Thursday, November 30, 2017

Two Lives Intersect, One Dies, Millions Affected

Jose Inez Garcia Zarate
Nearly two-and-a-half years after Kate Steinle was shot by a five-times-deported illegal immigrant, a San Francisco jury finds her killer innocent of murder:

[Jose Inez] Garcia Zarate was charged from the beginning with murder, and prosecutors gave the jury the option of convicting him of first-degree murder, second-degree murder or involuntary manslaughter. Jurors rejected all three.
He was convicted of being a "felon in possession of a gun", which carries a sentence of up to three years. He will get credit for the more than two years he has already been held in jail.

Kate Steinle
Ever since her death in 2015, the Steinle case has been cited as the consequences of lax enforcement of immigration law. If anything, the verdict will inflame passions on both sides, leading to resumption of Trump Administration efforts to build a wall on the southern border, as well as pushback against the Sanctuary City/State movement:[bold added]
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors amended the city’s sanctuary policies after the shooting. But if a person with Garcia Zarate’s record before the Pier 14 shooting were in San Francisco jail today, and eligible for release, he would still be freed rather than turned over to immigration agents in the absence of a federal warrant.
The right to a jury trial is enshrined in the Constitution; sometimes the result is hugely unpopular, but that's the price for keeping one of the fundamental rights that protect everyone.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

No Reason to Feel Superior

Within the past 60 days your humble blogger
  • dropped an unprotected iPhone onto concrete, cracking its screen,
  • completely overlooked a registration renewal, incurring a $195 penalty,
  • lost his wallet.
  • No appointment? The line goes out the door at the DMV.
    Each mistake had a reasonable excuse---the iPhone was perched on some papers and two cups of coffee as I tried to pull open a door, the DMV invoice was stuck behind other papers, and the wallet fell through a car-door crack while I was dozing---but maybe they're not a coincidence. Maybe the long slide into mental oblivion has begun.

    Losing a wallet was most burdensome because it entailed the cancellation of four credit / debit cards and the replacement of a California driver's license in person at a DMV office. I surveyed eight locations and selected the one with the closest appointment, which was three weeks from now (forgetting one's valid license at home is an infraction that can be dismissed if one produces it, but I would not have been able to produce one for three weeks). My intrepid spouse persisted in searching after midnight for an appointment , however, and so it was that I found myself at the Hayward DMV office at 9 a.m., less than 24 hours after the wallet was lost.

    The appointment line had only one person ahead of me. I was done in less than an hour, temporary license in hand, while the 50-deep no-appointments queue had hardly budged. Once upon a time I might have mocked others for their lack of foresight, but these days I have no reason to feel superior.

    I (again) resolved to be more mindful about what I'm doing, but I'll probably forget this promise by tomorrow.

    Monday, November 27, 2017

    Fantasies Change with Age, Too

    Candace Cameron Bure seems to be
    in every other Hallmark movie.
    TV ratings are down, but not at the Hallmark Channel.
    In 2016, Hallmark saw a 10 percent increase in total viewership and a 26 percent increase among viewers 18-49. During the 2016 election week, it ranked No. 4 among primetime cable networks – even ranking above MSNBC.

    ...the Hallmark Channel has become a growing safe haven for those weary of the violence, conflict, and uncertainty churned out by both news broadcasts and apocalyptic-themed TV dramas.
    There are absolutely no surprises in a Hallmark movie. The boy and girl (no LBGTQ romances ever) always meet in the beginning, surmount obstacles (different stations of life, disapproving parents, etc. etc.), and wind up in each others arms at the end, usually engaging in their first kiss.

    ...and Lacey Chabert seems to be
    in the rest.
    Children are not a barrier to romance; often they're the ones who encourage a single parent to start dating. They want Mom or Dad to be happy again and have an extraordinarily grown-up attitude about replacing the usually-deceased-not-divorced parent. Yes, that's why Hallmark movies are well-liked--they're fantasy.

    The Christmas movie is a sub-genre that is especially popular.
    Often there’s a struggling family business that needs saving, like the cozy inn in “Christmas at Holly Lodge,” the old-fashioned holiday shop in “Sharing Christmas,” or the theater that loses its lease in “Christmas Encore.”

    A big-time star encounters small-town romance in “Marry Me at Christmas,” “A Song for Christmas” and “Rocky Mountain Christmas.” In “The Perfect Christmas Present,” the hero is a personal gift buyer known to his clients as Mr. Christmas—not unlike the nickname for the title character in “Miss Christmas,” whose job is finding the perfect tree for Chicago....

    In addition to a feel-good finale, there’s an atmospheric checklist for every movie. “Buying a Christmas tree. Wrapping gifts. Thinking of gifts. Baking and cooking meals. Family gatherings. All of the things that you think of as traditional,” says Randy Pope, senior vice president of programming.
    (For further study, here are 12 Rules of Hallmark Christmas Movies.)

    I started watching the Hallmark and Hallmark Mysteries Channels a few years ago when visiting my mother. Now they're a favored way to relax, with G-rated happy endings, deus ex machina financial windfalls, and selfish characters always changing their ways.

    I will go gently into that good night illuminated by the faint glow of the Hallmark Channel.

    Sunday, November 26, 2017

    Costco Food-Buying Normalization

    A half an hour before closing on Friday the Costco store and parking lot were nearly deserted.

    Though Costco is one of the few major retail outlets without an official "Black Friday" sale, some items, particularly those related to Thanksgiving dinner, were heavily discounted.

    The turkey-stuffing-gravy combo was marked down to $15 from the original $30. Reason prevented the purchase, as did the recollection of our refrigerator overflowing with leftovers.

    We did leave with a shopping cart of items, mostly food, that cost $110. Two days later I couldn't tell you what we bought.

    Saturday, November 25, 2017

    Obvious Nudge

    Foster City begins the hard sell on a new bond issue.

    Would we rather pay $279/year (bond payments on a new levee) or $2,000/year (flood insurance)? Duh, I don't even need the calculator for that one.

    They've already appealed to FEMA about the City's flood-zone classification, to no avail.

    But there are other considerations. Those of us who are risk-seeking and would not be required to purchase flood insurance by our lender (if any) might well vote against the bond issue.

    I'll need to run my own numbers when the time comes....and decide how much I trust the assumptions. I hate being so obviously nudged, at least be more subtle about it.

    Friday, November 24, 2017

    Thursday Night Shopping

    Waiting in line for a scratch-off ticket, I won a $10 gift card.
    Because all the cooking and clean-up were done Wednesday (see post below), Thursday evening was open. What else was there to do but get an early start on Christmas shopping?

    The parking lots were half full when we arrived at the San Bruno mall at 6 p.m.

    There were long lines at Gamestop and Target, both of which had Black Friday promotions.

    Not intending to buy anything, I headed for Starbucks, which turned out to be one of the few stores that were closed on Thanksgiving night. I picked up dinner at the Food Court. It wasn't turkey.

    Thursday, November 23, 2017

    Early Turkey

    Wednesday's child is full of stuffing.
    Because some of us had travel plans today, we celebrated Thanksgiving Wednesday night. The hastened schedule resulted in some of the usual items--vegetables, potatoes--being purchased pre-cooked then microwaved (BTW, the quality is improving every year), but the turkey was roasted traditionally.

    Consequently on Thanksgiving Day the kitchen was uncluttered and the only cooking involved was reheating leftovers.

    Hmm, I'm thinking of starting a new tradition..... (Hey, Black Friday now starts on Thursday or earlier.)

    Thanksgiving, 2017

    A reflection on wealth, updated from last year's post:
    The wealthiest person in the world is Jeff Bezos, whose personal fortune is currently estimated to be $93 billion by Forbes Magazine.

    But historians say that the wealthiest person who ever lived was John D. Rockefeller, who at one time controlled 90% of the oil industry. Money Magazine took John D. Rockefeller’s fortune in relation to a much smaller American economy and also adjusted it for inflation. Money Magazine estimated that his wealth would be like having $250 billion today.

    John D Rockefeller (Daily Mail / Getty)
    100 years ago John D. Rockefeller was 78 years old---by the way he would live another 19 years---but would you trade places with him? He had an army of servants, but here’s a little of what we have and he didn’t:

    1) We can be in Paris in 11 hours. It would take him a couple of weeks to get to Europe from California by rail and then by ship.

    2) If any of us had a medical emergency, paramedics would be here in 10 minutes or less. We would be treated by methods that would be infinitely better than were available in 1917 by the best doctors in the world.

    3) We have the world’s knowledge at our fingertips. No matter how many people John D. Rockefeller had working for him, it would take them hours to research a topic in the Library of Congress and we can do it in minutes. For that matter, we have movies--with sound--and huge music libraries at our fingertips, too.

    4) I am sure each of us can think of many more examples of progress---about how we can carry on a live conversation with a relative halfway around the world and see their faces, about how we can forecast to the hour when rain is about to start, about how we no longer need to keep a stack of maps in our glove compartment to know where we’re going.

    When you look at it that way, hundreds of millions of us ordinary folk are each richer than Rockefeller.

    How much of our wealth is represented by what’s in our bank account, and how much wealth do we have merely because we are alive in this time and this place?

    Wednesday, November 22, 2017

    Like Children Again

    Schwinn Meridian: the front tire kept rubbing against the
    fender, which I eventually removed.
    Though we are fortunate to possess fairly good health into our 60's, the handwriting is on the wall: our once proudly-independent selves will decline to mewling helplessness. Safety becomes more important than power and speed. We'll be like children, minus their energy and recuperative powers, again.

    And so it was that I spent six hours assembling a Schwinn Adult Tricycle. Gone are the days of shifting into high gear along the biking paths. "Triking" at a walking pace is the new speed limit.

    Being a novice assembler, I took my time putting the tricycle together. The trickiest parts were tightening the chain and adjusting the brakes and cables so that there was no friction while moving, with only a light squeeze necessary to begin the slowdown. The last touch was putting in the decorative front fender (picture), which despite numerous adjustments kept rubbing against the tire. Finally, I just took it off.

    Various family members pronounced the ride "fun", so my inefficient labors were in the end successful.

    BTW, your humble blogger had difficulty riding the tricycle! In bike riding one of the first lessons one learns is to "counter-steer" (i.e., when going left, turn the wheel to the right--on paper it sounds odd but is necessary to retain balance; after a few minutes one does this without thinking about it).

    Counter-steering is precisely the wrong move when trike riding. If you are veering right and want to go left, don't turn the front wheel right as you would with a bike. I went off into the bushes several time until I realized that to go where I wanted, just point the wheel in that direction, as any 4-year-old knows.

    We are going to be helpless as children again, but we may not be as smart.

    Tuesday, November 21, 2017

    Long Train

    Hoppers, food, coal, and tank cars: a diversified load.
    In Central California Union Pacific trains are a regular sight. The wait time at crossings has risen due to the increase in freight traffic. City transplants may be irritated, but the railroads were here first.

    In the San Francisco Bay Area under- and over-crossings cost in the tens of millions of dollars.

    Though the population has grown in Sacramento and surrounds, it will be many years before the crowding and wealth have increased enough to justify bypass construction.

    Monday, November 20, 2017

    The Meaning of Charity

    Our four boxes (marked) were passed out later that day.

    Yesterday I dropped off four boxes of non-perishable food at CALL Primrose, a Burlingame food-outreach venture founded by the Presbyterian and United Methodist churches.

    It was a few days after the deadline, but the items were gratefully received nevertheless. The bright side of my tardiness was that (previous years' posts are here, here, and here) I was there for the Thanksgiving food distribution. Clients had filled out a form months earlier and received a claim ticket; from the carefulness with which they removed it from their wallets it was something precious to them.

    Donating food boxes requires some organization, because CALL Primrose has standardized the contents ("Please stick to the list to ensure all boxes we distribute are the same"). Our parishioners check off the items on the list stapled to each box, and I complete the unfilled items (this year we were 15 cans/packages short). For the record each box contained:
  • 2 cans (15 oz) yams
  • 1 bag (16 oz) mini marshmallows
  • 2 cans (15¼ oz) corn
  • 2 cans (14½ oz) green beans
  • 2 cans (14½ oz) fruit (any fruit or fruit cocktail)
  • 1 can (14 oz) cranberry sauce
  • 1 box (6 oz) stuffing mix
  • 1 box (13-14 oz) instant mashed potatoes
  • 1 jar/can (12 oz) chicken/turkey gravy
  • 1 box (8 ½ oz) cornbread / muffin mix
  • 1 bottle (48 oz) vegetable cooking oil
  • 1 bag/box (16 oz) pasta
  • 1 can/bottle (20 oz) pasta sauce
  • 1 box (5 oz) chocolate jello pudding/pie mix
  • 1 no-bake graham cracker pie crust, and
  • 1 can (14 oz) condensed milk.
  • CALL Primose' Thanksgiving and similar activities have often made me contemplate the meaning of charity. I could write (or ask the church to write) a check for, say, $100 a box and ask CALL Primrose to buy the supplies, which they have said they would be happy to do. That would save me the time of making the announcement, assembling the boxes and posting a list on each, counting and backfilling the inventory, and transporting the containers to Burlingame. Against this personal cost is the benefit of group participation, especially by our children, in helping others in our community.

    Such an analysis is not that simple; inputs should include the valuation of my personal time and the amount of my net worth. For example, if both were very high I could pay a teenager say, $20 an hour, to do everything. The solution would be win-win-win (CALL Primrose, the teenager, and me), yet I have a feeling that I'm missing something.

    Well, too many brain cells have already been expended on what should be a simple act of charity. I'll just keep doing the same thing every year until I can't do it anymore.

    Sunday, November 19, 2017

    Collapsing Like a House of Cards

    I knew something was true but couldn't prove it.

    I knew that the sexual depredations of various Christian leaders--Catholic priests, television evangelists, and conservative religious politicians--trumpeted almost gleefully by the media, could not have been the whole story. Every practicing Christian I encounter knows that he is a sinner, but regularly repents and tries to do better next time. How come the only abusers and harassers of women and children were Christians and/or conservatives? How come Hollywood, the media, and academia, rife with people who are not religious and often proudly so, were so free of sin?

    Now we know that they were not, their actions have been more numerous and severe, and their deeds have been actively covered up for at least the 20 years dating back to the Clinton Administration. The whole edifice is collapsing like a House of Cards.

    Much more important than the current
    discussion, the congregation blessed Jared
    and Alexandra, who grew up in our church,
    on their wedding earlier this week.
    Dear Lord, please forgive me for any feelings of satisfaction or vindication that I feel. If I were more secular, I would crow about justice being served (is this the "social justice" that I keep hearing about?), but that would be wrong.

    Let's all start by taking a break from deploring the repugnant cultural other.

    There are numerous reflections on this topic. Here are a few:

    Ross Douthat, What if Ken Starr Was Right?

    Andrew Sullivan, The Danger of Knowing You're on the Right Side of History

    David Brooks, The Siege Mentality Problem

    Saturday, November 18, 2017

    Things Will Get Brighter

    High-res picture of my lens and retina.
    "But doc, you said it would be ten years before I had to do something about it."

    In 2015 he had spotted a cataract growing in my left eye.

    Today he told me that the lens had clouded to the point where I could justify having the surgery now. He pulled out one of the favorite doctorly strategems ("if it were my eyes...")

    [Sigh] at least the timing was propitious. It's open enrollment for another couple of weeks, so I'll check out the providers who cover cataract surgery in 2018.

    I'm aware of one bad experience, but the dozen or so other acquaintances who have gone through it had excellent results.

    Friday, November 17, 2017

    We Are Wiser and More Believable Now

    Sen. Gillebrand (NY Daily News)
    Senator Kirsten Gillebrand (D-NY), a staunch long-time supporter of both Clintons, now says President Clinton should have resigned 20 years ago during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
    The comment drew immediate fire from Philippe Reines, a top aide to Mrs. Clinton, who was first lady at the time of the affair. “Over 20 yrs you took the Clintons’ endorsements, money, and seat. Hypocrite,” he wrote on Twitter. “Interesting strategy for 2020 primaries. Best of luck.”
    After decades of silence, Democrats are finding it advantageous to denounce sex-abuse and sex-crimes committed by members of their own party (during this period there's been no such reticence about pillorying Republicans), though it means throwing the Big He and She under the bus.
    Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others.--Groucho Marx

    Thursday, November 16, 2017

    Don't Hold It Up for Me

    Because both House and Senate versions of the new tax law eliminate the deduction for state and local taxes (SALT), the tax on long-term capital gains will go up for individuals in high-tax states:[bold added]
    New York City residents, for instance, pay a top income-tax rate of 12.7%—8.8% to the state and 3.9% to the city. In California the top rate is 13.3%. Absent the deduction, then, New York City and California investors in the top bracket would pay a total—federal, state and local taxes—of 36.5% and 37.1%, respectively, on their capital gains.

    The top federal rate on ordinary income is 39.6%, so deducting state and local taxes reduces their burden by that proportion for high earners. In theory that should lower the total capital-gains tax to 31.5% in New York City and 31.8% in California. In practice the figures are somewhat higher, since other provisions of the federal tax code—the alternative minimum tax and the Pease phase-outs of deductions—reduce the value of the SALT deduction for high-income taxpayers. But every investor who itemizes and lives in a state that taxes capital gains would face some increase under the GOP plans.
    Higher taxes on capital gains cause taxpayers to be hesitant to take gains at the margin---from personal experience and that of acquaintances I believe this effect on behavior for certain individuals to be noticeable----and result in capital being being "locked in", i.e., appreciated assets are held onto longer.
    The lock-in of capital gains reduces the mobility of private capital—and, more important, its flow to the new, small and rapidly growing companies that create the most jobs.
    (Business Insider graph)
    Two comments:

    1) Despite the authors' claims, the lock-in effect on capital markets cannot be large. Two-thirds of equity investors (see chart) don't pay taxes; mutual funds, hedge funds, international, and other institutional investors are legally exempt or can afford the expertise to structure around taxes. Of the remaining third, i.e., households, only a small percentage reside in high-tax states. Only a subset of this subset are in such a high bracket that State taxes are the deciding factor against a capital asset sale.

    2) Possible estate-tax repeal, and even high estate-tax exemptions, are a much more powerful inducement to hold onto appreciated assets than the lack of a SALT deduction. If a well-off taxpayer can afford to live the rest of her life without selling her home or her Alphabet stock, those assets will be "stepped up" to Fair Market Value at her death. There won't be much, if any estate tax because of changes to the law, and her heirs will pay much less income tax because the stepped-up basis will have shrunk the gains dramatically when it comes time for them to sell the assets.

    BTW, your humble blogger lives in high-tax California and is sitting on some assets (hey, I mean that figuratively) that have grown fatter in recent years; I won't sell them unless it's an unexpected emergency, so go ahead and pass the d*** law already, Republicans, don't hold it up for me.

    Wednesday, November 15, 2017

    Business-Friendly Enough

    Sen. Ron Johnson (Washington Times)
    Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson opposes the current Senate tax proposal: [bold added]
    Mr. Johnson said Republican plans prioritize corporations over “pass-through” entities—sole proprietorships, partnerships, limited liability companies and S Corporations—whose owners pay taxes through individual returns and at individual income-tax rates, rather than corporate rates. The Senate plan, like the House plan, proposes to cut the corporate rate from 35% to 20%.
    As an owner and part-owner of various pass-through LLCs, your humble blogger is in favor of the bill in its current form though my LLCs won't gain directly. I am also an owner of publicly traded stocks that will benefit from lowered corporate taxes; from personal experience I know many LLC-owners who are in my position.

    Furthermore, when a business achieves scale it often is structured with multiple pass-through as well as taxpaying ("C Corporation") entities, so many C-Corp beneficiaries are S/LLC/partnership owners as well. It is exceedingly rare to find a strictly pass-through owner who won't benefit from a lowering of C-Corp taxes.

    The bill is business-friendly enough, and I find it hard to believe that Senator Johnson is letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

    Tuesday, November 14, 2017

    I'm Just Not Into Social Media

    Last week's Economist rambles, but it's a rambling topic:

    Do social media threaten democracy?

    Social media initially appeared to be a positive force when it helped to overthrow authoritarian governments in the Middle East in 2010-2012 (the "Arab Spring").

    However, internet practices such as doxxing ("to publicly identify or publish private information about (someone) especially as a form of punishment or revenge") and the widespread forwarding of "fake news" have halted the cheerleading.

    Some remedies: [bold added]
    The social-media companies should adjust their sites to make clearer if a post comes from a friend or a trusted source. They could accompany the sharing of posts with reminders of the harm from misinformation. Bots are often used to amplify political messages. Twitter could disallow the worst—or mark them as such. Most powerfully, they could adapt their algorithms to put clickbait lower down the feed. Because these changes cut against a business-model designed to monopolise attention, they may well have to be imposed by law or by a regulator. [blogger's comment: nope, regulators are not impartial; the cure is worse than the disease.]
    I try to support trusted sources by buying subscriptions to Time, the Economist, the Wall Street Journal, and the San Francisco Chronicle (note: I do not support many of these publications' editorial positions), among others, all of which pre-dated the internet and, not coincidentally, adhere to standards of journalism no longer widely practiced.

    I try to live outside a political bubble by reading publications--both free and paid--that I disagree with.

    I try not to inflame others by using language that provokes (exception: stuff that I find funny), nor do I forward articles that leave out strong (IMHO) counter-arguments or, more importantly, facts that contradict the main arguments.

    I still believe in the ultimate rationality of human beings, and that the truth will become known.

    On the other hand I still think Donald Trump can be a good President though I didn't vote for him, so consider the source.

    Monday, November 13, 2017

    Same Persons, Different Decisions

    We've always driven--and obviously owned--our cars for at least 150,000 miles, but when the 18-year-old Dodge Caravan finally expired in 2015 we decided to lease its replacement. The century-old automobile industry is undergoing such speedy technological change that it would be imprudent to absorb the capital cost of an asset that could well be obsolete in 3-5 years.

    Over-capacity, a plethora of producers, and rapid obsolescence should make it a buyer's market for used equipment, such as cars coming off lease, but to almost everyone's surprise prices are holding steady. One of the reasons is hurricane damage.
    The number of lease returns is expected to reach 11.3 million in the three years ending in 2019, 49% more than the same three-year period that ended in 2016, according to research firm J.D. Power.

    Thus far, the market is absorbing the extra supply thanks to tighter inventory controls by various industry players and the loss of as many as a half-million cars to hurricanes in Texas and Florida.
    If both new- and used-car prices go crazily upward in a year, that would be a compelling reason to buy the Lexus when the lease expires in October (at a fixed price of 70% of cost and mileage of 30,000). Otherwise, we're returning the best car we've ever driven.

    We're the same persons today as we were decades ago, but our decisions sure are different.

    Sunday, November 12, 2017

    Facing Facts

    Artificial intelligence---and machines mimicking, if not having, consciousness and sentience---has revived arguments over what it means to be human.

    The debate has its origins in antiquity, when philosophers reflected on whether animals were capable of rational thought (their answer: no).

    Dolly, the first cloned sheep, circa 1996 (newscientist)
    Modern scientists who have examined the communications and learning abilities of chimpanzees, dolphins, and other mammals have shaken that ancient certainty.

    And then there are sheep, which can recognize people from photographs, even those taken from different angles. Scientists
    trained the sheep to associate the image of one person, Barack Obama for example, with a food reward. They were shown both an image of Obama and another face next to it. When the sheep tapped the former president's image, it broke an infrared beam and dispensed the treat. Eight times out of ten, the eight sheep in the study knew which face to associate with food.

    To truly test that the sheep were recognizing faces and not just familiar photos, the researchers also presented them with different images of each celebrity, including from skewed angles. When shown these different perspectives of each face, the sheep still recognized them more than half the time.
    I enjoy dining on lamb and pork as much as the next person, but qualms about the morality of eating animals that evince some forms of intelligence are growing. As for chicken or fish, bring on that second helping.
    “To my mind, the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

    Saturday, November 11, 2017

    The Indomitable Monkey Pod

    2014- Covering the House
    2015- After Trimming

    2017- Coming Back

    We're gonna need a bigger trimmer.

    Friday, November 10, 2017

    Disappointing the Plaintiffs

    Deep-pocketed PG&E has responded to a blizzard of lawsuits over last month's fires by stating [bold added]
    last month’s Wine Country wildfires may have been started by electrical equipment not owned or installed by Pacific Gas and Electric Co., the utility said in a legal filing Thursday.

    A filing Thursday from PG&E states that while fire investigators are still trying to determine what caused the Tubbs Fire, “preliminary investigations suggest that this fire might have been caused by electrical equipment that was owned, installed and maintained by a third party.” [snip]

    October’s wildfires, which included blazes in the Sierra foothills and Orange County, caused more than $3.3 billion in damage, according to an estimate from the state’s insurance commissioner. California utilities can be held liable for economic damages from wildfires caused by their equipment, even if they followed all applicable safety regulations.
    Marginally relevant: the aging telephone pole
    outside my parents' home has more cables and
    transformers every time I visit Honolulu.
    Even if PG&E equipment did not initiate the fire, downed power lines likely contributed to its spread. The utility will have to cough up something, though that amount will disappoint the plaintiffs.

    Thursday, November 09, 2017

    A Hangup I Need to Work On

    Alexa bought me a drink.
    Standing in line at a San Bruno Starbucks, I was startled when the woman ahead of me offered to buy me a drink. It wasn't a cheap one either--a holiday peppermint mocha--but I had trouble accepting it.

    She said it was a "free" drink on a Starbucks promotion. I made a final stab at resisting the favor: why can't you take it home for later or isn't there someone else you can give it to (dumb as soon as I said it)? No, she replied.

    I fumbled in my satchel and pulled out four high-quality (wrapped) chocolates, which she took.

    Those who have given most of their lives find it hard to receive, and, as age diminishes independence, that's a hangup I need to work on.

    Wednesday, November 08, 2017

    It's "ow" and "garn" that keep her in her place,
    Not her wretched clothes and dirty face

    Standard English is important for business and social reasons, but you should not be a grammar policewoman 24/7. In fact there are benefits to speaking another "dialect" in one's home or local community. [bold added]
    All children in Britain and America do need standard English. But they do not need it all the time. Indeed, there is absolutely no need for them to abandon their home speech; people are perfectly able to switch speech varieties. Watch the many talented black American comedians, from Richard Pryor to Eddie Murphy to the duo of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, whose effortless swapping between a buttoned-up English and black vernacular is played for laughs. For plenty of people this is a survival skill, one that deserves respect. Fortunately, it can also be taught.

    The core of doing so is recognising how language varies naturally by occasion. Both teachers and students should be taught to think about this variation with curiosity. If both dialects and the standard are valuable, what is interesting is just when, and how, people switch between them.
    Amazon sells the 1959(!) edition of the
    grammar book I used in school.
    Everyone in my neighborhood spoke pidgin ("do you want to eat?" is you like go eat?) and my young ears instantly picked up on the difference between how I should speak in school and how I should speak with some of my friends. It's all about being accepted, as I bounced back and forth between pidgin and "haole" English depending on the context. (BTW, I am envious of Chinese and Mexican kids who talk to their parents in their native tongues then switch to accent-less English at a moment's notice.)

    Our society generously rewards those who can not only empathize but adapt speech to their audience. It's part of salesmanship, in other words.

    Tuesday, November 07, 2017

    Coming and Going

    The Department of Agriculture has strict rules against importing animals (e.g., hamsters, lion fish, snakes) to Hawaii. And it's not just exotics: household pets, i.e. dogs and cats, that don't meet with the requirements of a 4-page rabies checklist may be quarantined for up to 120 days.

    There are equally burdensome regulations against outbound plants and plant materials. Hawaii has insects and diseases that can cause extensive damage to Mainland crops.

    Government agencies have come in for a lot of criticism for various security failures, but the USDA appears to have done a good job screening traffic in both directions for the half a century that your humble blogger has been flying.

    Monday, November 06, 2017

    Friday Folderol

    Gridlock at Kapiolani & McCully
    I had to pick up a small item at Ala Moana shopping center on Friday night. It was less than a mile, so I walked.

    The choice how to get there was easy; President Trump’s visit had closed some of Honolulu’s busiest roads.

    The lighting makes him look fake -- media bias!
    (StarAdvertiser photo)
    Even pedestrians were stymied, however. At my halfway point the police had closed Kalakaua & Kapiolani, one of Honolulu's most crowded intersections. People massed at the lights, while cars backed up a mile in all directions. Eventually the motorcade passed. It was accompanied by at least 30 police cars and motorcycles.

    At the shopping center the parking lot was empty, atypical of a Friday night.

    At Kapiolani the procession heads up Kalakaua.
    Presidential visits may be good for business, but not everyone prospers. At least the Apple Store wasn't crowded, and I got a good look at the iPhone X.

    Rather than walk home after the errand, I hoofed it to Waikiki along Ala Moana Boulevard. Once the Ilikai stood alone; now other towers had risen nearby, complete with restaurants and brand-name retail stores.

    Halt! Besides, the Ritz isn't for the hoi polloi.
    Automobiles on Kalakaua Avenue, Waikiki’s main boulevard, inched forward; traffic was made worse by the closure of Kuhio Avenue, parallel to Kalakaua. TV news had not reported where President Trump was staying, but it was easy enough to figure out; barricades stopped everyone, cars and pedestrians, a block away from the Ritz-Carlton.

    On a warm, humid night, Waikiki didn't seem as much fun as I had thought.

    It was time to walk home along the Ala Wai, where my dad and uncles used to swim.

    Sunday, November 05, 2017

    Do As I Say

    Cottons dried in a couple of hours in the Hawaiian sun.
    In 2011 we were hopeful that the green elite would eventually embrace carbon-saving measures like drying laundry on clotheslines or forsaking non-business jet travel, but six years later we remain perplexed at the slow adoption of carbon-saving actions by these progressive leaders.

    In the tony Bay Area, homeowners’ associations, which dominate new construction, continue to ban clothes lines.

    If we didn’t know better, we would think that elites rather talk about virtue rather than act with virtue. They don't want to do good if it means looking bad.

    Rules of a Peninsula homeowners' association.
    In Hawaii, as home prices escalate and wealthy newcomers move in to neighborhoods, we are pleased to confirm that residents continue not to be embarrassed about hanging their laundry outside. It’s a small step toward saving the planet, yet it’s a step that seems to be too much for the much wealthier Bay Area to allow, if not encourage.

    Saturday, November 04, 2017

    Proud of Something Trivial on Friday Afternoon

    The usual route to the South King St. destination was to head northwest on Kapiolani, make a right on Piikoi, then right on South King, a driving time of 8 minutes. (On the map, start in the bottom right corner, go left, then up, then right, on streets marked in gray.)

    Google Maps was smart enough to incorporate announced road closures from President Trump's visit and propose a circuitous route (pictured). However, the first recommended step--right on Kapiolani--was a non-starter; traffic on Kapiolani Blvd. was at a standstill.

    And so it was that your humble blogger embarked on a journey that resembled a maze---winding roads, walls (i.e., police cars) that blocked promising routes, and going back in order to move forward.

    Fortunately the GPS Navigator in the Nissan had no feelings, because I ignored her instructions 90% of the time (no, turning left leads to a closure, Nissan, so I'm turning right). The Navigator was useful in bypassing little neighborhood streets that had become one-way--yes, traffic is that bad--during the past 40 years.

    It took 20 minutes to travel the 3 miles (normally 1.4 miles) to get there, but at least I wasn't stuck like the non-kama'ainas. Betcha I would have beaten the driverless cars, too.

    Friday, November 03, 2017

    Best Wishes to a November Baby

    Colin Kaepernick turned 30 today. Other than our shared birthdate we have nothing in common. He's rich, tattooed, an outstanding physical specimen, angers a lot of people---hey, maybe there is something to this horoscope stuff after all.

    Actually, I do wish him the best. He offended many good and decent people with controversial actions that I totally disagree with, yet in the end did not really harm anyone (IMHO, offending is not harming). He put everything on the line and likely destroyed his career, despite wishful thinking from his lawyer. I can respect his choice.

    I hope he has many more---and happier---birthdays.

    For Once, That's Me

    President Trump is in Hawaii today and tomorrow. Governor David Ige:
    “I don’t intend to have a heated issue or political debate on the tarmac,” he said Wednesday. “Whenever any president visits the state of Hawaii, I think it’s an opportunity to learn about the people, place and culture. We all learned a long time ago that when we work together we accomplish great things.”
    President Obama made many trips to his home state but generally preferred to spend time on Oahu's Windward side. President Trump will make several trips traversing the busy Pearl Harbor-Waikiki corridor on Friday afternoon (graphic).

    Arriving at Pearl Harbor around noon, the President plans to meet with Mr. Ige and "four other governors" in town, then return to Pearl Harbor to visit the Arizona memorial and meet with the Pacific Military Command.

    Yes, the back-and-forth will be snarling traffic, but at least it's for official business and not for pleasure.

    I plan to take advantage of street closures by walking to Waikiki, less than a mile away. What's inconvenient for most is good fortune for a few. For once, that's me.

    Still Secret After All These Years

    (WSJ graphic)
    The Great Pyramid of Giza has a hidden space, dubbed the ScanPyramids Big Void:
    The Big Void is at least roughly 100 feet long, according to the study, and between 160 and 230 feet above ground, higher than the Grand Gallery....There are still unanswered questions, [Mehdi Tayoubi of the HIP Institute] said, like what’s inside the Big Void, whether it’s a single or multiple rooms, or what its purpose was. The sensors used to detect this new pocket inside the Great Pyramid couldn’t make out individual artifacts within, or its internal structure.
    I believe that the Big Void allowed itself to be revealed, now that our species' technology is sufficiently advanced to receive its secrets.

    But which brave soul will be the first to go in? Who has the knowledge, wisdom, maturity, and flexibility to react with good judgment to a discovery that could change human history?

    Geraldo, we're sorry about the things everyone said the last time. We really need you!

    Thursday, November 02, 2017

    Unfair to the Enquirer

    Guilty reading pleasure: My former landlady always
    picked up the current copy at the supermarket.
    South Carolina representative Trent Gowdy (R) on the "Trump dossier": [bold added]
    "I want to know whether the nation's premier law enforcement agency relied on a document that looks like the National Enquirer prepared it."
    Hey, Trent, you're being unfair to the Enquirer.

    ABC news, 2010: National Enquirer Now Legit, According to Pulitzer Prize Board
    The National Enquirer is now legit, according to the Pulitzer Prize Board.

    The body behind journalism's most prestigious award conceded Thursday that the self-proclaimed tabloid can compete with mainstream news outlets for its prizes. Because it broke the story about former presidential candidate John Edwards's mistress and love child, the Enquirer's staff is eligible for the Pulitzer in two categories: "Investigative Reporting" and "National News Reporting."
    Of course, the National Enquirer raising its standards is only one possible explanation of how the supermarket tabloid is becoming like the rest of the industry.

    Texas Beats California

    The Omni Hotel in Dallas recognized the Astros' World Series
    victory, the first ever by a Texas team. (Houston Chronicle)
    California can be separated into at least three distinct geographic regions ("six Californias" has achieved some traction) that have little in common with each other---I couldn't see San Franciscans rejoicing if the Dodgers had won the World Series last night.

    It appears that the entire State of Texas is celebrating the Houston Astros' game 7 win last night.

    After the $100+ billion--one-third to one-half in Houston--of damage experienced from Hurricane Harvey nine weeks ago, the Astros' victory is a much-needed feel-good story in professional sports.

    Wednesday, November 01, 2017

    Unnecessary Purchase

    That's a lot of sugar.
    After getting off the plane, I went to the supermarket to pick up snacks, toiletries, and other items that I knew Mom and Dad wouldn't have.

    I also bought a bag of candy to give to the Halloween hordes that I used to be a part of in the old neighborhood. Not one kid showed up. You can go home again, but home looks very different.