Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Brawl by the Bay

As of this writing (Wednesday, May 31st) the San Francisco Giants are 22-32, 10 games below .500 and 11½ behind the NL West-leading Dodgers. The Giants' best pitcher, Madison Bumgarner, is out for the first half of the season with a shoulder injury from a dirt-bike accident. It's only May, and the season may already be lost.

The Giants are currently hosting the Washington Nationals, one of baseball's best teams, in a 3-game series. The contests normally wouldn't have gotten attention, but Monday's game captured sports headlines (while we're waiting for the NBA Finals to start Thursday) because of a beanball thrown by Hunter Strickland against Nationals superstar Bryce Harper, apparently because the latter had hit playoff home runs off the former three years ago.

The batter took umbrage, fists landed, and the benches cleared. Several vignettes produced a multitude of memes.

Sad, but true, it's the most interesting thing to happen to the Giants all year.

Divorced from the News

Last fall we switched the automatic recording of the evening news from ABC to CBS. I watched CBS once or twice a week but grew appalled at how anchor Scott Pelley interspersed his anti-Trump opinions with the news. (He once led with "It has been a busy day for Presidential statements divorced from reality"--see video below.) And note: I would have been perfectly okay with an opinion section, identified as such, that Mr. Pelley inserted anywhere in the program.

When Hawaii judge Derrick Watson placed a preliminary injunction against the President's executive order on travel and refugees, the judge got pushback from Trump supporters, some of whom referred to Hawaii's remoteness from possible dangers posed by refugees:
They cited statistics from the State Department’s Refugee Admissions Office that showed since 2010 that just 20 out of more than 530,000 refugees settled in the United States since 2010 were brought to Hawaii for resettlement.
I still remember Scott Pelley's closing remark, something like "last time I checked, the flag had 50 stars." Wow. This is what people say when they are absolutely confident that listeners agree, not only with the policy position but also with the snideness of the remark.

Today's headline: "Scott Pelley to Step Down as Anchor of ‘CBS Evening News" [bold added]
Mr. Pelley has been anchoring the “CBS Evening News” since June 2011. The broadcast has been in third place behind NBC’s “Nightly News” and ABC’s “World News Tonight” and unlike the network’s morning show, hasn’t made gains in the ratings for some time.
Apparently, CBS has a limit on how long it can remain divorced from reality.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Step Away From the Green Onions

As one who makes fried rice regularly, I was alarmed by the following news item: [bold added]
A Florida man was found “covered from head to toe in pork fried rice and a red sauce” following an attack yesterday by his ex-girlfriend, according to cops who arrested the woman for domestic battery.
Once the California legislature hears about this, they'll require that I get a fried-rice license, which means taking classes, passing tests, apprenticing under a fried-rice master or mistress (which admittedly could be fun), and, of course, paying a license fee.

At least the weapon was gluten-free.

Fried rice transforms leftovers into something tasty. Shown below are before-and-after photos using hot dogs that would otherwise have gone into the compost bin.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day, 2017

The colombarium at Punchbowl National Cemetery.
With the benefit of hindsight, a sadly wishful sentence from four years ago:
On this Memorial Day, 2013, two of the longest-running wars in U.S history are winding down.
Very different philosophies and strategies by different Administrations have yielded the same bleak result.

In a wide-ranging essay, Victor Davis Hanson reflects on the cross-currents of Memorial Day's themes and emotions. Excerpts:
As today’s disputes over the legacy of the Civil War and the Confederacy suggest, it has never been enough just to lament the sacrifice and carnage of our wars, whether successful or failed. We feel the need to honor the war dead but also to make distinctions among them, elevating those who served noble causes while passing judgment on their foes.

The Western tradition of commemoration also includes a unique idea of individual moral exemption. As first articulated by Pericles, we overlook any defects of character of the war dead, attributing to one brief moment of ultimate sacrifice the power to wash away all prior moral faults.

A noble death serves, in the words of Pericles, as “a cloak to cover a man’s other imperfections; since the good action has blotted out the bad, and his merit as a citizen more than outweighed his demerits as an individual.”
It was once universally believed that to die for a noble cause redeemed one's entire life. On this Memorial Day in 2017 I suspect that belief is still commonly, though quietly, held by most fellow Americans.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Power of Three

The Trinity plate at Armadillo Willy's has three barbecued meats
Trinity means three, but its ancient meaning refers to the Christian God who is both all-powerful and three-in-one, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Trinity is the name given to the first nuclear test of the Manhattan project.  Robert Oppenheimer was inspired by John Donne's poetic reference to the Deity ("batter my heart, three-personed God")

Trinity connotes power, awe, and other-worldly mystery....

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Lucky So Far

April, 2004: luckily no one was home
Thirteen years ago a young person's car sped over the sidewalk and front lawn of a nearby corner lot and demolished the side of the house.

After finishing repairs, the homeowner erected a brick and wrought-iron fence around the lawn.

The action may have seemed like excessive insurance against a freak recurrence, but tonight his caution paid off.

As we drove home, three police cars blocked off the two-lane boulevard and detoured all traffic through a residential neighborhood. Another car crash had occurred, but the house was spared.

Since 2004 the City has recognized the hazards of the intersection and installed two crosswalks with flashing lights. The public elementary school and a private pre-school are a block away, and we are lucky that so far no one has been hurt.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Go East, San Francisco Person, Go East

We visited the Railroad Museum in August.
We don't travel to Sacramento often, but when we do, we fantasize about living there. Houses cost 25-30% of their Bay Area equivalents, and traffic congestion is much less. Many acquaintances have cashed out from their Peninsula homes and have moved to the Central Valley, creating or adding to a nest egg. As for us, we have dallied too long (again) and have missed the buying bottom.

WSJ: Sacramento Is California’s Newest Real-Estate Hot Spot
Sacramento is finally seeing the kind of downtown resurgence that is been happening in cities across the U.S. over the past 10 to 15 years. And the region is partly benefiting from some spillover as San Francisco and Silicon Valley’s tech boom brings skyrocketing prices and a housing shortage, pushing buyers to look further afield.

About an hour-and-a-half drive northeast of the Bay Area, Sacramento remains relatively affordable. The median price a square foot of a Sacramento-area home is $228, compared with $531 in the Bay Area.
There's less risk with Sacramento real estate, not only because of lower prices but also because there are no major earthquake faults nearby. (To be even safer from tremors, if you do buy stay away from the levees.)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Why Price Controls Don't Work

CNN [bold added]:
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City is the latest insurer to announce it is withdrawing from Obamacare next year, citing big losses and uncertainty. The move would leave nearly 19,000 residents in Western Missouri without a coverage option unless another carrier steps in.
On the bright side, premiums aren't going up.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

We Can Handle the Truth

In March your humble blogger expressed his frustration at the drip, drip, drip of information that is paralyzing the Administration (undoubtedly one of the goals of the leakers):
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.
Two months later we're no further along in determining whether there's any fire behind the smoke. We have yesterday's testimony from former CIA Director John Brennan, who tells us that he warned Russian intelligence against "brazenly" interfering with the 2016 election:
Mr. Brennan described a previously undisclosed warning he made to his counterpart in Russian intelligence, Alexander Bortnikov, the head of the Russian FSB service, not to interfere in the U.S. election in an August phone call. According to Mr. Brennan’s account, Mr. Bortnikov denied any attempt to intervene and said Moscow is routinely and falsely blamed for such efforts by the U.S. government.
When asked for details
Mr. Brennan declined to discuss the specific information that his assessments were based on in the open hearing, saying that much of the information was classified. The House Intelligence Committee subsequently continued the hearing with Mr. Brennan in a classified, closed-door setting.
Mr. Trump has the power to declassify all this super-secret information, the selective leaking of which has been extremely damaging to his Presidency (already a special counsel has been appointed). He should approve the release of all of it. Though it may result in the firing and/or criminal prosecution of some on his team, he should know as a businessman that refusing to pay the price now results in a higher price later.

Note: just to be fair and balanced, the President ought to declassify all similar (the election, personal enrichment) information about communications between Russia, the Obama Administration, and the Clinton Campaign. C'mon, you know it exists.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing

At the Pali lookout in 2016---no pork, not even bacon
in our bellies, that morning.
Oahu kids are taught from an early age: don't carry pork over the Pali. If you do, the volcano goddess, Madame Pele, will cause bad things to happen. Although she doesn't appear to have visited Oahu recently, why take chances?

Pele's powers are more ascendant on the Island of Hawaii, where she is spending most of her time these days. Though they are warned, tourists have paid dearly for violating another rule--don't take lava rock off the Big Island!
Each year, hundreds of people mail, fly or hike pieces of lava back to the Big Island, hoping that by returning rocks they snatched, they will break the curse, appease the goddess and end their bad luck.

Lava is shipped back from Germany, Japan and Australia. Some lava thieves return to Hawaii so they can place the lava as close as possible to where they found it.
Skeptics may scoff, but stories abound of people whose fortunes turned around when they returned the lava. One example:
Steve Pariseau believes he can pinpoint the moment his life began falling apart: It was when he picked up a shimmering black lava rock while on vacation with his family in Hawaii.

Once he got home to California, one of his sons began having behavioral problems. His marriage fell apart. His mother died...

Mr. Pariseau said his family’s fortunes improved after they took another vacation to Hawaii and brought the lava rock back, nearly 10 years after they took it.

He got married again. His ex-wife reunited with her high-school sweetheart. His children are now both thriving.
Below is time-lapse photography that captures the power of Pele. What's also impressive is that photographer William Fintz knew where to set up his tripod hours in advance of the lava flow.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Water We Talking About

Tahoe: Filled in March with a huge snow-melt coming (David Braun photo)
For the past decade your humble blogger has listened to non-scientists claim with absolute certainty that the multi-year drought was caused by anthropogenic global warming, i.e., industrial civilization's excessive production of carbon dioxide. The State is running out of water, Lake Tahoe has dropped alarmingly, we have to change our evil ways, etc. etc.

How, then, to explain this good news? Tahoe [bold added]
is filling up fast, and about a foot away from reaching full capacity. Federal water managers say Tahoe will fill this summer for the first time in 11 years, and when it does, the total amount it will have risen across the water-year between Oct. 1 and Sept. 30 will be record-breaking.

"What we've come up so far and what we expect to come up will be the largest rise at the lake in 117 years of recorded history."
The winter snowfall seems to have discombobulated climate forecasters. This poor non-scientist is struggling to understand:
1) where did the climate models go wrong and how are they being changed to improve predictions?
2) what is the global temperature increase for 2017 and 2018, given that greenhouse-gas production continues unabated? (Temperatures will be higher because CO2 will be higher, isn't that the premise?)
3) Is the drought going to resume next year, or will rainfall be normal or better?

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Lighting a Candle for the Old Window

My childhood church is renovating the sanctuary, and the last vestige of the original building's interior is being replaced.

The stained glass window over the altar is over 100 years old, but a century of exposure to Hawaiian heat and rain has taken its toll.

Blue is my favorite color (the new window's drawing is above right), but I'm going to miss the old green and gold.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Not Norwegian, Either

We can easily imagine how technologies like facial recognition can affect privacy adversely, especially if those tools are in the hands of the wrong people. Maybe we can take comfort that those technologies---at least in consumer versions---are far from perfect.

I've known "Timothy" for a long time, and "he" is definitely not Swedish.

Tail-Gunner Joe Was Early

The May 29, 2017 cover.
Senator Joseph McCarthy was one of the most vilified Americans of the 20th century. He saw a Communist under every bed.

To believe today's media, he was just early.

A McCarthy quote, updated for the 21st century:
Our job as Americans and as Republicans Democrats is to dislodge the traitors from every place where they've been sent to do their traitorous work.
Time Magazine is coming around to Tail-Gunner Joe's point of view...

Friday, May 19, 2017

Disavow Your Avocado Avocation

California: you call that an avocado?
In Hawaii everyone has, or knows someone who has, an avocado tree. Avocados, like mangos and papaya, were once abundant, and l don't remember anyone in my family buying them when I was growing up.

Imagine my shock when I moved to the Mainland in the '70's and found that people paid (high prices) for fruits that were a fraction the size of those in the Islands.

Fast-forward to 2017: it's bad enough that the puny avocados now cost about a dollar apiece at California markets; avocado (on) toast goes for $9 at restaurants in San Francisco.

The lifestyle that gave rise to $9 avocado toast seemed so extravagant to Australian millionaire Tim Gurner that he blamed the menu item as a reason why millennials don't own their homes:
Hawaii: now that's an avocado.
"When I was buying my first home, I wasn't buying smashed avocado for 19 bucks and four coffees at $4 each," Gurner told Australia's "60 Minutes."
(A quick math check showed that he was engaging in hyperbole; it would take hundreds of years of foregone avocado toast to pay for a Bay Area house, but point taken.)

If you must have avocado, get a bunch from the market and ripen them, if necessary, in a paper bag. But before you dig in, be careful that you don't cut yourself. Yes, avocado hand is now an emergency room phenomenon. [bold added]
It seems that the avocado-eating masses are mishandling their fruit, resulting in a multitude of slash and/or stab wounds that have led to "serious nerve and tendon injuries, requiring intricate surgery." In the most extreme cases, the Times reported that patients never regained full use of the injured hand. (In its coverage of avocado handling earlier this month, the New York Times stated the wife of one of its employees racked up a $20,000 hospital bill due to an avocado injury.)
Before you decide to eat healthy, make sure you know the dangers involved.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Black Gold: Brown v. Green

Kern County: not as pretty as San Francisco (SF Gate photo)
Real news - deep blue, deep green California is the third leading oil-producing state behind Texas and North Dakota [bold added]:
Kern County alone pumps more oil than Oklahoma, accounting for more than 70 percent of California’s production and more than 90 percent of its fracked wells. While the miles of photogenic melon fields, almond orchards and vineyards get the magazine covers, for more than a century the county’s financial strength has been its place as California’s oil patch.

Since the 1890s, the county has been the epicenter of the state’s energy industry, with 44,284 active wells pumping some 144 million barrels of oil in 2015, according to the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources.

“In Kern County, oil and gas is a $4 billion industry with lots of well-paying jobs,” said Nick Ortiz, president and CEO of the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a huge part of our economy, and the taxes we collect are very important to Kern County and our residents.”
Here's the fun part: Governor Jerry Brown, well known for his strong views on climate change, refuses to move against the California fracking industry. His resistance has aroused the ire of putative environmental allies:
“It’s hypocritical for Brown to call himself a climate leader,” said Catherine Garoupa White of Californians Against Fracking, a coalition of environmental groups. The governor’s support for fracking “is a huge smear on Brown’s green record.”

The state needs to move to an economy with 100 percent clean energy and get out of oil,” said Dan Jacobson, legislative director for Environment California. “The governor needs to play a leadership role in getting us off oil.”
Governor Brown talks a good game, but he's too much of an experienced politician to embrace all the tenets of the green revolution.
since California residents now drive about 330 billion miles a year, most of it in vehicles powered by gasoline or diesel, there’s a long way to go.

“California is only producing 30 percent of its oil,” Brown said. “The rest comes in ships, mostly, but increasingly in trains.”

Cutting the state’s oil production without cutting demand just means that more of California’s oil will come from other states or other countries, which may not have the strong restrictions on fracking and oil production that California now has.

“I don’t believe that makes sense,” Brown said.
Keep talking like that, guv'nor, and people might think you are a climate-change (whisper) denier.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Good For My Portfolio

Trump trade still breathing: including today's drop, all indices are higher since the election.
AAPL, one of my holdings, is up nearly 30%.
I try to separate investment decisions from my politics. For example, I've long liked energy companies with strong cash flow and sizable reserves but stayed away from them during the anti-carbon Obama Administration. (For another reason---burgeoning production from fracking---it's still advisable to avoid those stocks.)

After the election most of President Trump's policy proposals, e.g., health care, immigration, "the wall", and regulatory reform, had obstacles that made enactment problematic, but the "sure things" seemed to be tax reform and infrastructure spending, both of which had solid Republican, as well as some Democratic support. It's likely that much of the post-November 8th stock market boom was attributable to these two factors.

Today the breathless rat-tat-tat of accusations against the Administration finally took its toll on the market. WSJ: Investors Turn Sharply Pessimistic [bold added]
  • Dow Jones Industrial Average falls more than 370 points
  • ICE U.S. Dollar Index erases postelection gains
  • Safer assets rally, with 10-year Treasury yield falling to 2.216%

    Turbulence in Washington jolted markets out of an extended period of calm Wednesday.

    Stocks, the U.S. dollar and government-bond yields slid as investors pulled back from bets on the swift passage of President Donald Trump’s agenda. Wagers that his policies would boost growth and inflation have been unwinding for months, but those moves accelerated Wednesday.
  • My hope is that today's appointment of a special counsel to investigate these Russia allegations will actually calm things down enough to get the bipartisan measures passed. It will be good for the country, and more importantly, good for my portfolio.

    Tuesday, May 16, 2017

    Cool Coast

    Surfer's Beach, Half Moon Bay
    Deciding to go for an early dinner on the coast, we drove west on Hwy 92 to Half Moon Bay. Traffic in the commute direction was already slowing at 3 o'clock.

    As advertised, the chowder at Sam's Chowder House was light on the cream and rich with clam flavor. The kitchen deftly crisped the deep-fried shrimp and calamari appetizers, and the pasta was neither too chewy or soft.

    After dinner we walked on the path to the beach. Surfers in wetsuits waited vainly for a large swell but had to settle for moderate waves that they could ride for a few seconds.

    It had been over a year since our last visit to Half Moon Bay, only 20 miles away. We'll be back sooner.

    Monday, May 15, 2017

    Sticking Around

    St. Francis on Horseback by Bufano (1956)
    The Hillsdale Shopping Center in San Mateo is one of the oldest shopping malls in the Bay Area. Of the original tenants only Macy's remains, Sears having left last year.

    The mall has undergone several facelifts during its 65-year history. Hillsdale is owned by descendants of David Bohannon, the original developer, and is one of the few privately-owned major shopping centers in California. Family money is typically patient money, one explanation of why Hillsdale has been able to weather the secular decline of retail (Mervyn's, Emporium, and Sears once had large stores here).

    I enjoy wandering through Nordstrom and Apple, taking in the Bufano sculptures, and having a cocktail at Paul Martin's. Soon there will be a bowling alley and cineplex.

    Sometimes, if you stick around long enough, things will turn in your direction.

    Sunday, May 14, 2017

    Mother's Day, 2017

    View from the shopping center on Sunday afternoon
    Unlike last year, the lady of the house didn't want home cooking but take-out from the shopping center across the street. No, my pride wasn't hurt; I got to watch an exciting basketball game instead of slicing, dicing, marinating, and grilling.

    On Mother's Day everybody wins.

    Saturday, May 13, 2017

    Choosing to Pay More

    The Nordstrom perfume counter had a lot of traffic.
    Retail may be dead (the stocks of retail stores took another beating this week), but you wouldn't know it from the crowds at the mall the day before Mother's Day. I had to drive around several parking lots until I found a third-floor space late in the day.

    I was happy to see the lines and didn't mind the jostling. Though online shopping is often both cheaper and more convenient than the mall, I've been going out of my way to patronize brick-and-mortar stores for over six years. A world where we can no longer buy something we need from a store nearby is a price I'm not willing to pay.

    Friday, May 12, 2017

    It's Not the Firing, It's the Reaction

    2013: Obama's GOP FBI Pick a Folk Hero for Democrats (ABC)
    Regarding the President's firing of FBI Director James Comey, the Economist gives two choices:
    The sacking of James Comey: Was Donald Trump being incompetent, or malign?

    If anything, the subheadline understates the vitriol in the editorial. [bold added]
    Is the administration chaotic and unworthy of its place in a mighty tradition, but more farcical than corrupting—a madcap approximation of government by a reality-television star? Or is Mr Trump, who has just become the first president since Richard Nixon to fire a man who was leading a formal investigation into his associates, and perhaps himself, a threat to American democracy.
    Ex-Director Comey wasn't exactly a paragon of leadership. Per the Economist, on November 7th:
    FBI directors do not need to be popular, but they do need to have the confidence of their staff and, ideally, America. It is hard to think James Comey, who made a second belated intrusion into the general election on November 6th, has much of either currently...

    Everything about Mr Comey’s performance on this issue seems lamentable. His criticism of Mrs Clinton’s “carelessness” in July was as irregular as it was damaging to the Democratic nominee. According to FBI protocol, he should have limited his remarks to the progress and outcome of his investigation...

    It has been a truly wretched affair.
    I am not a Donald Trump partisan--I didn't vote for him--but there's a plausible case that Mr. Trump has acted responsibly by firing a subordinate whose actions have harmed the effectiveness of the agency he leads. Getting rid of a man whose own competence was questioned for half of 2016 would have made sense to the Economist (inferred by its November 7th editorial) if done by President Obama.

    The fact that the action was initiated by President Trump has triggered an over-the-top response by the Economist's editorial page and demonstrates how extreme partisanship ("If the president nominates one of his stooges, such as Rudy Giuliani or Chris Christie, to replace Mr Comey, that opposition will grow"---note: stooges are the former Mayor of New York City and the current Governor of New Jersey) has overwhelmed the pages of a once-august publication.


    Wednesday, May 10, 2017

    Older Demographic

    Forget 3-D. Give the codgers their side-scrolling narrative.
    When my reflexes were quicker, I was pretty good at the arcade. Now the games I play on various devices are more thoughtful than twitchy. The vast majority continue to be produced for younger folk, but I seem to be in the target audience for a game that will be released next week, Old Man's Journey:
    A lighthouse like a fairy tale tower jutting from the flank of a colorful cottage, a train chugging past Arcadian fields framed by faraway peaks, a hot air balloon that lifts an aged man whose hoary beard parallels the considerable slope of his belly. This is Old Man's Journey, a contemplative adventure for PC, iOS and Android.
    I'm tempted to buy it, not for the gameplay, but to show support for games that cater to an older demographic. But it doesn't sound like a barrel of laughs:
    "A final chance to seek amends and find your heart, once lost at sea."

    The challenges appear to be largely puzzle driven, though nothing too intense, per the game's Steam page, which notes that the studio's focus is more on the protagonist's late-stage story, which explores "heartache, regret and hope through the old man's eyes."
    Well, at least if the player dies, he gets to start all over (right?)

    Tuesday, May 09, 2017

    The Doctor Knows

    I didn't lose the 10 pounds that was last year's goal, but the doctor was pleased that I did lose five. Serum glucose, triglycerides, and cholesterol all were high, according to the lab, but the readings were lower than last year's. I'll continue to take a 10 mg. (low dose) statin pill every night. It may or may not be the cause of the improvement, but why take chances?

    We set an appointment for next year, with new objectives. Although they look easy, moderately difficult goals wouldn't be attempted. He knows me very well.

    Monday, May 08, 2017

    Fake Audio

    (Network World image)
    Voice "cloning", in which a computer reads text aloud in a voice meant to sound like a specific individual, was once a niche product for those who were in danger of losing their speech to disease. Now the technology has become so advanced and easy to implement that voice-ID security systems are being jeopardized [bold added]
    any voice—including that of a stranger—can be cloned if decent recordings are available on YouTube or elsewhere. Researchers at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, led by Nitesh Saxena, were able to use [Carnegie-Mellon's] Festvox to clone voices based on only five minutes of speech retrieved online. When tested against voice-biometrics software like that used by many banks to block unauthorised access to accounts, more than 80% of the fake voices tricked the computer. Alan Black, one of Festvox’s developers, reckons systems that rely on voice-ID software are now “deeply, fundamentally insecure”.
    Public figures who are caught "on tape" with embarrassing utterances can say with increasing believability that the recording is "fake audio." And why not? As everything has gone digital--with enormous benefits, to be sure--everything can be faked.

    Sunday, May 07, 2017

    Venezuela: A Chance to Show What the Church Can Do

    Venezuela's declining economic indicators (WSJ Graphic)
    Following his election as President, Hugo Chávez was acclaimed by Hollywood, the press, and academia as he nationalized major sectors of the economy. Under Venezuelan socialism, aka the "Bolivarian revolution", he was able to raise the standard of living in the first decade of the 21st century (Wikipedia: "there were improvements in areas such as poverty, literacy, income equality, and quality of life occurring primarily between 2003 and 2007").

    When oil prices fell, Hugo Chávez and his successor Nicolás Maduro clamped down further on what remained of private industry to maintain the level of government spending. Venezuela's downward spiral was predictable by non-partisan students of socialism, but the degree of the plunge has been horrendous.
    Hordes of people, many with children in tow, rummage through garbage, an uncommon sight a year ago. People in the countryside pick farms clean at night, stealing everything from fruits hanging on trees to pumpkins on the ground, adding to the misery of farmers hurt by shortages of seed and fertilizer. Looters target food stores. Families padlock their refrigerators.
    As cracks appeared in the Chávez edifice, opponents of socialism crowed vindication. However, in 2017 Venezuela's misery has reached the point where no one can derive satisfaction from ideological I-told-you-so's.

    "Authorities have resisted offers of food and aid from abroad," so donations through the government are currently out of the question.

    The Catholic Church is a possible avenue; the Episcopal Church is another. For decades organized Christianity has been struggling to show that it is relevant. Here's an opportunity to show what it can do.

    Saturday, May 06, 2017

    Coverage is Not Care

    A few thoughts on the American Health Care Act (HR 1628, plus amendments) that was passed by the House last Thursday:

    1) Senate Republicans are composing their own bill. Assuming it passes (a big if under the Senate's complex procedures), the House and Senate will have to reconcile their respective versions. There is zero chance that HR 1628 will be sent to President Trump in its present form. (As a matter of academic interest, see WSJ analysis if the House bill does become law.)

    2) House Democrats mocked their Republican counterparts, suggesting that the latter would be thrown out of office in 2018 by the vote repealing supposedly popular Obamacare. Be careful, Dems, losers who believe they have no life after November, 2018 may ram the whole conservative agenda down your throats in the next 18 months.

    3) House Republicans were divided over both how and how much to fund hard-to-insure people with pre-existing conditions, but the Senate Republicans' thorniest issue seems to be over Medicaid expansion.

    20 million Americans gained health insurance after Obamacare was passed. Most were added under Medicaid. Politifact:
    [Senator Rand] Paul said the vast majority of people that got insurance under Obamacare got it through Medicaid. About 20 million people gained coverage and about 14.5 million of those were under Medicaid or CHIP. But a sizeable fraction of that 14.5 million were eligible before the Affordable Care Act took effect. One estimate said about a quarter of them were previously eligible. Another estimate put it as high as half.

    There is some guess work behind all the reports. Medicaid might account for slightly more than half of those who gained coverage. Most people wouldn’t say that amounts to the vast majority, but it is likely still the majority.
    The numbers tell the story: if Obamacare is great coverage, then Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California), with more than half the Obamacare additions, must also be great. In 2012 the Mercury News detailed why many doctors do not accept Medi-Cal patients. In a 2015 follow-up editorial the Mercury News said the problem is getting worse:
    But it’s becoming increasingly clear that the influx of 2.7 million Californians to the Medi-Cal roles [sic] is putting a strain on the state’s medical system....It’s not hard to discern why so many California doctors are loath to treat Medi-Cal patients. The paltry $16 reimbursement rate for a primary care visit makes it difficult for physicians to justify the appointment.
    12 million Californians, about 30% of the population, are covered under Medi-Cal. They are putatively "covered," but are they getting health care?

    Friday, May 05, 2017

    Ducking from View

    Ducks roam the neighborhood with impunity, stopping traffic, fouling decks, and quacking loudly when approached. Just last month we had to help a new family escape from our backyard.

    A pair stopped by this week, and I happened to be holding week-old (mold-free) bread intended for the compost bin. Impulsively I tossed them a couple of slices.

    They were back in the same spot the next day. I stayed inside. Psst! Are they gone yet?

    Thursday, May 04, 2017

    Biased News

    Desiree Fairooz confronts Condoleeza Rice in 2007. She
    attempted to intimidate her with red-stained hands, but Dr.
    Rice responds with a fearless expression. (Guardian photo)
    There are several techniques to bias a news article without lying. One way is to leave out important facts that may cause the reader to take the opposite position from the writer (example: advocates of compact fluorescent bulbs omitted mention of mercury poisoning).

    Another is to bury countervailing information at the bottom of the article. Example from the Guardian.

    Headline: Woman who laughed at Jeff Sessions hearing convicted for being 'disorderly'
    Desired Reaction: someone was convicted for laughing at the Attorney General. He sounds like a hypersensitive jerk who throws his weight around.
    Lead sentence: A jury in Washington has convicted a woman who was arrested after laughing during a confirmation hearing for the attorney general, Jeff Sessions.
    Desired Reaction: Yep, the article matches the headline. Arrested for laughing? This is America!

    Well, if you make it to paragraph 10 [bold added]:
    A spokesperson for the jury that convicted Fairooz, who spoke to the Huffington Post on condition of anonymity, said: “She did not get convicted for laughing. It was her actions as she was being asked to leave.
    While newspapers now take advocacy positions in the news section, most still retain enough journalistic ethics so as not to deliberately mislead. The Guardian isn't one of them.

    Wednesday, May 03, 2017

    Making the Navy Great Again

    The Zumwalt in San Diego (NRO photo)
    Amidst the hoopla of the election, we missed the commissioning of the U.S. Navy's $4.4 billion battleship, the Zumwalt.

    The first of the "Zumwalt" class of destroyers, the ship has been plagued by cost overruns and failures of unproven technology.

    When (and if) it becomes fully operational, according to Vice Admiral Tom Rowden
    Its advanced technology and capabilities allow it to do a range of defensive and offensive missions, and project power, wherever it is needed, and that's generating tremendous excitement within the Navy, Rowden said.
    USN Capt. James A. Kirk
    We are nevertheless confident that its missions will be successful. The commander of the Zumwalt is (drumroll)...Captain James Kirk!

    Tuesday, May 02, 2017

    What's His Motivation?

    One more piece of crackling dialogue from the Accountant:

    Brilliant! How many takes were there before they got this scene right?

    Monday, May 01, 2017

    Worth It

    Financial institutions are using the latest technology to analyze account activity and provide insights to account holders, such as "your expenses are exceeding your income" (as pictured right).

    Knock me over with a that's why I've had to transfer $2,000 a month into this account! I need to do a budget! Boy, those high bank fees are worth it.