Friday, March 31, 2017

A Slice of Heaven

Black gold from Santa Rosa, CA (Chron photo)
It took over 100 years for Napa and Sonoma wineries to be declared the equal of their venerable French counterparts at the "Judgment of Paris" in 1976, but North Bay orchards--some using vineyard lands--are on a much faster track to competing with another renowned French export: [bold added]
Several weeks ago...was the first successful harvest among several orchards betting on Wine Country as the world’s next great truffle-growing region.[snip]

High-quality imported fresh black truffles typically cost $800 per pound and are at their prime up to four or five days after harvest, about the time it takes to fly them from Europe or Australia
Growing truffles, like making wine, is a multi-year endeavor.
Preparing the site for your truffière requires the most labor. Remove all trees, stumps and root systems from previous growth, then test your soil. Since truffles require a soil pH of 8 to 8.3, United States growers must apply agricultural lime before planting.

Once your soil is prepared, consider irrigation. Maturing [oak and filbert] trees require about an inch of water a week. When growing truffles, you do not plant one or two trees; you plant one or two acres of trees. If watering the trees proves too labor-intensive, you will likely abandon your orchard and your investment.
For a few seconds I entertained the idea of becoming a gentleman truffle farmer, but tending to two acres of trees is too steep a price, especially without seeing any results for the better part of a decade.

Here's hoping that California truffles will be on sale at Whole Foods or Costco in the not-too-distant future. If they're under $100 a pound, I'll cut me a slice or two.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Giants Rookies, Improve Your Power, Speed, and USG

The G-U trophy looks good over your fireplace.
Geoff Head, the Giants' sports science specialist, emphasizes hydration [bold added]:
And one of the ways we check players’ hydration daily is through what’s called USG — a urine specific gravity machine,” Head explains.

The Giants value these readings so much that they’ve turned urination into a competition. To be eligible to win the coveted Hydration Domination contest, players must post their best scores before batting practice. The best hydrated player after each series wins an award shaped like a golden urinal. Think of it as the M-V-Pee trophy.
The Giants are doing their best to remain baseball's number one team.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Part of My Estate, Probably

April is the month for showers, taxes, and Costco's annual Spam sale.

Last year we loaded the larder and have been drawing down the inventory on a FIFO basis, though with Spam it doesn't matter which inventory method is used.

Like land and art work, Spam never spoils (the accounting term is depreciate).

I bought a couple of six-packs for the emergency locker. Unlike batteries Spam's expiration date is so distant that I'll never have to rotate the stores.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Coming In To The Cold

Priceless expression (Economist photo)
In California we like to pay huge premiums for stuff that is hardly distinguishable from the unbranded commodity--think water and "organic" produce--but to seek out an item that the rest of the country avoids? We want bitter cold.
CryoZone invites customers to spend $75 for three minutes in a cryogenic chamber cooled to -110°C [-166°F] for fledgling freezers and -132°C [-206°F] for chilling connoisseurs. The treatment is meant to calm inflammation and soothe muscle soreness, but Angelenos swear by it to solve all sorts of ills, from tennis elbow to the urgent need to lose a bit of weight before a daughter’s wedding.
Cryotherapy chambers are unlikely to be sold for home use any time soon. In 2015 a Nevada cryo-worker died when she took a solo dip after hours. Another person now must be present to avoid such mishaps.

Yelp lists 27 cryotherapy outlets in the SF Bay Area.

Hey, local cryophiles, move to Wisconsin where the sub-zero temperatures are free, and buy an equivalent house in a university town for 20-25% of the price you received for your property in the Bay Area. Think of it as unfreezing your assets while you freeze your...

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Opposite of a Flake

J. T. Snow
At an autograph signing in Millbrae in 2005.
The Chronicle real estate section has a wee bit of pun with a former SF Giant's vacation home: J.T. Snow Selling Snowy Retreat in the Tahoe Area.
Former San Francisco Giant J.T. Snow is set to release his Truckee, CA, home. The six-time Gold Glover’s vacation getaway is on the market for $1.6 million.

This four-bedroom, 3.5-bath, 3,750-square-foot mountain retreat sure looks like a home run.
A scoop he didn't bobble (SFGate)
Normally, I wouldn't give this listing a second glance, but it's a sign of these overheated times that Mr. Snow's property looks like a bargain compared to the Peninsula, where properties half the size go for about the same price.

I've always liked J.T. Snow, who didn't have superstar talent but through indefatigable effort lasted 13 years in the majors.

His most famous "play" occurred in the 2002 World Series, when he scooped up 3-year-old batboy Darren Baker, son of Giants manager Dusty Baker, as J.T. crossed home plate. A touching moment that could well have been very serious.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Plus ça change

Christ Healing the Blind Man by El Greco (Metmuseum)
Today's Gospel reading was John 9:1-41 (printed after the break below). It was a very lo-o-ong passage, and because it was my turn to usher, I had a perfect excuse to turn my attention to usherly duties like checking the Sunday school classes and sorting the programs. But today I listened out of curiosity.

Extended readings are expected during Christmas and Easter when the great Christian stories are being retold, but what was so special about today's Gospel? The people in charge of the lectionary terminate the reading right after the principal lesson, i.e., the moral of the story, is revealed. Sometimes the reading is over in a minute, but not today.

The tale is the familiar one of Jesus restoring sight to a blind man. But most of the story is about how the knowledgable priests, the educated Pharisees, could not believe the unexpected occurrence that upended their world view: Jesus was a sinner and could not possibly have performed the healing miracle. Moreover, he didn't observe the rules and healed on the Sabbath.

They questioned the blind man's parents, then the blind man himself, searching for another explanation. Partly out of fear and partly out of awareness of their own lowly status, the witnesses refused to be baited into speculation, just saying what they saw.

And the moral of the story?
Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”
Your humble blogger, not sure of what he had just heard, had to translate the above. Various commentaries are unanimous about the meaning. One example:
People's sins will always be unpardoned while they are proud, and self-sufficient, and confident of their own wisdom. If they will come with humble hearts and confess their ignorance, God will forgive, enlighten, and guide them in the path to heaven.
2,000 years ago there were people who thought that they knew it all and that, because of their status and education, other views could not possibly be right. Thank goodness the credentialed aren't as arrogant today.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

It Would Have Been a Catastrophic Victory

The failure to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka Obamacare) has been covered--gleefully---as a defeat for President Trump, House leadership, and Republican governance in general, but the outcome was foreseeable. There were too many disputes about what should be in the "replace" portion of the bill, and, frankly, the one-sidedness of media coverage made the mountain too high for politicians with an eye on 2018.

No, this is not another leftwing-media-are-biased post because the Republicans must shoulder the principal blame, but, dear reader, what do you remember most about the original coverage of the debate in 2009 and 2010? It was individual, heartbreaking stories about people who couldn't get coverage and who went bankrupt trying to care for a loved one.

The result was a government health care system that is inefficient, didn't drive down costs, didn't achieve universal coverage, didn't allow patients to keep their doctors, and had numerous other flaws. Yet while the Republicans debated this month, what were the media stories about? It was individual, heartbreaking stories about people who may lose their coverage and may go bankrupt if Obamacare were repealed.

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.

President Trump is viewing this week's event as a setback, while others are making it seem as his Waterloo. I'm inclined to think it is a setback that he should be grateful for.

Peggy Noonan: [bold added]
Fatal? No. Damaging and diminishing? Yes. It is an embarrassment too for Speaker Paul Ryan...

Seven years ago, when ObamaCare was on its way to passing with not a single Republican vote, I called it a catastrophic victory. It wouldn’t work; the government would not be able to execute; it was a Rube Goldberg machine. It was a bill created not by visionaries or political masters but by technocrats—and the worst kind of technocrat, the one who sees himself as a secret visionary. On top of that the Democrats would always own it, and when the program failed, Republicans would have no motivation to help them save it.

That is what RyanCare or TrumpCare would have been if it had passed: a catastrophic victory. No Democratic support, an opaque and impossible-to-understand bill, one that is complex and complicated, one that would be unpopular back home. And created by technocrats who think themselves visionaries.
Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams has a different take on why this is really good news for Donald Trump [bold]:
In the 2D world, where everything is just the way it looks, and people are rational, Trump and Ryan failed to improve healthcare. But in the 3D world of persuasion, Trump just had one of the best days any president ever had: He got promoted from Hitler to incompetent. And that promotion effectively defused the Hitler-hallucination bomb that was engineered by the Clinton campaign.
It's much more advantageous for people to think you are incompetent instead of one of the most evil persons in history. Not only are opponents willing to talk to you, they want to talk because they can take advantage of you. The Trump turnaround begins today.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Checking Out

(Graphic from Paragon)
The human animal is, of course, more complex than one-dimensional economic man. Nevertheless, economic motivations are powerful and often are the principal driving force for behavior. The high cost of housing is finally turning the tide on Bay Area population movement. [bold added]
the number of people moving out has begun to catch up with the number moving in, new census data show.

In fact, in some parts of the Bay Area — including Santa Clara, San Mateo and Marin counties — already more people are leaving than arriving, according to the estimates released Thursday, which cover the period from July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2016...

“Job growth has slowed, and that leads to a lessening in demand to live in the Bay Area,” said Hans Johnson, a senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California who had not seen the new census figures. “But it’s not like we’re having outright job losses or increasing unemployment. That’s not happening.” [snip]

“The key here is being able to afford to live in the Bay Area,” said Johnson. “Jobs and housing are really the primary criteria driving people’s decisions. It’s kind of a balancing act between the two. If jobs predominate, people are moving in. If housing predominates, you have less people moving in.”
The Bay Area is not...yet...Hotel California, where "You can checkout any time you like, But you can never leave."

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Just Show Your Cards Already

Representative Adam Schiff, the ranking Member (top Democrat) on the House Intelligence Committee, said yesterday about the rumored Russia-Trump connection:
“I don’t want to go into specifics, but I will say that there is evidence that is not circumstantial and is very much worthy of investigation, so that is what we ought to do,” Schiff said.
I don't know about you, dear reader, but I'm fed up with dark hints of Russian election interference, influence and collusion, "evidence" that may or may not exist, the leaking by Trump opponents and a possible cover-up by the Trump Administration.

Let's follow the lead of that great American game, poker, and have everyone show their cards. And if Representative Schiff is obeying laws that enjoin him from revealing what he knows because the information is classified, let's have President Trump declassify everything so people can talk about it.

And don't hide behind "it will reveal sources and methods" because adversaries know more about American spycraft than the American public does anyway.

Let the chips fall where they may.

If the Fall Doesn't Kill You, the Bathtub Will

Amidst the clamor over fake news and alternative facts, here's a government statement (in bold) that's 100% fake, no matter what your political opinions.
A lawyer representing the family of dead Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky was in a serious condition after a fall from a four-story building ahead of a key court appearance, Mr. Magnitsky’s former employer said Wednesday.

The lawyer, Nikolai Gorokhov, 53, was scheduled to appear in court on Wednesday to argue that new evidence was grounds to reopen the case into the death of Mr. Magnitsky, who was found dead in prison in 2009 with broken fingers and bruises all over his body. [Blogger's Note: "Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Mr. Magnitsky died of heart failure."]

Russian state media said Mr. Gorokhov fell late Tuesday out of the building window together with the bathtub he was helping workers carry to his apartment.
Defenestration of Prague (Lego Interpretation)
I luckily read the following after I had swallowed my coffee:
The Interfax news agency said the incident was caused by unsafe handling of the tub and that law enforcement agencies weren’t investigating foul play.
He survived:
Mr. Gorokhov was in intensive care in a serious condition, but that he was responsive and speaking to doctors.
The doctors would be advised to stay away from windows.

BTW, next year will be the 400th anniversary of the Defenestration of Prague.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

To Your Liking

(Graphic from Florida politics)
The controversy over sanctuary cities has each side arguing the moral superiority of its own position. One result is certain: the conflict between Federal and Local law enforcement has left the bad guys opportunities to exploit.

For example, if I were engaged in street sales of illegal drugs in San Francisco, I would have as many undocumented immigrants as possible working for me. If they were arrested, San Francisco police, following Administrative Code Section 12I.3. Restrictions on Law Enforcement Officials, will detain suspects for ICE only if they have committed violent felonies. Because of the explicitly declared policy of non-cooperation, SF police are especially motivated to release non-violent offenders as quickly as possible. My runners would be freed post-haste.

Legal residents or even citizens can also find this policy to their liking. If a bad-guy-citizen were accused of, say, breaking and entering, he could affect his most fractured, accented English and have a friend inform ICE that he was in county lockup. (Of course, it helps to have the right surname.) Either his act will be convincing to the locals who will release him before ICE arrives, or Immigration will take him away, whereupon he will produce the proper papers and again be released.

Hey, bad guys, come to San Francisco, Los Angeles, or maybe anywhere in the State of California . Whether or not you have papers, you will find our state to your liking.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Rich Live Longer, Too

David Rockefeller in 1981, when he retired as Chairman
of Chase Manhattan Bank (WSJ photo)
When John D. Rockefeller was born in 1839, Martin Van Buren was President. The Civil War was still 22 years away, and there were only 26 States.

John D. Rockefeller's last surviving grandchild, David Rockefeller, died yesterday at the age of 101.

John D. Rockefeller was by some measures the richest man in history. Not only did he bequeath immense wealth to his descendants, he apparently blessed them with genes of extraordinary longevity. John D. died at the age of 97.

The American experiment isn't as old as it seems.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Honolulu Chinatown

The Cultural Plaza, built in the 1970's, never did spark
a much desired urban renewal in Chinatown
In the 1950's my grandmother would often take me to Chinatown. The friendly shopkeepers would give me a piece of candy or char siu (roast pork). I would stare at the live chicken that grandmother picked out, destined for slaughter in her back yard. (When I first saw a cleaned, de-feathered, and refrigerated chicken it was a wonder, as well as expensive.) The last stop was Char Hung Sut, where we would pick up noodles, rice cake, and manapua (pork buns). Chinatown was always colorful but never upscale....until now.

The lei shops on Maunakea St. are still there (WSJ photo)
Per the WSJ - Honolulu's Chinatown is "newly hip":
New owners are taking over nondescript spaces and tearing down the stained drop ceilings to create tall, airy spaces; ripping up the worn linoleum and smoothing the concrete floors underneath. They’re also expanding the area’s offerings, peddling everything from moules frites (at the bistro Grondin) to Italian linen dresses (at Echo & Atlas), as well as sophisticated Hawaiian wares.
I'll check it out on my next trip, and it looks like I'll have to save up, too.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Continence Shifting

Pope Francis said that the Catholic Church may allow the ordination of married men:
he might consider ordaining married men who could work in rural areas where there are few priests...he said married men who are already involved in the church — called “viri probati” — could be useful....The idea of viri probati is an old one, but recent strains on the Catholic Church have brought renewed attention to it, the AFP reported. Countries such as Brazil have large Catholic populations but few priests, so some people have been looking for ways to expand the clergy’s ranks.
Married Episcopal clergy have become Catholic priests under Pope John Paul II's "Pastoral Provision". Sometimes whole Episcopal congregations convert along with their ministers:
On January 1, 2012 the Vatican expanded the Pastoral Provision by creating a special nationwide diocese, similar to the Archdiocese for the Military, called an “ordinariate” through which Episcopal priests and their entire congregations can enter the Roman Catholic Church.

So far [note: the article was written in 2012], the special diocese has seven parishes. One of the most active is in Scranton, Pennsylvania, led by a young Catholic priest who is married with seven children.
If enough exceptions are granted, then the fundamental principle will be questioned. The centuries-long mandate for priestly celibacy may vanish more quickly than most of us thought.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

They Deserve a Break Today

On Thursday the person in charge of McDonald's Twitter account seemed to have a brain [freeze]:

Gullible commenters of both the left and right praised and dissed Mickey D's for its impertinent tweet. The Twitter post is obviously a fake or the result of a hack. Large public companies don't risk alienating a good portion of their customers by making political remarks, however strongly some executives might feel toward expressing themselves in such a manner. (They might chance it as individuals, but that would kill a shot at a promotion.)

McDonald’s mostly stays out of politics, declining to comment publicly on administration policies that could affect the restaurant industry, deferring comment to the industry’s trade group.
It's not clear, by the way, that McDonald's management has a monolithic political view. According to the The Center for Media and Democracy [bold added]
" McDonald's political action committee (PAC) spent a total of $1,071,627, including $735,875 to individual candidates, at the federal level in the 2014 election cycle. Of candidate contributions, 55 percent went to Republicans and 45 percent to Democrats.")
McDonald's followed shortly with a claim that it was hacked:

To its credit McDonald's got out in front of the controversy early. It was also lucky that there wasn't more mischief done.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Concert Privileges

Bill Graham, 1931-1991 (Chronicle photo)
If Starship, successor to Jefferson Starship, in turn the successor to Jefferson Airplane, "built this city on rock and roll", it was promoter Bill Graham who built rock and roll in the City:
he rose to prominence during the Summer of Love, having brought Jefferson Airplane to the Fillmore in 1966, the first show under his new company, Bill Graham Presents. He also helped launch the careers of such artists as Janis Joplin and Big Brother & the Holding Company as well as the Grateful Dead.
During the 1970's Mrs. Blogger took her first job at Bill Graham Presents. Well-known musicians often dropped by the offices at 10th & Harding, hardly meriting a glance from the overworked staff. There would be opportunities enough to see them perform from backstage.

Decades later, the line-ups for BGP's Oakland Coliseum Days on the Green seem incredible (examples: The Who and The Grateful Dead appeared together, as did Fleetwood Mac and Peter Frampton, in 1976). The music lasted all day.

And then the moment was gone.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

With Flowers on Our Brain

The Chronicle's Special Edition
The Chronicle commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love.

In 1967 an estimated 100,000 hippies and young people who aspired to be like them converged on San Francisco for months of music and partying. There was also another side. The "squalid" reality
of kids living on the streets like refugees, panhandling for food, a sudden epidemic of speed and toxic psychedelics laced with animal tranquilizer (and worse) left something to be desired for many.
The glory of the Summer of Love lives on in the selective memory of baby boomers, who 50 years later can be seen on the corner of Haight and Ashbury taking snapshots of their children and grandchildren. (For the record your humble blogger was barely in high school, 2,000 miles away.)

(Chronicle photo)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

California: The Government We Deserve

Do you know the way to (Lake) San Jose? (Chron photo)
If we have about a quarter of an inch of rain by July, it will be California's wettest year. [bold added]
According to Golden Gate Weather Services, this year’s rainy season, going back to July, has seen just 0.27 inches less than the record-setting 28.30 inches of rain that had fallen — on average across the state — at this point in the soggy 1968-69 rain year.

Meanwhile, precipitation in the northern Sierra, which is crucial to the state’s fickle water supply, is tracking ahead of any previous year. As of Thursday, an average 77.8 inches of precipitation had fallen between Mount Shasta and Lake Tahoe since Oct. 1 — about 212 percent of average for the period, according to the state Department of Water Resources.
The good water news may well continue:
Federal forecasters said Thursday that the chances of an El Niño developing by fall are on the rise — now between 50 and 55 percent —an outlook that could skew the odds in favor of yet another wet winter.
Oroville spillway: we don't even maintain
the dams we do have (Chron photo)
The drought is over, but it would have been nice if California had built dams or reservoirs to store all this excess water for a not-rainy day.
Now, California is experiencing near-record rain and snowfall. Had the state simply completed its half-century-old water master plan, dozens of new reservoirs would now be storing the runoff, ensuring that the state could be drought-proof for years.

Instead, more than 20 million acre-feet of precious water have already been released to the sea. There is nowhere to put it, given that California has not built a major reservoir in nearly 40 years....

Governors who cannot build a reservoir have little business fantasizing about 200-mph super trains.
When California experiences another water shortage in 3, 5, or 10 years officials will blame carbon emissions that cause climate change that cause the drought. And Californians will accept the fines for watering lawns and washing cars, because the water shortage will be all our fault.

We get the government we deserve.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

No Safe Spaces for the Wealthy and Powerful

Steve Kerr and Andre Iguodala (SI Photo)
Golden State Warriors veteran Andre Iguodala was fined $10,000 for the following comment: [bold added]
Asked in Minnesota if he had known before the game whether he would rest Saturday against San Antonio, Iguodala said, “Nope, no clue. I do what master say.”
To longtime followers of the Warriors Andre Iguodala clearly was not speaking maliciously; by all reports coach Steve Kerr has a great relationship with the players, and Mr. Iguodala was making a lighthearted reference to the historical white-black power relationship. (By the way, Steve Kerr makes $5 million a year, while Andre Iguodala's salary for the current season is $11 million.)

In the modern era everything one says can be put under a microscope (or be captured by a super-sensitive listening device). Close friends of different racial, religious, etc. groups can make joshing comments to each other that, taken out of context, sound inflammatory to those who become outraged at the drop of a bad-sounding syllable.

Your humble blogger has been on the giving and receiving end of these interactions in high school and college with people who are still friends; thank goodness he went to school then, for he and they would be suspended today.

Steve Kerr's reaction:
“I wasn’t the slightest bit offended. He’s got a very cryptic sense of humor. The only thing I would say is there’s certain humorous things you should say in the sanctity of the locker room and certain humorous things you might want to keep from the media. That was one of them, and he knows it.”
People who are wealthy and powerful deserve safe spaces, too.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Reporting is Necessary

From 2013: $15 beer in a Waikiki bar.
From the Sunday Chronicle: Hawaii: The next craft beer paradise?

With "fake news" widespread, I'll have to head back to the Islands soon to check out this information first hand.

Having been over-exposed to the fruit from a two-summers stint in the now-defunct Dole Cannery, I'll skip the Pineapple Mana Wheat beer, however.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Change in Climate

The Reverend Anna B. Lange-Soto, who is the Vicar of the Episcopal Church's Spanish-speaking congregation on the Peninsula, spoke to us for over an hour. Her focus was about recent difficulties her congregation is facing with stepped-up immigration enforcement.

Mother Anna's comments
People felt safer under President Obama, who deported criminals but for the most part left other undocumented immigrants alone.

President Trump says that deporting criminals is the top priority but ICE has behaved as if everyone is fair game.

25% of Latinos in the area are undocumented.

How to support undocumented immigrants:
Use churches as a sanctuary; ICE so far has not raided church property.

"Rapid response": show up when ICE is conducting a raid. Being present as a witness and/or recording their actions will influence agents' behavior.

Accompany people to court hearings. A show of support from the community may affect the outcome.

Demonstrate at the Richmond ICE detention facility on the first Saturday of every month.

Advocate changes to immigration law through elected representatives.

Blogger's comment:
As individuals we can subscribe to any of Mother Anna's recommendations, but if we are acting under the auspices of the church, we must consider the differing political views of all members as well as the constraints under which religious organizations operate. I suspect that our assistance will end up short of advocacy but long on basic human needs such as food, shelter, education, and medical care.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Binders Full of Tax Instructions

I'm a long-time subscriber to tax professionals' (don't try this at home!) software, and the pages in the manuals have ratcheted up every year.

The height of the stack has now reached six inches; the publisher has advised that this is the last year that it will send out a printed copy.

Financial consultants tell us that people spend less if they had to pay cash for everything.

Betcha we'd have a lot fewer regulations, rulings, and even laws if we had to look them up on paper. Just saying...

Friday, March 10, 2017

Above My Pay Grade

Like the Mona Lisa, 2-year-old Axel gazes to the left,
his thoughts a mystery.
This week we served dinner to two families at Home and Hope, the network of 30 Peninsula churches and synagogues that provide temporary shelter to people who have been displaced for reasons such as job loss, family breakup, and large rent increases.

I spoke to the Director about the drop-off in applications---usually the organization houses four families at a time, and there had been a long waiting list to get into the program. She said that, for the first time in memory, there is no one on the waiting list.

We have seen "good" declines before--a booming economy enables some homeless to find jobs and housing---but that doesn't seem broadly true based on personal observations. Some potential applicants may have finally given up on making ends meet---I mentioned visiting new two-bedroom apartments that are going for $4,600 per month---and have departed the Peninsula for economic reasons.

But the likeliest reason is that the step-up in immigration enforcement has caused the fearful to leave the area or remain in the shadows. In the circles that I frequent ICE is a dirty word, but if there's less homelessness on the Peninsula, is that so bad?

Potential clients may have moved to other regions, such as Central California, where it's much cheaper to provide housing, medical, and education services. The State of California may protest, but it could be saving money because of the movement of population. That question and its possible answers are above my pay grade, and for the nonce I will confine myself to making dinner, being an overnight monitor, and making light conversation.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Dihydrogen Monoxide -- the Safest Chemical

(WSJ graphic)
In further confirmation that in perception, if not in actual fact, sugar is the new tobacco (see yesterday's post),

"Americans now officially drink more bottled water than soda".
Bottled-water consumption in the U.S. reached 39.3 gallons per capita last year, while carbonated soft drinks slipped to 38.5 gallons, according to industry tracker Beverage Marketing Corp.
The eight U.S. cities that impose a soda tax (four---Albany, Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco---are in the Bay Area) encompass less than 10% of the population, so it's doubtful that sin taxes played a major role in shifting consumption toward bottled water.

Rather, consumers are doing it on their own "amid concerns about the health effects of sugary drinks and the safety of public-water supplies."

I've reduced soda consumption to 2-3 bottles a month---the real stuff, because diet-soda chemicals are more harmful than sugar---and drink water more often from the tap than from bottles. Local water quality should be excellent after recent repairs to the system, and the incremental cost of a cuppa H2O is a fraction of a cent.

Foster City obtains its water from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir through the SF PUC.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Hope You Noticed

(Geo-Mexico image)
Mexico has cancelled sugar-export permits to the United States:
The cancellations are the latest dispute of a years-long trade row between Mexico - the United States' top foreign supplier of sugar - and its neighbor at a time when cane refiners are struggling with prices and tight supplies, U.S. industry sources said.
When suppliers of a commodity reduce shipments to demonstrate how much the commodity will be missed, they had better be sure that the customers will be inconvenienced greatly, else its importance may be re-assessed.

Sugar, having been declared the new tobacco, is in a precarious position, and the Mexican government and sugar exporters are engaging in a risky maneuver.

In other news, thousands (millions?) of women skipped work to demonstrate their value to the economy in a Day Without Women.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Primary (Color) Safety

(Economist photo)
A traffic study confirms what most would suspect: cars painted yellow are safer than cars painted blue. A Singaporean taxi company
owns 4,175 yellow taxis and 12,525 blue ones. All are the same model (a Hyundai Sonata) and all undergo the same maintenance schedules.,,,

[Researchers] found that its blue taxis were involved in an average of 71.7 accidents per thousand vehicles per month while its yellow ones were involved in an average of 65.6. The yellow ones, in other words, were 9% less likely to have an accident.
The difference in accident records was even more pronounced at night.

What goes for cars probably applies to pedestrians as well. Having just bought a nice, but blue rain slicker, I'm now in the market for a yellow one...

Monday, March 06, 2017

Useful in an Emergency

Facebook information screen for Safety Check
I've been on Facebook since 2007 and have only 116 "friends" on the platform. I check the feed about 2-3 times a week and post about 2-3 times a year. Calling me an infrequent user would be an overstatement.

I'll stay enrolled, however, because of new apps like Safety Check.

" fast becoming one of the world’s most important emergency response institutions."

When a natural disaster or act of terrorism occurs, communications to the affected area are overwhelmed by concerned family and friends. Now loved ones can check in on Facebook and let everyone know that they're okay.
Safety Check begins with an algorithm that monitors an emergency newswire—a third-party program that aggregates information directly from police departments, weather services, and the like. Then another Safety Check algorithm begins looking for people in the area who are discussing the event on Facebook. If enough people are talking about the event, the system automatically sends those people messages inviting them to check in as safe—and asks them if they want to check the safety of other people as well.
Of course, having Safety Check is of little use if there's no Internet. Facebook is also working on drones that will "beam" the Internet to crisis areas.
Facebook drone (Photo from Wired)
while delivering internet access to chronically underserved areas is still the company’s primary aim, the idea that these drones might be useful in natural disasters never left the engineers’ minds.....the company has already discussed the possibility with telecom companies in island nations vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunamis.
Facebook, Google, and other tech giants have been criticized for the enormous amount of data that they have accumulated without users' knowledge or consent. However, it's also true that they provide enormous benefits that don't cost their members a dime. Use with caution.

Sunday, March 05, 2017


Who's the good guy and who's the bad guy? (WSJ photo)
Narrative One: Trump Stole the Election
President Trump and his campaign colluded with the Russians to hack communications between Hillary Clinton, President Obama, and other Democrats. The release of this information harmed the Clinton campaign, enough to swing the election. Transcripts confirm that meetings and phone calls occurred between key Trump staff and Russian officials. In exchange for help from the Russians, President Trump will make concessions to Russia on a range of issues; he and his staff also will personally profit from their cooperation. The communications continue to this day.

Narrative Two: Obama is Worse than Nixon
After the Obama Administration unsuccessfully applied for a law-enforcement warrant in June, 2016, the FISA Court approved a surveillance warrant in October. The court made its decision because of false or exaggerated evidence, and the eventual scope of the surveillance over Trump personnel was far wider than the warrant allowed. Since October information on Donald Trump and his staff has been feloniously leaked to the media by Obama appointees, some of whom remain in government. The purpose is to derail President Trump's timetable and question the legitimacy of his election. President Obama used the power of his office to damage the candidate of the opposition party much more than Richard Nixon ever did.

There are many details and nuances that the above summaries don't include. However, unless there are other major explanations, the current or the past President is a "bad (or sick) guy!" (or maybe both are).

Because the narratives are so different, and their respective premises are alarming, it behooves us to get to the truth as soon as possible. Per the WSJ ("Washington Goes Nuts"):
Political collusion with a foreign power and the abuse of intelligence collection to smear an opponent threaten the integrity of democratic institutions. Let’s hope the intelligence committees rise above their putative party leaders and tell America what really happened.
On this Sunday, a very old declaration:
And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Blanc, Pas De Rouge

Why many women prefer white wines: reds give them migraines(!). Andrew Waterhouse, professor of enology at UC-Davis, theorizes:
Caution: white wine increases the risk of skin cancer.
red wine “contains ten times as much phenolic substances as white wine.” Some of these compounds, which include pigments and tannins, are broken down in the liver to “a form that can inhibit superoxide in the bloodstream,” he said.

When the superoxide is inhibited, nitrogen oxide accumulates, which can cause blood vessels to widen, “a well known cause of headaches.” He couldn’t think of any reason, though, why they’d affect women more than men.
So, guys, when the evening doesn't end the way you wanted it to because she has a headache, it could have been the red wine that you plied her with.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

The Creep That Takes Away Your Retirement Savings

(From Considering Stewardship)
Lifestyle creep: [bold added]
Once our incomes go up, we often incorporate new little treats into our routine and hardly notice. There’s that cold brew, and then there are more lunches out, and then there’s upgrading the smartphone, having your home cleaned more often, leasing a fancier car.
Cut out the little treats and stop trying to keep up with the Joneses (or Facebook friends). And try making regular deposits into an IRA or 401(k).

Remember, they're not asking you to cut back but, after you get a raise, go on spending what you've been spending.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Stop Me Before I Spend Again

U.S. Savings bonds were once a popular
payroll savings choice. Buying them was
patriotic because it helped with the national debt.
A 2015 study shows why many people like to save via paycheck withholdings and put them into accounts, like IRAs and 401(k)s, that restrict and/or penalize withdrawals:
If individuals have self-control problems, they may take up commitment contracts that restrict their spending.
The subjects of the experiment were given a choice of accounts in which to invest; the accounts had different withdrawal penalties and different rates of return. The desire for restrictions was surprisingly powerful: [bold added]
the amount of money they allocated increased with the level of restrictiveness. They even allocated money to the restricted account when it offered a lower interest rate than the unrestricted one.
Their finding is consistent with the behavior of taxpayers who like to get refunds, though it really means that the government has been getting an interest-free loan. They would much rather collect zero interest on their over-withholding than run the risk of having to make a painful payment on April 15th. Irrational, say the economists, but understandable to those of us in the real world (for the record I like to get refunds, too).