Saturday, January 20, 2018

Role Reversal

An incongruous Time cover--48 smiling faces collectively labeled The Avengers.
Call it payback, call it a revolution, call it the Pink Wave, inspired by marchers in their magenta hats, and the activism that followed. There is an unprecedented surge of first-time female candidates, overwhelmingly Democratic, running for offices big and small, from the U.S. Senate and state legislatures to local school boards.

...the movement is driven not just by revulsion for Trump but also by some of the same forces that helped elect him: frustration at a nonresponsive government of career politicians who seem to care more about donors than the needs of ordinary families.
And what does the man who inspired such passionate anger have to say about today's Women's March?

Friday, January 19, 2018

Halfway There

Why settle for a salad when one can have Vegetable Crudité ("chilled grilled vegetables, olive oil, balsamic, sea salt") for $8? The owner of Ciao! in Roseville said that she had a special parboiling, seasoning, and grilling process that retained freshness and eliminated bitterness. The eggplant, arugula, bell peppers and squash were flavorful and filling, perfect for a meatless meal.

We were down in the Central Valley again, where the equivalent quality of life can be had for half the cost of the Bay Area (sales taxes are lower, too).

Friends of ours have fled to Nevada where state taxes are non-existent and the cost of living is much lower. Near Sacramento we are halfway there.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Are You an Enemy of the Planet, Stephen?

The 3R's? Pshaw! Just memorize what goes into each bin. 
Last August we noted how government subsidies can no longer conceal the abysmal economics of recycling.
To sum up, recycling is a government-mandated environmental program that:
  • adds $millions to the cost of consumer products;
  • created an industry that is unable to survive without a government subsidy;
  • is so uneconomic that even with the subsidy nearly a quarter of the locations have closed (so far);
  • doesn't accomplish what it set out to do anyway ("millions...going to landfills").

    But wait, it gets worse: the government extracts penalties from businesses.
    The law also requires stores that sell the beverages to have a place for consumers to return their bottles and cans within a half mile. If not, the stores themselves are required to either allow customers to recycle there, or pay a $100 a day fee.

    Many stores opt to pay the $36,500 annual fee, saying they are unable to set up a recycling center at their location.
    Consumers lose, businesses lose, the recyclers lose, the environment loses anyway.
  • Yale Law professor Stephen Carter laments how cumbersome recycling has become:
    with each passing season, the rules seem to grow more complicated. My wife and I are constantly getting online warnings (and paper flyers) from our Connecticut town, usually couched in a tone somehow contriving to suggest that we residents aren’t quite up to the mark: Too many of you are including plastic bags. Or polystyrene. Too many of you are leaving your boxes unbroken. Or broken but with food clinging to the cardboard.

    There’s so much to remember. If bottle caps are loose, keep them out of the recycling bin. (That’s what the state decrees, anyway; my town says caps are fine.) Don’t just rinse your aluminum cans but dry them too. (Water is bad.) As to those plastic bags that don’t go in the bin, don’t toss them in the trash either, but find a place that accepts them and drop them off there. Or better still -- we are told -- buy reusable bags. Sure, serious researchers consider them carriers of germs and infection. But that’s okay. Just wash them regularly. (More work.) Oh, and take your wire coat hangers back to the dry cleaners.
    The knowledge that one is not so much saving the environment but helping recycling companies' profits makes it a "daily grind." [bold added]
    what began nearly half a century back as a movement among happy optimists has become like too much else to which government turns its attention: heavy-handed, coercive, distant and thick with detailed rules. Recycling may be important, but it’s no longer romantic. It’s not fun. Nowadays, recycling isn’t solidarity. It’s ritualistic drudgery.
    It's a good thing Professor Carter has tenure and is a best-selling author. Voicing such opinions normally leads to public shaming, firing, and in the worst cases defenestration from Harkness Tower.

    Wednesday, January 17, 2018

    Liking That Approach

    Apple became $300 billion more valuable in the past 12 months, $15 billion of it today.
    During the same period Apple outperformed Google, the NASDAQ, and the S&P 500.
    Apple will pay $38 billion in extra taxes, happily, apparently.
    Apple said it would invest $30 billion in capital spending in the U.S. over five years that would create more than 20,000 jobs. The total includes a new campus, which initially will house technical support for customers, and $10 billion toward data centers across the country....All told, Apple said it would directly contribute $350 billion to the U.S. economy over the next five years, with the bulk—about $55 billion this year, for example—coming from ongoing spending on parts and services from U.S. suppliers. That number also includes the federal tax payment and capital spending.

    companies must pay a one-time tax of 15.5% on overseas profits held in cash and other liquid assets. Apple cited those changes as the reason for its giant tax payment, which it said would likely be the largest of its kind, but didn’t say how much of its $252.3 billion in overseas cash holdings it plans to bring home.
    Unlike previous repatriation schemes, the lower tax rate (15.5% vs. 35%) does not require Apple to bring the money home, or specify what it need be spent on (for example, new jobs).
    “There’s no longer an economic reason to maintain cash offshore to avoid high U.S. taxation,” said Richard Lane, senior vice president at Moody’s. “For that reason, offshore cash balances are going to come down quite notably from our estimate of $1.4 trillion at the end of 2017,” he added....Companies don’t have to bring the money home, they’re just required to pay the tax on it.
    Once unlocked, capital can be applied to its highest and best use, whether it be foreign or domestic expansion and hiring, debt repayment, share buybacks, or dividends. The tax law, once a barrier to applying overseas profits to spending in the U.S., will be much less of a hindrance.

    The government is letting companies make the "capital allocation" decisions for themselves; soaring stock prices seem to like that approach.

    Tuesday, January 16, 2018

    No Island is an Island

    The mistaken button-push was a reminder how the world impinges on the Island State.
    that sense of remove is shifting, as Hawaii plays a more central role in political brawls that put it in the spotlight. Last year, Hawaii’s attorney general successfully sued to block President Donald Trump’s first travel ban. Now come the regular missile siren tests.
    Hawaii's geographic situation has provided no protection from history. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (1941) precipitated the American entrance to World War II, and, of course, Hawaii's annexation (1898) by the United States represents the ultimate intrusion. Strike that last sentence; a nuclear missile would be worse.

    Monday, January 15, 2018

    MLK Day, 2018

    From the Letter from Birmingham Jail:
    (Washington Post photo)
    In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.
    Martin Luther King, Jr.'s actions, words, and the thought behind them made him remarkable in a century filled with great men (Churchill, Gandhi, Roosevelt(s), Einstein, Picasso, Hemingway, Pope John XXIII, to name a few).

    Sunday, January 14, 2018

    Don't Fight It, Embrace It

    (from sherylcrow.com)
    In 2006, 13 years after she became an international star, Sheryl Crow was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. It caused her to re-assess her life.
    The best lessons in life are the ones that stop you in your tracks. I was staring down a beast in the mirror, and it was saying, “You need to start changing some things.”
    She let go of her belief about the way life's supposed to be ("You fall in love, you have a great relationship, and then you have children") and adopted two sons. She also embraced her age.
    In the past 10 years, once I let go of trying to be younger and needing to have a pop-radio career, I’ve found the space to write about things that really matter.
    Accepting one's age is different from determining what is the perfect age: [bold added]
    Researchers like Dr. [Jay] Olshansky are trying to understand the mysteries of longevity and at what ages we feel our best and why. They measure worry and stress levels at different times in our life and peak years for having fun...

    If people could live forever in good health at a particular age, it would be 50, according to a 2013 Harris Poll.
    There are also arguments for 70 ("when people are less anxious but still healthy") or 30 ("when they are at their physical peak or have the most friends"). Of course, the answer will vary according to individuals' preferences, e.g., wealth, physical attractiveness, mental acuity, etc.

    Maybe Sheryl Crow has the right attitude. Accept how you are now for maximum happiness.

    Saturday, January 13, 2018

    Buttons Are Back

    (screenshot of mobile phone alert from USA Today)
    Today's false alarm may inspire a few chuckles from those who are thousands of miles removed--in other words, the rest of the world--but to Hawaiians it was no laughing matter. Trapped on an island and with many homes being of lightweight construction, they instantly became aware of their vulnerability.
    Celeste Russell was driving near the 7-Eleven in Waimanalo.

    “There was a red light and people were beeping their horns for people to go through it, instead of stopping, because obviously, they wanted to get home themselves. So it was bad,” she said.

    After the alarm went out, 32 youth flag football games scheduled throughout the day at Mililani Mauka Community Park were canceled, with some families leaving their tents and running to their cars....

    United Airlines cleared its lobby at Honolulu airport and sent passengers downstairs to the baggage claim area. Workers at Pearl Harbor were scrambling to get off the base.
    (Image from alamy.com)
    The reason for the false alarm? "a state employee accidentally hit the wrong button on a computer." For all their recent bluster, we have been assured that neither Mr. Kim nor Mr. Trump have "buttons" that could trigger a nuclear war. Maybe not, but here's one important button that needs to have better controls.

    In first grade we practiced diving under our desks when the monthly air-raid sirens went off, an action that would be helpful under very limited circumstances but better than nothing, I suppose. Today Hawaiians discovered that nothing's improved in 60 years.

    Friday, January 12, 2018

    Don't Take It Personally

    To Americans offended by Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem: he doesn't mean it as an insult to you personally; he's hoping that you will be inspired to make changes to improve your country.

    To immigrants offended by President Trump calling your native land a "shithole": he doesn't mean it as an insult to you personally; he's hoping that you will be inspired to make changes to improve your country.

    To Trump voters offended by liberals calling you "trailer trash" and where you live as "flyover states": they don't mean it as an insult to you personally....wait a minute, they do.

    Thursday, January 11, 2018

    S**tstorm

    I have long sworn off vulgarity (the occasional "damn" is the worst offense), and most of the people I encounter have likewise done so. I say "most", because there are still individuals, some highly educated and women, even, who sprinkle f- and s-bombs liberally in their speech. I react with a brief silence to process and recalibrate by remembering my college days when everyone swore. Then the words don't bother me and the conversation resumes.

    President Trump is coming under fire because of his comment during an immigration discussion, "Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?" (He was referring to El Salvador, Haiti, and some African countries.) Immigration activists are outraged understandably, and accusations of racism (especially since the President mentioned Norway as a preferred alternative) once again fill the air.

    Acknowledging that he used language that is out of bounds not only in the business of State but in polite company, your humble blogger, a non-Trump voter, would like you to consider:
  • Many people from New York and Boston pepper their language with vulgarity. As with hip-hop, listeners get used to it.
  • It's better that everyone knows where the President stands; one "shithole" is worth a thousand diplomatic words.
  • Those countries really are terrible places. No American wants to move there. (Should the President have said "terrible places"?)
  • Look at what the President didn't say. He didn't mention Mexico, his main reason for building the wall, or India, renowned for its poor sanitation ("Open defecation continues to be high") since we're on that subject. Which leads us to the serious topic of
  • Merit-based immigration. Why admit people with no skills useful to 21st-century America? Let America be as discriminating as Harvard; no one gets in unless they can do the work.

    More engineers and doctors from India will put the lie to the claim that the President is against brown-skinned people. I expect that merit-based criteria will result in the majority of immigrants being non-white. Now, if we can just get past the outrage...
  • Wednesday, January 10, 2018

    Beer and Barbecue

    18-hour brisket, pulled pork, house salad, and JÅGØV light.
    The brisket was a little dry.
    I hadn't seen Kim for a month and Bill for a year, and the start of 2018 was a good excuse to get together.

    We met at Dan Gordon's, a new beer-and-barbecue place in downtown Palo Alto. Dan Gordon, who with Dean Biersch founded the Gordon Biersch chain of brewery restaurants, opened his eponymous restaurant at Gordon Biersch's first site, 640 Emerson.

    We had met in 1978 while working at a lumber company (!) in Menlo Park. After 1983 we went our separate ways. We talked about bitcoin and blockchain and wished we were 40 years younger. Nevertheless, there's a lot to be grateful for, especially that we bought our houses long ago, i.e., in the 20th century.

    Now that we're retired with nest eggs that allow for these outings, we'll be meeting up more often.

    Tuesday, January 09, 2018

    Victory Marches

    Tua Tagovailoa celebrating with his parents (AP)
    My high school wins awards for its sports programs but its longtime rival, Saint Louis, has left it in the dust as a training academy for top quarterbacks.

    2011 graduate Marcus Mariota won the Heisman Trophy at Oregon in 2014. Last weekend he led the Tennessee Titans to their first playoff win in 14 years.

    On Monday fellow Crusader [don't let them change your mascot, St. Louis!] alum Tua Tagovailoa came off the bench in the National Championship game to spark a come-from-behind overtime win by Alabama over Georgia. Both quarterbacks were and are effusive in their praise for each other.

    If Tennessee upsets heavily favored New England on Saturday, look for Marcus Mariota to regain the headlines from his protege.

    Sunday, January 07, 2018

    Nothing More Important

    It was New Year's Eve Sunday. Despite many being on vacation, we managed to gather a group of 12 volunteers to serve lunch to 60 people on a chilly day in Redwood City.

    Some were new to the activity, and others (okay, they're kids) have been doing it half their lives.

    Some of the younger volunteers.
    Sandwiches on Sunday is an outreach ministry of St. Pius Catholic Church of Redwood City. Our Episcopal parish is one of four other churches that take a turn serving Sunday lunches at the community center.

    A small group had gathered around a car in the parking lot. A parishioner from St. Pius was handing out coats to the diners. He said it was a grass-roots effort started by church members; they collect and pass out 5-10 coats a week. (By the way, distributing used cold-weather gear is the primary mission of some charities.)

    We polished off the apple cider and closed up. There were celebrations to attend that night, but nothing more important than this.

    Saturday, January 06, 2018

    Good Shape

    Fire station on a rainy evening


    The Fire Department, as are most of Foster City's line operations, is in good financial shape. The Fire budget is $10 million out of the City's total $100 million per year.

    Years ago there was a ballot measure to transfer the Fire Department's assets, personnel, and future tax revenues to San Mateo, which would manage the firefighting service. Proponents dressed up the measure with a few sweeteners, but it was voted down heavily after they couldn't guarantee our station would not be closed.

    Long-time Foster City residents remembered all the promises that were made by the County and the teachers' union to take care of our students if we didn't build our own high school and set up an independent school district. We yielded to their blandishments, and the land set aside for the high school was built over. Now all our high schoolers are bused every day to and fro across heavily trafficked Highway 101 to six different high schools. (Foster City's own elementary and middle schools consistently rank in the top quartile of the State; not so San Mateo's high schools.)

    The high school experience showed that San Mateo could not be trusted with Foster City's fire service, especially since an earthquake could knock out the bridges and we would be on our own. (Foster City was built on Brewer's Island and is connected to the Peninsula by four bridges.)

    Nevertheless, they still keep trying. A Joint Powers Agreement under which several cities, including ours, cede some authority and assets was signed two months ago. Yes, cost-sharing makes sense for functions such as fire inspection and education. However, because Foster City runs budget surpluses while neighboring cities are in deficit, the agreement bears watching.

    We're in good shape, as long as we keep our distance.