Tuesday, November 29, 2016

We Just Can't Go Against Tradition

One tradition that has survived three generations is hauling food back and forth between Hawaii and the Mainland.

Transporting food on the airplane made sense in the Sixties. My late paternal grandmother insisted that San Francisco Chinatown produced roast duck, preserved sausages, and dried mushrooms that were much superior to what we could buy in Honolulu. The last day of a Mainland trip was always spent shopping, wrapping, and packing.

With California merchants shipping to the four corners, the traffic now goes the other way. For the past two weeks we've been breakfasting on Portuguese sausages carried by a returning traveler. Next month it will be my turn to pick something up. Whatever it turns out to be, it won't be healthy.

Monday, November 28, 2016

It Was All My Doing

As we observed on Thanksgiving Day, average Americans are now by some measures richer than the richest man in the world of 100 years ago.

But how does middle-class America compare to the rest of the world today? It doesn't take that much to be counted in the wealthiest 10% of the world's population. according to The Economist:
If you had $71,560 or more, you would be in the top tenth. If you were lucky enough to own over $744,400 you could count yourself a member of the global 1% that voters everywhere are rebelling against.
NASDAQ graphic from 2015
Here on the SF Peninsula, one could get to $744,000 just by buying a middle-class house in a middle-class suburb 20 years ago and making the debt payments. The mortgage is likely to be under $200,000 by now, and the home can sell for over $1 million.

Persistence, and the good fortune of living close to companies worth $3 trillion, that's all one needs to be in the 1%.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Ideal Church-goer

Gene's guide dog, Linmar, has come to church nearly every Sunday for over five years. He lies peacefully for an hour but does not drift off to sleep like many of the two-legged worshippers. He never barks or stirs, even when pummeled by toddlers.

He responds instantly to commands from a supine position, again much faster than the average Episcopalian.

If Linmar could sign/initial/paw-print a pledge card, he would be on the Vestry in no time...

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Unwinding and No Winding

For many functions the Watch needs an iPhone nearby
Spending a quiet Thanksgiving weekend at home and munching on leftover turkey was just what was needed to recharge the batteries.

Speaking of things that need recharging, I played around with a belated birthday present, a new Apple Watch. The watch will likely be another "indispensable" modern device (mobile phone, TiVo, GPS) that I originally didn't think that I would need.

(Image from personalfintech)
The ability to dictate short text messages using the watch is a boon---yes, one can perform the same function on the iPhone but it seems a lot easier to do that on the watch.

Besides, I can finally look like one of my childhood heroes...

Friday, November 25, 2016

Not Pining for Brining

Ice bucket from 2012
This year I didn't feel up to the two-day prep for brining the turkey, especially the part where I had to reconfigure the outside refrigerator to accommodate the ice water bucket.

Dry brining--rubbing down the turkey with spices the day before--sounded like just the ticket. To safeguard against dryness I began roasting the turkey under low heat (225 degrees F) after midnight; 12 hours later the bird was pronounced excellent by the small group of guinea pigs diners.

Though its texture was good, I thought the turkey was lacking the flavor that a one- or two-day soaking will impart, but I'm not a perfectionist.

Speaking of perfectionism, Bradley Cooper plays a celebrity chef who is on a relentless pursuit for his third Michelin star in 2015's Burnt. Head chef Adam Jones yells at his staff, hurls crockery filled with food, and rushes madly from station to station putting the finishing touches on each dish---in other words, he's Steve Jobs in the kitchen.

The haute cuisine cinematography is beautiful, and the non-stop frenzy behind the scene of a top-notch restaurant is captured realistically according to those in the know. Well worth a look.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving, 2016

A few weeks ago the local church was in the midst of its annual pledge campaign, and I was asked to say a few words. Some of them seem appropriate on Thanksgiving Day (they were inspired by last March's blog post, Richer than Rockefeller):
The immediate questions before all of us are how much, if anything, should I put down on my pledge card for next year, how many hours should I volunteer for, and in what ministries? If you are like me eventually you get a brain cramp and sign up for pretty much what you signed up for last year.

But I do find it useful once in a while to lift my head out from under my credit card statements, my pay stubs, tax returns and spreadsheets and try to look at the big picture.

The wealthiest person in the world, as most of you know, is Bill Gates, whose personal fortune is currently estimated to be $80 billion.

But historians say that the wealthiest person who ever lived was John D. Rockefeller, who at one time controlled 90% of the oil industry. Money Magazine took John D. Rockefeller’s fortune in relation to a much smaller American economy and also adjusted it for inflation. Money Magazine estimated that his wealth would be like having $250 billion today.

John D Rockefeller (Daily Mail / Getty)
100 years ago John D. Rockefeller was 77 years old---by the way he would live another 20 years---but would you trade places with him? He had an army of servants, but here’s a little of what we have and he didn’t:

1) We can be in Paris in 11 hours. It would take him a couple of weeks to get to Europe from California by rail and then by ship.

2) If any of us had a medical emergency, paramedics would be here in 10 minutes or less. We would be treated by methods that would be infinitely better than were available in 1916 by the best doctors in the world.

3) We have the world’s knowledge at our fingertips. No matter how many people John D. Rockefeller had working for him, it would take them hours to research a topic in the Library of Congress and we can do it in minutes. For that matter, we have movies--with sound--and huge music libraries at our fingertips, too.

4) I am sure each of us can think of many more examples of progress---about how we can carry on a live conversation with a relative halfway around the world and see their faces, about how we can forecast to the hour when rain is about to start, about how we no longer need to keep a stack of maps in our glove compartment to know where we’re going.

When you look at it that way, hundreds of millions of us ordinary folk are each richer than Rockefeller.

How much of our wealth is represented by what’s in our bank account, and how much wealth do we have merely because we are alive in this time and this place?

And while we are thinking about wealth and how much to give, how much does the church give back to your own lives and that of your family? Are you wealthier because this church is alive in this time and this place?

You may not have a lot of room in your budget, but look at all the unfilled spaces on the ministries and the sign-up sheets. Offering your time and talent increases the wealth of our church just as surely as a monetary offering—possibly even more so.

We are each of us richer than Rockefeller, and our church adds to that richness in ways seen and unseen. Please help keep it that way.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

It's Nearly Thanksgiving, So of Course I'm Working on Taxes

2015 Federal (1040X) and California (540X) returns
The only thing worse than slogging through one's tax return is having to do it twice in the same year. And how was your weekend?

When the envelope arrived in June from the Subchapter S Corporation, I opened it eagerly---would it be another profit distribution? The balloon deflated when I saw the revised Form 1120S (K-1). The changes were material, and amended 2015 tax returns would have to be filed.

The amended returns had to be mailed in before the filing of the 2016 tax returns next April due to changed carryovers from 2015. After five months of procrastination, I worked through the adjustments. Over a dozen schedules were affected. (It's amazing and frankly alarming how many different calculations involve Adjusted Gross Income.)

The (small) refunds provide some solace, but as I've said before I'd support tax simplification in a heartbeat even if it meant that I'd pay more.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Head for the Hills

(Geology.com graphic)
Seismophobics who live in Northern California have taken ever-so-slight comfort in predictions that the next big one will hit Southern California first, after which Northerners can start worrying in earnest.

Now scientists say that the entire San Andreas fault could rupture, wreaking devastation on North and South alike: [bold added]
As many as 3.5 million homes could be damaged in an 8.3-magnitude quake along a roughly 500-mile portion of the fault—compared with 1.6 million homes damaged if only the northern part of the fault were to break, or 2.3 million if the southern piece ruptured.

The damage to homes alone could total $289 billion, compared with a previous range of $137 billion on the southern portion of the fault and $161 billion in the north, according to the CoreLogic analysis.

Researchers say a statewide quake above 8.0 would likely hit the Golden State once at least every 2,500 years. “We are talking about very rare earthquakes here,” said Maiclaire Bolton, a seismologist and senior product manager for CoreLogic.
I admit to being math-challenged in that bimillennial and centennial events cause me about the same amount of concern. The young 'uns are worried about getting their toes wet from seas rising, while I fear my house coming down around my ears. In either case the solution is the same. Head for the hills.

Monday, November 21, 2016

When One Big Mac Just Isn't Enough

(Time photo)
Just in time to test one's New Year's resolve, McDonald's will roll out the Big Mac's bigger brother, the Grand Mac, in early 2017.

Both the Grand Mac and the Mac Jr. launched in Florida this month, so if Thanksgiving turkey and trimmings still left you feeling empty, dear reader, head to the Sunshine State for that "hearty, beef-forward experience."

As for me, I'll just have to buy two Big Macs for the times when one just isn't enough.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Something Memorable

Last week your humble blogger listed Kate McKinnon's SNL opening as an example of comedians' Freakoutrage over the election, but that categorization was unjustified. Her performance was inspired, though it certainly was a deviation from the sharp comedy that typically leads off the show. The subdued applause reflected the audience's confounded expectation.

Dressed in her Hillary outfit, Kate McKinnon sang excerpts from Hallelujah, one of Leonard Cohen's (d. 11/7/2016) most famous songs. As she warbled "And even though it all went wrong, I'll stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah" Kate's Hillary turned into a tragic figure, her lifelong quest turned to ashes partly through her own human weakness.

Christians are instructed to say "Hallelujah (Praise the Lord-PTL)" in bad times as well as good. Hillary Clinton, the lifelong Methodist, knows this, though people with only a popcorn understanding of Christianity typically don't understand how one can PTL in the midst of tragedy. For a moment SNL cast off its clown outfit and produced something memorable.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

It Would be Huge, I Tell You

Long before he was huge (Boston Globe)
Normally a mid-season football game between the NFL's best (Patriots, 7-2) and worst (49ers, 1-8) teams would spark little interest, except that there's a local angle:

1) New England quarterback Tom Brady has never played the 49ers in San Francisco.

2) Tom Brady, on the short list of all-time greatest quarterbacks, was born in San Mateo and attended Junipero Serra High. (Serra is also the high school for Barry Bonds, one of baseball's greatest and most controversial players.)

3) The 49ers are going nowhere, Expect to see some cheering for the hometown hero, especially since, at 39, this is likely to be Tom Brady's last game in SF as well as his first.

Other notes:
  • A returning family member spoke to a number of Hawaii Brady fans (all guys, natch) who flew in last night just for Sunday's game.
  • The quote of the week was from 49ers safety Eric Reid:“I’ve been watching this guy for a long time. If I can get my hands on one of his balls, that would be huge for me and huge for this team.”

    [Update - 11/20: 1) Tom Brady threw four touchdown passes in the Patriots' 30-17 victory. 2) Eric Reid sustained a season-ending biceps injury. 3) New England fans were plentiful at Levi Stadium.]
  • Friday, November 18, 2016

    An Auspicious Start to the Season

    Two months after our last drop-off, we took five (5) Thanksgiving food boxes to CALL Primrose, the Burlingame food pantry founded by the Methodist and Presbyterian churches.

    We had signed up for four, but the church members filled five complete containers and even had some extra cans for the store room upstairs. The Parish will be asked to dig deep for four other charities in December, and the annual fill-a-box campaign for CALL Primrose was an auspicious start to the season.

    Thursday, November 17, 2016

    Greek Columns Then and Now

    2008: inspiring words and the adulation of millions (Brittanica).

    2016: walking amidst the ruins. (WSJ photo)

    Wednesday, November 16, 2016


    Kiplinger Personal Finance says Costco's store brand has three "best bets". We already buy the Kirkland Organic Extra-Virgin Olive Oil.
    Bacon. In a taste test of bacon brands, Consumer Reports bestowed an “excellent” rating on just one product: Kirkland Signature Bacon ($10.99 for four 1-pound packages).

    Liquor. You’ll get a lot of bang for your buck with the Kirkland Signature Tequila AƱejo ($19.99 for 1 liter) and the Egg Nog Liqueur ($9.99 for 1.75 liters),
    Clearly we need to expand our sights beyond the healthy-food aisle.

    At $2.75 a pound, how could I say no?

    Tuesday, November 15, 2016

    Sooner Than Never

    Paul Krugman, the NY Times Nobel Prize-winning economist, instantly reacted to Donald Trump's election: [bold added]
    It really does now look like President Donald J. Trump, and markets are plunging [blogger's note: the futures plummeted 5% overnight, predicting a drastic fall on November 9th]. When might we expect them to recover?.... If the question is when markets will recover, a first-pass answer is never.
    The markets dipped Wednesday morning but surged when they digested the prospect of higher spending, lower taxes, and a decrease in regulatory red tape. Now the indexes are 3-5% higher a week after the election was called for Trump, better than the infinitesimal interest earned on cash and certainly sooner than "never".

    I hope Professor Krugman didn't act on his own forecast and go short. If he isn't more circumspect, he could make the Trump loser list.

    The Dow (.DJI), S&P 500 (.INX) and NASDAQ (.IXIC) are all higher after November 8th