Monday, May 22, 2017

Water We Talking About

Tahoe: Filled in March with a huge snow-melt coming (David Braun photo)
For the past decade your humble blogger has listened to non-scientists claim with absolute certainty that the multi-year drought was caused by anthropogenic global warming, i.e., industrial civilization's excessive production of carbon dioxide. The State is running out of water, Lake Tahoe has dropped alarmingly, we have to change our evil ways, etc. etc.

How, then, to explain this good news? Tahoe [bold added]
is filling up fast, and about a foot away from reaching full capacity. Federal water managers say Tahoe will fill this summer for the first time in 11 years, and when it does, the total amount it will have risen across the water-year between Oct. 1 and Sept. 30 will be record-breaking.

"What we've come up so far and what we expect to come up will be the largest rise at the lake in 117 years of recorded history."
The winter snowfall seems to have discombobulated climate forecasters. This poor non-scientist is struggling to understand:
1) where did the climate models go wrong and how are they being changed to improve predictions?
2) what is the global temperature increase for 2017 and 2018, given that greenhouse-gas production continues unabated? (Temperatures will be higher because CO2 will be higher, isn't that the premise?)
3) Is the drought going to resume next year, or will rainfall be normal or better?

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Lighting a Candle for the Old Window

My childhood church is renovating the sanctuary, and the last vestige of the original building's interior is being replaced.

The stained glass window over the altar is over 100 years old, but a century of exposure to Hawaiian heat and rain has taken its toll.

Blue is my favorite color (the new window's drawing is above right), but I'm going to miss the old green and gold.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Not Norwegian, Either

We can easily imagine how technologies like facial recognition can affect privacy adversely, especially if those tools are in the hands of the wrong people. Maybe we can take comfort that those technologies---at least in consumer versions---are far from perfect.

I've known "Timothy" for a long time, and "he" is definitely not Swedish.

Tail-Gunner Joe Was Early

The May 29, 2017 cover.
Senator Joseph McCarthy was one of the most vilified Americans of the 20th century. He saw a Communist under every bed.

To believe today's media, he was just early.

A McCarthy quote, updated for the 21st century:
Our job as Americans and as Republicans Democrats is to dislodge the traitors from every place where they've been sent to do their traitorous work.
Time Magazine is coming around to Tail-Gunner Joe's point of view...

Friday, May 19, 2017

Disavow Your Avocado Avocation

California: you call that an avocado?
In Hawaii everyone has, or knows someone who has, an avocado tree. Avocados, like mangos and papaya, were once abundant, and l don't remember anyone in my family buying them when I was growing up.

Imagine my shock when I moved to the Mainland in the '70's and found that people paid (high prices) for fruits that were a fraction the size of those in the Islands.

Fast-forward to 2017: it's bad enough that the puny avocados now cost about a dollar apiece at California markets; avocado (on) toast goes for $9 at restaurants in San Francisco.

The lifestyle that gave rise to $9 avocado toast seemed so extravagant to Australian millionaire Tim Gurner that he blamed the menu item as a reason why millennials don't own their homes:
Hawaii: now that's an avocado.
"When I was buying my first home, I wasn't buying smashed avocado for 19 bucks and four coffees at $4 each," Gurner told Australia's "60 Minutes."
(A quick math check showed that he was engaging in hyperbole; it would take hundreds of years of foregone avocado toast to pay for a Bay Area house, but point taken.)

If you must have avocado, get a bunch from the market and ripen them, if necessary, in a paper bag. But before you dig in, be careful that you don't cut yourself. Yes, avocado hand is now an emergency room phenomenon. [bold added]
It seems that the avocado-eating masses are mishandling their fruit, resulting in a multitude of slash and/or stab wounds that have led to "serious nerve and tendon injuries, requiring intricate surgery." In the most extreme cases, the Times reported that patients never regained full use of the injured hand. (In its coverage of avocado handling earlier this month, the New York Times stated the wife of one of its employees racked up a $20,000 hospital bill due to an avocado injury.)
Before you decide to eat healthy, make sure you know the dangers involved.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Black Gold: Brown v. Green

Kern County: not as pretty as San Francisco (SF Gate photo)
Real news - deep blue, deep green California is the third leading oil-producing state behind Texas and North Dakota [bold added]:
Kern County alone pumps more oil than Oklahoma, accounting for more than 70 percent of California’s production and more than 90 percent of its fracked wells. While the miles of photogenic melon fields, almond orchards and vineyards get the magazine covers, for more than a century the county’s financial strength has been its place as California’s oil patch.

Since the 1890s, the county has been the epicenter of the state’s energy industry, with 44,284 active wells pumping some 144 million barrels of oil in 2015, according to the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources.

“In Kern County, oil and gas is a $4 billion industry with lots of well-paying jobs,” said Nick Ortiz, president and CEO of the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a huge part of our economy, and the taxes we collect are very important to Kern County and our residents.”
Here's the fun part: Governor Jerry Brown, well known for his strong views on climate change, refuses to move against the California fracking industry. His resistance has aroused the ire of putative environmental allies:
“It’s hypocritical for Brown to call himself a climate leader,” said Catherine Garoupa White of Californians Against Fracking, a coalition of environmental groups. The governor’s support for fracking “is a huge smear on Brown’s green record.”

The state needs to move to an economy with 100 percent clean energy and get out of oil,” said Dan Jacobson, legislative director for Environment California. “The governor needs to play a leadership role in getting us off oil.”
Governor Brown talks a good game, but he's too much of an experienced politician to embrace all the tenets of the green revolution.
since California residents now drive about 330 billion miles a year, most of it in vehicles powered by gasoline or diesel, there’s a long way to go.

“California is only producing 30 percent of its oil,” Brown said. “The rest comes in ships, mostly, but increasingly in trains.”

Cutting the state’s oil production without cutting demand just means that more of California’s oil will come from other states or other countries, which may not have the strong restrictions on fracking and oil production that California now has.

“I don’t believe that makes sense,” Brown said.
Keep talking like that, guv'nor, and people might think you are a climate-change (whisper) denier.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Good For My Portfolio

Trump trade still breathing: including today's drop, all indices are higher since the election.
AAPL, one of my holdings, is up nearly 30%.
I try to separate investment decisions from my politics. For example, I've long liked energy companies with strong cash flow and sizable reserves but stayed away from them during the anti-carbon Obama Administration. (For another reason---burgeoning production from fracking---it's still advisable to avoid those stocks.)

After the election most of President Trump's policy proposals, e.g., health care, immigration, "the wall", and regulatory reform, had obstacles that made enactment problematic, but the "sure things" seemed to be tax reform and infrastructure spending, both of which had solid Republican, as well as some Democratic support. It's likely that much of the post-November 8th stock market boom was attributable to these two factors.

Today the breathless rat-tat-tat of accusations against the Administration finally took its toll on the market. WSJ: Investors Turn Sharply Pessimistic [bold added]
  • Dow Jones Industrial Average falls more than 370 points
  • ICE U.S. Dollar Index erases postelection gains
  • Safer assets rally, with 10-year Treasury yield falling to 2.216%

    Turbulence in Washington jolted markets out of an extended period of calm Wednesday.

    Stocks, the U.S. dollar and government-bond yields slid as investors pulled back from bets on the swift passage of President Donald Trump’s agenda. Wagers that his policies would boost growth and inflation have been unwinding for months, but those moves accelerated Wednesday.
  • My hope is that today's appointment of a special counsel to investigate these Russia allegations will actually calm things down enough to get the bipartisan measures passed. It will be good for the country, and more importantly, good for my portfolio.

    Tuesday, May 16, 2017

    Cool Coast

    Surfer's Beach, Half Moon Bay
    Deciding to go for an early dinner on the coast, we drove west on Hwy 92 to Half Moon Bay. Traffic in the commute direction was already slowing at 3 o'clock.

    As advertised, the chowder at Sam's Chowder House was light on the cream and rich with clam flavor. The kitchen deftly crisped the deep-fried shrimp and calamari appetizers, and the pasta was neither too chewy or soft.

    After dinner we walked on the path to the beach. Surfers in wetsuits waited vainly for a large swell but had to settle for moderate waves that they could ride for a few seconds.

    It had been over a year since our last visit to Half Moon Bay, only 20 miles away. We'll be back sooner.

    Monday, May 15, 2017

    Sticking Around

    St. Francis on Horseback by Bufano (1956)
    The Hillsdale Shopping Center in San Mateo is one of the oldest shopping malls in the Bay Area. Of the original tenants only Macy's remains, Sears having left last year.

    The mall has undergone several facelifts during its 65-year history. Hillsdale is owned by descendants of David Bohannon, the original developer, and is one of the few privately-owned major shopping centers in California. Family money is typically patient money, one explanation of why Hillsdale has been able to weather the secular decline of retail (Mervyn's, Emporium, and Sears once had large stores here).

    I enjoy wandering through Nordstrom and Apple, taking in the Bufano sculptures, and having a cocktail at Paul Martin's. Soon there will be a bowling alley and cineplex.

    Sometimes, if you stick around long enough, things will turn in your direction.

    Sunday, May 14, 2017

    Mother's Day, 2017

    View from the shopping center on Sunday afternoon
    Unlike last year, the lady of the house didn't want home cooking but take-out from the shopping center across the street. No, my pride wasn't hurt; I got to watch an exciting basketball game instead of slicing, dicing, marinating, and grilling.

    On Mother's Day everybody wins.

    Saturday, May 13, 2017

    Choosing to Pay More

    The Nordstrom perfume counter had a lot of traffic.
    Retail may be dead (the stocks of retail stores took another beating this week), but you wouldn't know it from the crowds at the mall the day before Mother's Day. I had to drive around several parking lots until I found a third-floor space late in the day.

    I was happy to see the lines and didn't mind the jostling. Though online shopping is often both cheaper and more convenient than the mall, I've been going out of my way to patronize brick-and-mortar stores for over six years. A world where we can no longer buy something we need from a store nearby is a price I'm not willing to pay.

    Friday, May 12, 2017

    It's Not the Firing, It's the Reaction

    2013: Obama's GOP FBI Pick a Folk Hero for Democrats (ABC)
    Regarding the President's firing of FBI Director James Comey, the Economist gives two choices:
    The sacking of James Comey: Was Donald Trump being incompetent, or malign?

    If anything, the subheadline understates the vitriol in the editorial. [bold added]
    Is the administration chaotic and unworthy of its place in a mighty tradition, but more farcical than corrupting—a madcap approximation of government by a reality-television star? Or is Mr Trump, who has just become the first president since Richard Nixon to fire a man who was leading a formal investigation into his associates, and perhaps himself, a threat to American democracy.
    Ex-Director Comey wasn't exactly a paragon of leadership. Per the Economist, on November 7th:
    FBI directors do not need to be popular, but they do need to have the confidence of their staff and, ideally, America. It is hard to think James Comey, who made a second belated intrusion into the general election on November 6th, has much of either currently...

    Everything about Mr Comey’s performance on this issue seems lamentable. His criticism of Mrs Clinton’s “carelessness” in July was as irregular as it was damaging to the Democratic nominee. According to FBI protocol, he should have limited his remarks to the progress and outcome of his investigation...

    It has been a truly wretched affair.
    I am not a Donald Trump partisan--I didn't vote for him--but there's a plausible case that Mr. Trump has acted responsibly by firing a subordinate whose actions have harmed the effectiveness of the agency he leads. Getting rid of a man whose own competence was questioned for half of 2016 would have made sense to the Economist (inferred by its November 7th editorial) if done by President Obama.

    The fact that the action was initiated by President Trump has triggered an over-the-top response by the Economist's editorial page and demonstrates how extreme partisanship ("If the president nominates one of his stooges, such as Rudy Giuliani or Chris Christie, to replace Mr Comey, that opposition will grow"---note: stooges are the former Mayor of New York City and the current Governor of New Jersey) has overwhelmed the pages of a once-august publication.


    Wednesday, May 10, 2017

    Older Demographic

    Forget 3-D. Give the codgers their side-scrolling narrative.
    When my reflexes were quicker, I was pretty good at the arcade. Now the games I play on various devices are more thoughtful than twitchy. The vast majority continue to be produced for younger folk, but I seem to be in the target audience for a game that will be released next week, Old Man's Journey:
    A lighthouse like a fairy tale tower jutting from the flank of a colorful cottage, a train chugging past Arcadian fields framed by faraway peaks, a hot air balloon that lifts an aged man whose hoary beard parallels the considerable slope of his belly. This is Old Man's Journey, a contemplative adventure for PC, iOS and Android.
    I'm tempted to buy it, not for the gameplay, but to show support for games that cater to an older demographic. But it doesn't sound like a barrel of laughs:
    "A final chance to seek amends and find your heart, once lost at sea."

    The challenges appear to be largely puzzle driven, though nothing too intense, per the game's Steam page, which notes that the studio's focus is more on the protagonist's late-stage story, which explores "heartache, regret and hope through the old man's eyes."
    Well, at least if the player dies, he gets to start all over (right?)

    Tuesday, May 09, 2017

    The Doctor Knows

    I didn't lose the 10 pounds that was last year's goal, but the doctor was pleased that I did lose five. Serum glucose, triglycerides, and cholesterol all were high, according to the lab, but the readings were lower than last year's. I'll continue to take a 10 mg. (low dose) statin pill every night. It may or may not be the cause of the improvement, but why take chances?

    We set an appointment for next year, with new objectives. Although they look easy, moderately difficult goals wouldn't be attempted. He knows me very well.