Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Mini Garden: A Good Start

Chicken chow fun with black beans
Hawaiian Airlines Flight 11 (SFO-HNL) arrives around noon, and it's a perfect excuse to stop for a late lunch at Mini Garden Orient Cuisine on the way home.

(Yes, "Orient" is non-PC, but it's run by Chinese owners, and there's a rule that a group can use self-referential words not permitted to outsiders.)

Mini Garden
1) Is on the way home from the airport
2) Has ample parking during non-peak hours
3) Cheers customers with bright decor
4) Serves decent food at reasonable prices

My brother likes it and he picks up the check, which is always a good start to a trip.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Not So Diaphanous

Apple's 500,000-sq-ft data center in North Carolina.
One of the big advantages to cloud computing is that the customer can cut back on hardware maintenance, utilities, and upgrades, not to mention its footprint.

However, while society's overall hardware burden is reduced, it doesn't go away.
Investment in cloud infrastructure has surged since 2015, and the market for data-center equipment is expected to grow at an average annualized rate of roughly 16% this year and next, according to Citigroup Inc.

Cloud servers, though, typically have a lifespan of only about three years, according to experts, meaning that some of the earliest equipment already has passed its use-by date.
The dollar value of new infrastructure equipment was $142 billion in 2017.

Amazon disclosed in its 10-K that Amazon World Services added $9.2 billion in Property, Plant, and Equipment in 2017. If the largest company in cloud storage comprises only 6-7% of world capacity, and if capacity is growing at 16%, then the opportunity for suppliers is immense (Amazon and Microsoft aren't the only players) in a business where the equipment must be replaced every three years.

And that goes for the disposers and recyclers, too. You can't bring in the shiny new equipment if the old stuff is still there.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Bay Area Real Estate: Rich Getting Richer

(Per Chronicle)
There are clear signs that the Bay Area housing market has peaked.  While median prices have declined in only a few counties, increases were in the low single-digits.

The number of units sold has fallen by 11-13%, indicating that deal prices would have actually declined if owners were motivated to sell.

The low-end of the market has slowed, but the high-end is still going strong (hence the distinction between the median and average prices). [bold added]
while Bay Area home sales were about 5% lower than last year’s second quarter, sales of homes above $3 million surged, bringing them in line with last year’s historical peak.

Peninsula Realtor Ken DeLeon noted that foreign buyers, especially from China, are still active in the $10 million-and-up range. However, their purchases of homes in the $2 million to $4 million range “has tapered off, almost to zero,” The imposition of more stringent capital controls has made it hard for most people to get money out of China, unless you’re “uber wealthy,” DeLeon said. Most Chinese buyers purchasing high-priced homes in the Bay Area are doing it through their companies, he added.
In related news about the high-end, the median home price in Atherton has risen to $8.1 million, nearly double the tony towns of Hillsborough and Los Altos Hills.

A business colleague bought a house in Atherton in 1975 on a junior executive's pay (about $50,000). He was fond of telling me (bragging?) at the time that he was making more on price appreciation than from his salary.

Here's hoping that John held on (or traded up!).

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Jesus: Worth a Try

The Circumcision (Rubens)
A question rarely posed: Is Jesus Good for the Jews?

(It's not the same as asking if Christians are good for/to the Jews.)

Art Lamm of Yeshiva University notes that anti-Semites periodically try to deny Jesus' Jewishness: [bold added]
In the early 20th century, the anti-Semitic and racist German-British philosopher Houston Stewart Chamberlain argued that while Judaism provided the religious background for Jesus, he “had not a drop of genuinely Jewish blood in his veins.” The Nazis picked up on this thread. As Hitler consolidated power, German theologians insisted that Jesus was not a Jew but an Aryan, descended from Galilean gentiles.

In the context of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has sought to sever Jesus’ religion from his nationality or ethnicity. In a 2014 Christmas message, Mr. Abbas called Jesus “a Palestinian messenger of love, justice and peace.” This remains a common refrain from anti-Israel activists.
Not surprisingly, Jews throughout history have defended themselves by referring to Jesus' origin, without endorsing his teachings.
Take the Spanish Rabbi Simon Duran, born in 1361 and known affectionately as “Rashbatz.” Duran’s community suffered intense Christian persecution. In attempting to counter increasingly dangerous Christian threats to Jewish religious observance, Duran and his contemporaries emphasized the Jewishness of Jesus and the apostles. Appealing to passages in Matthew, Luke and the Book of Acts, Duran argued that Jesus and his followers believed the Jewish people should continue to adhere to Jewish practice.
After citing other examples, Art Lamm concludes:
When the need arises, Jewish thinkers have not been bashful in accentuating Jesus’ Jewishness—whether in religious, ethnic or national terms. As Jews increasingly come under attack in Europe and elsewhere, they should once more be prepared, if necessary, to assert Jesus the Jew, even as they have no wish to claim Jesus the Christian.
While this aspect of Christian-Jewish history is interesting, it's easy to overlook its relevance to outsiders whose groups may find themselves in conflict. The modern defense is to call the attacker a racist, a sexist, a class-ist, or some other variation of "-ist". The idea is to condemn the opponent morally; if it works, the weight of social media and even law enforcement can be brought to bear against the attacker. Name-calling may succeed in beating down opponents, but it doesn't bring them closer.

The "Jesus-was-a-Jew" defense holds that potential. It begins by showing how much one group (the Jewish people) is like a person (Jesus) whom the other group (Christians) admires. Common ground is emphasized, not moral superiority. It's worth a try--it can't be worse than what we're doing now.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

In Need of An Editor

In Time's film review of Skin, the tale of a neo-Nazi skinhead who "starts to think for himself [and] his better nature emerges" the reviewer includes a throwaway remark without supporting evidence or even an anecdotal example.
There’s a newly ascendant breed of white supremacists who often look like–and may in fact be–the clean-cut guy next door.
How about a rewrite?
There’s a newly ascendant breed of progressive scolds who often look like–and may in fact be–the well-groomed gal next door.
There. Fixed.

BTW, here's a review from Slate, a publication whose politics likely agree with the director's, which called the film "an idiotic parable about racist violence."

Friday, July 26, 2019

Green for Show, Analytics for Dough

Being green: I re-use them at home.
Starbucks is often mocked for its responsiveness to the directional changes in progressive winds, but we need to give credit where it's due. We like the redesign of its cold drink lids, all to eliminate the plastic straws that comprise 0.03% of plastic waste.

[Digression: the straw-waste percentage is about the same as the percentage of carbon dioxide (.039%) in the atmosphere. One of the wonders of our time is the belief that the future of life on earth rests on eliminating the last speck of these "dangerous" substances. For perspective, getting rid of plastic straws would be like ordering a 200-pound person to lose 1/16th of a pound.]

(From imgflip)
Anyway, credit to Starbucks for finding a new use for sippy cups.

Mock them all you want, but Starbucks stock is on fire:
The world’s largest coffee chain posted adjusted earnings of 78 cents a share for its fiscal third quarter, a 26% increase compared with a year earlier. Analysts polled by FactSet had expected earnings of 72 cents a share, excluding certain items.

Starbucks’s sales of $6.8 billion were up 8%, also beating expectations. Global same-store sales growth of 6% was the strongest in three years. U.S. same-store sales rose 7%. Cold beverages helped drive growth in the afternoon, the company said, a time when Starbucks has struggled to boost sales...

Starbucks also remains focused on expanding its business in China. Net store growth there was 16% during the quarter, bringing the chain’s total to more than 30,000 locations world-wide.
FWIW, I think much of Starbucks' growth is due to collecting and analyzing data on its customers. The iPhone app knows my food and drink favorites, the stores I go to most frequently, and the promotions that I respond to. Starbucks also knows how often I do a grab-and-go and how long I linger when I use its WiFi.

With privacy all the rage, Starbucks has to downplay the role of data analysis:
Data collected by Starbucks’s digital programs is helping the company better understand what beverages customers want, said Chief Operating Officer Roz Brewer. “We know a lot more about our customers now,” she said.
I agree. I don't think the sippy cups are why the stock has a 30 PE.

SBUX has nearly doubled the past year.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Just Hanging Out is Costly

Food court coffee: one size, one bean, nearly $10 for 3.
My wife's sister and her husband were on one of their regular visits to San Jose and wanted to hang out at the shopping center, like the kids and other old people do. Off we went to Valley Fair, a large, renovated, upscale (Burberry, Cartier, Prada, etc.) mall in the heart of Silicon Valley.

We passed up the sit-down restaurants, which could easily run over a hundred bucks for four and went to the Food Court.

The ramen cost over $15, more than a restaurant in relatively low-brow San Mateo. The others spent equivalent amounts on salads, teriyaki chicken, and poke bowls.

After a couple of hours, I bought three regular, not fancy coffees for under $10. With apologies to Gershwin, in Silicon Valley it's
Where the livin' is stressful,
The traffic is stopping
And the prices are high...

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

An Improvement That Isn't

This e-mail touting an improvement to Citibank's online banking is not "good news" in my eyes:
Hi, Stephen. Good news! We've increased the daily and monthly limits for outgoing Inter Institution Transfers. You can now transfer up to $10,000 per day and $15,000 per month, originally $2,000 and $10,000 respectively.

As a reminder, with the Inter Institution Transfers Service, you can make a one-time transfer or set up recurring transfers for free between your Citi® and non-Citi checking, savings, money market and investment accounts. If you'd like to make a transfer today or learn more about Inter Institution Transfers, please visit Citi® Online.
I'll pay bills online, but allowing cash transfers to other banks runs the risk of a damaging hack. As we've stated before,
For any account the theft of which would be very painful I have never allowed electronic transfers.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

South Korea and Japan Should Just Move On

The U.S.-China "trade war" gets all the headlines, but there's budding conflict between two of the world's most important economies and American allies. South Korea's resentments over its Japanese colonization from 1905 to 1945 had gradually subsided over time--though Japan's whitewashing of its World War II history remains a sore point--but exploded anew over policy toward North Korea.
South Korean business owners trash
Japanese logos. (Ahn Young-Joon--AP)
The new face-off in the conflict between the two U.S. allies started July 1 when Japan slapped export restrictions on South Korea, the latest move in a long-running feud between the governments of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Moon Jae-in over World War II history. The new curbs slow shipments of three materials essential for semiconductors and flexible displays, two drivers of Seoul’s export-heavy economy.

Tokyo officials have suggested the moves are justified for national-security reasons, accusing South Korean of not doing enough to ensure Japanese-produced chemicals and equipment can’t be shipped on to help rogue nations build weapons. One of Mr. Abe’s closest aides named North Korea as a possible destination.

Seoul has denied the suggestion. North Korea slammed Japan’s trade policy in a state-media report Thursday. “This is a cunning artifice to justify the unreasonable economic retaliation by disguising it as an ‘issue related to national security,’ ” the North’s state media said of Japan’s export restrictions.
Relations are souring but haven't reached the point where the U.S. will step in:
The U.S. has kept relatively quiet on the matter. But on a visit to Seoul on Wednesday, David Stilwell, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asian affairs, said Washington would “do what it can” to help patch up the frayed relationship between its two allies.
From the American vantage point South Korea and Japan's differences are minor compared to their common geopolitical interests. Just like Americans do with ancient grievances, both parties should look past the sins that no one alive is responsible for and move on.

Monday, July 22, 2019

We're Number One

(Chronicle table)
San Mateo County has the lowest unemployment rate (2.2%) in the State of California. Eight of the ten counties in California with the lowest unemployment rates are in the Bay Area. Given the difficulty in attracting workers to live in an area with an extremely high cost of housing, one could expect employers to expand elsewhere, but such was not the case.
Between May and June, employment in these two counties increased by about 5,000 jobs to 1,188,200. Business and professional services added 4,700 jobs and information grew by 2,200. Most technology-related jobs are in those two sectors. The financial sector grew by 900.

“Job growth in the Bay Area remains well ahead of the national average, with San Francisco, the Peninsula, San Jose, and the North Bay growing faster than the East Bay,” Jed Kolko, chief economist with job site Indeed, said in an email. “It’s striking how strong job growth remains in San Francisco and San Jose despite the high cost of living here, as most of the fastest-growing metros in the U.S. are relatively affordable” places in the Sunbelt and Mountain states.
If your housing is manageable (a big qualifier) and if you are able to work, then you should be able to find a good job.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

The Path is Narrow

Ordained in 2014 as an Episcopal priest, Rebecca began as a parishioner in our congregation decades ago, studied (endured?) seven years of seminary while holding a full-time job, and is now the Associate Priest at Holy Child and St. Martin in Daly City.

Because of all the personal, financial, and professional obstacles she's had to overcome, Rebecca has always had a no-nonsense air about her, much like over-stressed medical school graduates with too much to do and too little sleep. She was today's guest minister, and the Rebecca I saw was kinder, less guarded, and more empathetic than the person I remembered.

If one spends all day thinking about what's important--and dealing with people on that basis--it changes a person. Fittingly, today's Gospel was about Mary and Martha, which used to be regarded as a "women's story" but applies to everyone:
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” [NIV Luke 10:38-42]
For the record I've always identified with Martha, who tended to her responsibilities, vs. slacker Mary who ignored Martha and listened to Jesus' speech. A different lesson from the story, however, is that we can easily be distracted by the busy, essentially unimportant things that occupy our time.

Being able to recognize the difference, and acting appropriately, is one reason the path is narrow.

Saturday, July 20, 2019


WSJ columnist Peggy Noonan muses about two Democratic Party septuagenarians.

Joe Biden is Caesar:
(Nate Beeler cartoon)
The political class of Rome wanted Caesar gone and successfully dispatched him with 23 wounds. But the conspirators themselves came to unhappy ends—Caesar’s base hated them and chased them out of town! Nobody loves an assassin. The only political survivors were Caesar’s designated heir and the leaders who didn’t join the conspiracy.

That is the predicament of the 23 contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination who are not named Joe Biden. They want the front-runner gone. But they don’t really want to be the one who does him in. Pete Buttigieg doesn’t want you saying he has a lean and hungry look! Amy Klobuchar doesn’t want it said she really is mean. The safe course for them is to let someone else do it, then mourn, with poignant words, the end of an epic 20th-century career.
Nancy Pelosi is Big Mama:
grandma has been observing them [the "Squad"--the four progressive House Democrats Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass.; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.; Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.) and sees what others see. She doesn’t mind that they’re hot, aggressive and ideological, but they don’t confine their fire to outside the tent. They attack moderates as sellouts, racists, child abusers...

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has been destructive to her party’s chances in 2020. She is a one woman Committee to Re-Elect the President. The way I read it now, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has been dunked on by a pro and schooled by Big Mama...

in private, Mrs. Pelosi couldn’t be clearer. To her caucus’s progressives at the closed-door meeting Wednesday morning: “Some of you are here to make a beautiful pâté, but we’re making sausage.” “You got a complaint? You come and talk to me about it. But do not tweet about our members and expect us to think that that is just OK.” On attacks on moderates: “Think twice. Actually, don’t think twice. Think once.”
Like other seasoned pundits and politicians, Peggy Noonan uses logic and math to discount the power of the young lionesses of the Democratic Party.

However, given that few understand the political forces at work in the current environment, much less can use them to make predictions, anything is possible. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez could be Icarus, who flew too close to the sun, or Alexandria the Great, who conquered an empire before the age of 30. I think the former is more likely than the latter, but who knows?

Friday, July 19, 2019

Proceed with Caution

One of the reasons that a picture is worth a thousand words is because a verbal description often is confusing. Here are the words--with a picture--describing a new traffic design. (Try to read it first, and then look at the picture to see if you got close).
It’s called a diverging diamond. To enter the freeway, the cutting-edge interchange requires drivers to veer at a 45-degree angle across the center divide, switching sides with opposing traffic and briefly motoring across as if they are in England.

By being on the left side, they can then glide left onto the highway without a dangerous 90-degree turn across oncoming cars.

Some traffic planners are smitten with the concept and how, in the name of efficiency and safety, it forces opposing traffic to negotiate an X-shaped, signalized crossover before a bridge or underpass. As freeway-bound drivers drift to the left to an on-ramp, those heading through the interchange to the other side of the freeway follow the road back to the right at another crossover.
The example of the modern roundabout is instructive. While the roundabout is easy to picture, its high efficiency in moving more cars along through an intersection is difficult to apprehend unless one has experienced it a few times.

Without the "divergent diamond" schematic, your humble blogger couldn't envision even how it would work, much less whether it would an improvement. Now I'm guardedly optimistic. Traffic engineers have a good, albeit not perfect, record and have earned our trust.

As for those who are "smitten with the concept", let's pump the brakes. Don't go big until we've seen how it works on a small scale. (I'm looking at you, high-speed rail enthusiasts.)

Thursday, July 18, 2019

San Tung Restaurant

Seafood fried rice and chicken wings
In the evenings there's at least a 30-minute wait for a table at the San Tung restaurant (on Irving, between 11th and 12th). We piggy-backed off of a parking space from a nearby errand and stopped by for a late lunch. There was a small line, and we were seated in less than 10 minutes.

San Tung's signature dish is the fried chicken wings. I'd tried them before and thought they were over-rated. On that occasion the line was out the door, the kitchen was chaotic, and the wings were good but far from special. Now the coating was crisp, the chicken was moist, and the sweet-hot garlicky gingery sauce made me wish that the lunch menu ($9) had more than six wings.

Next time I won't wait a year before coming here again.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

San Francisco: Even Grading on a Curve It's Still Bad

Chronicle columnist Heather Knight asked travelers from San Francisco to compare other cities with their own. SF resident Terry Hemphill:
BART worker's regular duty: pick up syringes (Chron)
The European cities Hemphill visited featured mostly clean sidewalks without needles, poop or heaps of trash. He felt safe working on his laptop in parks or cafes without worrying that someone would snatch the device. The public transportation was efficient and tidy. He didn’t encounter people who seemed clearly out of their minds because of drugs or untreated mental illness.

There was some graffiti and litter, yes. And a few homeless people begging for spare change. But nothing like San Francisco....

But when he arrived at his South of Market condo on Clara Street, he couldn’t get in his own front door. A man who appeared homeless had dropped his pants to urinate against the entryway. When Hemphill asked him to move, the man shouted “F— off!” and continued using the door as a toilet.
Sometimes frustrated citizens spend time and money trying to fix the problems themselves. There are encouraging stories like the Bernal Heights staircase to motivate others. However, the ending isn't always happy:
[Hemphill's] alley got a little cleaner and friendlier for a while thanks to the diligence of a neighbor, Brian Egg, who cleaned the sidewalks, watered trees and chatted with other residents while out walking his dog. That was before Egg’s headless body was found last year decomposed in a fish tank. The case is still under investigation.
Some readers think the solution is "offering universal health care and a far more robust social safety net" while others opine that it's "higher expectations for decency and civility elsewhere".

Before we think the solutions involve making massive changes to American culture, institutions, and government, however, we should ask ourselves why it's only some states that have the worst problems.
The two States, California and Hawaii, where I spend all my time, seem helpless to stem the tide.

The solution is always more money, and yet the numbers keep growing. Other States, including those with warm weather, don't seem to have as great a problem. The answers are out there, but they involve single-minded dedication and reliable funding over a long-period of time
The readers' solutions sound half-hearted because, even if they work ("universal health care", "civility") they will take years to implement. Meanwhile in the once-beautiful City by the Bay homelessness is rising, residents are fleeing, and high taxes will rise higher.

Something's gotta give.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

It's a New World, Willie

Democratic Party elder Willie Brown has a practical take on the influence of the Squad (the four progressive House Democrats Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass.; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.; Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.):
Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria
Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley
(NY Post)
All the talk about dissension among House Democrats is a bit overblown.

There are 235 Democrats in the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has only four really rebellious members, “the squad” led by hero-of-the-left Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

When I was Assembly speaker I had five rebels on my hands, and they actually organized to try to get rid of me. They didn’t succeed, because when you come right down to it, five people out of 50 ain’t a majority.

I’m sure Pelosi’s four rebels will find that out soon enough.
I'm not confident that Willie's right about the Squad's power. Non-stop media coverage can change perceptions of influence, and more influence translates into more power in the new world of social media.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Injurious Duty

Parking lot directions: puzzling even when not driving.
The first mistake I made was not reading the thick envelope that welcomed me to jury duty in San Mateo County.

With 15 minutes to spare I pulled into the jurors' usual parking lot; it was completely blocked off due to construction--which I would have known had I read the materials. An attendant handed me the map (right) to the replacement  parking lot. The map was not helpful--speed reading while driving is not one of my skills.

Fortunately for me, the attendant did say the lot was "under CVS", and I knew where it was without a map.

I arrived at the waiting hall only ten minutes late, and the lecture hadn't started yet.

Security let me through in the morning but
stopped me in the evening with this dangerous
multi-tool. They wouldn't hold it, so I hid it in
and recovered it from the bushes instead of
going back to the car six blocks away.
The only addition from previous years--they hadn't made a new sign yet (see right)--was that one would be disqualified if one was conserved.

At 9:45 we took a half-hour break because the judge and lawyers didn't know whether they'd need a jury today. At 11:15 they still hadn't decided, so we were told to come back at 1:30 p.m., which everyone did dutifully. At 3 p.m. they finally released us and gave us a piece of paper documenting our "service" and excusing us for 12 months.

I am quite willing to accept my civic responsibility, but it's obvious that this process could be made more efficient. Why do a hundred people have to wait around while the judges and lawyers dither? Why aren't there incentives to speed a decision (the $15/day juror stipend doesn't start until Day 2)?

Sounding like a broken record [what's a record, Pops?], I again complain: every interaction with government, be it the DMV, jury duty, income taxes, employing workers, or getting a building permit is way too complicated. (I do acknowledge that the USPS has improved greatly.) Most everyone has had these experiences.

When government's gross inefficiency and lack of interest in its customers are contrasted with the responsiveness of private industry, why are so many enamored by socialism?

Sunday, July 14, 2019

David Crosby Getting the Music Out of His Head

Rock legend, atheist, Bernie supporter, and ex-junkie David Crosby lives in a different universe from your humble blogger.....what we have in common is that lately we've been pondering our own mortality. At age 77 he is "releasing albums at a feverish clip, dropping four in the past five years."
“I have eight stents in my heart, and I’m going to have a heart attack in the next year or two, and that’ll be it,” he says. “I’m trying to get the music out of my head first.”....the musician says flatly that he is afraid of dying after battling hepatitis C, receiving a liver transplant and now struggling with diabetes, on top of his cardiac issues.
The wake-up calls are becoming louder and more frequent. I admire David Crosby for recognizing that there aren't many tomorrows left and acting upon that realization.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Stop Spoiling Our Lives

(Image from Today)
Re the American Revolution, who is the first woman you think of? Right, it's Betsy Ross, who created the American flag.

A few weeks ago Nike pulled its 13-star July 4th sneakers because Colin Kaepernick complained that white nationalists were co-opting the Betsy Ross flag as one of their symbols.

Hallmark movie: lovers come together over the original flag.
Hallmark doesn't know right-thinking people are outraged.
Frankly, I'm tired of fringe groups few have ever heard of seizing upon cherished symbols and phrases to further their causes. But I'm even more tired of opponents being offended by these groups---thereby giving the latter free publicity--and making these symbols and phrases off limits to all.

Give it a rest, 21st-century Puritans, stop spoiling our lives by being offended at everything.

Friday, July 12, 2019

NEMT in Need of Disruption

Dad with his walker at Ala Moana (2012)
I haven't used Lyft or Uber yet, but their NEMT (Non-emergency Medical Transportation) service looks promising: [bold added]
An estimated 3.6 million Americans a year miss medical appointments due to unreliable transportation, costing the U.S. health-care system roughly $150 billion annually, according to Uber, citing independent studies. The U.S. Government Accountability Office pegged spending on NEMT under Medicare and Medicaid at nearly $3 billion in 2013. As the start of this year, supplemental benefits to Medicare Advantage were broadened to include a range of medical transportation that supports overall wellness and health—even rides to some massage appointments.
When we were unavailable to take Mom or Dad to their appointments, we tried hiring companies who specialized in NEMT for the elderly. The results were disappointing; my parents always felt rushed, and drivers didn't seem to be interested in alleviating discomfort. Plus it's costly, because the companies require us to pay for the vehicles to wait around during the appointment.

We family members know how to collapse and set up their wheelchairs and walkers, as well as assist the patients into various sedans. There's no substitute for family drivers' TLC, but hopefully Uber and Lyft can disrupt the NEMT status quo and give us better quality at a reasonable price.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

What Worries Me Most About Apple Stock

(Justin Sullivan photo via the Chronicle)
While Apple stock has nearly quadrupled since Steve Jobs' death in 2011, its rise has been choppy, to say the least. Periodically the bears drown out the bulls re the company's purported lack of innovation, legal and regulatory troubles, priciness versus the competition, and lately the vulnerability to a trade war with China.

None of these bother me as much as C. Northcote Parkinson's warning, published over 60 years ago, as applied to Apple's new headquarters: [bold added]
"During a period of exciting discovery or progress there is no time to plan the perfect headquarters," he wrote. "The time for that comes later, when all the important work has been done. Perfection, we know, is finality; and finality is death."
The cost of Apple's "spaceship" HQ is approximately $5 billion, including contents. While the company had more than enough cash to pay for it, the diversion of management time had to be significant yet was available because, as Parkinson said, "all the important work has been done."

By the way, in financial terms it's been a loser. [bold added]
New figures released this week show the tech giant’s circular headquarters in Cupertino was assessed at $3.6 billion by Santa Clara County for property tax purposes. The valuation doesn’t perfectly coincide with its market value — how much it would sell for — but is based off a detailed appraisal of the building, which opened in 2017.

If you include computers, furniture and even farm equipment to take care of the property’s trees, the figure rises to $4.17 billion for the fiscal year that ended in June, the assessor’s office said.
The paint has barely dried, and the property is worth 18-28% less than what Apple paid for it. You or I might see a similar drop when we drive a new car off the lot, but, frankly, I expect better from a trillion-dollar tech leader.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

If I Can Do It, You Can Do It

It's a familiar sports story: an athlete becomes associated with a political position, some fans object, and boycotts ensue. In this case the athlete is Draymond Green, and the politics are about being pro-Israel, not anti-American.[bold added]
Chef Reem Assil (Chronicle photo)
[Palestinian-Syrian chef] Reem Assil, who has been praised by publications like The Chronicle and Food and Wine, has played a vital role in sparking Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood as a food destination. One of her signatures at her Arab bakery, Reem’s California, has been the “Draymond Green,” a seasonal vegetable wrap.

The chef’s decision to stop selling the dish is linked to Green’s 2018 visit to Israel. While there, Green posed for a photo holding a military rifle as though he were a sniper, during a stop at the base of an Israeli Defense Force counter-terrorism unit, the Yamam.
Draymond Green was one of the leaders in having the Warriors reject a visit to the Donald Trump White House after the team won the NBA Championship, so I'm sure he has empathy for Reem Assil. In his words
“In order to effect change, you have to stand for something. If you go about it the same way, you do the same things you do if everything is normal, then you won’t effect change.”

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

California Taxes: Never High Enough

Same old picture (Fog City Journal graphic)
In November, 2020, California will vote to repeal the section of Proposition 13 that limits increases to business property taxes:
Under Prop. 13, both residential and commercial property is reassessed only when it is sold. Otherwise, assessment increases are capped at 2% a year.

Many homes change hands every few years, so they’ve been repeatedly reassessed since 1978. Large businesses, however, often remain under the same ownership for a long time. Some California businesses are paying property taxes based on assessments that haven’t changed in 40 years.

Stone cited a 25.9-acre parcel of land in Santa Clara that is owned by Intel. The assessed value of the then-empty property before Prop. 13 passed was $2.9 million, he said. Now the land has buildings on it and is assessed at $23.9 million.

If it were to be reassessed today, Stone estimates, it would be valued at $169 million.
Your humble blogger will vote against this measure. (I have no dog in this hunt, i.e., no investments other than common stocks in companies that hold California property.)

California governments have shown no spending restraint in the four decades I've lived here. They are always pleading for more revenue for schools. For example, in 1984 the California lottery was approved by reassuring the voters that it would guarantee funding for education for the foreseeable future. In the intervening years everything but property taxes has been raised.

We are paying sales taxes of 9.25% in San Mateo County.

At 53.5 cents per gallon California has the second-highest State gas tax in the nation.

California has nine individual income tax brackets ranging from 1% to 12.3%, plus an extra "millionaires' tax" of 1% imposed since 2004 to fund mental health services. In 2018 CNN reported that "a critical state audit accused California counties of hoarding the mental health money -- and the state of failing to ensure that the money was being spent."

Whatever the tax and whatever the rate, it's never enough for California politicians.

And about those too-low business property taxes: Property tax rolls in Bay Area rise 6.6% to $1.8 trillion (Chronicle, 7/5/19).

Even without the Proposition 13 repeal, assessments and tax revenues will rise by 6.6% in the Bay Area. As I was saying, it's never enough.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Dream Ticket

Former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown has a recommendation for his Party:

Democrats’ dream ticket is Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg
(Rhona Wise photo via the Chronicle)
the pairing of a female former prosecutor with a gay middle American who is both a Rhodes scholar and an Afghanistan war veteran would certainly get the nation’s attention.

Harris and Buttigieg are new, engaging, energetic and different enough so that the media would eat up their every appearance. Which would be priceless, because if there’s one thing Trump can’t stand, it’s someone else in the limelight.

Then come the debates.

If Harris hits hard, which she most certainly will, Trump’s first instinct would be to hit back even harder.

That could lead to Trump lashing out.

There’s a fine line between hitting back and flipping out, and Trump is fully capable of taking things too far.

He could make Harris out to be the victim rather than the attacker. And in the process make himself look unhinged.

Meanwhile, the level-headed and likable Buttigieg would be hitting the midlands, coming off as the most reasonable person in the race.
IMHO, seasoned politician Willie Brown is indulging in fanciful escapism because he saw the handwriting on the wall after last week's debates:

Bad news for Democrats — none of these candidates can beat Trump
The first Democratic debates proved one thing: We still don’t have a candidate who can beat Donald Trump....Trump must have enjoyed every moment and every answer, because he now knows he’s looking at a bunch of potential rivals who are still not ready for prime time.
Willie Brown and other political pundits, like their sports counterparts, are experts, but they're calling the Super Bowl winner before the regular season has even started.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Sunday Dreaming

Some famous minds think that we're living in a computer simulation. Elon Musk:
(Photo from glitch news)
The strongest argument for us being in a simulation, probably being in a simulation, is the following: 40 years ago, we had Pong, two rectangles and a dot…That is what games were. Now, 40 years later, we have photorealistic 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously, and it’s getting better every year. And soon we’ll have virtual reality, augmented reality.

If you assume any rate of improvement at all, the games will become indistinguishable from reality.
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson [bold added]
(Photo from Atlanta Magazine)
put the odds at 50-50 that our entire existence is a program on someone else’s hard drive. “I think the likelihood may be very high,” he said. He noted the gap between human and chimpanzee intelligence, despite the fact that we share more than 98 percent of our DNA. Somewhere out there could be a being whose intelligence is that much greater than our own.

“We would be drooling, blithering idiots in their presence,” he said. “If that’s the case, it is easy for me to imagine that everything in our lives is just a creation of some other entity for their entertainment.”
If we are indeed living in a Matrix-like reality, then there are metaphysical implications:
But some were more contemplative, saying the possibility raises some weighty spiritual questions. “If the simulation hypothesis is valid then we open the door to eternal life and resurrection and things that formally have been discussed in the realm of religion,” [Maryland physicist James] Gates suggested. “The reason is quite simple: If we’re programs in the computer, then as long as I have a computer that’s not damaged, I can always re-run the program.”

And if someone somewhere created our simulation, would that make this entity God? “We in this universe can create simulated worlds and there’s nothing remotely spooky about that,” Chalmers said. “Our creator isn’t especially spooky, it’s just some teenage hacker in the next universe up.”
On the bright side, if we are players in a super video-game, then we can go back to the last save point and try again. Maybe next time we won't die so soon or maybe we can correct the poor choices we made. (It's not life after death but a reincarnation.)

Nevertheless, I hope that the universe is not a simulation. Our moral decisions don't have real value if they can be erased and re-done until gotten right (hey, Eve, stay away from that serpent!). And God as video-game designer? That's a limiting concept applied to the previously illimitable (on the sixth day He pulled an all-nighter until the code ran, then He slept in on Sunday).

I suppose we'll never really find out--if indeed we ever do--until we've passed on. You don't know you're in a dream while you're in it.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Not Spectacular, But Better Than His Predecessors

(White House photo via WSJ)
President Trump's foreign policy is of a piece with the man; it's unpredictable. While generally a bad thing--both friend and foe can make catastrophic misjudgments--unpredictability can be effective. WSJ's Gerard Baker:
American strategy these days may best be characterized as something of a random walk.

Traveling in Asia and Europe last month, I spoke to U.S. allies and strategic competitors alike about Trumpian foreign policy. They differed on many topics, but the one thing they all agreed on was that we really don’t know what the president is going to do next.

Constructive ambiguity or strategic confusion? Who knows?
Whenever I enter the rabbit hole of a "conversation" (more like a harangue) about the President, I make an old-school argument: watch what he does, not what he says.
Last week, Mr. Trump took further historic steps, literally, toward an utterly improbable detente with North Korea. Last month, he demurred when presented with a limited and justifiable retaliatory strike against Iran for shooting down a U.S. reconnaissance drone over the Gulf because, he said, he was concerned about disproportionate loss of life. While he continues to pursue a trade war with China, he seems, if anything, to be happier when—as at last week’s G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan—he is de-escalating tensions with Xi Jinping.
Blustering/threatening, then retreating at the 11th hour, is the Trumpian style. It seems to be working, not spectacularly but better than his predecessors.

Friday, July 05, 2019

Here No More

Local insects.
Many airports greet travelers with pictures of tourist attractions and exhibits on local history.

This year the San Francisco Airport, International Terminal, provides information about insects, with a section devoted to those found in the Bay Area.

Some scientists are saying we are in the midst of an insect apocalypse. It's hard to imagine that we'll miss them, but like the Native American tribes and the orchards of Santa Clara, we might have some regrets after the insects are gone.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Independence Day, 2019

Alfred, 20, in Fukuoka (1945)
My father died earlier this week.

Starting the sad process of notifications and filings, we looked high and low for his discharge papers. Then we opened his wallet. Miniaturized to the size of a credit card, they commemorated events of 72 years ago. He always carried them.

The greatest generation won a two-front war against the most powerful war machines in history, then battled a determined adversary for over 40 years, during which a misstep would have killed many millions. We owe them our independence and our very lives.

On this Independence Day we humbly give thanks.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Old Stadium Park

Eli Marozzi sculptures at Old Stadium Park
In my formative years I spent many hours at the old Honolulu Stadium at King and Isenberg, a half-mile from our home. Grand-uncle Fred ("Buck" of Buck's Sweet Bread) had season tickets to the triple-A baseball Islanders, and I went to all my school's football games (reminiscences here and here). The stadium was demolished in 1976 and replaced by a park.

From 2011: tents in stadium park
Old Stadium Park has been cleaned up since I walked past it a few years ago. The City has picked up the litter and replanted grass in the bare areas. The homeless tents are gone. The area seems smaller than I remembered; it's hard to imagine that here 25,000 fans could squeeze around a football field or baseball diamond. Honolulu Stadium (aka the Termite Palace) would not meet building standards anywhere in the world today. Maybe that "charm" is one of the reasons it is fondly ensconced in our memory.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Fresh Eyes

The City of Hiroshima donated a half-size scale replica of its famous Torii Gate to Honolulu in 2001. The friendship offering stands in the small McCully-Moiliili triangle park, where King and Beretania streets split near the University of Hawaii.

The park itself was unkempt, but the area around the gate was neatly mown.

Thousands of people drive by every day with hardly anyone giving it a second thought. I'm like them back home in the Bay Area, but as someone who hasn't lived in Honolulu for a long time I have fresh eyes.

Monday, July 01, 2019

Urgent Care Visit

The only blue pills I'm taking
When I arrived in Hawaii a week ago, a cyst that had been stable became inflamed. Expanding to the size of a silver dollar, the cyst had turned purple with a flat bubble of white cells on top. (Out of kindness to you, dear reader, I will not post a picture.)

In pain but not wishing to risk absence from the past week's birthdays, I went to Urgent Care yesterday. The doctor injected the area with painkiller, sliced open the cyst, squeezed out 20cc's of liquid, and packed the wound with gauze strips.

He prescribed the antibiotic Clindamycin to be taken over the next 10 days. I'll have to follow up every 2-3 days with a doctor in Hawaii or California to re-dress the cyst until it heals. Medicare and Medicare supplemental insurance covered the cost completely, while the Part D plan reduced the Clindamycin cost to $12.83. In retrospect I could have seen the doctor sooner, but it worked out well in the end.

Note: some politicians are touting "Medicare for all" as a solution to national health care woes, but the coverage is not "free" and requires monthly payments to 3 separate parties. Mine are: CMS--Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services $135.50 + Medicare supplemental--Blue Cross Blue Shield $171 + Part D--Silverscript $34.80 = $341.30. Sure, many new subscribers will buy in, but many won't or can't pay. Medicare-for-all is a solution that will foster more problems requiring $billions more, but I suspect that the advocates know that.