took 20 minutes to travel the 3 miles (normally 1.4 miles) to get there, but at least I wasn't stuck like the non-kama'ainas. Betcha I would have beaten the driverless cars, too.