Friday, January 31, 2020

2019 - 2020: Normal Winter

Shasta Lake (California's largest reservoir) last week (Chron photo)
Good news: meteorologist Michael Pechner predicts a normal winter, that is, no drought for this year.
A review of the state’s reservoir system last week with the Department of Water Resources showed that 154 significant reservoirs are 114% of average for the date...

“I’m looking at a pretty normal winter from here on out,” Pechner said, allowing for local anomalies that occur across the region.

Pechner’s long-range outlooks have been spot-on for three years running, and this winter, have contrasted against many outlooks in late summer and fall that called for drought in Northern California.
BTW, the old thinking was that global warming was responsible for extended California droughts. The new thinking is that global warming melts Arctic ice and triggers wet weather:
The [Scripps] study provides evidence that the melting ice sets in motion a chain of events, including major disruptions in wind and weather patterns at the equator and in the central Pacific Ocean. That, in turn, can trigger El Niño weather events and the violent “atmospheric rivers” that bring deluges of rain, sometimes causing havoc in the Bay Area.

The changes in atmospheric convection documented in the report could also influence occasional balmy periods during California winters that coincide with record cold in the Midwest, said Charles Kennel, a physicist and the former director of the Scripps Institution, which is based at UC San Diego.
Global warming Climate change causes droughts, record heat, and wildfires. It also causes rainstorms, snow, and record cold. There's nothing it can't do.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

California Insurance Mandate: Another Reason to Leave

Tomorrow is a deadline that's largely escaped notice, but to those who are affected the financial penalties are significant. [bold added]
Californians who do not receive health insurance through their jobs or public insurance programs have until Friday to sign up for health coverage for 2020 — or face a tax penalty....California for the first time is requiring all residents to buy insurance or pay a tax penalty of $695 per adult and $347.50 per child under 18, or 2.5% of one’s annual income, whichever is higher.
It's been widely reported that Congress repealed, effective 2019, the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). However, that's technically not what happened; the language for the ACA's mandate was left in place while the penalties for not buying insurance were reduced to zero.

The California penalties are the same as Obamacare's (graphic from
The elimination of penalties at the Federal level will result in some healthy, uncovered people to choose to remain uninsured. California has reinstated the penalty at the State level and will provide subsidies to push uninsured Californians on to the rolls.

The ACA was a hoped-for step on the way to the progressive dream of universal coverage under a single-payer system. The election of Donald Trump and Republican control of Congress in 2017-2018 not only halted that effort but partially reversed it.

California Democrats, which hold the governorship and super-majorities in the state legislature, tried to pass universal health insurance in 2017. But that effort died in committee in 2017 primarily due to cost estimates in the hundreds of $billions, and no serious attempt has been made to resurrect the bill.

But back to the California version of the ACA mandates and penalties: we'll see if the populace views the benefits as being worth the costs, or whether some productive individuals will just have another reason to leave the formerly Golden State.

My betting is on the latter.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Another Sign That Newspapers Are Dead

I love newspapers, though there are problems with any individual name--similar to Linus' saying, "I love mankind, it's people I can't stand"--sorry for the digression. I spend over $500 annually on newspaper subscriptions and hundreds more on print magazines. I am also a dinosaur.

Another dinosaur, Warren Buffett, is also a newspaper lover and invested in them, probably more with his heart than his head. Today he announced that he is getting out of the business.
Warren Buffett tossed a newspaper in 2016.
In 2020 he will toss the business (WSJ photo)
Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. is selling its newspapers to publisher Lee Enterprises Inc. (ticker: LEE) for $140 million, a rare admission by the billionaire investor that he views his newspaper business as unsustainable.

Mr. Buffett, a lifelong newspaper lover, has said for years that Berkshire’s newspaper business declined faster than he expected. In mid-2018, Berkshire hired Lee to manage all of its newspapers except the Buffalo News.

The sale announced Wednesday includes the Buffalo News along with the dozens of newspapers that Lee already manages for Berkshire, Lee said.

...Berkshire’s newspapers have already shrunk considerably. The newspaper division and the Buffalo News employed 3,685 people at the end of 2018, down from 4,337 a year earlier, according to Berkshire’s annual reports.

Mr. Buffett’s decision to exit from the newspaper business underscores the widening divide in media between the handful of large, national players, including The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the Washington Post, and chains of smaller papers.
If even patient Warren Buffett has given up, then it's further evidence that only the big national and a few regional titles will survive.

Bringing it down to a personal observation, the kids won't read the free-to-them issues on the table, so they certainly won't pay for a subscription.

A couple of paragraphs caught this accountant's eye: [bold added]
As part of the sale, Berkshire is lending Lee $576 million at a 9% annual rate. Lee will use the money to pay for the acquisition, refinance its $400 million in existing debt and close its current credit facility, making Berkshire its only lender.

Berkshire’s deal with Lee is expected to close in the middle of March. Lee also said it is going to enter into a 10-year lease agreement for the media group’s real estate at an initial cost of $8 million a year.
Whenever a seller provides loans, leases, and other financial support to a weaker, smaller buyer, revenue-recognition rules come into play. If there's a significant probability that the buyer can't perform and assets and liabilities will revert to the seller, then the sale of the business is not recognized. I'm sure Berkshire Hathaway's financial advisors have vetted the sale; I'm just noting the eagerness with which Berkshire wants to go through with it.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Apple Blossoms

Apple, Shanghai: sales were unexpectedly strong in China
Last month I wrote about a sale of Apple stock in early November:
A scant two months ago I sold Apple (AAPL) at $255. It had already had a marvelous bull run in 2019 (it was at $142.19 on 1/3/2019). Today AAPL closed at $293.65.
The January 28th close was $317.69. In less than a month the stock has risen by another $24, or 8.2%. In December I said that I wasn't disappointed that I had sold early, because I still hold AAPL, and the pigs never win, yadda yadda yadda.

At $317.69, however, measured against the sale price of $255, a little seller's remorse has crept in. Repeating another Wall Street mantra provides a smidgeon of comfort: "You never go broke taking a profit."

Apple should surge even higher tomorrow. After today's close it reported that its quarterly revenue and earnings outstripped expectations.
The tech giant reported revenue rose 9% in the December quarter to $91.82 billion, driven by blossoming sales of devices and services connected to the iPhone such as smartwatches and streaming-TV subscriptions. Sales of iPhones, which account for more than half of its revenue, rose 8% to $55.96 billion.

Shares of Apple, which have more than doubled over the past year, rose 1.5% in after-hours trading.
Apple's riding high, but a little over a year ago it looked like its time had passed. The tariff war in China had just begun, with only the severity of effects on sales and production unknown. Additionally, the worldwide smartphone market was purportedly mature, and Apple was mostly an iPhone company with the most expensive model and little else to sell.

Then the company was withering, now it's blossomed. There's universal excitement about the rollout of 5G later this year, the burgeoning market for services like credit cards, streaming TV, and cloud backup, and the unexpectedly robust popularity of wearables like the Apple Watch and AirPods.

I'm thinking of selling more shares..

AAPL's 2020 year-to-date performance is at least triple that of the major indexes.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Puncturing the Bubble

Kobe and Gianna attended Mass
before boarding the helicopter.
This week I'd been planning to sit back, spend hours each day absorbing Super Bowl minutiae (the 49ers are in Miami), and prepare for my trip next week to the Islands. Also, the rise in the stock market has made me complacent, with no worries about finances for now.

The world has a way of puncturing one's bubble.

Yesterday and today the sports news and commentary were all about the life and death of Kobe Bryant. Listening to the Super Bowl players and coaches answer silly questions wasn't high on my list of priorities.

Meanwhile, the stock market fell sharply today because of worries about the new coronavirus. With quarantines and travel bans the Chinese authorities are behaving as if it could be bad.
Jan 27: not a good day for stocks (WSJ)
Concern about the coronavirus intensified as the tally of infections jumped over the weekend. The virus has infected more than 4,500 people and killed at least 106, mostly in China’s Hubei province. It has spread to other countries including the U.S., Japan and South Korea, and public-health officials have warned that it is growing more contagious.

Shares of tourism-related companies and those with ties to China were among the hardest hit, after the country imposed travel restrictions in response to the outbreak.
Scientists have been very cautious about issuing pronouncements because of limited sample sizes and abbreviated analyses. Here, nevertheless:

WSJ: What to Know About the New Chinese Coronavirus

Yale School of Medicine: 5 Things Everyone Should Know About the 2019 Novel Coronavirus

One thing is certain: after the 2003 SARS outbreak in China killed 774 people and triggered fears world-wide, the old saw, "when America sneezes, the world catches cold", is in need of an Asian-flavored update.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Gone Too Soon

At this morning's annual meeting the Rector announced that he will be retiring on August 1st. After 22 years in the post (the average tenure is about 10 years) he has earned his gold watch, or will it be a crucifix?

Less than 10% of the membership was here the last time we did a search, which takes at least a year given all the Diocesan procedures (we can't even start the process until he leaves, the reason being to prevent him from biasing the search--I told him no other public or private entity times it this way when there's a friendly resignation).

Facing us in the near future is hiring a new rector and a youth minister, operating with lay leadership for an extended period, and eventually accommodating to the style of the new priest. There are going to be significant changes, and there's nothing we can do to avoid them. Churches always lose members during a search.

(Chronicle photo)
The meeting ended at noon, after which someone showed us breaking news on the death of Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash. Later the news and especially the sports channels gave his life story wall-to-wall coverage.

Even to this occasional basketball follower, the death of the 41-year-old retired L.A. Laker came us a shock. A brash 17-year-old when he entered the NBA, he won five NBA championships and was an All-Star for 18 years. But he had significant low points: 2003 sexual assault charges that were settled out of court, fallings out with players and coaches, and significant season-ending injuries (torn Achilles tendon, shoulder, knee).

As he neared retirement, Kobe Bryant's travails seemed to make him wiser, empathetic, philosophical, and charitable. He counseled young NBA players and devoted significant time and money to inculcating knowledge and values to children. He became an unofficial ambassador of the NBA worldwide and was preparing for a rich life after basketball, melding sports, entertainment, business, education, and philanthropy.

Kobe Bryant was an inspiration to youth because he demonstrated how hard work can overcome a humble origin.

But he was also an inspiration to oldsters when he showed that the inevitable changes brought on by the passage of time should be welcomed, not feared. I am sorry that he will not be here to show us how he did it.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Happy Year of the Rat

Below is a short video about the Chinese zodiac. It's produced by the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and doesn't require knowledge of the Chinese language to understand it.

The film reinterprets the legend of how the zodiac was created by the Jade Emperor, the ruler of heaven. He announced a race among all birds and beasts with the first 12 to be chosen for the 12 signs of the zodiac. In the legend, the rat arrived at the finish line first, thereby becoming the first animal in the zodiac. Then the order in which the other animals arrived became their order in the zodiac system.

The passing on of traditional culture is depicted in the film through a relay race in whcih the participants are 12 young people. They wear animal masks, which combine traditional patterns with modern elements. ...

They run through the entire country, from the traditional lanes of Beijing with their rows of courtyard houses to highways passing through towering mountains, deserts, deep seas, the Great Wall, and even the sky...The modes include parkour, skateboarding, an off-road vehicle, the high-speed train and a rocket ship...

The rat is the last one to get the baton, which turns out to be a traditional red scroll. When the scroll unfurls, the message is revealed: "Continuing to write our own legend."
We don't keep many of the old ways alive, but I did give out red envelopes.

It's no mystery why that tradition stays popular.

Friday, January 24, 2020

When It's OK to Steal

Helen Raleigh (Federalist)
Helen Raleigh is fed up, not with cultural appropriation, but with those who complain about it. [bold added]
No one is safe from being accused of “cultural appropriation,” or even “racial identity theft.” Whether you are rich and famous or an average Joe going about your life, culture police are everywhere to make sure that people don’t out of their lane to claim something that’s “not theirs.”

...Based on the social-justice warriors’ logic, people must only function within the ethnic identity and culture they were born into—for life. Authenticity, to them, means each cultural group must embrace its own culture and fiercely defend its unique traits from others.
Hamilton cast in 2016 (Entertainment Tonight)
Cultural appropriation is a sin committed only by whites. In fine dining Chef Gordon Ramsey was excoriated for opening an Asian restaurant when neither he nor his head chef were Asian. Yet here in San Francisco no one says a word when Asian chefs serve Italian or haute cuisine.

In entertainment, productions of the Mikado have been criticized heavily if they don't have Asian actors. On Broadway Hamilton, a musical about the American Founding played by a non-white cast, has been showered with accolades.

Helen Raleigh, who immigrated from China, welcomes Westerners trying to adopt elements of Chinese culture. Similarly, she is enthusiastic about Zumba and yoga classes, and she will snack on nachos on Super Bowl Sunday.

Your humble blogger pays no attention to those who want people to stay within their cultural confines. When they criticize Hamilton for cultural appropriation, I'll start listening.

[Note: just in case it isn't clear, I have no problem with the Mikado played by an all-white cast or Hamilton with non-white actors.]

Thursday, January 23, 2020

2014 MacBook Air: Still Going Strong

Time to install the 3rd case.
The screen on the MacBook Air cracked two years ago, and I had the battery replaced at the same time as the repair. The laptop is still going strong after six years with its 1.7 GHz Intel Core i7 processor and 8 GB RAM. (I looked at the new MacBooks last fall, but the features weren't compelling enough to spend at least $1,000.)

One worthwhile safety measure is to buy an inexpensive (<$15) case every two years. It not only affords protection from the occasional drop but shields the laptop from dirt, food, and spilled drinks.

I'll keep using it until it stops. Meanwhile, I back it up every evening.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Homelessness: You Will Be Made to Care, Comrade

It would be quite a stretch for me to live in Beverly Hills, but, if a proposal becomes law, all I would have to do is pitch a tent in the 90210 zip code. Cities would be required to shelter the homeless, according to a recommendation by the governor’s Regional Council of Homeless Advisors. [bold added]
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg told The Chronicle, “We are calling for a legally enforceable mandate requiring governments to bring people home. No more of this being an option. ... When it really matters, we require it. Why should this be any different?”
The Chronicle editorial board supports forcing cities to provide housing (and other services).
by making housing a right instead of the luxury it’s become for an unconscionable number of Californians, the task force’s proposal would constitute a dramatic shift in the right direction....

The trouble is that, as San Francisco’s experience attests, spending large new sums of money on homelessness and housing has not been as consistently effective as it is politically expedient in a liberal state. Making the provision of sufficient housing and shelter obligatory is what’s missing.
California must exist in an alternate reality. The rest of the country is reducing homelessness , but it has increased in California to such an extent that the national totals are rising. California is spending $billions--as are other States--and outside of California it's working.

Rather than look at why we're so ineffective, California politicians and the Chronicle are saying that we're not trying hard enough, so we'll get the law to force you to try harder.

Compassion is not optional. You will be made to care, comrade.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Far Removed From My Wheelhouse

As a retiree and part-time finance consultant, I've posted an abbreviated profile on LinkedIn.

That's enough information for some information scrapers to send me regular emails on jobs (e.g., controller, treasurer, interim CFO, investment analyst) that I might be interested in.

I gotta say that community organizer is far removed from my wheelhouse.

These job algorithms still need work.

Monday, January 20, 2020

MLK Day, 2019: Now, More Than Ever

The New York Times' 1619 Project. as described by one of its critics, the National Review [bold added]:
The “newspaper of record” states that this “ongoing initiative” “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.” It’s a conscious attempt to make the country’s “real” founding stem from when the first African slaves arrived in Virginia, rather than when the thirteen colonies declared their independence from Great Britain (or, say, 1620, when the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts, or 1607, when Jamestown was settled).
Clayborne Carson, Director of Stanford's Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute, agrees with the criticism: [bold added]
That kind of gets back to the 1619 Project. A lot of their focus seems to be the founding of the United States as a nation. The way I would look at that, is that at that time, for a variety of reasons, you have a predominant group, white men, beginning to articulate a human rights ideal. We can study why that happened when it happened.

It had to do with the Enlightenment, the spread of literacy, the rise of working class movements. All of these factors led people to start talking in terms of human rights. It was both an intellectual movement from the top down and a freedom struggle from the bottom up. People begin to speak in terms of rights: that, I, we, have rights that other people should respect. The emergence of that is important.

And it does affect African Americans. We know that from Benjamin Banneker and lot of other black people who realized that white people were talking about rights and said, ‘well we have rights too.’ That’s an important development in history, and an approach to history that doesn’t say we should privilege only the rights talk of white people. There’s always a dialogue between that and oppressed people. You have to tell the story from the top down, that intellectuals began to articulate the notion of rights. But simultaneously, non-elites are doing that—working class people, black people, colonized people.
Clayborne Carson has made it his life's work to research and document the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Like Dr. King, Professor Carson fought against racism his entire life. But as an historian he praises the American experiment, not condemns it.

400 years ago there were only glimmers of the ideas that would lead to an overarching philosophy of human rights. It wasn't so much "racism" then, but the way everything worked--tribes conquering other tribes. The world view was that of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)--either accede to a sovereign which offered limited protection or, in a state of nature, have a life that was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

Today most of us are blessed to live in a world where the biggest complaints are about inequality and privilege. But the answer, I believe Dr. King would say, is not to tear down the wealthy but lift up the poor. He would dream
that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
If we keep focusing on race--as the 1619 project does--we will never look past it.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

No Other Gods

The fondness of Episcopal clergy--and leaders of other Protestant denominations--for socialism and progressivism has been commented on in this journal before. But the love is not reciprocated.

The War on Philanthropy. [bold added]
(Image from FourStarWealth)
progressive editorialists and political candidates openly call for deep cuts in the charitable deduction, an end to tax protections for churches and other charities, the taxing down of personal fortunes, and new regimes in which government becomes the sole ministrant of societal needs.
Christians who are political progressives think that socialism's battle is with capitalism. They do not see that a powerful socialist State views all groups that have influence--not only businesses, but also churches, charities, and universities--as threats to its authority.
Authoritarians have always hated independent civil society. Russian, Iranian and Chinese dictators clamped down on charities in recent years because they want the state to be the only forum for human influence. “Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state” was Mussolini’s encapsulation. For people with a controlling impulse, private wielders of resources represent alternative sources of ideas and social legitimacy that must be suppressed in favor of unitary government prescriptions.
The first of the Ten Commandments was: You shall have no other gods before Me.

When the State supplants God, I suspect that it will adopt the first commandment as its own.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

21st Century Fullback

In the build-up to the NFC Championship game between the 49ers and the Packers the WSJ profiles Kyle Juszczyk (YOOZ-check).

The NFL’s Unlikeliest Millionaire: He Went to Harvard and Plays Fullback [bold added]
Kyle and Kristin Juszczyk
By any modern standard, Kyle Juszczyk shouldn’t be playing in the NFL. He went to Harvard, a school that was important in football about a century ago. And he plays fullback, a position that was important when teams ran the wishbone toward goal posts that were planted at the front of the end zone.

But there’s one team that feels differently. A few years ago, the San Francisco 49ers didn’t just sign Juszczyk. They made him the highest-paid player in the entire league relative to other players at the same position. Juszczyk makes more money than the second- and third-highest paid fullbacks combined and carried the ball a grand total of three times this year.
The 49ers' use of their fullback would seem inexplicable to football traditionalists. He very rarely carries the ball. Yet he is in on many of the offensive plays. His value lies in his versatility.
Although technically a fullback, he played tight end and H-back in college, giving the 49ers the flexibility to motion him out and place him in any number of roles. It allows San Francisco to completely change the way the offense might look without changing the actual players on the field, a tactic that can prevent the defense from substituting and frustrate defenders schematically.
Kyle Juszczyk sounds like the Draymond Green of the 49ers: very good at seeing the whole field, can play a variety of positions, talented but not blessed with superstar physical abilities, and most importantly understands his coach's complicated schemes and recognizes on any given play where and in what role he's needed the most. On another team he wouldn't be as valuable, but like the Warriors with Draymond, he is integral to their scheme and is paid much more than another team would pay him.

Or maybe coach likes him because his name is Kyle.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Tuesday Rumination

More useful than facial rec after plane crashes.
As we noted in 2015, we used to wait half an hour for the results. (Actually, I remember when mouth X-rays took overnight to process. The dentist would read the results over the phone the next day and schedule dates to fix cavities.)

At Tuesday's appointment the results were flashed instantaneously on the monitor, and the pictures revealed no changes, hence no additional procedures this time.

Stan asked about my 1967 Volkswagen Beetle. (He used to drive one when he went to Berkeley.) Still running, I said, all I have to do is change the oil. Would that my own maintenance were as simple.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Wouldn't Mind a Little Warming

We're in San Mateo County
Foster City (37° 33' 31" N / 122° 16' 12" W) is just north of the 37th parallel--roughly the northern border of Arizona and New Mexico--and very rarely experiences temperatures below 40°F.

Mid-westerners will mock our lack of toughness, but they should know that living in heat is much healthier than cold, nearly 20 times as healthy.
The study — published in the British journal The Lancet — analyzed data on more than 74 million deaths in 13 countries between 1985 and 2012. Of those, 5.4 million deaths were related to cold, while 311,000 were related to heat.
Going outdoors, even swathed in several layers, is becoming very uncomfortable in 40-degree temperatures to older bones with slowing metabolism.

(Whisper): I wouldn't mind if the planet warms a few degrees like the alarmists say it will.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

San Francisco: Getting What They Wanted

Jan. 8: Mayor Breed swears in Chesa Boudin (Chron photo)
In November we commented on the election of Chesa Boudin to the District Attorney's office of San Francisco.

Mr. Boudin was a public defender and had never prosecuted a case. Clues to how he would run the DA's office lay in his upbringing by Weather Underground parents, adoption by Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, and his employment in Hugo Chavez' Venezuela.

Chesa Boudin has begun his term by firing prosecutors--which is his right, btw--as he starts to keep his "promise[s] to confront racial disparities in the criminal justice system, work to end mass incarceration, and hold police more accountable in cases of brutality."

Those fired include:
[Michael] Swart is a hard-charging homicide prosecutor known for his brash style in the courtroom. [Tom] Ostly was an attorney in the Crime Strategies Unit. He was in the middle of prosecuting a multimillion-dollar fencing bust announced last month by interim District Attorney Suzy Loftus.
Here's the nut: [bold added]
Boudin also promised to focus on violent crime, leaving many in the office questioning why he let go many of his most experienced felony attorneys.
Well, San Francisco voters elected him, and now they're going to get what he promised good and hard.

As for non-San Francisco visitors, never park your late-model vehicle there; it will be broken into with impunity, since there is zero chance of prosecution for property crimes. BTW, here is Mr. Boudin's solution to break-ins:
Boudin is proposing the city set up a private-public partnership to start a mobile auto-glass repair operation that would respond directly to the scene of burglaries and repair the broken windows on the spot for “a fraction of the cost” of window repair shops.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

When Marshawn Lynch Talks, People Listen

(Seattle Times image)
When their running backs were injured at the end of the season, the Seattle Seahawks asked 33-year-old Marshawn Lynch to come out of retirement and join them during the playoffs. The Seahawks were eliminated by the Packers on Sunday, and the normally taciturn Lynch became unusually voluble in the postgame interviews.

The topic: advice to young players from a star who had a taste of life outside of football. [bold added]
"Look, I'll say like this though, right?" Lynch said. "This is a vulnerable time for a lot of these young dudes, you feel me? They don't be taking care of their chicken right, you feel me? So if it was me, or if I had a opportunity to let these little young sahobs know something, I'd say take care of y'all money, African, because that ... don't last forever. Now I done been on the other side of retirement and it's good when you get over there and you can do what ... you want to. So I tell y'all right now while y'all in it: Take care of y'all bread, so when y'all done go ahead and take care of yourself.

"So while y'all at it right now, take care of y'all bodies, you know what I mean; take care of y'all chicken, you feel me; take care of y'all mentals because, look, we ain't lasting that long. I had a couple players that I played with that they're no longer here no more — they're no longer — so, I mean, you feel me? So you start taking care of y'all mentals, y'all bodies, y'all chicken, so when y'all ready to walk away, walk away and you'll be able to do what you want to do."
To sum up, Mr. Lynch is advising young players not to spend the immense sums ("chicken") that they are earning now, to guard against their minds being blown by concussions or drugs, and to keep healthy physically. When they leave football, hopefully with money and minds and bodies intact, they'll "be able to do what you want to do."

So take care of y'all mentals, y'all bodies, y'all chicken. When Marshawn Lynch talks, people listen...and remember.

Monday, January 13, 2020

How Dumb Do They Think We Are?

(image of ad on a finance website)
My retirement, bank, and brokerage accounts are all separate. Despite entreaties from these large, well-known institutions to input each others' information into their respective websites--all to "help" me with planning--I've resisted.

I don't want any of them, or hackers who are probing their databases, to know all my business. So why would I provide this information to an app that I never heard of?

Word of the day: risible.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Make America Virtuous Again?

At one point in high school someone told me that character is destiny, which at the time seemed profound. (The quote is attributed to Heraclitus, who is also famous for "you can't step into the same river twice," but I digress.)

After a few years under their belt, most people come to realize that being of good character does not guarantee secular success. Bad things happen to good people, and bad people can be found at the pinnacle of government, business, entertainment, sports, law, media, and even churches and other non-profits. However, the importance of good character still persisted in a society that believed in an after-life when Final Judgment would be rendered.

When fewer people believe in a Deity, and fewer are members of an organized religion, does virtue have relevance, especially since virtue may be the only reward?

Answering in the affirmative, Harvard history professor James Hankins sees similarities in today's predicaments to 14th century Italy, when the philosopher-poet Petrarch saw virtue as the solution:
it was precisely the collapse of institutions and the twin diseases of violent partisanship and tyranny that drove the great political thinkers of the Renaissance to invent a new instrument of statecraft. They called it the studia humanitatis, or the humanities...

Italy was recovering from the Black Death and the collapse of its financial system. The Catholic Church was divided and corrupt, the Holy Roman Empire was fatally weakened and the Ottoman Turks were knocking at the door of Constantinople...These leaders were ignorant of the past, unable to express themselves truthfully or decently, and driven by their unbridled lust for power and riches to neglect the common good. Feared and hated by their subjects, they were unable to inspire loyalty.

Petrarch’s solution was a new kind of politics: virtue politics...Following Plato, the humanists defined tyranny as the absence of good character, so the ruler who lacked good character could by definition be considered a tyrant. Those who possessed political power by hereditary right didn’t deserve that power unless they were also virtuous—that is, unless they possessed moral excellence and practical wisdom. Virtue was made a necessary condition of legitimate rule, and virtue could be taught and learned—through an education in the humanities.
Your humble blogger buys into much of what Professor Hankins advocates, that widespread education in the humanities is a societal good. However, with regard to the humanities I am referring to the canon as it was 50 years ago, not that which prevails today with restrictions on speech and thought, promulgation of "social justice" through an expansion of State power, and tribal politics that sees everyone through the prism of group identity.

But...teaching men to be virtuous will not make them so. One of the major premises of American constitutional government is that individuals cannot be trusted with too much power, hence the system of checks and balances. That system, while infuriatingly slow at times, has proved to be remarkably stable regardless of the character of those who inhabit political office.

Also, virtue isn't everything. One of the least successful Presidents of the 20th century--but arguably the most virtuous--was Jimmy Carter.

Success in the sacred does not make one successful in the profane. We can support Donald Trump or Bill Clinton for their effectiveness, not their saintliness.

While we wish that our leaders would be both, they are rarely so.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Animal Spirit

In October, 2018, the San Francisco 49ers became the first NFL team to have an "emotional support" animal. Having a service animal runs counter to football's macho image, and the team took some (good-natured) grief.

Have no fear, 49er fans. Zoë the French bulldog does not appear to have diminished the fierceness of the team's play.

Headline from today's playoff game: Nick Bosa leads brutal theatrical beatdown of Vikings [bold added]
With [defensive end Nick] Bosa one of the tone setters, the 49ers were all about violent theater Saturday. The 49ers’ offensive line rocked the Vikings’ vaunted defensive line, running the ball relentlessly.

The 49ers’ defense smothered the Vikings.
Everything's working for the 49ers. We're long past the decision to keep Zoë. I would station an armed guard around her, at least until the season's over.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Homelessness: Props for Trying

The Post ( image)
Cheap hotels--under $100 per night--in San Francisco were built in the early 20th century. They're located on blocks of the City that are distant from the tourist haunts, and the buildings struggle to remain on the right side of respectability.

The City of San Francisco will lease 151 rooms in two of these hotels, the Abigail and the Post, to get the homeless off the streets.
The city hopes the first occupants at both hotels will be able to move in by April. The Post will charge $1,300 a unit per month and the Abigail will charge $1,400. Residents will be expected to pay 30% of their income — whatever it may be — toward rent, with the city subsidizing the remainder.
The Abigail (Loopnet image)
Housing programs always need on-site monitoring to prevent the importation of behaviors like drug use, prostitution, and overcrowding. This pilot program will be supervised by two non-profits, the Tenderloin Housing Clinic and Episcopal Community Services.

There's much to be hopeful about. If the room subsidy is, say, $800 per month or about $10,000 a year, that would still be much less than the City's $25,000-$36,000 annual expenditure per homeless person. (To be fair, job training, health care, etc. will make the costs higher than $10,000 per year per hotel resident.)

The oversight by motivated charities, not indifferent bureaucrats, has a good chance of identifying problems earlier. Also, the housing is available immediately, instead of waiting for the units to be built years from now.

The project risk is much lower than the cost of building shelters that turn in to white elephants, so give them props for trying.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Transportation: A Fantastic, Fossil-Fuel-Free Future

Because they know what's best for us, Bay Area central planners have been discouraging driving by means of high gas taxes, underfunded road repairs and road building, high parking fees, unique (i.e. high-priced) gasoline formulations, and shrunken driving lanes. If they want us to take mass transit, at least they're making trains more attractive, right?

Wrong: ‘I was scared for my safety’: Harassment, threats, violence follow women onto public transit
I often disembarked at Montgomery St. Station, 1988-2008
In August, Alliance for Girls released a report titled “Together, We Rise: The Lived Experiences of Girls of Color in Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose.” According to the report, girls in each city said they’d been harassed and stalked on public transportation.

“Girls know that this is an issue, and we ignore it until it’s too late,” said Emma Mayerson, the executive director of Alliance for Girls. “Public transportation is one of the greatest barriers to access services, to basic mobility, to economic empowerment.”

A 2019 report jointly released by four organizations, including the UC San Diego Center on Gender Equity and Health, found that 77% of women surveyed had been sexually harassed in a public space. Twenty-nine percent said it happened on public transportation.

BART logged 535 reports of sexual assault and lewd behavior on its BART Watch app this year through October. During the same period in 2018, there were 501 reports.
In Bay Area transportation there are fewer choices, higher prices, and low reliability. And with BART there's a bonus: sexual assault and lewd behavior with most of the victims being lower-income women of color.

It's too bad that some people are getting hurt on the way to a fantastic, fossil-fuel-free future.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

The 24/7 Outrage Machine

(WSJ graphic)
WSJ columnist Peggy Noonan is always a worthwhile read--not because I agree with her, which I often don't--but because I think she has a moral sensibility akin to mine. She's slow to condemn moral failings and tries to see the perspectives from all sides.

In her first column of 2020 she's very critical of President Trump ("He can’t be proved more guilty") while at the same time dismissive of the attempt to remove him ("It will be the impeachment that didn’t move the needle, that history barely remembers").

She also is not complimentary toward the Democratic Presidential field or Nancy Pelosi. But she saves her harshest words for the wokescolds: [bold added]
The past decade saw the rise of the woke progressives who dictate what words can be said and ideas held, thus poisoning and paralyzing American humor, drama, entertainment, culture and journalism. In the coming 10 years someone will effectively stand up to them. They are the most hated people in America, and their entire program is accusation: you are racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic; you are a bigot, a villain, a white male, a patriarchal misogynist, your day is over. They never have a second move. Bow to them, as most do, and they’ll accuse you even more of newly imagined sins. They claim to be vulnerable victims, and moral. Actually they’re not. They’re mean and seek to kill, and like all bullies are cowards.

Everyone with an honest mind hates them. Someone will finally move effectively against them. Who? How? That will be a story of the ’20s, and a good one.
It's hard to de-escalate, though, with so many likes.
Tolerance is an ethic that is an important part of being an adult. As more Americans live in denser communities tolerance has become even more crucial. There are ways to express disagreement without being disagreeable.

The 24/7 outrage machine has made life unpleasant for all. When tolerant people like Peggy Noonan have had enough, then the reckoning is coming.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Horns Over Hormuz

"Red devil horns" appeared over the Persian Gulf on December 26th.

The scientific explanation is that it's an unusual conjunction of a sunrise--the bottom quarter of the sun is truncated by the water--with a partial solar eclipse.

Only the superstitious believe that it's a harbinger of events that will unfold in that benighted part of the world. Everything will be fine.

Again, Happy New Year!

Homelessness Initiative: Not Perfect But A Step Forward

Mike Gatto (Chron photo) 
A former Democratic assemblyman is organizing a November ballot initiative that will address the worst aspects of the California homelessness problem. The California Compassionate Intervention Act [bold added]
would call for the strict enforcement of “quality of life” laws, which deal with behavior such as public drunkenness or drug use and defecating in public. Offenders would be to be sent to special courts, where they could be sentenced to shelter programs or mandatory rehab.
Mike Gatto's measure would arrest individuals evincing those behaviors but not criminalize them:
Offenders would be to be sent to special courts, where they could be sentenced to shelter programs or mandatory rehab....Once a defendant has completed his sentence, his conviction would be expunged, so he would have no criminal record that might hinder him from getting a job, housing or public benefits.
Open drug use is a common sight on the streets of
San Francisco (Daily Mail
Homeless advocates oppose the measure because of possible "mass institutionalization" and "racial and class disparities." The use of scare slogans indicates that, if the initiative qualifies for the ballot with at least 620,000 signatures, it is likely to pass:
A recent statewide poll by 3M Research found that 90% of the voters surveyed listed homelessness as the No. 1 problem facing the state — 87% of the voters in the Bay Area listed it as the top problem....The poll also found 73% of the voters support Gatto’s measure.
The devil is in the details and there will be unintended negative consequences. At the same time I am sure that passing this initiative will produce something better than what we've got.

Monday, January 06, 2020

Making Climate Models Great Again

Headline: Up in the Sierra, nearly normal snowpack shows drought predictions wrong [bold added]
Tahoe in November (Times Herald)
Before the rains began, the U.S. government’s Drought Monitor classified 81% of California as “abnormally dry.” Forecasting models suggested more of the same was on the way, prompting the experts to soberly predict a long dry spell this winter, possibly veering into drought.

But those experts, with their sophisticated computer models and learned talk, were wrong. The high-pressure patch off the coast broke up in late November and the state has gotten a pretty good pounding of rain and snow ever since.
Remember, these are the same experts who predicted we're all gonna die in 10 years from climate change.

Another benefit of the rain: I won't have to listen to solemn pronouncements from non-scientists that a dry winter is proof of global warming. As a matter of interest, below is California's weather during the "teens":

Year POTUS Weather

Source: Wikipedia. After Donald Trump was elected, California had so much rain during the 2016-2017 winter that the Oroville Dam was on the verge of collapse.

If the experts inserted the political affiliation of the President into their computers,
1) the models would have been much more accurate, and
2) they would say that Donald Trump should be re-elected to keep the water flowing.

People who should know better often use two or three data points as evidence to support their position on climate change. I've got nine. The science is settled.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Tears and Regrets

Chronicle film reviewer Mick LaSalle laments that "religion has become associated with conservative and right-wing politics" and praises recent films that depict the religious left.
we have seen three films featuring exceptionally warmhearted, religious protagonists — Fred Rogers (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”), Franz Jägersträtter (“A Hidden Life”) and Pope Francis (“The Two Popes”).

Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers (Chron photo)
1) Mick LaSalle has completely swallowed the Hollywood/media stereotype of fundamentalist Christians as the conservative version of wokescolds. In my experience conservative Christians just want to be left alone and will likewise leave others alone. However, they will become politically active if society tries to change the way they speak or do their jobs or educate their children or mocks their faith.

(The exception may be abortion, though my sense is that the majority of Americans wished to leave the issue alone until activists from both sides tried to force people to choose between partial-birth abortion and a complete ban.)

2) Mr. LaSalle calls the protagonists "liberal" because they perform good works. I personally cannot believe that he believes that conservative Christians do not engage in acts of charity. I have seen extraordinary acts of generosity--performed by people who are politically conservative and not wealthy (and I have witnessed politically liberal Christians do the same). By the way, there is some evidence that conservatives give more money to charity than liberals.

3) The problem that I have with some on the religious left is that they support the expansion of State power as a shortcut to effect noble outcomes. Surely they know the risk. Man is fallen, man is sinful. Political leadership may initially be virtuous, but you won't always have a God-fearing philosopher-king in charge. Eventually corrupt people will hold the reins of power, and they will use it to their own ends. Other centers of influence and wealth, i.e., businesses, churches, and non-profits, will be targeted. It will end in tears and regrets.

Saturday, January 04, 2020

California Peaked 1-2 Years Ago

In early 2018 we predicted:
As of this writing house prices continue to rise, despite the reduction of favorable tax treatment for expensive houses in the recently enacted Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

The warning signs are widespread. I don't know what may trigger the fall; perhaps it will be rising interest rates, dropping tech stock prices, or fed-up tourists, but it would not be surprising to see a collapse, and an exodus of individual and business taxpayers, in San Francisco's near future.
CA labor force peaked in 2019 (wolfstreet)
The decline in home prices and an acceleration of people leaving California is happening. In a Zillow survey of 25 large housing markets
The Bay Area earned the lowest score of negative 40; only 24% said it will outperform versus 64% who think it will underperform. The next coolest markets were San Jose (minus 38), Los Angeles (minus 35), Cincinnati (minus 33) and Sacramento (minus 31).
Experts agree that a major impetus for the decline was the Federal $10,000 cap on the deductibility of State and Local Taxes (SALT):
The tax law changes that took effect in 2018 have increased the after-tax cost of owning a home. The law capped the previously unlimited itemized deduction for all state and local income, property and sales taxes at $10,000 combined. “Your property tax, even though constrained by Proposition 13, for many people (is) not fully deductible,” [UC-Berkeley economist Ken] Rosen said. “A lot of people felt good because they were protected (from large property tax increases) by Prop. 13. Even with Prop. 13 still in place, many people have tax bills twice as big” as $10,000.

The tax law also limited the mortgage interest deduction to interest on $750,000 in debt, down from $1 million previously.

He added that the trend of people moving out of California to cheaper states “is going to get bigger in the next five years,” because of higher taxes, higher home prices and growing congestion.

California lost an estimated 197,600 people to net domestic migration during the year ended July 1, according to the state Department of Finance. That is the number of people who left California for other states minus the number who moved here from other states. If you include people moving into the state from other countries, California lost 39,500 residents due to net migration. (Births still caused the population to grow since they exceeded deaths.)

Other data show that California is losing the most residents to Texas, Arizona, Nevada and Oregon.

Mike Englund, chief economist with Action Economics, said that “we will have a pretty solid boom” this year in housing nationwide, led by the South. The southeastern quadrant of the U.S., including Texas, accounted for 53.6% of housing starts last year (numbers for December are estimated). Only 8.8% were in the Northeast, 24.8% in the West and 12.8% in the Midwest.

Research firm Pulsenomics conducted the survey for Zillow. More than 100 experts responded, but only 64 answered the question about individual markets.

A separate report, released last month by Fitch Ratings, said that capping the state and local tax or SALT deduction at $10,000 “may have exacerbated slowing home price growth in certain areas,” including California. Fitch rates corporate and government debt, including mortgage-backed and municipal bonds. It’s owned by Hearst, which owns The Chronicle.

Since early 2018, when the SALT cap took effect, “states with higher property taxes have seen acute home price appreciation slowdown and even price declines in several metropolitan areas” including San Francisco, Fitch said.

It compared home-price appreciation in the 10 states whose residents took the highest property tax and mortgage interest deductions on their 2017 tax returns to the 10 states with the lowest tax and interest deductions. In the high-cost, high-tax states (which included California), the average rate of year-over-year price appreciation fell from 6.4% in January 2018 to 2.7% in September 2019. In the low-tax, low-cost states, the appreciation rate rose very slightly, from 3.9% to 4%, over the same period.

There could be other factors to explain steep drop-off in home-price appreciation in high-tax states after the SALT cap took effect, but “you can see there is a pattern there, a trend you cannot ignore,” said Bulin Guo, an associate director with Fitch.
Your humble blogger suspected that the SALT limitation in the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017 was a slow-rolling temblor, enacted by a Republican President and Congress, to weaken the economic underpinnings of high-tax, high-regulation one-party governance in California, New York, and Illinois. Unless the Democrats sweep Congress and the Presidency in 2020, there is no possibility of SALT repeal in at least four years.

We will see if these States try to stop the bleeding by lowering taxes and regulations to keep productive individuals and businesses from fleeing. Or will they behave like other late-stage Socialists by exacting ever fiercer confiscatory exit taxes to fund their failing visions? I'm hopeful of the former, especially if fed-up voters enact regime change in Sacramento, but it won't happen soon.

Friday, January 03, 2020

But the Flesh is Weak

This basket will take a couple weeks of continuous
snacking. And there are more behind it.
Your humble blogger has the usual New Year's resolutions (below), none of which include consuming Christmas gift baskets.

However, it would be wasteful and unappreciative to let the expensive foodstuffs spoil. What to do?

Here's where it's nice to be multicultural. Chinese New Year--the year of the rat, btw--starts on January 25th. That's when the resolutions begin. (Fortunately, less excuse-making isn't on the list.)

Thursday, January 02, 2020

2020 Resolutions: More and Less

Reading booksWeb-surfing
Getting rid of stuffBuying stuff
Taking coursesElectronic games
Writing lettersSaying "yes"
SleepTexting, esp. thank-you's
Fruits and vegetablesFried foods