Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Excelsior and Imperius Rex

Jack Kirby and Stan Lee (Marvel Silver Age)
The laudatory obituaries are piling up for Stan Lee (1922-2018), but I confess that I didn't immediately take to the new Marvel Comics that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby launched in 1961.

For one thing I couldn't afford to buy more comic books. Most of my allowance was already committed to the DC lineup.

Stan Lee's innovations: Fan Pages and Bullpen Bulletins (Giant-Size Marvel blog)
Second, some of Marvel's heroes were too similar to DC's, e.g., Marvel's Mr. Fantastic and Sub-mariner seemed like knock-offs of DC's Elongated Man and Aquaman.

Third, kids who read and re-read their precious purchases notice things like paper and ink quality; DC's was better.

Fourth, too many of Marvel's stories were "to be continued", meaning that I had to buy the next issue to see how the story turned out. (To save money I learned to speed-read at the comic-book stand without buying them...sorry about that, Woolworth's!)

A few years later after-school and summer jobs gave me the wherewithal to sample more of Marvel's products. Favorites were Spider-man and the Fantastic Four, which hooked me with the 1966 three-part series on Galactus, the unstoppable planet destroyer.

I also liked the fan letter pages and previews of upcoming issues. IMHO, the dense text, more than the angst-ridden Marvel heroes, showed that comic book fans were capable of looking past the pretty pictures.

To Stan Lee we say Excelsior! and Imperius Rex! R.I.P.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Smoky November

On Saturday you could look directly at the sun.
Two days after the fire began 200 miles away, the smell of burning wood permeated the Peninsula.

The sky was hazy, and the sun turned red. Prudent pedestrians perambulated with breathing masks.

The Air Quality Index is over 150 ("unhealthy") and will stay there for quite some time. As of this writing the fire is only 20% contained, and we are running the air filters 24/7.

Monday, November 12, 2018

More Fragile Than We Realize

Flanders Fields (U of Texas NROTC photo)
When I was in high school World War I was ancient history. (It's disconcerting to realize that WWI was as remote to baby boomers as Vietnam is to the teens of today.)

Despite its seeming irrelevance to the Sixties--we lived in the Space Age and they flew single-engine aerodromes--studying World War I was a requirement back in our day.

All Quiet on the Western Front brought home the pointlessness and horror of trench warfare.

Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August chronicled how communication missteps and tangled alliances caused a World War to erupt from a ducal assassination that triggered a war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia.

Violence experienced on a national scale is inconceivable to present-day Americans. World War I reminds us that life and peace are much more fragile than we realize.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Church 100 Years Later

The guns fell silent on the Western Front one hundred years ago, but the effects of World War I continue to be felt in the church today: [bold added]
(Image from Greenwich Village Society for
Historic Preservation)
By the early 1920s, churches on both sides of the Atlantic passed hundreds of resolutions renouncing war. Membership in peace societies exploded. In 1924 the Chicago Federation of Churches, representing 15 denominations, declared itself “unalterably opposed to war.” A nationwide poll found 60% of clergymen opposed any future war and nearly half vowed not to serve as wartime military chaplains.

The pacifist outlook culminated in the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact. Signatories, including the U.S., Germany, Japan and France, agreed to abandon war as a tool of national policy. Church leaders mobilized for passage. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty in 1929. The Christian Century, liberal Protestantism’s leading journal, opined: “Today international war was banished from civilization.”
The stark evil that promoted the genocide of "inferior" races forced liberal American denominations to suspend their anti-war advocacy during World War II, but the pacifism re-asserted itself overwhelmingly after Vietnam. (Your humble blogger has engaged in various discussions with clergy in my denomination who believe that the U.S. has not been justified in taking any military action in the last 40 years.)

While I personally disagree with such an absolutist position, I remain a member of the Episcopal Church. The reasons I don't choose a church more in line with my political beliefs is that 1) there's more to life than politics; 2) Because I can leave, I won't. Hooray for the First Amendment!

Saturday, November 10, 2018

"The Speed and Ferocity of the Fire Was Too Much"

(Image from Chico Enterprise-Record)
One of the most jarring images to come out of the Paradise fire was that of burned-out vehicles along the road.

The fire came upon fleeing residents so quickly that they had to abandon their stuck cars. In the safety of our living rooms it makes as much sense as jumping out of a burning building. God help everyone who is faced with such a choice.

Another jarring fact: Paradise had a disaster plan: [bold added]
Following those fires — part of what Cal Fire still refers to as the “2008 siege” — city leaders began working on an evacuation plan. They broke up neighborhoods into geographic zones that, in the event of a wildfire, would be cleared one at a time to avoid gridlock. There are few roads in and out of Paradise.

With about 27,000 residents, the town also went through the unusual exercise of holding mock evacuations during morning rush hour, closing some streets and turning a major two-way road into one way to let people practice getting out fast....

Bill Stewart, the co-director of Berkeley Forests, a wildfire and forest research department at the University of California, Berkeley, said Paradise had “about the most advanced level of planning I’ve heard of,” but the speed and ferocity of the fire was too much.

“It overwhelmed the town,” said Stewart.
The pictures told us with absolute certainty that a reported fact on Thursday night was not true: the death toll was five (5).

Friday, November 09, 2018

The Most Destructive Wildfire in California History

KFC restaurant, Paradise, CA  (Chronicle photo)
Stopping in Vacaville on Thursday morning, we espied a gray haze on the horizon. The smell of burning wood was in the air, signaling a nearby fire. By the time we got to Sacramento, 35 miles away, the air should be clear. However...

Little did we know that Sacramento was on the way to the source of the smoke over 120 miles away. The so-called Camp Fire had "exploded near Chico" that morning.
Paradise or Hell? (Chronicle photo)
The massive Camp Fire that exploded near Chico in Butte County on Thursday is now the most destructive wildfire in California history. Officials announced Friday that the Camp Fire, which continues burning, destroyed 6,713 structures as of Friday evening. It has also killed 9 people and dozens remained missing a day after it began.

The blaze reached 90,000 acres by Friday evening — more than twice the size of San Francisco — and was 5 percent contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Eleven years ago my uncle, the best mechanic I ever knew, passed away. His home was in Paradise, most of which has been destroyed by the Camp Fire. I still miss and think often of him and my aunt, but I'm glad they're not here to experience this.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Prices Squashed

There are three identical boxes to the right.
For a few bucks I could buy out the lot, cornering the pumpkin market in our suburban town. Unfortunately that monopoly would last only a few days, because the Cucurbita Maxima are looking a bit ragged.

The store's buyer overestimated demand. Eight days after Halloween the remaining inventory easily weighs over a ton.

At 25 cents each, there's little downside to trying out a few pumpkin recipes. I'll likely pick one up on Saturday.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

The Right Day

On the drive down to Santa Cruz the airwaves were filled with what yesterday's results mean for the 2020 election.

Give it a rest, political junkies. You remind me of sports fans who wonder about next year's champion on the morning after the Super Bowl. Let the winners have their moment. Please stop talking about future campaigns. For the sake of your families make Thanksgiving a politics-free zone.

Cocoanut Grove
The Santa Cruz Beach and Boardwalk overflows with thousands of people during the summer but was deserted this November morning. There were a few workers about; signs needed painting, rides needed fixing, and lavatories needed cleaning.

A few seagulls scavenged without enthusiasm; they seemed to know that the pickings were slim.

One doesn't have to travel to the forest or mountains for a quiet meditative walk.

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk will do fine if you pick the right day.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Accelerating the Day

Scary graphic on October 31, 2018 (WSJ)
Nowhere is the American political divide more stark than in the difference between college-educated white women and non-college-educated white men:
a campaign for Congress in many places starts with 60% of college-educated white women favoring the Democratic nominee. An even larger share of white men without degrees favor the Republican—making both essentially unreachable by the opposing candidate.
It's easy to denigrate each group through simplistic stereotypes: the white men are ignorant gun-loving racists while the white women are overeducated snowflakes who come running to the burly men when the real world comes knocking.

I look at it this way: whites' loathing of the opposite sex's politics makes it less likely that they'll couple, much less reproduce, accelerating the day when whites will no longer be in the majority and this graph won't matter.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Remembrance of Lives Past

Baptisms are often scheduled on All Souls' Day.
On All Souls' Day, aka the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed, the priests read the names of those whom the congregation wishes to be remembered. The list numbers about a hundred, usually consisting of parents and grandparents.

When in my late twenties I had attended this church (before moving elsewhere) and met many of its first generation. I wrote down a half-dozen names, unfamiliar to all but a very few, but without whom this church would not exist.

Maybe in 40 years a formerly young person will remember to put my name on the list.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Hie Thee to a CPA

As we noted in February re the Tax Cut and Jobs Act (TCJA)
One of the most beneficial--and complex--provisions is the deduction for pass-through income, which applies to small-business owners like your humble blogger, but only if business affairs (these days the adjective is necessary 😀) are structured properly.
We had hoped that clarity would have obtained by now, especially for small landlords whom we know. The answer to the following question indicates little progress has been made.
(Image from Green Bush Financial)
I hope to get the new 20% deduction for “pass-through” businesses that report profits on individuals’ tax returns. Does my income from rental real estate qualify?

We just don’t know. In general, owners of businesses organized as proprietorships, S-corporations, and partnerships now get a deduction of 20% of the business’s income—if the owner’s taxable income is $315,000 or less for married couples ($157,500 or less for singles). Above that level, there are complex rules as to who gets a break.

The problem for millions of landlords of all sizes is determining whether their rental income is from a business or an investment. If it’s investment income, then it doesn’t qualify for the 20% break, even if the landlord’s income is below the $315,000/$157,500 threshold.

Anthony Nitti, a tax specialist with Withum, says, “A century of case law hasn’t clearly defined when a rental rises to the level of a trade or business. Now, landlords across the country will somehow have to make that determination.”
As is typical of new tax laws, the complex questions have not been answered by the IRS--and may not be by April 15, 2019. If real estate comprises more than a few thousand dollars of your income, dear reader, get some professional advice.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Hearing Footsteps

2013: below the 20db line is bad.
In 2013 an audiologist said that I had mild hearing loss.

Five years later the members of the household have tired of asking me to turn the volume down on the television set.

Also, they are weary of my ignoring requests that I don't remember because I never heard them in the first place 😉

It was time to get my ears checked again.

2018: the deterioration continues
Sure enough, the test showed a worsening, especially at the higher frequencies.

Hearing aids can cost thousands of dollars; most insurance plans cover only a little of the cost.

Saving money might be tempting, but untreated mild-to-moderate deafness has other consequences.

Hearing Loss [is] Linked to Accelerated Brain Tissue Loss [bold added]
Although the brain becomes smaller with age, the shrinkage seems to be fast-tracked in older adults with hearing loss, according to the results of a study by researchers from Johns Hopkins and the National Institute on Aging. The findings add to a growing list of health consequences associated with hearing loss, including increased risk of dementia, falls, hospitalizations, and diminished physical and mental health overall.
I'm placing my order this month.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Making the Consequences Worse

Stanford professor Robert Sutton says that the biggest mistake that bosses make is pretending that employees have a say in decisions when they really don't:
(WSJ illustration)
too often, the consultation of others is a sham. It looks like the real thing, but bosses are just pretending that others’ input has some influence over the final decision.... sham participation contains many of the elements—including deception, disrespect and lack of influence over decisions—that end up discouraging and demotivating employees.
Experienced workers can tell when an issue is still open for discussion. If a strategy consultant has been called, the decision has not been made, but if the consultant is from human resources, watch out for layoffs or at least a cut in benefits.

Painful decisions are not easy, but managers can make the consequences worse in how they're disseminated.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Halloween, 2018

Two bags were needed.
I had a feeling we needed more, so I bought two 150-piece bags of candy from Costco. 132 (!) trick-o-treaters showed up tonight, more than double the typical turnout. About a hundred were pre-teen, and half were Asian, reflecting the changing demographics of Foster City. We overheard some goblins and witches tell new arrivals, "That's a good house." Praise from business colleagues is one thing, but that's a good house from a kid? It doesn't get better.