Saturday, April 30, 2016

Expert at One, Expert at All

Departing from its financial commentary, Barron's ventures into the geopolitical realm with an encouraging, surprising prediction: "the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, [will] see its power and territory greatly diminished by the end of 2017."

The claim that "ISIS will fall soon" is based on Barron's assessment of the capabilities and motivations of all the major players, including Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Israel, and the United States.

Color your humble blogger extremely skeptical. The Middle East is more complex than the most complex system, and even simple systems produce results that are unpredictable. It wouldn't take much to derail the path towards peace.

Also, sentences like the following don't inspire confidence:
Ultimately, the Islamic State will be laid low by blowback from the brutality of the caliphate. Reigns of terror generally only succeed in countries with deep and perduring totalitarian roots. The caliphate is hardly Stalinist Russia or Maoist China in its longevity.
ISIS will be "laid low" because it's too brutal? That's what has been said about North Korea, Iran, and Syria, and those regimes are still standing. (It took an invasion led by the world's mightiest military to overthrow Saddam Hussein in Iraq.)

I subscribed to Barron's to read about financial markets, not editorials why "Trump is wrong" (or right) or about how we've reached peak ISIS without a lot of doing on our part. Of course, Barron's has a right to its opinion, just as I have a right to stop paying for it.

Friday, April 29, 2016

A Cheap Date

We attended our first game of the season on April 22nd with no enthusiasm. The Giants had suffered their fifth straight loss Thursday night and were performing poorly in all phases of the game.

Happy times often result, however, when expectations are low.
  • The Giants beat the Marlins, 8-1.
  • We joined the crowd's rousing ovation to Barry Bonds, Florida batting coach.
  • The predicted rain did not materialize. The night was clear and cool, perfect for baseball.
  • The tickets for our group cost $16 each. The low price rationalized buying $12 beer (pictured).
    Yes, we're definitely a cheap date, multiple meanings intended.
  • Thursday, April 28, 2016

    Far from the Foodie Crowd

    The Chronicle releases this year's list of top 100 Bay Area restaurants.

    Your humble blogger's pocketbook, distance--both physically and culturally from the foodie scene--and pragmatism initially made him indifferent. It was not surprising that I had heard of less than half the names, but it was surprising that I had actually dined at ten of the top 100. Like the fog, snobbery comes on little cat feet.

    A pleasant memory: the 2012 visit to the Swan Oyster Depot with my younger brother is reprinted below.

    After satisfying the visitor's request to tour Grace Cathedral, we strolled west on California to the Swan Oyster Depot, which has a permanent spot on the list of the Chronicle's top-100 Bay Area restaurants. One has to make a determined effort to dine there: seating is limited to an 18-stool counter (and there's always a line), the restaurant closes at 5:30 p.m., payment is cash only, and street parking is scarce. But determined efforts are what we amateur tour guides are known for.

    There were five people ahead of us when we arrived at 4 p.m. Wednesday. We were seated in 20 minutes.

    There are no menus at SOD. The fairly limited selection and prices are posted behind the counter.

    Because of the proximity to fellow diners (and the girth of modern-day Americans, including ourselves), one is nearly forced to make conversation, such as "I think that's my bread" or "these clams are delicious." ("How do you like them oysters?" is neither witty nor original.)

    Despite the aforementioned drawbacks the Swan Oyster Depot is definitely worth a visit. The seafood is very fresh, and the prices are reasonable.

    The $11 combination cocktail was chock full with crab, shrimp, and clams. The $5 bowl of white clam chowder had a distinctive clam flavor; it was thinner than prepared by most restaurants and didn't have too many chunks of potatoes and clams. When complemented by sourdough and butter, however, the SOD clam chowder is the archetypical San Francisco meal.

    Dining at Swan Oyster Depot is one of those experiences where positive memories become stronger as time passes. At some point in the future, when the craving for fresh crab, oysters, and clams becomes overwhelming, I'll be back.

    Wednesday, April 27, 2016

    What's in a Name

    I read an email today, oh boy, about a man and woman who made the grade. Yale's two new residential colleges are named for Anna Pauline (Pauli) Murray and Benjamin Franklin.

    Yale's undergraduates are assigned to one of twelve (soon to be fourteen) residential colleges:
    The Residential College housing system is at the heart of the Yale experience. Before arriving as a freshman each student is randomly assigned to one of twelve residential colleges, giving Yalies a built-in community from the moment they arrive....The colleges provide an exceptional opportunity to meet and learn from students with different interests – people students might not otherwise encounter in their courses or extracurricular activities.
    The current twelve colleges are named for Connecticut towns (Branford, Saybrook) and ten men (Berkeley, Calhoun, Davenport, Stiles, Edwards, Morse, Pierson, Silliman, Dwight, Trumbull) who lived hundreds of years ago. Since the 1990's there have been protests against naming the colleges after slave owners, in particular Vice President John C. Calhoun (1782-1850), who was one of slavery's most outspoken defenders. For now Yale has decided to retain Calhoun's name "to encourage the campus community to confront the history of slavery, and to teach that history and its legacy."

    Concerning the two new colleges, everyone's acquainted with Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, but who is Pauli Murray? Excerpts from her Yale bio:
    Pauli Murray (UNC Library image)
    Pauli Murray (1910-1985) was a scholar, lawyer, and activist who fought to dismantle segregation and end discrimination through the courts and on the streets.

    In a 1945 essay, “An American Credo,” she declared, “I am an American.” She explained that some of her ancestors came as immigrants from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England, while others were aboard “chattel-ships from Africa” and still others were “indigenous.” This mixed heritage, she argued, animated her activism: “I will resist every attempt to categorize me, to place me in some caste, or to assign me to some segregated pigeonhole,” she declared.

    After graduating first in her class (and the only female) from Howard’s law school in 1944, she applied to Harvard Law School. Despite her top grades at Howard and a letter from Harvard alumnus and United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harvard denied her application because she was not “of the sex entitled to be admitted to Harvard Law School.”[11] Undeterred, Murray moved west and received a master’s of law degree from the University of California at Berkeley, the following year. In 1946, she was named a deputy attorney general in California, making her the first black person in the state’s attorney general’s office.[12] From 1956 to 1960 she was an attorney with the New York law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. She was admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1960.

    All her life, Pauli Murray valued both teaching and learning. An inveterate scholar, she ultimately earned degrees from Hunter College, Howard University, the University of California at Berkeley, Yale, and the General Theological Seminary.

    At the age of 63, she became the first black woman ordained as an Episcopal priest. After her ordination, she celebrated the Eucharist in the same church in North Carolina where her white slaveholding and black enslaved families had worshipped, albeit in different sections.
    Yale gave careful consideration to the designation of the first residential college to be named after a non-white, non-male person who lived after the 19th century. It chose wisely.

    Tuesday, April 26, 2016

    Global Warming: Bug or Feature?

    Adding to the litany of woes for climate-change alarmists: (bold added] 
    the Nature study showed that 80% of Americans live in places that regularly receive better weather than 30 years ago, using those preferences as a baseline. That’s because winters so far have been warming disproportionately than summers, so Americans have gotten to enjoy less cold winter months without—so far—having to experience equally extreme summers.
    Global warming has made winters less cold (good), while summers are not that much hotter (not-so-bad). The foolish public, reveling in the warmth. Doesn't it know what's in its best interest?

    The result of this survey was predictable based on the public's reaction toward warnings in another important area. After years of hearing that the financial sky was falling (Medicare is insolvent, Social Security is going bankrupt), Americans stopped believing, or perhaps caring, about financial doom. Maybe the government will indeed run out of money (whatever that means) in 20 years, but the majority seems to have decided to let tomorrow take care of itself.

    As for sea level rise in eighty (80) years, that's tomorrow's tomorrow.

    In most counties (including ours) the weather has become more pleasant (Time graphic)

    Monday, April 25, 2016

    We Didn't See Any Cats, However

    Running an errand in the South Bay, we stopped for lunch in tony Los Gatos. As in other Bay Area towns, Los Gatos real estate prices are exploding because of the Silicon Valley tech boom; Netflix is headquartered here. On Monday afternoon traffic was heavy on narrow roads that were designed half a century ago.

    We had a juicy burger and pungent garlic fries at the Super Duper Burger on Los Gatos Blvd.

    The small chain was celebrating its sixth birthday. It posted a sign that said there were "free" burgers from 3-4 p.m. We returned at the appointed hour.
  • We're not too proud to admit that a free hamburger will draw us out.
  • Surely there wouldn't be a line in the the 33rd wealthiest city in the United States.
  • We were wrong.

    Note: Los Gatos ("the cats") is named for the cougars and bobcats that once roamed the area. We didn't see any cats, however.
  • Sunday, April 24, 2016

    Our Church in the 21st Century

    No surprise: [bold added]
    by a whole series of yardsticks, women are generally more devout than men....Some 60% of American women consider religion very important, against 47% of men. Daily prayer is practised by 64% of female Americans against 47% of males; and weekly church-going is a habit among 40% of American women versus 32% of men.
    A quick glance at the various churches that I have attended supports the Pew global survey. (Of course, the anecdotal observations of your humble blogger mean nothing, but that's what we do with surveys/statistics/science---if it agrees with our personal experience, or biases, it must be true!)

    The older U.S. population skews female (Wikimedia)
    The Economist's writer traces the American church-going female majority back to the same tendency in European Catholic culture, but I suspect there's a simpler explanation: people tend to become religious as they age, and women outlive men. We have a half-dozen widows whose husbands used to attend our 100-family church.

    Regardless of the explanation, there are more women than men in all of our ministries, e.g., choir, teaching Sunday School, community outreach (except for ushering, which has strangely remained a male province oblivious to the attentions of feminists). Older, female, and dwindling: our church in the 21st century.

    Saturday, April 23, 2016

    The Latest Wall Street Buzzword: Positioning

    (Image from Trillium)
    Your humble blogger has neither the skill nor the financial and technical resources to be a stock trader; hence, his basic approach is fundamental analysis:
    Fundamental analysis is the foundation of solid investing. It helps you determine the underlying health of a company by examining the business’ core numbers: its income statements, its earnings releases, its balance sheet, and other indicators of economic health. From these “fundamentals” investors evaluate if a stock is under- or overvalued.
    Stock traders, mutual fund managers, and others who invest for a living look at many other factors besides the financial statements of individual companies. For example, Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT)--maybe not so modern since it was originated in 1952--holds that macroeconomic factors, in particular the "risk-free" interest rate (whose proxy is the U.S. Government bond rate), have much more powerful effects on the direction of stock prices than picking the right stocks.

    Now, apparently, fundamental analysis and MPT have been pushed aside by positioning:
    That’s the word used to describe how fund managers, traders, and the like have invested their portfolios....the fascination with what everyone else owns has reached a ridiculous extreme.
    It's a very old principle: keep an eye on what everyone else is doing. Regardless of how strongly one believes in one's analysis, don't buy when everyone is heading for the exits. Don't fight the tape.
    “The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.”
    --J. M. Keynes

    Friday, April 22, 2016

    It's Not the Jet Lag

    ( image)
    Most of us have had the experience of sleeping fitfully the first night in a strange bed but more easily in the nights thereafter. There's now a scientific explanation: [bold added]
    from previous work conducted on birds and dolphins...these animals put half of their brains to sleep at a time so that they can rest while remaining vigilant enough to avoid predators....[Humans'] first-night effect is a mechanism that has evolved to function as something of a neurological nightwatchman: to wake people up when they hear noises when sleeping in an unfamiliar environment, even one with a comfy king-size bed, jacuzzi, deluxe minibar and a distinct lack of predators.
    The left side of our brain doesn't sleep in an unfamiliar environment because it's watching for predators.

    Our caveman ancestors had no use for high coil-counts and sleep numbers. A trusty spear, on the other hand, meant nighttime bliss.

    Thursday, April 21, 2016

    Recaptured for an Evening

    Diane explains a point while I eat the macaroons.
    One benefit of volunteering at Home and Hope is the opportunity to engage in conversation with fellow human beings outside of work and family.

    Smartphones and other electronics are put away because, frankly, it would be rude to flaunt such devices in front of families (not all of them, to be sure) who can't afford them. So we have to talk....about the weather, about sports, about growing up in the 60's-70's-80's in [fill in the blank], about school and work, but only if the other party invites the conversation.

    Between cooking, serving, and cleaning up, not to mention sharing a meal and conversation, the evening went by quickly. We closed up at nine and headed back home. Everyone would be in bed by ten, and so were we, the evening rhythm of a pre-digital age recaptured for an evening.

    Wednesday, April 20, 2016

    The Hand, the Eye, the Image

    "Let me draw you a picture" is a favored learning technique, and it may also be the most effective way of committing something to memory.
    a group led by psychologist Jeffrey D. Wammes recruited sample groups of students and ran seven different trials of essentially the same experiment on them. In all of the trials, the scientists started with a list of 80 simple words—all nouns and all easy to draw, such as balloon, fork, kite, pear, peanut and shoe. A random series of 30 of those words were flashed on a screen along with instructions either to draw the object or write down its name.

    But no matter how many variations of the test the researchers ran, one result was consistent: Drawing the object beat every other option, every single time.
    GWB self-portrait (People)
    Your humble blogger has zero artistic ability but is thinking of taking a few drawing or painting classes, if for no other reason than to stave off age-related memory loss.

    Note: once again George W Bush leads the way.

    Tuesday, April 19, 2016

    A Bit Differently

    About half became leftovers
    After picking up the roast ham in Foster City and the carrot salad in Belmont, I headed over to the church where the Home and Hope families were staying. Susan dropped off potatoes, a salad, and frosted cupcakes, while I contributed chicken, another salad, and ice cream bars. We had to cook for 12 people, eight of them children.

    I kept the kitchen open for three hours due to the four adults' different work schedules. No matter, I had overnight duty so I wasn't going anywhere.

    Luis, a high student who also volunteers at St. Anthony's in San Francisco, arrived after dinner and was the other overnight monitor. He peppered me with questions about what we had to do and when. It was simple: lock the doors at ten, wake-up everyone at six, set out breakfast, put the dishes away, and make sure everyone had departed by 7:15. Luis said that he will write up his week's activities as a school project and intends to help us throughout the year.

    He recorded his thoughts and took a short video with his smartphone. I also did some volunteering when I was in high school, but the kids these days do it a bit differently.

    Monday, April 18, 2016

    The Other Side of the World

    (Reuter's photo)
    The Economist decries the cult of Xi Jinping. Excerpts: [bold added]
    Mr Xi has acquired more power than any Chinese leader since Mao Zedong...In three and a half years in charge, he has accumulated titles at an astonishing pace. He is not only party leader, head of state and commander-in-chief, but is also running reform, the security services and the economy.

    he has flouted the party’s ban on personality cults, introduced in 1982 to prevent another episode of Maoist madness. Official media are filled with fawning over “Uncle Xi” and his wife, Peng Liyuan, a folk-singer whom flatterers call “Mama Peng”

    there [has] been such a sweeping crackdown on critics of the party. Internet censors have been busy deleting messages posted on social media by outraged citizens in response to the vaccine scandal.

    He is using the party’s own thuggish investigators to take on graft. But they have a greater interest in settling political scores than in ensuring laws are applied fairly.

    he is providing neither the country with prosperity and freedom, nor reassuring the rest of the world with stability.
    Worshipping the leader's personality, censoring dissent, investigating one's own scandals, using the government to settle political scores----thank goodness none of that can happen in America.

    Sunday, April 17, 2016

    The Harder I Work, the Luckier I Get

    Psychologist Anders Ericsson has studied expertise:
    At the heart of Mr Ericsson’s thesis is that there is no such thing as natural ability. Not for Mozart, nor for Garry Kasparov. Traits favourable to a task, such as perfect musical pitch, help at the outset but confer no advantage at higher levels. Rather, after a basic ability, it all comes down to effort.
    I find it hard to believe that genetics, culture, and family wealth are secondary to hard work. However, if Mr. Ericsson is right, inequality can be at least partially rectified by effort.

    Government policies are heavily directed toward taking from Peter to pay Paul. Perhaps they should encourage Paul to work harder? Heaven forfend!

    Saturday, April 16, 2016

    The Real Tax Burden

    Basis calculations can be a real bear. That's the dumb reason why I hang on to some assets way past their should-sell date---I don't want to plow through many years of tax return files to calculate the amount of gain (or loss). Unfortunately for me, in 2015 there was an involuntary disposition of an earning asset that I had held since the 1980's, and to which adjustments had been made for half those years. The good news was that the disposition resulted in a loss, hence my 2015 tax bill was reduced.

    However, at this point in my life the dollars saved don't compensate for the headache:
    If any of the political candidates had a credible program to simplify the tax code, I would support that candidate in a heartbeat even if it meant that my bill would be, say, 10% higher, and in our case we’re talking about an increase of thousands of dollars.
    I think I'll hang on to those files a little longer.

    Friday, April 15, 2016

    Tax (Scam) Season

    According to the Internal Revenue Service there has been an upsurge in scams that threaten taxpayers with legal action by the IRS:
    The IRS has seen a surge of these phone scams in recent years as scam artists threaten taxpayers with police arrest, deportation, license revocation and more. These con artists often demand payment of back taxes on a prepaid debit card or by immediate wire transfer. Be alert to con artists impersonating IRS agents and demanding payment.
    Case in point--the following message was left on our answering machine today:
    "Regarding an enforcement action instituted by the United States Treasury intending to [garbled] against you. Ignoring this message will be an intentional second attempt to avoid an initial appearance before the magistrate judge of a grand jury for a Federal criminal office. The number to reach us would be (305) 587-2971. I repeat the number is (305) 587-2971. I advise you to cooperate with us. Thank you."
    Of course I didn't call them back. I wish there was a way to "cooperate" with these scammers and even send them a few $$ to help nail them on wire fraud or some other charges. However, law enforcement advises that it's best not to do anything and let the authorities handle the situation.

    The most successful cons prey on people's greed (unclaimed million$ in a Nigerian bank account), hopes (cures for an incurable disease) and fears (ruin by the IRS). It's a sad reflection on the relationship between the government and the governed that the fear scam has been so successful.

    Thursday, April 14, 2016

    One More

    One sign that the Golden State Warriors are must-see TV is that it's difficult to land a seat at a sports bar to view the game.

    We did garner a table last Saturday, but we had to watch the Dubs at a distance. The waiter parked us in the one corner with TVs that didn't show close-ups of Steph Curry.

    Cleveland-Chicago basketball, NHL hockey, and even a video poker game were the choices. No matter, 12 big screens enabled us to follow the action to the very end of an exciting game: Warriors 100, Grizzlies 99. Waiter! yes, I'll have one more.

    Wednesday, April 13, 2016

    Warriors: Appreciate the Moment

    The Golden State Warriors' quest to break the all-time record of 72 victories by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls was looking a bit shaky two weeks ago when they dropped two games at home to the underdog Celtics and Timberwolves.

    Warriors fans were worried by the uncharacteristic pair of losses, but the NBA and television networks were overjoyed; normally the top teams rest their star players to get ready for the playoffs but now the Warriors had to win the last four games of the season to notch 73 wins. It was must-see TV, not only in the Bay Area but for basketball fans nationwide.

    Tonight, the last game of the season, they won their 73rd victory, defeating the Memphis Grizzlies 125-104.

    Stephen Curry after 3-pt shot No. 400 (Chronicle photo)
    And oh yes, Stephen Curry made his 402nd three-point shot for the season, which obliterated the record of 286 set by him last year. The NY Times says that 402 three-pointers "is the equivalent of hitting 103 home runs in a Major League Baseball season."

    Why are we mentioning these records? Because we doubt strongly that we will see either of them broken in our lifetime. Next year the Warriors are likely to be slowed by age, injury, and key departures of players and coaches. Also, the NBA's defensive minds will come up with schemes to defang their high-powered offense.

    Appreciate the moment, folks, because it won't come our way again.

    Tuesday, April 12, 2016

    Lee's Comics, San Mateo

    "Print is dead"---Harold Ramis, Ghostbusters, 1984.

    Although we have become accustomed to the disappearance of newspapers, magazines and bookstores, it was nevertheless jarring when Lee's Comics closed its San Mateo store last month. For 29 years Lee's had been a fixture on El Camino Real south, on the way to Hillsdale Shopping Center.

    Twice a year Lee's would have a sale, when we would fill a shopping bag with heavily discounted comics and graphic novels; at a list price of $20 or more, graphic novels often cost more than a "real book." Even at the sale prices, our youthful interest waned and our trips to the store--and purchases--grew more infrequent.

    Despite unfavorable demographics, the owner has promised to keep the Mountain View store open. We wish him well.

    Monday, April 11, 2016

    Multi-pronged Approach

    Coral bleaching in Florida Keys: 2013(L), 2014(R)
    Warming oceans endanger coral reefs, but not because heat kills coral directly [bold added]:
    Bleaching occurs when corals respond to the stress of warmer temperatures by expelling the colorful algae that live within them. Some coral are able to recover, but too often the coral dies, and the entire ecosystem for which it forms the base, virtually disappears.
    Reversing the rise in ocean temperature is extremely costly, if not impossible, so British scientists are exploring another method of keeping the coral alive: increase the supply of algae that can survive at higher temperatures.
    the algae inside the Persian Gulf corals were in fact a different species from that commonly found in other parts of the world. It was this species’ ability to tolerate extreme heat that appeared to be crucial for its hosts’ survival.
    Solutions to global warming have focused on cutting back carbon-producing activities. A multi-pronged approach would include ways to mitigate warming's effects, such as building higher sea walls, planting drought-tolerant crops, developing efficient solar energy.....and breeding higher-temperature algae.

    Sunday, April 10, 2016

    New Haven: No Tax Haven

    Nice buildings you have here. Would hate to see them
    taxed.....too much. (Image from
    Connecticut Senate Bill 414 proposes to remove the property-tax exemption on Yale University buildings. Yale objects:
    A bill before the Connecticut General Assembly that would tax Yale’s academic buildings is unconstitutional, say Yale officials.

    “Yale is urging the General Assembly to reject SB 414,” said Rich Jacob, associate vice president for federal and state relations. “Yale is also making clear that SB 414 violates the U.S. and the Connecticut Constitution, and Yale is prepared to defend its constitutional right of non-taxation.”
    It's dubious that Yale and other non-profit non-religious institutions have a constitutional right not to be taxed. Their argument is weakest in the case of property taxes, where the connection between taxes and benefits is strong; property taxes fund the police, fire, emergency, etc. services that help to protect Yale's property and people. Yale has recognized the connection by voluntarily making annual payments of $8.5 million to the City of New Haven, plus another $4.5 million on commercial properties unrelated to the University's function. One Yale Law professor (!) writes: [bold added]
    the burden of property tax exemption is generally felt at the level where the tax is levied, which commonly includes the local municipality where the exempt institution is located. This means that many small towns with large universities are starved for tax revenue. As a consequence, when proprietary institutions [blogger's note: an example is for-profit colleges] mature to the point where they begin to offer services comparable to those offered by nonprofit organizations, withdrawal of exemption from the nonprofits should start with the property tax exemption, not the corporate income tax exemption. This seems, in fact, to be the pattern developing with nonprofit hospitals.
    In the 18th century Yale envisioned itself as a place “wherein Youth may be instructed in the Arts and Sciences (and) through the blessing of Almighty God may be fitted for Publick employment both in Church and Civil State.” In contemporary Yale Almighty God has retreated to the Divinity School, Battell Chapel, and a few other buildings. The constitutional principle of church-state separation dictates that those structures should be Yale's tax havens, and little else.

    Saturday, April 09, 2016

    Broad Demographic

    April seems to be the time of year for $5-off Spam at Costco.

    A household inventory revealed that the larder was running low on the delectable lunch meat. Over a dozen cans had been consumed in the past year--could that be the cause of the elevated sodium, cholesterol, and triglycerides?

    Stretching out the usage, it shouldn't be difficult to make it last. Today's 8-pack was marked "best if consumed by March 2019". Spam: the preferred food of Hawaiians, Hawaiian expats, and survivalists alike.

    Friday, April 08, 2016

    Sam Wo, 713 Clay St., San Francisco

    Pork jook from Sam Wo (Yelp photo)
    In a story we had missed, Sam Wo Restaurant re-opened last October on Clay St., a couple of blocks away from its old Washington Ave. address. The new restaurant seems to have gotten favorable reviews. Here, for example, the Chronicle:
    The chicken jook ($6.25) has an intense flavor, and in the plain wonton soup ($6.50) the deeply flavored chicken broth also stars. The nine plump dumplings are filled with pork and crunchy cubes of water chestnuts, making the soup as filling as the jook. More popular, however, is a combination of wonton soup ($8.50) chock-full of shrimp, meat and vegetables.
    The food sounds much improved from that which I had in 2003:
    I ordered the special won ton soup. For $4.75 I counted a half-dozen won ton, a couple of shrimp and pieces of pork, and some bok choy and water chestnuts. The liquid volume exceeded that of the solids, not a good sign of value. The food’s mediocre, the so-bad-it’s-good ambience has been replaced by no ambience. If Sam Wo is here 20 years from now, I'll be very surprised.
    We'll just have to add the new Sam Wo to the list of SF eateries to check out, and we'll be sure to bring back a T-shirt.

    Thursday, April 07, 2016

    The Pub at Ghirardelli Square

    Pork belly sliders ($11) with lettuce, tomato, and garlic aioli
    I had a business lunch at the Pub at Ghirardelli Square, so there was no escaping the traffic of the Giants' Opening Day. As expected, it took longer to traverse three miles on City streets than it did the 21 miles from Foster City to the San Francisco off ramp.

    Ghirardelli Square, three miles from AT&T Park, was uncrowded. The game wouldn't be over till 4, and the friendly waitstaff didn't mind us taking up space.

    I celebrated yesterday's clean but far-from-optimal bill of health by ordering three pork belly sliders. They were tender, delicious, and had the highest calories-from-fat percentage of anything consumed this year. Tonight I'll just have to double the dose of statins that doc had prescribed.

    The Giants had come back from a 4-0 deficit and would go on to beat the Dodgers, 12-6. Though it was tempting to watch the game's finish on the Pub's big screens, I got out of town well before rush hour. Parking, with validation, cost $5.

    Ghirardelli Square celebrated its 50th anniversary last year and had undergone a facelift. It is a worthy member of the San Francisco Quickie Tour.

    Wednesday, April 06, 2016

    Need to be Monitored

    Two years after the previous visit, I was overdue for a physical exam.

    The doctor reviewed the blood work. Triglycerides, sodium, cholesterol, and glucose had all moved in the wrong direction, but the patient's weight had remained the same. You should really try to lose at least 10 pounds, he said.

    As he does each time, he recommended diet and exercise. I nodded politely, as I always do to the man who holds the prescription pad.

    Angie Tribeca: "Hey doc, while I have you here,
    can I ask you to look at a little mole?
    The doctor examined a mole that had become prominent in the past year. Through visual inspection he could tell that it was benign. Confident in his own judgment, he's not one to pull the trigger on additional tests. He's a vanishing breed. That's when I noticed that his gray hair was turning white:

    The nurse came in and scheduled an appointment a year from today. I don't need more tests, but I do need to be monitored.

    Tuesday, April 05, 2016

    A Good Problem to Have

    The tax returns are filed, or soon will be, and most people want to take a break from matters financial. After gathering the information for the returns, however, it's probably the best time of the year to give a thought to estate planning.

    Individual estates under $5.45 million are exempt from Federal Estate tax in 2016, and through some well-known legal maneuvers married couples can exempt double that amount--$10.9 million. In the Bay Area there are many estates with assets above the exemption, and Merrill Lynch Wealth Management has published a useful list of some Advanced Wealth Transfer Strategies:
  • Grantor retained annuity trusts.
  • Life insurance, especially combined with other structures.
  • Qualified personal residence trusts.
  • Charitable lead annuity trusts.
  • Intra-family loans.
  • Private annuities.
  • In most structures there's some or complete loss of control over the assets---loss of control is a major criterion for not being included in an estate--but often the income from those assets can remain with the donor during his or her lifetime.

    None of these strategies is relevant to your humble observer/taxpayer (yet), but I can dream, can't I?

    Monday, April 04, 2016

    Much Shrug. Very Huh. Amaze. Wow.

    Among the new forms of communication, emojis and chat abbreviations don't do much for me. Too many of the symbols and acronyms don't have clear meanings, and communication is slowed, not enhanced, when readers stop to puzzle what the writer intended.

    However, one Internet phenomenon that has evoked a positive response in your humble observer is doge. Doge (pronounced dohj) caught on in 2013 when practitioners of this new language decorated photos of shiba inu with short, ungrammatical phrases. It's playful and cute, but doge done well is not superficial.

    Who needs to plow through the entire play when one just needs to read this?
    What light. So breaks. Such east. Very sun. Wow, Juliet.
    What Romeo. Such why. Very rose. Still rose.
    Very balcony. Such climb.
    Much love. So Propose. Wow, marriage.
    Very Tybalt. Much stab. What do?
    Such exile. Very Mantua. Much sad.
    So, priest? Much sleeping. Wow, tomb.
    Such poison. What dagger. Very dead. Wow, end.
    And here's hundreds of pages of IRS instructions condensed into doge:
    Much make? Send in.

    Adding doge to a webpage is easy with Google's Chrome tool.

    Sunday, April 03, 2016

    Spotted in a Foster City Parking Lot

    Mildly racist humor can be funny if you are deprecating your own group, but that's not what this post is about.

    Hey, Dad, I know this sign is funny to your friends and neighbors, but if you want to remain on good terms with your teenaged daughter, you might want to avoid embarrassing her in front of her friends. Let's hope that she forgets about this in 20-30 years when you need her help getting around. Just saying.....

    Saturday, April 02, 2016

    Wall Street Establishment Pick

    (Image from
    Barron's plumps for Ohio governor John Kasich:
    Kasich’s policy prescriptions, experience, and temperament make him the GOP’s best bet to reassure a nervous marketplace.

    Kasich wins high marks against Hillary Clinton, as well. We argued, in a cover story last month, that Clinton was the better choice for investors in a head-to-head matchup with Republican front-runner Donald Trump because she is a known quantity with moderate instincts (“Trump or Clinton: Who’s Better for Investors?” March 5).

    But Kasich (rhymes with basic) outshines them both. And in the event of a contested convention, he has a powerful advantage: He’s the only GOP candidate who beats Clinton in a head-to-head contest in the polls.
    Donald Trump sparks the most emotion, both for and against, and Hillary Clinton arouses to a lesser extent. People will probably decide on John Kasich because of his policies, in other words it will be a left-brain decision.

    After mostly eight years of cool ("no drama Obama"), will we be running hot or cold in November?

    [Update - 4/6: forget about literacy tests--how about credit scores? (H/T Tyler Cowen)
    The first is that Kasich supporters are in a league of their own. They have by far the best credit ratings, on average. Some 86% have “excellent” or “good” scores. No other candidate’s supporters even breaks 70%. Kasich’s supporters are half as likely to have bad or fair ratings as anyone else.

    The second is that Donald Trump supporters are the least likely to have “good” scores. Only half of them do (49.8%), slightly behind Hillary Clinton supporters (50.7%) and Sanders supporters (51%) and well behind the supporters of the other Republicans. Trump supporters are also far more likely to have “bad” scores than supporters of the other Republican candidates.]

    Friday, April 01, 2016

    April Fool's, Half-Seriously

    It may not be the funniest April Fool's essay ever published, but "The Stanford Review Demands Change" is notable for its rarity among campus articles. It reminds me of the day when humor fell on the just and unjust alike.

    The text repeated below (in case the link goes down because of technical difficulties):
    Stanford University has repeatedly failed to address systematic issues on campus. We, the Students of the Stanford Review, have seen our voices silenced, our rights trampled, and our experiences ignored. Not once has an administrator inquired as to the relative health of our feelings – the system is broken! We, the Students of the Stanford Review, DEMAND change.

    1. WE DEMAND that Stanford builds a wall around El Centro Chicano, and makes MEChA pay for it.

    2. WE DEMAND that Stanford expels Panda Express from campus, since its food is culturally appropriative, and celebrates the harvesting of the endangered panda bear.

    3. WE DEMAND that Stanford renames White Plaza to Black Plaza. Naming a central plaza after a race is hateful.

    4. WE DEMAND that Stanford recognizes that half-lives matter, and establishes a committee to fund the Chemistry and Physics Departments accordingly.

    5. WE DEMAND that Stanford’s Classics Department end its disgusting and exploitative profiteering off the lived experiences of ancient Greeks and Romans.

    6. WE DEMAND that swimming pools be abolished at Stanford, since their blueness shows implicit support for the Israeli flag, further dehumanizing the Palestinian people.

    7. We DEMAND that Stanford ends its use of European languages, since they are inherently colonialist. We recommend Xhosa, Zulu, and interpretive dance as alternatives for person-to-person communication.

    8. WE DEMAND that Stanford’s Applied Quantitative Reasoning requirement not be fulfilled by cis-linear algebra. The experiences of marginalized matrices have been ignored for too long.

    9. WE DEMAND the banning of the Stanford Federal Credit Union from campus, since all debt is alienating and shackles people to the capitalist machine. Also, people use their SFCU debit cards to purchase food from the aforementioned, oppressive Panda Express.

    10. WE DEMAND that Hoover Tower be removed, since its phallic symbolism is not countered by a suitably feminist building on campus.

    11. WE DEMAND that the Math Department immediately cease reducing fractions, each having their own unique identities and experiences, to their lowest common denominators.

    12. WE DEMAND that Stanford base grades only on attendance records in class, since all other measures are discriminatory, as SAL already nobly recognizes.

    13. WE DEMAND that Stanford remove the clearly ageist language in “Old” Union. From now on, the Review will meet in Union 215 on Monday nights.

    14. WE DEMAND that Stanford bans hard alcohol in dorms.

    15. WE DEMAND that the Administration immediately accepts the aforementioned demands, and that a statement of acceptance, a timetable of implementation for each demand, and an administrative point person for each demand be presented to the Review at 3 PM on Friday April 8, in open forum at Buffalo Wild Wings, San Jose.
    Related note: for the sake of comedy it would be good if a Republican were to be elected President again. Comedians have wandered eight years in the wilderness. That is long enough. We DEMAND that they be freed to mock the (Executive Branch of the) Government again, to sneer again, to live again!