Friday, April 24, 2015

Representation and Reality

Left - Front St. sculpture of the Transamerica Pyramid and other San Francisco towers feeling the vibe.

Right - the real Pyramid, which made it through the 1989 earthquake just fine.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Walk in the Woods

Five months later, the injured leg is not quite 100%. Hiking now requires a walking staff.

Walking staffs are used mostly by the old and infirm, and vanity had to take a back seat to the risk of slippage ("Pride goeth...")

After three and a half miles I had made it to the top of one hill (right) but knew that hiking the two miles to the other side (in the distance) would be unwise.

I began the slow descent through shaded canopies and along nearly-dry streams. One benefit of the drought is that there were very few mosquitoes, which usually descend in swarms on the unsprayed.

After mile six, I reached the car without mishap. Maybe next week I will attempt to climb the distant hill.

Turkeys 'midst the poppies.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Cloud of Confusion

(Image from CPA Practice Advisor)
Staff at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, along with the accountancy boards of Colorado and Washington, have published an issues brief for CPA's who are thinking about taking on clients in the marijuana industry.

The issues are many, but they boil down to two: whether to service a business that is "state-legal/federally-illegal" and whether such clients violate the "good moral character" requirement for being a CPA.

The recreational use of marijuana is legal in certain states, but a CPA cannot knowingly provide services to organizations that are violating Federal law.

Furthermore, he or she can forget about trying to get a reciprocal license in a jurisdiction where marijuana use is illegal. Having such a client would be prima facie evidence of poor moral character.

Despite such obstacles it's very clear that this highly scrutinized, regulated and growing industry is in great need of the accounting, tax, IT, and other financial services that CPA's can provide. However, having a client in the marijuana industry risks losing one's license and worse, one's reputation for probity.

I know what you're thinking, dear reader, concern about "good moral character" and "probity"---how quaint!


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Hope vs. Reality

Wishful thinking doesn't go away with age [bold added]:
67% of workers say they plan to work for pay in retirement. But here’s why that may not be such a realistic plan: Among those who are already retired, only 23% actually work for pay.
The explanations aren't surprising:
Among the things that can cause people to leave the workforce earlier than they expect are health crises, layoffs and ageism on the part of prospective employers.
(Image from frontpagemag.com)
Deferred gratification, aka "saving", was a key element of the Protestant ethic that attached little value to wishful thinking. The Protestant ethic has been consigned to the dustbin of history.

We reap what we have sown.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Studying the Obvious

Breakthrough in philanthropic science - Men Give More Generously to Attractive Fundraisers, Study Finds:
Men give more generously to fundraising campaigns if they see that other men have donated large amounts and if the fundraiser is an attractive woman, a new study published in Current Biology has found.
(Image from looktothestars.org)
In related news Taylor Swift was named the top celebrity for supporting charitable causes ("Celebs Gone Good"). Other contenders were Beyoncé and Emma Watson.

Beauty is as beauty does.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

In Similar Straits

Two scholars at Oxford University present sobering evidence that evil deeds and natural calamities cast a long shadow that spans generations.

(Graphic from eastchestermhs.wikispaces.com)
Regarding the violent act known as lynching, Cornelius Christian [bold added]
found that the higher an area’s lynching rate before 1930, the wider the income gap between blacks and whites remained in 2008-12, even when adjusted for factors such as the education and employment levels of a local area. A high rate of lynching widens this gap by as much as 15% in some cases.
(Graphic from english.illinois.edu)
Analyzing the effects of the 1930's Dust Bowl, Vellore Arthi :
found that those who were born or were children during the disaster had a lower fertility rate than their peers from elsewhere in the country, were less likely to attend college and were more likely to suffer disability and poverty when they became older....some of these disadvantages, in turn, are likely to have affected the life chances of their children.
One wishes that these reports looked beyond the gloomy averages to show how some black- and Dust-Bowl descendants successfully overcame the injuries that they and their families suffered.

Their stories, perhaps, can show us how best to help children in similar straits today.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Loyalty

Woodside Road, Redwood City
After last night's woeful exhibition, I wasn't going to post about the Giants for a while, but the cement mixer painted with the San Francisco logo evinced a fan's loyalty that will surely outlast a bad April.

The Giants, one of the teams with the most losses (9) in the major leagues, got their 2014 World Series rings today. Then they won, 4-1, snapping an 8-game losing streak.

Hope springs eternal.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Wait 'Til Next Year

Giants have never had a dominating record, but this year's
3 and 8 is breathtakingly awful.
It's not only that they're 3 and 8 and that they're in the throes of a seven-game losing streak; when the Giants fall behind, their hitting has been so pitiful the fans give up hope and start leaving. We're at the ballpark tonight to see for ourselves how bad things are.

After four innings the Diamondbacks are ahead 4-0, and Giants starter Jake Peavy has been chased to the showers. It looks like 2005-2008, the post-Bonds, pre-Posey years.

8th inning: most "faithful" were gone
Update: the D'backs have made it 5-0 in the fifth. At least the kielbasa was pretty tasty.

Update 2: Final score Arizona 9, San Francisco 0.

Let the Games Begin Already

(Photo from warriorsworld.net)
Heading into the NBA playoffs, the Golden State Warriors aren't getting the respect that their 67-15 record seems to deserve [bold added]:
Golden State is one of only 10 teams in the nearly 70-year history of the league to win 67 games. But even though their statistical achievements suggest they are one of the great teams of all time, the Warriors have remained underrated by the basketball public. TNT commentators Shaquille O'Neal and Tracy McGrady recently predicted the defending champion San Antonio Spurs would beat them in the playoffs.....Meanwhile, just last month, oddsmakers had LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers as the favorites to win the title.
Bay Area fans' hearts have long been with the team, and this year so have their heads (analytics):
The Warriors beat opponents by 10.1 points per game this season, which ranks them among the best teams of all time. This statistic has historically proved to be a surefire indicator of postseason success.
Nevertheless....winning the NBA championship means winning four consecutive playoff series. In the past 38 years the Warriors have never gotten past the second round. Doubts linger because of this lack of playoff success, plus the widespread perception that the Warriors consist of "finesse" jump-shooters who can't outmuscle teams that play the inside game. Charles Barkley:
“They’ve had a terrific season,” the Hall of Famer-turned-analyst said. “But I don’t like jump-shooting teams. I don’t think you can make enough jumpers to win four series in a row. I’ve said that for 25 years, not just now. I think you physically manhandle them inside. ..."
Enough talking....let the games begin.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Not Much We Can Do Except Fantasize

2½ years ago our PC was invaded by pop-up boxes that would not stop popping. The cyber-culprits demanded payment to fix the problem, but there was no assurance that they would do so, plus I didn't want to give the bad guys one cent for tribute.

I eradicated the pop-ups the hard way by erasing the internal drive, installing a clean copy of Windows XP, and restoring the backup files. Problem solved.

Ransomware screen (PC World)
However, the damage from my lost time was minuscule compared to those faced by businesses.
More small businesses are falling victim to “ransomware,” in which malicious code locks up computer files and cybercriminals demand a ransom to free them.
Crime pays:
About 30% of ransomware victims pay to regain their data, estimates Tom Kellermann, chief cybersecurity officer for Trend Micro Inc., an Irving, Texas, cybersecurity firm.
Preventive measures against ransomware are familiar: don't open e-mail attachments from unfamiliar sources, and back up the systems regularly.

It would be nice if Silicon Valley tech giants, the NSA, police, and military(!) would use all their advanced equipment and knowhow to strike back at these criminals. Zapping their equipment and emptying their bank accounts would be a good first step, and I wouldn't draw the line at using SEAL and SWAT teams to make the arrest. Well, I can fantasize...

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Tax Day, 2015

Reflective of our efforts to de-clutter our financial affairs, we completed our tax returns on Monday. Form 1040 is only 37 pages, and California Form 540, which includes a copy of the 1040, was 44 pages.

We were aided by the fact that all K-1's (information from pass-through entities) came in by the first of April. When the K-1's arrive dictates whether we need to file an extension request (2013 yes, 2012 no).

We are also in the fortunate majority that had health insurance through our employer. For those who had no coverage or who had received tax-credit subsidies to purchase insurance through the exchanges, the calculations may be very complex. It's too late to simplify the program retroactively for 2014, and unlikely anything will be done for 2015. We'll probably have to live with the system until the elections of 2016 point us in the direction that the American people wish to go.

Happy Tax Day!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Good of the Many Versus the One

(Image from the Oxford Dictionaries blog)
Readers of this modest journal may have noted the inconsistent treatment of the third-person singular pronoun. When the antecedent is unknown, your humble chronicler most often uses the traditional he and occasionally he or she [but never the abominable (s)he--I can see Mrs. Matthews, my sixth-grade English teacher, frowning in disapproval].

After two generations of wrestling with awkward-sounding alternatives, consensus may be coalescing around they, which, though plural, has the virtue of being gender-neutral.
there is no question that “they” is more idiomatic than clunky alternatives that include both genders, as in “he or she,” “he/she” or “(s)he.”

When pressed on whether “they” could serve as a singular pronoun, [lexicographers] pointed out that it already has done so for about seven centuries, appearing in the work of writers from Chaucer to Shakespeare to Jane Austen.
Thank goodness I'm not sitting for the SAT's.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Miracle Food

We still have a dozen cans in inventory from our purchase last year, but the $5-off sale proved irresistible. Other reasons to throw a six-pack of Spam into the cart:

1) The "best by" date is three years hence, lengthier than any other canned or packaged food.

2) No can opener is necessary, ideal for emergency situations.

3) Spam now has less sodium....which means that one can consume two-thirds of a 12-oz. can without exceeding the recommended daily allowance. Yum.

4) Spam stays plump, moist, and doesn't spoil for many years. Who's to say that daily ingestion of its preservatives won't keep the wrinkles away?

5) Hawaii is the state with the highest Spam consumption (6 cans per person per year) and the highest longevity. Coincidence? I think not!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

From Prince to Pariah

Back to basics (image from businesswire.com)


In the late 1990's GE Capital was "the largest single contributor to General Electric's earnings."

GE Capital was a colossus. Everyone in banking and financial services ran into them, as a competitor, lender, customer, investor, and sometimes all of the above. In aircraft leasing, where my division competed with it, GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS) enjoyed the lowest borrowing costs as well as the lowest airplane prices from Airbus and Boeing. It owned more airplanes than the largest airline.

We and other lessors could not offer lower lease rates than GECAS and had to come up with creative ways to compete (betting that the models we ordered would be in greater demand than GE projected, flexible lease-extension options, absorbing interest-rate and/or credit risk, favorable return conditions, etc.)

After the financial crisis of 2008 GE Capital lost its AAA credit rating. The subsidiary had become a drag on the parent, instead of an earnings contributor.

Last Friday General Electric announced that, after selling off pieces over the past 11 years, it will rid itself of GE Capital almost completely by 2018. The final straw was likely GE Capital's upcoming regulation by the Federal Reserve as "a large nonbank financial company" that produced systemic risk.

Investors reacted positively to the news:
News of the dramatic shift sent shares up 10.8%, to $28.51, after a 3% rise on speculative buzz Thursday. The gain is well-deserved: GE is choosing a good time to sell, because the market for financial and real estate assets has rebounded sharply since the 2008-09 financial crisis.
Today's prince, tomorrow's pariah.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Novato Errand

The big-rig crash in the North Bay disrupted our plans somewhat, but we did manage to be on time for the appointment. The Novato veterinarian examined our adopted guinea pig, who turned out to be problem-free.

The guinea-pig rescue lady was relieved to hear the report. She reconnected with her former charge by trimming her hair. The animal lovers in the group chatted amiably about all matters cavy for about an hour.

Meanwhile, I silently gave thanks to Steve Jobs for inventing the iPhone.