Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Jerry Lewis, 1926-2017

In LA in 1950 (WSJ photo)
Back in the Fifties there was little cross-over between the world of children and the world of adults. There were Disney movies for kids, while grown-ups liked (or said they liked) epics like the Ten Commandments that were excruciatingly long and had way too much talking. Jerry Lewis was one of the few who could bridge the two worlds.

He understood kids. On the big screen his character said embarrassing things and acted outrageously goofy. But Jerry did it without malice, and you could tell that he had a good heart. By movie’s end he got the money and the girl, leaving much smarter foes sprawled in defeat.

Our parents and grandparents were adults who won World Wars and were trying to stave off nuclear destruction. Jerry Lewis showed that a silly kid who never grew up could triumph in a very serious world. Thanks, Jerry.

Update: athletic prowess is a characteristic of great physical comedians (Charles Chaplin, Dick Van Dyke). Jerry Lewis was no exception.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

No Good Deed Dept.

Heading to my aisle seat, I noted that the man in the middle seat next to me kept looking back at a lady who appeared to be his wife. I asked her if she would like to exchange places. "That's not my wife. She's back there," said the man, pointing to a woman (I thought) in another aisle seat. I walked back to the second lady--again that was not his wife.

The third time was a charm. His wife was in a middle seat in a packed row. Well, I couldn't back out now.

We exchanged seats, she thanked me effusively, and a corpulent gentleman plopped himself in the aisle seat beside me. It was going to be a long 4½-hour flight. No good deed....

Monday, August 21, 2017

Disappointed in the Eclipse (Doughnuts)

While over a million people are spending thousands of dollars apiece to see a total solar eclipse that will last 2½ minutes, I celebrated by spending $12 on a dozen "Eclipse" doughnuts from Krispy Kreme.

For several hours a day this weekend Krispy Kreme is serving its popular "Hot" doughnuts with chocolate instead of regular glaze. (Light turned to dark---how clever.)

We like chocolate, and we like regular hot-glazed, but somehow the combination was inferior to either. At least our experience will last several hours rather than a couple of minutes. We were disappointed, but not as underwhelmed, I suspect, as some of our fellow citizens will be later today.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The New Rules Are All So Confusing

Piss Christ (Time photo)
It was 30 years ago, but as the cliché goes, it seems like yesterday that artist Andres Serrano displayed a photograph of Piss Christ, a crucifix submerged in the artist's urine.

The Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art granted Piss Christ an award which included a $15,000 grant from the National Endowment of the Arts.

The controversy was predictable, with religious conservatives decrying the work and the cognoscenti lauding its artistic expression.

Great works of art provoke, we were told, and if you are offended it says something about you, not the work itself.


Statue of Robert E. Lee, Charlottesville (CNN photo)
There is now a burgeoning movement to take down statues honoring soldiers, the flag, and other symbols of the Confederacy. Speaking as one whose ancestors were neither slave nor slaveowner, I don't have a dog in this hunt.

I will only observe that in 2017 taking offense is justification for censorship and removal or destruction of works of art. This time it's not the viewer but the work itself that is the problem.

The new rules are all so confusing.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Where the Sun Doesn't Shine

One friend is going to Shoshoni, WY but he won't stay for
the antique tractor show.
We know at least three different parties who are going to see the total solar eclipse on Monday. Our friends and relatives will be heading to small towns in Oregon and Wyoming (Nashville is the only major city in the eclipse path) and roughing it with possibly no GPS, cellphone service, or credit cards (terminals may be down).
Community officials are trying to get visitors prepared. Ms. Hammon, the Idaho Falls spokeswoman, said eclipse-watchers should prepare for traffic delays and bring food, water, medications—and even paper maps because of expected spotty cell service because the area’s reception will be taxed by the crowds.
Rental fees for cars, hotel rooms, and even portable toilets have skyrocketed.

Thousands of dollars will be spent per eclipse-watcher, and your humble blogger can think of only one other 2½-minute experience that could command those prices, but this is a family blog.

As for me, at the same time I'll be headed away from the noise and haste over the Pacific to visit family in the old hometown.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Trump Trough?

After nearly a year of incessant media pounding (some merited, to be sure), after his abandonment by prominent business allies, after the firing or resignation of most of his key staff people, Donald J. Trump seems to have reached the nadir of his Presidency. The media megaphone/echo chamber has extrapolated the murder of a woman by a crazed white supremacist into the Holocaust and blamed Republicans by association.

In a sober illustration the Economist cover this week shows the President using a Ku Klux Klan hat as a megaphone. [bold added]
[the] president is politically inept, morally barren and temperamentally unfit for office.
However:

The economy is still perking along, the stock market is at an all-time high, and the U.S. hasn't entered any new wars. In fact the President's "fire and fury" speech, despite the near-universal handwringing, has for the first time in memory caused the North Korean regime to back down without being paid a bribe.

The insider leaks that have damaged the Trump Presidency may decrease or even disappear now that the two reputed leakers-in-chief, Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon, have departed.

Republican governance has rightly taken a hit because it has done nothing in the area of health care, tax reform, or infrastructure spending, but the year isn't over.

Warren Buffett said "Buy when everyone else is selling", in other words sell at the peaks and buy at the troughs.

Were Donald Trump a stock my instincts tell me that now is the time to buy.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Song and the Man

Don Ho's statue unveiled at International
Market Place this month (SF Gate)
Don Ho didn't have a great voice, and I doubt that his vocal range was two octaves. What he had in spades was charisma, coolness, and the ability to read the room. He was Hawaii's Dean Martin, the crooner with a drink in his hand, serenading and flirting with the fans.

His big hit "Tiny Bubbles" had a simple melody and simple lyrics. Like Don Ho the man, it's difficult to understand how the song was so popular. You just had to be there.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

We Know What We Are Talking About

The revelation that U.S. consumer debt is nearly a record $13.0 trillion made for fevered commentary, but Matt Drudge's blaring headline prompted a chuckle:



If you see the absurdity of showing the ".00", then you, dear reader, have a feeling for significant digits.

Here's an accounting joke that reflects the same concept:
An accountant visited the Natural History museum. While standing near the dinosaur, he said to his friend, “This dinosaur is 2 billion years and 10 months old.” “Where did you get this exact information?” the friend asked. “I was here 10 months ago, and the guide told me that the dinosaur is 2 billion years old.”
We give out precise information because people then think that we know what we are talking about.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Another Fusion Place

Tugboat Fish & Chips is a small chain restaurant in California. The Lincoln outlet, in a creative effort to maximize uses of the inventory, offers sushi as well as fish & chips. We ordered one of each; both were good--and 20% lower than Bay Area prices.

You may sniff at the mixed menu, dear reader, but just think of it as another Asian fusion place.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Recycling: But We Meant Well

Foster City, August, 2016: not the tidiest business
Fans (hi, Mom!) of this blog know that every few months we bag up our cans and bottles and turn them in for cash. It was always mystifying how the process made sense economically---the consumer pays 5 or 10 cents per bottle CRV ("California Redemption Value") going in and gets a little of it back if he bothers to haul them to the recycling centers. The difference supposedly pays for the operating costs of the recycler, who also gets revenue from selling the used bottles and cans and a subsidy from the government. It turns out that the house of cans is about to topple.

The resale value plus the government subsidy are still not enough to keep the recyclers in business: [bold added]
the value of recyclables has decreased in recent years, meaning [recycling business owner Ors] Csaszar makes less on the collected bottles and cans he sells. On top of that, state subsidies meant to offset the cost of recycling have failed to keep pace with the rising costs of doing business.

Hundreds of recycling centers have shuttered in the past two years across the state, resulting in millions of plastic, aluminum and glass containers going to landfills. In the past two years more than 500 recycling centers closed their doors, leaving 1,650 throughout the state, according to the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, or CalRecycle.
To sum up, recycling is a government-mandated environmental program that:
  • adds $millions to the cost of consumer products;
  • created an industry that is unable to survive without a government subsidy;
  • is so uneconomic that even with the subsidy nearly a quarter of the locations have closed (so far);
  • doesn't accomplish what it set out to do anyway ("millions...going to landfills").

    But wait, it gets worse: the government extracts penalties from businesses.
    The law also requires stores that sell the beverages to have a place for consumers to return their bottles and cans within a half mile. If not, the stores themselves are required to either allow customers to recycle there, or pay a $100 a day fee.

    Many stores opt to pay the $36,500 annual fee, saying they are unable to set up a recycling center at their location.
    Consumers lose, businesses lose, the recyclers lose, the environment loses anyway.

    I can't wait to see how California runs single-payer.
  • Sunday, August 13, 2017

    Window to the Future



    As noted in May the 100+ year-old stained glass window (left) over the altar has been replaced. The new window (right) probably won't last as long as version 1, but its longevity is of little concern to me.

    I was baptized in the family church during the Eisenhower Administration. My mother bought me a spot in the columbarium, a few feet from the new stained glass window. Cradle to grave, will I return for my final days?

    I am not a salmon, I am a free man!

    Saturday, August 12, 2017

    Before A Word Has Been Uttered

    (Image from info254.com)
    In a hypothetical criminal case developed for an experiment, judges went easier on a "remorseful" defendant who was trying to make amends. (Their decisions should have been based on the law and the facts, not the defendant's characteristics.)
    While 87% of the judges upheld the conviction of the extremist Serb, no matter what the precedent, only 41% did for the remorseful Croat. In other words, rulings were driven by the defendant’s personal attributes rather than by legal precedent.

    Even more interesting were the judges’ explanations for their decisions. Did they write about how legal precedent is one thing, but at the end of the day the most important thing is the individual on trial? No. Most cited the precedent if it supported their decision. Others discussed legal or policy matters.
    In other words they made their decision based on emotion or other non-legal factors, then used legal reasoning to support the decision.

    There's a strong suspicion that that is how most of us behave: base a decision on whether we like a person (sometimes merely whether he is in or out of our "tribe"), then justify the decision based on "facts", "reason", and "logic." That is why we usually know what a politician, reporter, or judge will say on a subject before a word has been uttered.

    Friday, August 11, 2017

    In the 21st Century We Still Care a Lot

    One of the running off-camera jokes in Star Trek was the follically challenged Captain Picard: [bold added]
    (Photo from startrek.com)
    At a press conference about Star Trek: The Next Generation, a reporter asked Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry about casting Patrick Stewart, commenting that "Surely by the 24th century, they would have found a cure for male pattern baldness." Gene Roddenberry had the perfect response.

    "No, by the 24th century, no one will care."
    Finding the causes and cure for hair loss has been slow. While a few men embrace the condition by shaving their remaining hair,
    most men who suffer from male pattern baldness are extremely unhappy with their situation and would do anything to change it. Hair loss affects every aspect of their life. It affects interpersonal relationships as well as their professional life. It is not uncommon for men to change their career paths because of hair loss.
    Minoxidil (brand name: Rogaine) has regrown hair in about 40% of patients. Other sufferers resort to hair transplants and toupees.

    Your humble blogger has long suspected that a hirsute maternal grandfather was the reason he is able to retain his hair past middle age. The science confirms:
    androgenetic alopecia....affects around 80% of men by the time they are 80 years old (and about 50% of women, though it’s less obvious), and is characterized by thinning at the top of the head and receding at the front. Genes are primarily to blame, says [UCLA professor Carolyn] Goh. The most consistent is found on the X chromosome, “which means it came from your mother’s side,” she says.
    But why do I have more hair than my younger brothers? As I was saying, progress has been slow....

    Wednesday, August 09, 2017

    Quiet Diversions

    The North Korean regime may seem completely alien to First-Worlders, but it must have an instinct for self-preservation. North Korea is in the position of the hostage taker who is completely surrounded by a SWAT team; he knows that if he fires a single shot--which may or may not kill his hostage--he will be dead in a second. That's why I'm not worried....much.

    On my list of havens from the world are art museums. Viewing an artwork online is an imperfect substitute for visiting one, but the advantage is that virtual escape is but a click, not a plane ticket, away.

    The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit


    The Wall Street Journal to its credit will occasionally devote space to a lesser-known work of art, in this case ‘The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit’ (1882) by portrait artist John Singer Sargent (1856-1925).
    He set his large-scale composition just inside the main door of the Boits’ Paris apartment. The girls, in the foreground, are in a theatrically lighted space that melts into a darkened interior. Much of the painting’s allure lies in its careful balancing of color. Warmth slips in sparingly, through the caramel tones of a wall and the red of a dagger-shaped screen. Blackness holds the center, drawing the eye beyond the riddle of these four self-possessed children.

    The most we can be confident of is their relative ages. The youngest, seated on the floor, holds a large, pink-cheeked doll and glances slightly away. The eldest stands in the shadows, in profile, next to her second-born sister. Daughter number three, distinguished by her blond tresses, is planted on pipe-cleaner thin legs at the far left, and seems to gaze inward. It is only the second-born daughter, dead center you suddenly realize, who truly looks back, her eyes alert with expectation.

    Her older sister leans against an outsize vase, one of a pair. Flanking the passage into what appears to be a well-appointed parlor, the vases lend a sculptural quality to the three standing figures. A ruffle at the neck of the blond child echoes the fluting on the vases.
    The WSJ art reviewer points us to a Velázquez from two centuries prior:
    He borrowed his structure from Diego Velázquez’s “Las Meninas,” which he had copied on an 1879 visit to Madrid. Both works feature young girls and, unusually, are large and square. Like Velázquez, Sargent overcomes the square’s potentially deadening symmetry with a pleasing off-balance arrangement enhanced by deep space. And, also like him, he upends the conventions of group portraiture by giving each figure room to breathe. A viewer of the Boit daughters could seemingly join 4-year-old Julia on the carpet.
    Las Meninas
    There are beautiful aspects of the world that will long outlive our current "urgent" concerns. Quiet diversions can remind us so.

    Tuesday, August 08, 2017

    Riding the Wave

    We get real estate flyers in the mail and on our doorstep every day. Bay Area houses that once cost $500,000 early this century have tripled in value, which of course means tripled commissions if the 6% standard rate holds.

    Brokers have become increasingly brazen, offering to lower the commission rate a little or saying that they have buyers lined up to buy in our neighborhood (right!). Other companies (see flyer) offer cash for homes; no contingencies mean a quick close for an eager seller.

    We have seen this frothiness before in the stock and commodity markets, not just real estate. The only practical way for the homeowner to take advantage of this real estate bubble is by selling. (Larger investors have financial techniques such as options, partnerships, public offerings, and loans whereby they can "monetize" hard assets.)

    High prices do allow homeowners to take out a large refinancing, but unless they can earn a rate of return that exceeds their new mortgage rate this strategy is unwise. As for us, we have ridden the wave up, and (sigh) we will ride the wave down.

    Monday, August 07, 2017

    De-fanging Mueller

    Inside the Beltway the tempest du jour is whether Special Counsel Robert Mueller will find the smoking gun that will bring down Donald Trump.

    Your humble blogger, for the record, thinks the President was set up. Mr. Trump thought that the special counsel would clear him of charges of Russian collusion (whatever that means). But Mr. Mueller's expansive charter, executed by high-priced Democratic lawyers, threatens not only the Administration but also Mr. Trump's business empire, his friends and his family. Given enough time and money they will find something on someone (such as lying to a grand jury about a workplace affair, the basis for the impeachment of Bill Clinton).

    The Beltway folks say that he can't fire the Special Counsel, though the Constitutional arguments why he can't are above my pay grade.

    Another part of the Constitution, Article 2, Section 2, can effectively fire Mr. Mueller by negating all his activities. That section grants the President unlimited power to pardon anyone of any crime against the United States. Imagine:
    I, Donald J. Trump, will pardon any and all persons indicted by the grand jury(ies) convened by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. If you are indicted for failing to produce documents, I will pardon you. If you are indicted for not answering a question, I will pardon you. If you are indicted for not appearing as a witness, I will pardon you. Let's end this farce and move on.
    It seems too simple, and that's why it will never happen.

    Teachable Moment for the Wealthy

    Presidio Terrace is 4 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge
    I know I'm being unkind, and it's wrong to mock the woes of probably-decent people whom I don't know anything about, but the owners of thirty-five (35) San Francisco mansions are at the mercy of two San Jose residents who paid off a delinquent $14-per-year property tax bill on their private road (bold added):
    Tina Lam and Michael Cheng snatched up Presidio Terrace — the block-long, private oval street lined by 35 megamillion-dollar mansions — for $90,000 and change in a city-run auction stemming from an unpaid tax bill. They outlasted several other bidders.

    Happy street-owners Tina Lam and Michael Cheng (SFGate)
    Now they’re looking to cash in — maybe by charging the residents of those mansions to park on their own private street.

    ...San Jose residents Cheng and Lam wound up with the street, its sidewalks and every other bit of “common ground” in the private development that has been managed by the homeowners since at least 1905. That includes a string of well-coiffed garden islands, palm trees and other greenery that enhance the gated and guarded community at the end of Washington Street, just off Arguello Boulevard and down the hill from the Presidio.
    Periodically we read about an elderly person being thrown out of her home because of a small unpaid property-tax bill. Rich people can fall victim to the same process; they won't be in danger of losing their homes, just being able to access them.

    Teachable moment: you gotta pay attention to what's happening--or not happening--at your homeowners' association.

    Sunday, August 06, 2017

    Year 72: The Mushroom Cloud's Silver Lining

    (Image from Atomic Heritage Foundation)
    Horrible though it was, Hiroshima probably saved more lives than it took. As I wrote two years ago,
    There's a good chance that I owe my existence to the bomb. My father, who celebrated his 90th birthday in June, would have been part of the invasion of Japan. (Dad served in the post-War occupation.)
    Hiroshima and Nagasaki demonstrated the bomb's awesome destructive power to such an extent that nuclear weapons have never again been used in wartime. The fear seems to be receding, however, and our vacation from history may be ending.
    “We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty, and to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, 'Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.' I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.” ― J. Robert Oppenheimer

    Saturday, August 05, 2017

    Over My Head

    The solar-panel and battery system that we saw in last week's visit to the Tesla showroom was intriguing. But the disruptive product just may be Tesla's solar roof.

    Replacing a conventional roof can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Tesla's solar-roof tiles cost about the same as conventional tiles (see Bloomberg chart above), so why not get "free" solar energy if you are going to replace the roof anyway?
    Tesla’s basic premise is to make solar ownership more attractive and affordable by eliminating the need to install both a roof and solar panels. Tesla says it will manage the entire process of solar roof installation, including removal of existing roofs, design, permits, installation, and maintenance. The company estimates that each installation will take about a week.
    How Elon Musk keeps coming up with these ideas---and executing them---is over my head.

    The tiles look attractive (CNet image)

    Friday, August 04, 2017

    ...They Just Evaporate Away

    Yesterday we noted that an iconic San Francisco beverage company will be bought by a large foreign rival.

    A similar event occurred 32 years ago. Headline: Nestle Acquires Hills Brothers Coffee.

    Back in the 1970's, before there was a Starbucks on every corner, specialized "coffee shops" didn't exist. Coffee was served as an accompaniment to breakfast at Howard Johnson's and Denny's (there was also a pretty good pancake chain called Sambo's that went out of business for reasons having nothing to do with its food).

    Most Americans bought cans of ground coffee and made the brew at home in a percolator. General Foods' Maxwell House ("good to the last drop") was the largest seller, and Hills Brothers was a strong regional brand. As late as the 1980's the smell of roasting coffee filled the air along the Embarcadero.

    Its claims to fame are two-fold: in 1900 the company reportedly invented vacuum-packaging, which enabled coffee suppliers to maintain freshness when shipping product long distances; the "taster"--an Arab (some believe he's a Turk) drinking coffee--is one of the most distinctive logos in the food and beverage industry.

    32 years later one has to look hard to find any Hills Brothers products. Let's hope that a similar fate does not befall Anchor Steam.



    Thursday, August 03, 2017

    Another San Francisco Brand Gets Bought

    Iconic San Francisco company Anchor Steam will be acquired by Sapporo:
    Anchor Brewing Co. is considered the leading pioneer of the craft beer movement, and is credited with reviving and modernizing some of today's most popular American beer styles. The price of the deal was not disclosed....

    Anchor Brewing has proven itself as a company of firsts. Established in 1896, it bills itself as America’s “first and oldest” craft brewery and has long been San Francisco’s homegrown pride. It weathered the 1906 earthquake and is the inventor of the California common style of beer, which it trademarked as steam beer.
    Tasting Anchor Steam during the 1970's was a revelation. American beers, e.g., Bud, Miller, Coors, were okay (in those days your humble blogger didn't regard any beer as bad). European beers were complex, had character, and were costly. Anchor Steam had a sharper taste than American bland; I liked it--didn't love it--but it was nice to have a choice that wasn't too expensive.

    Both companies say that Anchor will retain its distinctiveness. We've heard that before, but here's hoping.

    Wednesday, August 02, 2017

    Cloudless Day in Redwood Shores

    Oracle HQ at Redwood Shores, 2004
    2017: Buildings added, plus marine craft.
    The Oracle headquarters in Redwood Shores has changed a bit over the past decade. (The site was home to Marine World/Africa USA through 1986; your humble blogger retrospectively appreciates the lions' roars that floated up to Foster City at sunset).

    The glass cylinders were ostentatious for their time but now are in tune with the trophy HQ's of Apple, Facebook, and Google. However, none of the latter have an America's Cup yacht parked in a lagoon right outside.

    Oracle's market capitalization has risen to $206 billion from about $60 billion a decade ago, so Mr. Ellison is entitled to indulge a few outside interests.

    Oracle looked like it was going to be left behind in a new world of social media and mobile devices but has more than regained its footing in the cloud.

    Tuesday, August 01, 2017

    Astronomical Privilege

    Boston Globe: The solar eclipse path will overwhelmingly pass over Trump Country
    The path of ideal viewing spots for this month’s highly-anticipated total solar eclipse cuts overwhelmingly through places that voted for President Trump in November.

    There are about 240 counties roughly along the central path of the eclipse, a 70-mile-wide trail extending across the country where people will be able to see a total eclipse, meaning the sun will appear completely obscured by the moon.

    And about 92 percent of those counties swung in Trump’s favor, while fewer than two dozen counties voted for his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

    Trump won many of those counties by a wide margin, securing an average of 71 percent of the vote in counties he won along the path. Clinton, by comparison, got only about 56 percent of the vote in counties she won along the eclipse path.

    And of the more than 6.2 million votes cast in those counties for one of those two candidates, 59 percent were for Trump, while 41 percent were for Clinton.

    Monday, July 31, 2017

    Direct Flight

    Marcel Siem makes a hole-in-one on the European Tour. What makes this one special is that it flew directly into the hole. The shot also won him a Porsche.

    The commentary sounds better in German, though das verstehe ich nicht.

    Sunday, July 30, 2017

    In the Hinterlands

    The national headquarters of the Episcopal Church sent each parish a survey, whose purpose was (italics mine):
    to examine ways in which our congregations are involved in justice issues...The committee defines justice as: contesting against structures that produce structural inequities and barriers as we advocate for structures and systems that increase equity and access.

    We hope to learn about local responses to resolutions that addressed such issues as economic justice, labor relations, fair wages, racism, poverty alleviation, food security, hunger, faith-based organizing, and asset-based community development....

    although we recognize that food pantries and feeding programs constitute faithful and essential responses to the Gospel, they are not the transformational, justice-focused programs we are attempting to identify.
    I tried running a Biblical word-search on "economic justice, labor relations, fair wages, racism, poverty alleviation, food security, hunger, faith-based organizing, and asset-based community development" but, except for poverty and hunger, came up empty. Poor Paul, Peter, John, and the rest of the New Testament authors---if they only had had their consciousness raised.

    Anyway, the Episcopal leadership resides on 2nd Avenue, a couple of blocks from UN Headquarters, on some of the most expensive real estate in the world. If anyone knows structural inequities and barriers, it's them.

    Meanwhile, it was our turn to feed the hungry for Sandwiches on Sunday at the Community Center. We greeted the veterans who had been coming for years. One regular said she had gotten in some trouble with the local sheriff and had to leave town. I said that I would miss her; she hoped to be back before the end of the year.

    Enthusiastic new volunteers made 12 trays of lasagna, 50% above our normal production. Despite concerns, there were zero leftovers.

    In the hinterlands we'll stick to what we know how to do---food pantries and feeding programs---and leave the transformation stuff to others. We'll be back on October 29th, when baked chicken and rice will be on the menu.

    Saturday, July 29, 2017

    Banking Deserts

    "In June the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis estimated that there are now more than 1,100 banking deserts—defined as census areas at least ten miles from a bank—in America."
    Community organisations worry that if branches continue to close in poor areas, many neighbourhoods could become reliant on payday lenders and cheque-cashing stores.
    (Money image)
    Even with the exorbitant fees ($5 to $12 per month) charged to customers just for maintaining a checking account, branches are being shuttered across the country. By the way, stating that "only" 1.7% of the population resides in a banking desert understates the problem. A single bank may enable an area to escape the definition of a desert, but with no competition one bank can ratchet the fees much higher.

    It helps to live in a prosperous zip code; within a mile from our house there are five major banks. Even so, we've winnowed the number of banks we use to two; in order to avoid the fees they all require a minimum balance of $2,000-$3,000, and spreading it around becomes costly very quickly.

    Willie Sutton famously and apocryphally said he robbed banks "because that is where the money is." Banks follow that philosophy, too, when deciding where to open for business.

    Friday, July 28, 2017

    Still Remembered

    Willie McCovey's statue greets fans on the way to AT&T.
    He retired in 1980, but Giants icon Willie McCovey is still remembered in San Francisco. His WSJ interview harks back to a time when men endured without complaining and triumphed without thinking that they were special:
    In early 1954, when I was a junior, I dropped out of high school to help support my family. In addition to my paper route, I tried working as a bus boy in a whites-only restaurant, but I quit after a week. All the things that make you cringe was normal talk then. You took it or you walked away.

    I soon found work at a chicken place. I was responsible for washing the chicken parts before they were put out for people to buy.

    With 12 y.o. actor Kurt Russell
    in 1963 (WSJ photo)
    That December, I took the train [from Mobile, AL] to Los Angeles to visit my older brother, Wyatt. It was the first time I was away from Mobile.

    I started looking for a job. One day I went to an employment agency, but the line inside was long. It was so hot that I fainted. I was probably dehydrated.

    Failing to find a job that day was a blessing. Back at my brother’s apartment, the phone rang. It was Jesse. He was a “bird-dog” who spotted baseball talent for a San Francisco Giants scout named Alex Pompez. He said he told Alex about me. Alex wanted me to report to Florida where the Giants were trying out players.
    And the rest is history.

    Thursday, July 27, 2017

    Making His Boss Look Good

    "The Mooch" (Independent Journal Review photo)
    No sooner was Anthony Scaramucci installed as White House Communications Director than did he give a profanity-laced interview to the New Yorker. The objects of his ire were not Democrats or the media but White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon:
    “Reince is a f***ing paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac,” Scaramucci said. He channelled Priebus as he spoke: “ ‘Oh, [former Fox News executive] Bill Shine is coming in. Let me leak the f***ing thing and see if I can c***-block these people the way I c***-blocked Scaramucci for six months.’ ” (Priebus did not respond to a request for comment.)

    Scaramucci was particularly incensed by a Politico report about his financial-disclosure form, which he viewed as an illegal act of retaliation by Priebus. The reporter said Thursday morning that the document was publicly available and she had obtained it from the Export-Import Bank. Scaramucci didn’t know this at the time, and he insisted to me that Priebus had leaked the document, and that the act was “a felony.”

    “I’ve called the F.B.I. and the Department of Justice,” he told me.

    “Are you serious?” I asked.

    “The swamp will not defeat him,” he said, breaking into the third person. “They’re trying to resist me, but it’s not going to work. I’ve done nothing wrong on my financial disclosures, so they’re going to have to go f*** themselves.” Scaramucci also told me that, unlike other senior officials, he had no interest in media attention. “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own c***,” he said, speaking of Trump’s chief strategist. “I’m not trying to build my own brand off the f***ing strength of the President. I’m here to serve the country.”
    It does appear that Mr. Trump has made another hasty hiring, but look at it this way: the President seems positively Presidential when compared to his enthusiastic new lieutenant.

    Wednesday, July 26, 2017

    Lucky Break

    iPhone 6: takes a licking and keeps on
    ticking, with a little help from AppleCare.
    All members of our household have iPhone 6's and 6S's (yes, awkward plural), which means that our phone contracts with AT&T have expired. We have battery and speed problems with the phones, but none of us are upgrading to the iPhone 7. WSJ tech writer Joanna Stern: [bold added]
    My answer requires no filling in the blanks. Do NOT buy an iPhone right now. It’s my annual iPhone No-Buy Rule™: Once summer rolls around wait for the new one, typically announced in early September.

    This year, there’s more reason than ever to wait. According to my WSJ colleagues, in addition to an updated iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, there will be a special model that’s expected to have an OLED screen, wireless charging and facial-recognition technology. Apple declined to comment on the reports.

    Even if you couldn’t care less about fancy-schmancy new tech, there are other reasons to hold out. If iPhone-istory repeats itself, Apple will drop the price on the current iPhone 7 models by $100 or more. And now that carrier contracts are all but dead, you may have your phone for two to three years—or at least until something goes wrong with it.

    Which brings us to our haggard iPhone 6 and 6s. It turns out most of their common problems can be fixed—with money and/or time. Why sink any cash into a phone you’re going to replace? Because it could up your resale value, and it will definitely empower you to buy your next phone only when the time is right.
    Three phones on the account will limp along until the new iPhone [Eight] is available. As for me, my iPhone 6 had a touchscreen problem that merited a full replacement under AppleCare this May. In other words, I have an "old" phone with new hardware that should last well into 2018. So I won't be upgrading to the [Eight], even if Apple launches it on time. Once in a while you get a lucky break, but it's only lucky if you recognize and act upon it.

    Tuesday, July 25, 2017

    Much Narrower Than It Used to Be

    If you want energy independence, buy two.
    On the way to the Stanford Apple Store we stopped by the Tesla showroom, which had a steady stream of curious passersby. Everyone else looked at the cars, but I was interested in the Powerwall. Had consumer-level battery storage progressed to the point where solar-energy owners could be off the grid? (Normally excess electricity is "sold" to the utility during the day and is "bought back" at night. Capacious batteries would greatly reduce or even eliminate this relationship with the utility.)

    I had phrased my question poorly. Tom, the Tesla salesperson, explained that while every home is legally required to maintain a connection with PG&E, two battery banks are sufficient not to have to draw electricity at night. Two Powerwalls installed would cost about $15,000, and a solar-panel system, as quoted by Tesla's competitors will run $20,000. Spending $35,000 when our electricity bill is about $2,000 per year doesn't make much sense, but the decision is much narrower than it used to be. Besides, showing off signaling virtue to neighbors doesn't come cheap.

    Monday, July 24, 2017

    OK2P

    At the Olomana Golf Course, I piddled before I pitched
    (both from the bushes). A $2,000 penalty would have
    hushed my buzz.
    In a story from Honolulu that I missed last February,
    A State Representative wants to impose fines for people who relieve themselves in public. Representative Gene Ward will introduce a measure this month to fine repeat offenders up to $2,000 who relieve themselves in certain spots. Ward issued a news release Friday calling for "urine-free zones."
    How will one know that an area is a urine-free zone? Is it marked(!)?

    In the absence of a sign may one infer that urination is permitted, i.e., OK2P?

    Sunday, July 23, 2017

    Good Enough

    Usually the congregation sits for Bible readings, but for the Gospel everyone stands and faces the reader:
    Other Scriptures may be meditated on and thought about, but the Gospel demands that we act, and standing up and facing the reader attentively is a way to indicate that we realize that.
    Your humble blogger absorbs information visually throughout the week but for one or two hours on Sunday consciously puts down the program (unlike everyone in the picture) and listens. Hearing exercises a different part of the brain and is how most Christians received the Word for over a millennium. If it was good enough for them, it's good enough for me.

    Saturday, July 22, 2017

    Always a Borrower Be

    Our books have been on the shelves for years but were
    newer and in better shape than others that were donated.
    Only a small sliver of the population engages in extreme hoarding, but there's a much larger group who are hoarders of a category---for example, clothes or computer equipment---that alone can clutter the living space.

    My own weakness is books; parting with one is psychologically like forever closing the door to the book's discoveries. I began sorting through a tall bookcase last week and found that there were many books that I didn't care about, i.e., old non-fiction texts, children's stories, and suspense novels that no longer had mystery. We boxed them and took them to the San Mateo Public Library, which is having a book sale in September.

    I renewed my library card and borrowed On the Road, which I had always meant to read. I now intend to borrow most books instead of buying them: 1) The groaning bookshelves can barely handle more weight; 2) The existence of a due-date forces me to buckle down and read books that enter the home. We'll see.

    Friday, July 21, 2017

    Good News, So Not About Russia

    WSJ: Low-Income Earners See Weekly Pay Gain Faster Than Other Groups:[bold added]
    Weekly pay for earners at the lowest 10th percentile of the wage scale rose at a faster rate last quarter, from a year earlier, than any other group measured by the Labor Department—including those at the top of the income scales who earn five times as much.

    The shift for low-income workers—including restaurant workers and retail cashiers—who make about $10.75 an hour, is a sign that a tightening labor market is delivering better pay to workers who largely haven’t shared in gains since the recession ended eight years ago, according to economists and government data. Last quarter marked the first time since late 2010 that this earning group’s gains outpaced all others.....

    The recent improvement for low earners coincides with a downward trend in the unemployment rate, which stood at 4.4% last month, versus 4.9% a year earlier. The unemployment rate for those with less than a high-school education—who make up much of the low-wage workforce—fell even more sharply, to 6.4% last month from 7.5% a year earlier. Tighter labor supply in theory should push up wages.
    Rising pay for the lowest-paid without a government mandate on the minimum wage---how is that possible?

    We'll wait for the analytics. The factors behind higher pay packets could be business growth from reduced regulation, fewer immigrants in the labor pool, less "unfair" trade competition against domestic employers, the wealth effect from a booming stock market, higher consumer confidence, or any combination of the above.

    Rasmussen: Americans Are Happier Than They Have Been In Years
    Americans are feeling better about their own lives than they have in over a decade.
    People are happier now than any time during President Obama's two terms....That's hard to believe with Russian collusion happening and Republicans trying to kill 40,000 people a year under their health care bill. And we're not even talking about the millions (billions?) of people who will perish because President Trump pulled out of the Paris climate accords.

    The people are happy in their ignorance, and the media needs to try harder to set them straight.

    Thursday, July 20, 2017

    "Baby, Light My Fire" --- Not to be Taken Literally

    (Telegraph graphic)
    Another sign that Chinese innovation is overtaking America's: 'Anti-pervert' flame-throwers for sale in China.[bold added]
    A flame-thrower that can hurl a stream of fire half a metre long is being marketed in China to help women fend off unwanted advances...

    Some are shaped like a cigarette lighter and emit small flames, while others hurl fire for 50cm with temperatures of up to 1,800 degrees Celsius (3,300 Fahrenheit).
    Yes, Lotharios, at 3,300 degrees F. it will leave a mark.

    This device would also be a good conversation- and fire-starter when lighting candles on a birthday cake. I checked, but it's not available on Amazon. Sad!

    Hat tip: Tyler Cowen

    Wednesday, July 19, 2017

    Obamacare: Let the Situation Ripen

    Yesterday I made the following statement about Obamacare: "government spending is rising much faster than originally projected while revenues are falling short."

    These days one should not just throw out a statement like that without a link or two. Here is Investor's Business Daily, on the signs of collapse:
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reports that the number of insurers applying to participate in ObamaCare exchanges next year plunged by 38% compared with last year, and is half what it was in 2016.
  • CMS also reported that 40 counties in Indiana, Ohio and Nevada are at risk of having zero insurance companies in their ObamaCare exchanges next year. The Kaiser Family Foundation put the number of at-risk counties at 38.
  • In addition, CMS reported that 2.4 million enrollees in 40% of the nation's counties will have just one insurance company in their area.
  • The average increase in premiums next year for a Silver plan in eight states will be 18%, according to Avalere. One of the last ObamaCare insurers in Iowa has put in for a 43.5% hike. In Washington state, the average boost is 22%. In Tennessee, the proposed rate hikes range from 21% to 42%. And so on.
  • As we noted before in this space, these insurance defections and gargantuan rate hikes have nothing to do with the Republican's repeal effort, but with the continued deterioration of the ObamaCare markets.
  • States are also starting to struggle with the costs of ObamaCare's "free" Medicaid expansion. A report from the National Association of State Budget Offices said that the expansion will cost states nearly $9 billion next year, more than twice what it cost in 2016.
  • CMS reports that the per capita costs of the Medicaid expansion are 50% higher than expected.
  • Arkansas scaled back its Medicaid expansion in May, and Ohio lawmakers voted in June to freeze the expansion in that state. Oregon's Medicaid expansion contributed a $1.6 billion gap in the state's budget. In California, the Medicaid expansion will cost the state $1.3 billion this year, putting additional strain on the state's budget.
  • Today President Trump repeated his call to the Senate to continue working on a health care bill. It's my belief---hold on to your hats---that he thinks it's the right thing to do despite the fact (not a probability) that he and the Republicans will be vilified no matter what they come up with. As a person with life experience, he knows that trying to help people who don't wish to be helped not only is unappreciated but resented.

    He should just call off his effort, declare Obamacare to be the law of the land until the people overwhelmingly want something different, agree to provide funding according to the 2009 CBO projections, and let the Obamacare advocates tell us how to fix it as long as they stay within the budgetary guidelines (plus 10% because he's a reasonable guy). Let the situation ripen, as the saying goes.

    Tuesday, July 18, 2017

    Let's See Who Was Right

    What I wrote in March about the House's original failure to repeal Obamacare ("It Would Have Been a Catastrophic Victory") applies to yesterday's Senate "failure" as well.

    The Republican Senators couldn't overturn Obamacare because it was a great system (it's not--government spending is rising much faster than originally projected while revenues are falling short); the Senators didn't want to be blamed at the ballot box for the pain of the transition---just as the Democrats were blamed from 2010 to 2016.
    One doesn't go changing a system where hundreds of billions of dollars are spent without some good, innocent people being harmed. In 2017 we would have been treated to stories about people who lost due to Obamacare's repeal. The difference was that in 2013 we didn't hear about people who lost their doctor and/or their insurance plan because of Obamacare. Unfair, but that's the media landscape.
    The next order of business is to decide how much to fund the health care system that so many Republicans disagree with. Frankly, I'd start with the 2009 CBO projections that were used to pass the bill, perhaps adding 5-10% for overages.

    Opponents at the time said that Obamacare advocates were lowballing the costs in a classic get-it-passed-so-we're-stuck-with-it move. Let's see who was right.

    Monday, July 17, 2017

    Evelyn Waugh Was Born 100 Years Too Soon

    Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966) (Biography.com)
    I long thought "he" was a woman because
    dust jackets never had photos.
    The majority of book-readers are women, and they want to read woman writers:
    A 2014 Goodreads survey of 20,000 male and 20,000 female participants on the site found that of the 50 books published that year that were most read by women, 46 were written by women.
    One growing genre is the psychological suspense novel with a female protagonist. Because of a common belief that only a woman can truly get into such a character's mind, female readers favor woman authors.

    Male writers are adapting ambiguous pseudonyms (e.g., Jordan, Stacy) or just abbreviations (e.g., J.K. Rowling, who is, of course, a real woman) so as not to be rejected out of hand.

    These days men aren't reading a lot of books, especially fiction. It's a woman-readers' world, and male suspense writers must adapt accordingly.

    Sunday, July 16, 2017

    Little Lost Church

    Unlike outsiders who believe that the Episcopal Church is near collapse--partly in my view due to wish fulfillment--I don't think its condition is that dire, but there's no doubt that the Church has severe problems.

    The drop in attendance is unquestioned, but the decline appears to have leveled off:
    Among the old mainstream denominations reporting to the National Council of Churches, the Episcopal Church suffered the worst loss of membership from 1992-2002 — plunging from 3.4 million members to 2.3 million for a 32 percent loss. In the NCC’s 2012 yearbook, the Episcopal Church admitted another 2.71 percent annual membership loss.
    For the past quarter-century, the Church's leaders have embraced coastal values (same-sex marriage, gender fluidity, climate-change environmentalism, social-justice redistributionism) without doing much outreach to the more conservative lay population and a few clergy dissenters.

    Recalcitrant Dioceses have tried to break away while retaining their Anglicanism, but the Episcopal Church has responded with lawsuits that assert its legal claim to the properties (generally the Church has won in court). However, suing fellow Anglicans who have paid for the maintenance and usually the purchase of the properties that they have worshipped in for generations is not a good look.

    As for the coastal Dioceses themselves, high property values raise the temptation to sell off real estate in order to cope with cash shortages. But that course of action meets with resistance from parishes (financially independent churches, unlike missions) that thought they owned the property because they paid for it. Generally title does not reside at the local level.

     St. James, Newport Beach (OC Register)
    Bishop J. Jon Bruno of Los Angeles tried to sell a Newport Beach property to a developer, but was stopped by the National Church. Bishop Bruno has been threatened with removal of his collar:
    an attorney for the national Church has recommended he be defrocked.

    Bruno’s misconduct allegations were over his move to sell the prime piece of real estate on Via Lido back in June 2015 for $15 million to a developer who wanted to build luxury condominiums there. Though that sale fell through, the congregation was evicted and remains locked out, forced to hold services in a community room at the Newport Beach Civic Center.
    The church's dwindling resources are increasingly tied up in the courts and politics that are only tangentially related to the Christian mission. The Episcopal Church is not collapsing, but it has definitely lost its way.

    Saturday, July 15, 2017

    Seams Puzzling

    (WSJ photo)
    I will never understand how values are assigned to art or wine or fashion. An example of the latter is the new Raf Simons sweater (pictured) that retails for $487.
    The drop-shouldered knits, made in partnership with Woolmark, the Australian company that promotes merino wool, are drapier and softer than Mr. Simons’s previous slightly itchy, stiffer shetland designs.
    Comments:

    Drapy and soft, not itchy or stiff---that must explain the price.

    The description made me look up what "drop shoulder" (seam is on the upper arm, not the shoulder) means, so there's that.

    It sure looks like the sweater doesn't go all the way down to the waist. Is this now a thing?

    "I ❤️ NY" is available on $5 T-shirts. If we are to appreciate the expensive merino-wool medium, we should lose the cheap message, IMHO. But that's why I'll never understand fashion.

    Friday, July 14, 2017

    This Conspiracy Makes Sense.

    Nearly everyone knows the adjective, how about the noun form?

    Donald J. Trump, Jr., naïf:
    Donald Jr and Fredo (John Cazale) (Vox juxtaposition)
    when the Obama administration couldn’t get permission from the FISA court to surveil Trump, they allowed Veselnitskaya back into the country to take part in those Washington activities aside from whatever legal work she supposedly would be doing, and in the meantime the administration’s pals at Fusion tasked Goldstone with attempting to hook Trump Junior, whose performance makes him not a terrible analog for Fredo Corleone, into a meeting at Trump Tower to pass along “opposition research.”

    And once that meeting — which on its surface was a waste of everyone’s time — was had, the Obama administration now had something to sell to the FISA court to get that warrant — from which they snagged Mike Flynn and gave the Democrat party and the media a mechanism to shroud the Trump administration in what can best be described as a rather dubious scandal. Remember how Hillary Clinton was accusing Trump of being a Putin’s puppet at the October 19 debate?
    The hypothesis, at its essence: The Obama Administration ensnared the Trump campaign by allowing visa-already-denied Natalia into the U.S. just in time for a meeting with Donald Junior. Aha! Junior is meeting with Russians! FISA warrant approved.

    Even liberals will admit that this "conspiracy" makes more sense. The much smarter Democratic operatives played chess while the Trump rubes thought the game was checkers. Yet, somehow, the naïfs won when it counted.

    Not Miracle Whip, Just a Miracle

    Homeroom's mac-and-cheese waffles (SF Gate)
    Skipping National Mac and Cheese Day is the price one pays for middle-onset lactose intolerance.

    I will never darken the doors of Oakland's Homeroom Restaurant, whose entire entrée menu consists of variations on the popular comfort food.

    I will never again dine on the sliced hot dogs and Kraft mac-and-cheese that I loved as a child. Perhaps it's just as well, because boxed M&C contains "phthalates — which have been linked to genital birth defects in baby boys and behavior problems in older kids."

    I played baseball in the streets with the neighborhood kids and climbed six-foot-high jungle gyms, falling once onto a hard asphalt surface and never making that mistake again. I walked a mile to and from school with busy urban traffic whizzing by. And now it turns out that phthalates were in the mac and cheese.

    It's a miracle I'm still alive.

    Thursday, July 13, 2017

    Diversity in Pedagogy

    (Photo from eljay.org)
    Mills College of Oakland has fired five tenured professors in a cost-cutting move [bold added].
    Mills, one of only 36 women’s colleges remaining in the United States, is again deep in the hole. But unlike dozens of other women’s schools that have voted in recent decades to admit men to solve financial woes, Mills trustees made a controversial decision of a different kind this summer: They fired tenured professors, a move rare in academia and unprecedented at Mills.
    With 1,400 students--about two-thirds undergraduates--Mills has long been known as an excellent private college. Wikipedia: [bold added]
    In 2015, U.S. News & World Report ranked Mills sixth overall among colleges and universities in the Western U.S. (regional universities) and one of the top colleges and universities in the Western U.S. in "Great Schools, Great Prices," which evaluated the quality of institutions' academics against the cost of attendance. The Princeton Review ranks Mills as one of the Best 380 Colleges and one of the top "green" colleges in the U.S. Washington Monthly ranks Mills as one of the top 10 master's universities in the U.S.
    I attended college in the 1970's, after men's universities, including mine, had gone co-ed. I wondered why the arguments that applied to admitting women to men's schools (enriched educational experience, diversity of opinion, enhanced preparation for "real life," social benefits, etc.) weren't relevant to men attending women's schools. The double standard was one of the reasons that I became disenchanted with the progressive agenda.

    Today I'm glad that Mills has chosen to remain the way it is. Women's colleges are disappearing, now that the main reason for their existence has vanished:
  • The earliest women’s colleges were founded in the mid-19th century to give women access to higher education. This was a time when many people believed that it was unnecessary to educate women whose place was in the home, and that rigorous study could be unhealthy for women.
  • In 1960 there were about 230 women’s colleges.
  • In 2014, there were 47 women’s colleges in the U.S. and Canada.
  • There's a sameness to university education across the country: high costs, racially diverse student populations, women in the majority, leftist politics, and poor job prospects for non-STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) majors.

    Schools that once catered to specific groups--blacks, women, military, Christian--have become rare. It's important to preserve them, not just for students who wish to learn in a different environment but also because innovation springs from a diversity in pedagogy. Two cheers for Mills.

    Wednesday, July 12, 2017

    Prime Day Savings

    I didn't know I needed a combined corkscrew and bottle opener until I saw it on Amazon's website during Prime Day. The same can be said of a stainless steel chips-and-dip bowl, a pet-hair cordless vacuum, and three--count 'em, three, no less--accordion files to file all the papers that I've been meaning to scan electronically.
    Add caption
    My bicycle cover has some holes in it, so I'll take one of those. Of course, one can use another pair of inexpensive earbuds.
    They're always getting lost or broken. Sure, I don't "need" any of this stuff, but look at all the money I've saved.