Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Every Cat Has Its Day

Cat shelter built so strays would come back. (WSJ photo)
Sometimes circumstances are sufficiently dire that one considers actions that run contrary to one's principles, for example a pacifist buying a gun to protect her family, or an anti-drug crusader dispensing free needles to reduce the spread of disease.

Not on the same level as life and death, but important to sufferers, is the plague of rats that Chicagoans are experiencing and the solution that seems to be working [bold added]:
Chicago is awash in rats. A mild winter last year allowed broods of baby rats to survive, leading to an explosion of the critters, terrorizing residents as they run around their yards and dumpsters. By September, there had been 27,000 rat complaints, a 40% increase from 2015.

This is turning the alley cat, once considered a rabid urban menace threatening small children and pets, into a prized possession.
1) Our former neighbor two houses away used to let her pet cat roam free at night. It kept the whole neighborhood rat free, but now that she's moved away we've sighted the occasional roof rat (thankfully, not at our house).
2) We've been longtime supporters of the Homeless Cat Network (HCN), which traps, neuters, and returns feral cats to the wild. HCN also feeds the cats in their Bay habitat and has a perhaps-surprising ally in the Audubon Society due to the reduced killing of Bay wildfowl.
3) It's in a way unfortunate that HCN has been so successful---we have no cats to export to Chicago.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

O, to be Young Again

LinkedIn regularly e-mails a list of Bay Area jobs that its computer thinks---yes, I'm anthropomorphizing---I'm qualified to do. (This particular e-mail didn't filter the list.)

The number of opportunities causes me to wish that I were 30 years younger. OTOH, I'd probably have a hard time affording the rent.

Monday, October 24, 2016

An "Enlightening Election", But Keep Your Perspective

Discussions often end up by calling the other side "Hitler" (Godwin's Law)
Time columnist Joel Stein thinks that the disgust that many feel over the 2016 Presidential campaign is misplaced. Discussions over defense, tax, health care, etc. policies may be calm and rational, but they're also boring. [bold added]
this time we’re addressing core issues that divide us: racism, sexual assault, Islamophobia, immigration, elitism, anti-Semitism, authoritarianism and whether to require drug tests before political debates.
(Okay, the last was an amusing aside.) Joel Stein says that historian Douglas Brinkley agrees with him:
“This has been a hellbroth of stew that’s been tacky and tawdry, but the reason a lot is coming out is because we’ve been avoiding the big conversations,” he said when I called to talk about the election. Now, he said, we’re discussing what our culture should be like, how unfiltered we want to be, if we want to engage other countries and whether our institutions are trustworthy.
Therapists say that airing our differences is healthy, but experience shows that's not always true. Long-time married couples know that it's often better to back down or remain silent than to risk breaking the relationship.

Speak your mind if you must, but do so in a manner that doesn't inflame people who disagree. After Election Day you will have to go back to working with some colleagues who voted for the other person. Your vote really didn't matter, but your job, marriage, and friendships do.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

A Lout and a Liar

Archbishop Charles Chaput
The Philadelphia Archbishop's take on the election: [bold added]
a friend describes the choice facing voters in November this way: A vulgar, boorish lout and disrespecter of women, with a serious impulse control problem; or a scheming, robotic liar with a lifelong appetite for power and an entourage riddled with anti-Catholic bigots.

1) Hey, nobody's perfect.

2) What happened to hate the sin, love the sinner? (In other words she's a liar is a greater condemnation than she lies.)

3) It wasn't me, I'm only quoting a "friend."

4) Can't wait till it's over.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

If You Have to Axle, You Can't Afford It

Brandon S.: home is where the gearbox is (SF Gate pic)
Factually correct, but misleading headline:
South Bay techie says he saved $100k while living in his truck for 16 months.
Even in the current bubble, the rent saved should be around $1,500 per month, not the $6,000+ that the headline implies. What he really said: [bold added]
"The going rate for a one-bedroom studio apartment in South Bay is anywhere from $1,500 up, so a minimum of 16 months x $1,500/month = $24,000 in rent. But since I'm also living more simply, I've avoided having to buy random furniture and home-fixings that I couldn't care less about, and that's much harder to quantify. In total, my investment nest-egg just passed the $100,000 mark a few weeks ago, but where it would be if I hadn't opted for the box truck is hard to nail down."
People who live out of their cars do so by necessity. "Brandon S." does so voluntarily. The fact that he has socked away $6,000 per month indicates a healthy income. He's a Google engineer and 24 years old. And girls....he's still single.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Come Back When It's Up To My Neck

(Image from BBC News)
I plant myself at Starbucks a couple of times a week; this Hong Kong gentleman, however, is growing roots. Even Typhoon Haima doesn't disturb his morning routine of the newspaper and a cuppa joe. Betcha he's a Gold Status member.

Or maybe he's just being rational. Who wants to wade in the water with all that electricity crackling about?

Hey, Ah Sook, are you done with the sports?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Advice from a Champion

Eddie DeBartolo introduced Charles Haley at his 2015 HOF induction
Local sports talk radio station KNBR interviewed Hall-of-Fame linebacker and five-time Super Bowl champion (three with the Cowboys, two with the 49ers) Charles Haley about his new book Fear No Evil. Not one for fancy erudition, Mr. Haley gets his point across.
Q: You must be dismayed at what you're seeing on the field. Why aren't they [the 49ers] winning, Charles?

A: Winning is a tradition. Winning is an attitude. I tell the guys, I know the secret to winning. Do you know the secret to winning? (pause)
Do your effin' job and win!
(Yes, he had the presence of mind to say "effin'" on AM radio.)

Charles Haley was known both for his tremendous talent and wild bouts of behavior (one of the most highly publicized--and tamer--episodes was urinating on a teammate's car). After football he was diagnosed with and received treatment for bipolar disorder. He now coaches, teaches, and engages in charity work.

From his Hall of Fame induction speech:
My life spiraled out of control for years, for years, but today, guys, I am getting back into the locker room, to my teammates, and tell them guys the mistakes that I've made, and that the only way that you can grow is that you've got to ask for help.

I walked into the league a 22 year old man with a 16 year old inside of me screaming for help, and I would not ask for it. I would not ask for that help. But today, guys, I take my medicine every day, and I try to inspire others to do the same, and that's because I finally listened and thank you.
What Charles Haley did during his playing days was impressive, what he did after is inspirational.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Stop It Because There's No Going Back

Whenever prices rise rapidly in an important market (e.g., housing, medical care, gasoline) one may expect to hear a call for price controls. And so it is that five midsize Bay Area cities, Burlingame, San Mateo, Mountain View, Alameda, and Richmond have rent control on the ballot on November 8th.
At the root of the issue is that there isn’t nearly enough housing for all the new jobs. Between 2008 and 2015, the four counties that make up the heart of the region added 400,000 jobs, while permits were issued for just 86,000 new housing units.

Rents for an average apartment in the San Jose region have jumped 37% in the past five years to more than $2,700 a month, according to research firm Axiometrics.
Rent control has been debated in the United States for nearly one hundred years, and I'll spare you, dear reader, a rehashing of the arguments pro and con (I'm con, by the way, though I do have sympathy for and would like to help some renters).

There are some significant exemptions in the San Mateo proposal:
Single-family homes, condominiums and owner-occupied duplexes as well as [those with secondary units where the owner occupies either the primary or secondary unit] are exempt from the proposed law.

If approved, the law would not apply to any future developments or new housing. Per the Costa-Hawkins Act, all apartment buildings constructed after Feb. 1, 1995, would not be subject to the proposed rent stabilization measures; however, residents of existing multi-unit dwellings would receive protection against being evicted without cause.
Despite its limited applicability, these initial rent control measures are the camel's nose under the tent. Rent-control bureaucracies will be created, and regulations will be issued. From historical experience bureaucracies and regulations only expand and never go away.

The examples that engender the most sympathy--elderly and/or disabled renters who are "marked to market" after their leases expire--deserve help. It's far better to render means-tested assistance directly to these groups than to promulgate rules to a diverse and dynamic market (For example, rules will limit rent increases on some tenants who are wealthier than their landlords).

Besides, there are signs that a real-estate slowdown is approaching.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Price Pique

New appliances...but $4,600 a month?
We could not believe how much landlords were rumored to be charging, so at the beginning of summer we decided to check out new apartment buildings in Foster City. The rumors were false: the rents were much higher than we expected.

The two-bedroom we walked through had state-of-the-art electronics and appliances, but $4,600 a month!?! Sure, it had a nice gym, pool, and rec room, along with secured lockers for Amazon and UPS deliveries, but still...the daily cost was $150, which not that long ago was the tariff for a nice hotel room in the City.

Update: maybe the market is cooling. The website popup now advertises six weeks of free rent (probably for a one-year lease).

Monday, October 17, 2016

No Vision

One of the strange aspects of this political season is that the economy, jobs, and government deficits are afterthoughts in the national conversation. The most likely reason--aside from the pull of talking about emotional topics and celebrity personalities--is that the candidates and their experts don't really know what to do. The usual tools, i.e., government spending, tax cuts, low interest rates, haven't worked. Like peace in the Middle East, economic growth has proved elusive no matter who's been in charge.

Some say that this is a return to the old normal. The long post-World War II boom was super-normal, the result of a special confluence of factors: [bold added]
The workforce everywhere became vastly more educated. As millions of laborers shifted from tending sheep and hoeing potatoes to working in factories and construction sites, they could create far more economic value. New motorways boosted productivity in the transportation sector by letting truck drivers cover longer distances with larger vehicles. Faster ground transportation made it practical, in turn, for farms and factories to expand to sell not just locally but regionally or nationally, abandoning craft methods in favor of machinery that could produce more goods at lower cost. Six rounds of tariff reductions brought a massive increase in cross-border trade, putting even stronger competitive pressure on manufacturers to become more efficient.
The initial wave of technology adoption created jobs, but now technology is inexorably grinding them away.
What some economists now call “secular stagnation” might better be termed “ordinary performance.”
The advent of genius machines will render unnecessary the skills of two-thirds of the workforce. In other words, Average is Over:
America is dividing itself in two. At the top will be 10% to 15% of high achievers, the "Tiger Mother" kids if you like, whose self-motivation and mastery of technology will allow them to roar away into the future. Then there will be everyone else, slouching into an underfunded future of lower economic expectations, shantytowns and an endless diet of beans.
For the record, your humble blogger does not subscribe to this bleak vision. Seemingly under our noses a new space age is dawning.

Humanity may currently be viewed as superfluous, redundant, and inferior (to intelligent machines), but as they migrate to the stars 7-10 billion human beings are each unique, irreplaceable, and valuable in an infinite universe. Cheers!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

167th Diocesan Convention

L to R: Rev. Joseph Peters-Matthews, David Franquist, Christoper Hayes, Rt. Rev. Marc Andrus
The 167th Diocesan Convention (October 14-15, 2016) was devoid of true argument. To be sure, speeches displayed passion, but since everyone was in agreement it was largely preaching to the choir.

The Episcopal Church is a religious organization, but it is like other non-profits in that it must have an annual meeting to listen to reports, approve budgets, elect officers, and vote on resolutions. Of course, at Convention there's also worshipping, singing, praying, and sermonizing, but those are adornments. Without the legal requirements, IMHO, we probably wouldn't have this large a gathering of laity and clergy. How do I know this? In past years no official business was conducted on the Friday portion of Convention and was much less well attended; it's a hassle for the majority who don't live in San Francisco to head into town on a Friday.

Hard to read, so I just listened.
  • The 167th Convention - I wonder what event in 1849 resulted in the Episcopal Church having sufficient numbers to form a Diocese.
  • The "Diocese of California" encompasses only 6 counties--Marin, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo, San Francisco, and Santa Clara--out of California's 58. You get naming privileges when you were there first.
  • This was the first paperless Convention. Binders full of documents have been replaced by PDF files.
  • Putting the hymns on Facebook or Twitter ("search for hashtag diocal167") was taking electronic downloading too far, though. The majority either gave up looking or found music too hard to read on tiny smartphone screens.
  • In this rancorous political season the Church leadership asked everyone to pray for reconciliation. Meanwhile, one lady asked the Convention to vote for the anti-gun violence resolution now in case a "vile Supreme Court" results from the elections.
  • One of the highlights of the weekend was Friday night's sermon by the Bishop of Cuba, Griselda Delgado del Carpio. Her mystical style was well-suited to the theme of caring for the earth.
  • It rained. Hallelujah.
  • Saturday, October 15, 2016

    The Pain from the Rain is Our Gain

    Before leaving for SF, I set out the splash block
    The drought had frayed everyone's nerves, not to mention their formerly green lawns, so the weekend's storm was as welcome as it was surprising. We had heard it before---wet weather was coming--but more often than not the drizzles fizzled.

    My umbrella, unused for four years, fell apart when I opened it on Market Street. Hair soaked like Gene Kelly's, I nevertheless had a glorious feeling.

    Friday, October 14, 2016

    At the Fairmont

    After morning meetings in the Financial District, I headed up the hill to the annual meeting; it was convention time for the Episcopal Diocese of California (last year's reflection here).

    There were a couple of hours to kill, so I took shelter from the season's first rain in the lobby of the Fairmont Hotel.

    The Fairmont still is the place to see and be seen, with beautiful people coming and going throughout the day.

    The description is not meant pejoratively. No one was flashy; the typical dress was expensive California casual, and most were thin, tanned, and moved with quiet elegance.

    My middle-class neighborhood on the Peninsula is only a few miles south, but it's a world away.

    Thursday, October 13, 2016

    Counter-Intuitive Driving

    Everyone knows from experience that one driver can cause a traffic jam. The extreme example is a bad accident during peak periods, when traffic is delayed for many hours.

    (WSJ Graphic)
    But the opposite is also true: [bold added]
    An individual driver, by preventing bottlenecks and maintaining a steady speed, can sometimes single-handedly ease or break up a traffic jam.

    The techniques are simple, though some of them—such as leaving a large gap between your car and the one in front and freely letting other drivers cut in—feel counterintuitive to most drivers.
    The approach is common-sense but requires the sublimation of territoriality ("it's my lane"), impatience, and pride ("aggressive" driving is still a complimentary phrase). Also, un-jamming methods are futile when the number of cars is overwhelming.

    According to Seattle engineer William Beaty,
    His techniques won’t work if you’re already locked in bumper-to-bumper traffic and can’t find anywhere to open a gap, Mr. Beaty says. Also, some congestion is irreducible, when the volume of traffic exceeds the capacity of the road.
    A couple more comments, if one wants to adopt this method of driving:

    1) Allow the gap to open in front, but don't drive so slowly that cars behind you are always changing lanes to pass. The risk of an accident increases as they cut in front of left-lane speeders.

    2) When your frustration builds, do a quick thought experiment: imagine the potential cost in $$$ and/or bodily injury by driving aggressively and measure that against the potential time savings, normally a few minutes. It's a sobering comparison, so relax, breathe, and pity the Type-A drivers who are damaging their health, whether or not they get into an accident.

    Wednesday, October 12, 2016

    A Surprise Nonetheless

    California is one of the states with the strictest gun control laws (see graphic below), and anti-gun sentiment is strongest among coastal redoubts like the Peninsula.

    Your humble blogger had to look twice at the display in the Foster City Costco. First, that was a lot of inventory. Second, the big-box retailer only sells products for which there is brisk demand.

    This strange political year has been filled with unexpected revelations about our fellow citizens. Ammo boxes at Costco may not have been the biggest surprise, but it was a surprise nonetheless.

    Graphic from