Tuesday, March 31, 2020

It's a Petri Dish Out There

In Foster City, oblivious to the norms
Many of the county parks are closed, and more people are getting their exercise on the Bay Trail.

Little kids on bikes speed ahead of their parents, oblivious to the norm of social distancing. Adults jump to the side, which would have been an amusing sight a month ago.

An African-American man and I walk toward each other on a narrow sidewalk. I cross the street before he gets close, which some consider a racist move.

We smile and wave. Yes, the world has changed.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Okay, This is Getting Serious

In the least important story of the weekend, Starbucks gave up on its to-go-only model and closed its two stores in Foster City.

On the Starbucks app nearby stores just vanished from the map, like half the world's population in the last two Avengers movies. Disbelieving, I drove by the closest store to see for myself.

Someone who really wants a cuppa joe can go to the kiosk in Safeway or the outlets in nearby San Mateo.

Okay, this is getting serious...

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Trump is the Devil

New Orleans on February 25th (Business Insider photo)
Some people--and I used to encounter them in person on a regular basis (thank God for social distancing)--think President Trump is the devil, Hitler, evil incarnate, etc. Of course, they do know that they're speaking metaphorically.

But it's not the accuracy of the metaphor that's the subject of this post, but the convenience of having a devil to blame.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell refused to cancel Mardi Gras on February 25th and is now dealing with the consequences--151 deaths, 3,540 total cases, 1,127 patients hospitalized as of today.

Mayor Cantrell blames President Trump.
She told CNN that if the outbreak had been taken seriously on the federal level at the time, they would have called off the event.

"When it's not taken seriously on the federal level, it's very difficult to transcend down to the local level in making these decisions," Cantrell said, adding that the federal response "backed up by the response of our national leader."
Yes, we have seen this movie before. In fact, that's the opening plotline of Jaws, in which the Mayor of Amity Island refuses to close the beaches after a fatal shark attack. The fictional Mayor of a New England town and the real-life Mayor of New Orleans put the money of tourist season and Mardi Gras, respectively, over lives.

When the Mardi Gras decision had to be made, President Trump had already restricted flights from China on January 31st. In New Orleans' case, after the fact, how nice it is to have President Trump to blame.
The devil has his uses
Allows us to make excuses
For our own bad choices
When we listened to the voices
Of selfishness and avarice.
So the devil, he wins twice
When our sin leads to shame
"Not me," I say,"he's to blame."

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Mory's is Closed

Yale's Lanman Center
Yes, it's Yale's re-purposing of basketball facilities for the COVID-19 wave that it hopes will not come. No, it's not a hospital.
the Lanman Center, if activated, will house only “very low acuity” patients who are stable but need to remain isolated from high-risk family members. The facility will provide general care to these patients by monitoring their vitals and supplying food and hydration while they recover....sick and healthy patients would be housed separately, with patients who are severely ill remaining at Yale New Haven Hospital.
Below are side-by-side photos of the preparations at Iowa State for the Spanish flu in 1918 and Yale's gym in 2020. Yale Professor Nicholas A. Christakis' Twitter feed has excellent historical perspective on and current data analyses of COVID-19.

Visiting the Doctor in the Lockdown Interregnum

The traffic on Highway 101 was the lightest I'd ever seen--and I've lived in the Bay Area 47 years--as I drove to the clinic for the monthly allergy shot.

The door to the parking garage was locked, diverting everyone to the front entrance. The nurse scanned my forehead and pronounced me safe to enter at 97.4°F. (Temperature scans as a COVID-19 detector are prone to false negatives and positives but are better than nothing.)

Half the chairs in the waiting room were marked off-limits to force social distancing. Most of the clinic's patients have respiratory problems and are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus. After getting the injection I waited 30 minutes as standard operating procedure against an anaphylactic reaction.

Parking was free on a weekday, another first.

Later and probably keeping it to ourselves, I suspect we'll miss a few things from the lockdown interregnum.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Resentment Resurfaces

Now that I'm semi-retired I haven't needed to upgrade Microsoft's Office suite (Excel, Word, Powerpoint) for 12 years.

The 2008 features were sufficient for any tasks that I might undertake; besides, the data flow, logic, and organization of a project are far more important to its success than technical bells and whistles.

Earlier this month I upgraded MacOS, and old Excel wouldn't run some self-developed tax spreadsheets. Now was the time to unwrap the box of Office 365 that I got for Christmas several years ago and thought I never needed. (There are alternatives to Microsoft, by the way; Google and Apple both have competing free products that can work with Office documents.)

Memories of the Microsoft/Intel software/hardware treadmill resurfaced (the new version of the software won't work on the old chip and vice versa). In a year's time Microsoft will bill me $69.99 to renew Office, and I'll pay them because it's not worth the hassle to switch.

They know my weaknesses so well, and I resent them for it.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Quiet Heartbreaks

With many thousands of people suffering from COVID-19 and millions on the front lines battling the virus every day, it seems crass and unfeeling to complain about the difficulties of those of us who merely have to stay home. Nevertheless, give a thought to quiet heartbreaks. In life we don't get a lot of those big celebrations, n'est-ce pas?
Many long-anticipated milestones will now never happen—or will pass by unobserved—as celebrations and events get canceled. Beneath the world-wide upheaval of lockdowns, quarantines and shortages, thousands of people are also privately mourning the loss of life’s special moments.
"Big" birthdays, hospital vigils, sports championships, graduations---the highs and lows of life when the human connection is most important--are gone.

I've been looking forward to my 50th class reunion in Hawaii this June. There's been no official announcement, but cancellation is 99% likely; some have already sent in regrets due to the uncertainty. Though the reunion is likely to be deferred to 2021 or perhaps this fall, attendance will surely suffer. Given the number of people who live on the Mainland, and trying not to be too morbid, some of us will miss a chance to see others for the last time.

In the meantime memories of our 40th reunion will have to suffice.

Give a thought to all the hard work by celebration planners, too.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

What's the Hurry?

The view west toward San Mateo from Foster City at 8 a.m.

Without being able to go to the gym, I'm still trying to find my footing: walk, bike, or jog? morning or afternoon? trails or sidewalks? (The trails have more foot traffic.)

The answer seems to be to walk whenever the sun is out and to avoid the trails if there are more than a few people on them. Besides, it's easy to maintain social distancing on sidewalks by moving to the middle of the car-less roads.

One silver lining of the semi-lockdown is that it's forced me to become re-acquainted with the neighborhood. Homeowners have installed solar panels and drought-friendly landscaping.

There are more cars in driveways and parked on the streets because everyone's home. Though some vehicles haven't moved for a week there are no tags for going over the 72-hour limit, one of many rules that's been suspended during these unusual times.

I always yield the right of way to another car, shopping cart, or jogger. What's the hurry?

No baseball at Sea Cloud Park, just geese eyeing dogs warily.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Hang On, Help is Coming

The WSJ updates the status of clinical trials: [bold added]
Some patients have recovered after receiving Gilead Sciences ’ experimental antiviral treatment remdesivir, though there isn’t yet enough clinical data to understand if the drug is truly safe and effective and, if so, for what specific disease stages or populations. That could soon change: A series of clinical trials that began in early February will start to generate results in March and April...

Elsewhere, drugmakers Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Sanofi SA are studying whether their jointly-owned drug Kevzara helps prevent overactive lung inflammation in severe Covid-19 patients receiving the drug last week in New York....

Hospitals also have begun to include the old malaria drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine in treatment protocols [blogger's note: favorable results have been reported when these drugs are used with azithromycin]. Those drugs, which aren’t approved by regulators to treat the virus but have generated promising but inconclusive results in small, open label studies, can be administered by doctors on an off-label basis. Several large drug manufacturers have vowed to donate large quantities of the drug or crank up production.
The odds are high that at least one of these treatments will prove effective in reducing deaths from COVID-19.

Meanwhile, testing is ramping up, and the stumbling block of requiring a doctor's order for a test may well disappear in the next few weeks. It already has in Hayward, just 10 miles east of us over the bridge.

On the inventory side Factory America is producing more ventilators and masks, with higher production rates to follow. Supply of essential matériel has been woefully lacking for two months, but that will change soon as long as most of us remain uninfected or at least asymptomatic. Dawn hasn't broken, but there's a faint glow on the horizon.

(Yosemite image from KVDDesign)

The People Disappoint Again

Baker Beach, SF, on Saturday (Chron)
For all their talk of caring about others, many San Franciscans showed it was just talk. In the first weekend of sheltering in place
The crowds that swarmed Bay Area beaches, parks and other natural areas over the weekend created fury among residents and others fearful of the fast-spreading coronavirus, prompting some parks to issue closure orders while local leaders wondered how to keep people away from one another.
Dolores Park after City parks were closed Monday (Chron)
Closing playgrounds and parks would just move the problem elsewhere:
“Being forbidden to go to your neighborhood park seems draconian, especially for people who have children,” said Leslie Alden, co-founder of Marin Climate Action Network in Corte Madera.

“If our parks are closed, the question would be, doesn’t that then push more people into smaller recreation spaces, whether on streets or on multi-use paths? I don’t have an answer.”
The answer for many, after this is over, is to move to the suburbs, where you can drive your car rather than ride a filthy train, live in a townhouse with safer social distancing, and walk or jog without fear of bumping into someone else.

Because there will be a next time.

Monday, March 23, 2020

The Wonders That Will Unfold

Foster City lagoon and beach on Sunday, March 22nd.
The sign and where it sits is bedraggled,
but it's not wrong.
A favorite setting in dystopian movies shows humanity, or maybe just civilization, wiped out by plague, aliens, nuclear war, global warming, zombies, or any number of possible causes. These stories often start years after the cataclysm; once gleaming cities are crumbling, empty of living things except for the rats who somehow are finding something to eat.

Less than one week after the coronavirus forced everyone indoors for most of the day,  the physical world actually looks pretty good: no crowds, no noise, and a lot of beauty.

After the virus is controlled with most of us not getting sick and, it is hoped, not ruined financially, there will be a lot of reassessment:
‘Mommy, I like coronavirus because I get to spend time with you,” a patient of mine, a lawyer, quoted her son as saying. With schools closed, social events postponed and workplaces empty, usually busy professionals find themselves at home baking cookies, playing games, watching movies and doing arts and crafts to keep their children occupied. Some are surprised to find they enjoy it.

As anxiety and fear settle over the world, there’s a silver lining to this pandemic. In a self-occupied world, the coronavirus is making people reassess their priorities and values.
I do have a great deal of faith that we're going to come out of this stronger than ever, which will be manifested clearly in 3-5 years. The last time that the nation was this united (and everyone was afraid for their own lives) was World War II, and look what inventions came into use because of it: jet airplanes, nuclear power, synthetic rubber, computers, radar, and penicillin.

Today we have many more smart people who work with much more advanced tools.

Stay safe, control your fear, and await the wonders that will unfold.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Barns and Beaches of Worship

The cowboy church in Merced, CA
Out: churches that are distinguished by theology and worship practices (Catholic, Mormon, Presbyterian, etc.).

In: niche churches whose members share occupations or hobbies.
St. Malachy’s [the Actors’ Chapel] is one of many niche congregations in the U.S.—from skate churches to heavy-metal houses of worship.

They aren’t gimmicks but serious religious projects with clear goals: to reach those who feel unwelcome in traditional religious settings or those whose crowded calendar otherwise would keep them away...

But niche churches aren’t only an urban phenomenon. There are an estimated 1,500 cowboy churches around the country, and many hold services in barns, stables and rodeo arenas. Most attendees have spent their lives around cows and horses. Some simply like cowboy culture...

Other congregations focus on hobbies or personal interests rather than vocation. Salty Church is a nondenominational surf congregation in Ormond Beach, Fla., founded by Pastor Robbie O’Brien more than 15 years ago. He started the church for surfers looking to get closer to God but also come as they were—tattoos, shorts, flowing hair and all.
The coronavirus has forced churches of all sizes, traditions, and niches to conduct their services online.

Today my Episcopal parish in Foster City will hold its first streaming service on YouTube with no Holy Communion (but I'll make up for the absence of wine during the afternoon).

Cheers....I mean, Amen!

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Yellowflake, and I Don't Mean Tuna

I suppose it takes someone of Chinese ancestry to say this to some Asians: quit whining about the "racism" in "Chinese virus."

The plague broke out in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province. The Chinese government covered up the burgeoning catastrophe, and the result is a contagion that has triggered a worldwide recession, and 11,000 deaths so far.

Large swaths of the U.S. are under lockdown, including two of its biggest States:
No state is completely preventing people from going outside or to work, but some measures were more drastic. California Gov. Gavin Newsom effectively banned residents from socializing outside their homes, while New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo went further in cordoning off the elderly and sick populations.
Now China is suggesting the virus' origin was really a U.S. biowarfare project. Here's the tweet from diplomat Zhao Lijian. China through its diplomat just threw the accusation out there with no evidence. The not-made-in-China falsehood needs to be stamped out now by political leaders, journalists, and anyone with a platform. If calling it the "Chinese/China/Wuhan virus" in the daily news conference makes them stop, then good, we all can focus on the real enemy, COVID-19.

A few more comments directed at the young Asians who are triggered by "Chinese virus" and its variations:
  • Get your priorities straight; if some of the many thousands who are working the problem are racist, so what? Sticks and stones.
  • Use this time to toughen yourself. Your parents, grandparents, and ancestors endured far worse discrimination--some of it was the law of the land--and you complain about words, especially words that are not epithets?
  • Report on really offensive speech, if you must, after the crisis has peaked. No one wants to address complaints that are not helping to put out the fire, but the post-mortem phase is the time to go over bad decision-making and morally reprehensible behavior.
  • "Kung flu" is mildly racist, mildly funny, and is far, far from the worst thing I've ever heard. The journalist refuses to name names, btw, so we're not sure the story is even true.
  • The internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II is the most well-known example of modern discrimination against Asians. Despite having their assets seized, their families imprisoned, and their good names sullied, Japanese-Americans responded by giving their lives for the country that mistreated them. To this humble blogger the Nisei soldiers of World War II are the shining example of how to respond to unjust treatment and how to change hearts and minds.
  • To the aggrieved Asian-Americans of today: no one's throwing you into internment camps, and one's asking you to die in the Vosges mountains. Help out however you can, share your complaints with friends and family, and never repay evil with evil.
  • Lastly, physical attacks on Asians should be fully prosecuted, but isn't that one of the dumbest things you've ever heard? Are there really people who beat up those who they think have a deadly, highly contagious disease?
  • Friday, March 20, 2020

    Life is Full of Disappointments, Kid

    Waiting for lattes: what social distancing?
    Exactly one week ago the Foster City Starbucks was packed with youngsters on their computers, tablets, and phones.

    A freshman Ivy leaguer said that his college sent everyone home. He preferred to take his online classes in a social setting like Starbucks, but that option only lasted through the weekend.

    He said his father is not happy about his being home.

    I’d be upset, too, if I'd spent $thousands on room and board and hadn't heard a word about refunds. They'll make good eventually, but refunds can't be high on the list of priorities.

    Thursday, March 19, 2020

    Answers Not Forthcoming

    Kamala Harris, looking thoughtful (Chron photo)
    An executive I used to work for always said that asking the right question is the most important step in working a project. I knew he was right, but I resented him nonetheless.

    While he asked the questions, my job was to figure out the answers, which often involved a large amount of work. He was rarely helpful in helping me obtain them. Did I mention that he went to Harvard Business School?

    I hadn't thought about him for 20 years, that is, until I read about California Senator Kamala Harris' questions to FEMA's Peter Gaynor:: [bold added]
    Harris wanted to know how FEMA would respond if the new virus remained a major public health threat when another potential emergency, including a California wildfire or earthquake, arises.

    She is keenly aware that major fires often force people into packed evacuation shelters, which would currently conflict with the government’s efforts to encourage social distancing and prevent people from gathering large groups.

    “So I asked him, what is the plan? Is there a formal policy to address this issue?” Harris told The Chronicle. “And he basically said ‘We’re learning as we go’ and ‘This has never happened before.’”
    What should we do if an earthquake hits in the midst of a coronavirus lockdown? After saying "we’re screwed", my answer would have been "you're on your own and don't count on the government to save you."

    I considered working for the public sector at one time but didn't think there was a good fit. Was I right?

    Wednesday, March 18, 2020

    A Subdued St. Patrick's Day

    Having spent many a March 17th toasting the patron saint of Ireland, I prepared a boiled dinner of corned beef and cabbage. A simple meal for a reflective time.

    With gatherings of more than 50 people banned throughout the Bay Area and many parts of the country, the American version of St. Patrick's Day stands revealed as little more than an excuse for getting drunk, a "largely secular holiday of revelry and celebration of things Irish."

    Front and Sacramento, St. Patrick's Day 2006
    We're a long ways from seeing the end--or even the middle--of the coronavirus story, but already it's had a permanent impact on how we see the world.

    Danny Boy is often sung during St. Patrick's Day, but its mournful mood clashes with ear-splitting exuberance.

    Now the tone fits.
    But when ye come, and all the flowers are dying,
    If I am dead, as dead I well may be,
    Ye'll come and find the place where I am lying,
    And kneel and say an Ave there for me.

    Tuesday, March 17, 2020

    Yes, Do This at Home

    The quietest Saturday night, probably ever, at BJ's
    It was Pi Day on Saturday, and BJ's Brewhouse was offering a mini-pizza for $3.14. The youngster and I decided to avail ourselves of the promotion, and besides, who knows how much longer we'll be permitted to dine out? (Not long, it turned out.)

    I brought out the canister of Clorox tissues and wiped down our area. Hey, I wasn't the only one doing it. Hypochondriac, thy name is legion.

    We feasted on our pies, made more enjoyable by a $10 coupon that expires on April 5th. It was fortunate that we used it.

    Last night health authorities ordered residents of six Bay Area counties, including San Mateo, to "shelter in place": [bold added]
    Six Bay Area counties announced “shelter in place” orders for all residents on Monday — the strictest measure of its kind yet in the continental United States — directing everyone to stay inside their homes and away from others as much as possible for the next three weeks in a desperate move to curb the rapid spread of coronavirus across the region.

    The directive was set to begin at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday and involves San Francisco, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Marin, Contra Costa and Alameda counties — a combined population of more than 6.7 million. It is to stay in place until at least April 7. The three other Bay Area counties — Sonoma, Solano and Napa — did not issue similar mandates.

    Just outside the Bay Area, Santa Cruz County late Monday also announced a “shelter in place” order for its 275,000 residents.

    The orders — which are all similarly worded — fall just short of a full lockdown, which would forbid people from leaving their homes without explicit permission. The orders (read San Francisco’s here in its entirety at tinyurl.com/waddyqv) call for county and city sheriffs and police chiefs to “ensure compliance,” and local authorities said they would not “rush to enforce” the directives as residents adjusted to understand what activities are no longer allowed. Violation of the orders is considered a misdemeanor punishable by a fine or jail time.

    Businesses that do not provide “essential” services must send workers home. Among those remaining open are grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants for delivery only and hardware stores. Most workers are ordered to stay home, with exceptions including health care workers; police, fire and other emergency responders; and utility providers such as electricians, plumbers and sanitation workers. BART will run for essential travel, and airports are not closing.
    I heard the news on the radio and rushed out to buy some replacement faucets and light fixtures at Home Depot. It was a relief to discover that hardware stores will remain open during the near-lockdown; any project, no matter how small, always involves more than one trip to Home Depot.

    Monday, March 16, 2020

    Waiting for the Shoe to Drop

    One of the few bright spots today was dark gray...the sky, that is. The forecast was accurate; it rained through the weekend. The odds are improving that we'll be spared from water restrictions this summer.

    At 45 °F it was unseasonably cold as I headed to the gym to work up a sweat. Traffic was sparse, even less than on a Sunday morning, with most business offices closed due to the coronavirus.

    There was hardly anyone working out. I didn't even have to wipe down the machines I was going to use; no one had touched them since they were cleaned last night.

    Given the increasing restrictions on indoor gatherings--first it was 500, then 100, then 50--I was surprised that the gym was allowed to stay open. It's not going to last...

    At 8 a.m. on Monday, for the first time ever, there was no one on a treadmill.

    Sunday, March 15, 2020

    A Day of Quiet Contemplation

    Daylight Savings Sunday, 2015
    On a day when many Christians feel a need for communion, the irony is that churches--and secular authorities--have prohibited Sunday gatherings. (Note: over two dozen churches in the Diocese offer remote Episcopal services.)

    It's turned into a day of quiet contemplation for many of us. It's an opportunity for solitude, free from the unquiet and disquieting world.

    Another consequence of social separation is loneliness, the subject of extensive sociological and psychological literature since the mid-20th century. Both loneliness and solitude are aspects of alone-ness, a fundamental human condition.

    Theologian Paul Tillich (1886-1965) wrote how communion with God can grow out of solitude:
    We have seen that we can never reach the innermost center of another being. We are always alone, each for himself. But we can reach it in a movement that rises first to God and then returns from Him to the other self. In this way man’s aloneness is not removed, but taken into the community with that in which the centers of all beings rest, and so into community with all of them. Even love is reborn in solitude. For only in solitude are those who are alone able to reach those from whom they are separated. Only the presence of the eternal can break through the walls that isolate the temporal from the temporal. One hour of solitude may bring us closer to those we love than many hours of communication. We can take them with us to the hills of eternity.

    And perhaps when we ask -- what is the innermost nature of solitude? we should answer -- the presence of the eternal upon the crowded roads of the temporal. It is the experience of being alone but not lonely, in view of the eternal presence that shines through the face of the Christ, and that includes everybody and everything from which we are separated. In the poverty of solitude all riches are present. Let us dare to have solitude -- to face the eternal, to find others, to see ourselves.
    The concept that God is present in the sacrament of marriage, in the church ("when two or three are gathered together"), and other human relationships is found in the Bible.

    Paul Tillich's insight is that God breaks down the alone-ness that separates one from another and is the means by which human beings achieve true communion with Him and with each other.

    Saturday, March 14, 2020

    A Costco Half-Full Kind of Guy

    The bread racks were empty. No gluten this week!
    The Friday local news was rife with reports of warehouse stores being so crowded that shoppers weren't allowed into a store until someone exited. We're well into the second week of the Fear of Running Out (FORO).

    A half an hour before closing last night it was easy to find parking at the Foster City Costco. A couple of items on the list--chicken (all assortments) and onions (5- or 10-lb. bags)--were totally gone.

    However, there were plenty of other alternatives; organic mushrooms, organic broccoli, and flank steak will be on the menu this week. We'll have to make do with what is available, just like my parents and grandparents did. To them even a half-full Costco would be a cornucopia.

    The Skies Brighten

    The lagoon is dry from the lack of rain.
    The early spring weather and fear of COVID-19 chased me from the gym onto the Bay Trail.

    Reportedly, Vitamin D from the sun, as well as supplements and food, helps to ward off respiratory ailments. Warmth was also welcome because it may stem viral diseases. The downside was that it indicated that we will end up having a dry winter despite January's optimism.

    Update--don't give up hope:
    A storm system is expected to bring up to an inch of rain to much of the Bay Area on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service...

    Populated areas and valleys could see a quarter-inch to an inch of rain. Amounts are expected to range from three-quarters of an inch to an inch and a half in the coastal mountains...

    The weather service said long-range forecasts indicate additional storms are possible next week.

    Friday, March 13, 2020

    No Sanctuary

    Bishop Marc Andrus
    Episcopal Bishop Marc Andrus has suspended church services during the month of March:
    I prayerfully ask all churches in the Diocese of California to cancel ALL public worship services for the month of March, with the possible exception of weddings and funerals. This decision will be revisited by March 31, at which time I will communicate our next steps.
    Canceling services is a prudent move by Bishop Andrus. The largest demographic cohort in many congregations is those over 60, who are highly vulnerable to the coronavirus.

    Note: last Sunday we looked askance at CDC adviser William Schaffner, who advised worshippers not to go to church ("Don't go. Be reverent at home"). The fact that Bishop Andrus and other leaders have come to agree with him shows the plight we're in.

    Note 2: Bishop Andrus and other church leaders have criticized President Trump for trying to close the southern border, calling the action "xenophobic" and worse. For the sake of argument let's take President Trump's word that he was trying to protect American citizens and those who are legally here. Now that the Bishop has closed the churches for the protection of church members, how is his motivation and action different from the President's?

    Thursday, March 12, 2020

    Playtime Will Be Over Soon

    City Hall on Wednesday evening
    Their numbers have shrunk--it's no longer new and exciting, and gatherings of strangers are now frowned upon—but the desire of dedicated Pokémon Go aficionados to capture Raid bosses surpasses concerns for one's health.

    There haven't been any reported cases of the coronavirus in our city of 30,000, but that's likely to change in view of nearby outbreaks. Then playtime will truly be over.

    Wednesday, March 11, 2020

    Coronavirus Cloud Doesn't Have a Green Lining

    (BBC image)
    Like many Americans, unfortunate circumstances have caused me to become familiar with hospitals, long-term care homes, medical clinics, and other facilities where cleanliness can be the difference between life and death.

    When minimizing infection is paramount, no one cares about the rubbish that is generated every day: paper towels, disposable wipes, diapers, bed liners, booties, and plastic bags, straws, cups, utensils, gloves, and medical paraphernalia. And no one sorts that detritus into green, blue, and black bins--which by the way are all dumped into landfill in many jurisdictions.

    The use of clean water for a sick individual's laundry, bathing, toilet, and housecleaning dwarfs any savings from using a low-flow shower head.

    Now that everyone's worried about the coronavirus these medical protocols have spread to the general population, where, to no one's surprise, green priorities are ignored:
  • Washing hands frequently with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds is recommended by State and Federal authorities, with nary a peep from local water districts, and everyone does this 10 to 20 times a day.
  • Chemical wipes are used all the time on public surfaces, and no one disapproves. No one frowns at the extra amount of trash.
  • If driving a car to work or school is at all an option, have you seen anyone choosing to put themselves or their kids on a filthy bus or train? Maybe some of them will notice the nanny state "nudges" to move everyone out of their cars.
  • For years Starbucks and other coffee shops offered discounts to customers who bring in reusable (hard plastic, ceramic, metal) cups to reduce trash. The coronavirus has caused Starbucks to suspend this policy for sanitary reasons. (Horrors, do you mean it wasn't sanitary in the first place?)
  • IMHO, we all would be impressed by greens who walk the walk by using eco-friendly organic cleaners to wipe down surfaces and dispose of trash in biodegradable bags. True, they would have to scrub more often than if they used inorganic chemicals, but that's a small price to pay for saving the planet.

    When the coronavirus becomes manageable, I wonder if we'll pay as much attention to the greens as we did before.
  • Tuesday, March 10, 2020

    California Sales Tax: Not High Enough?

    (Tax Foundation graphic)
    California has the highest state-wide Sales Tax rate of 7.25%. When one adds in average local Sales Tax rates, we're #9 at 8.66%.

    Proponents of transportation and housing want to add another full percentage point to the sales tax rate, which would make California #1 overall. [bold added]
    They’re pushing for a single ballot measure that, if approved by two-thirds of voters, would raise sales taxes across the nine counties by 1%, generating $100 billion over 40 years to split between housing and transportation.

    ...backers of the combined ballot measure face an aggressive timeline. Their idea would require state legislation to grant taxing authority to a regional agency. That legislation has to pass both houses with a two-thirds vote by summer recess. It would then need approval by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission before the campaign can draft ballot language in August. And then there’s the challenge of wooing voters, who would have to pass the measure by a two-thirds majority.
    Last July we noted that California has some of the highest gas, sales, and income taxes in the nation. Property tax increases are constrained by Proposition 13, which tax-and-spenders have tried to repeal since 1978 (they're trying again for a partial repeal this November).

    The good news is that, even in this force-them-out-of-their-cars State, the voters had had enough of transportation measures.

    Has the push to expand rail into the Bay Area’s fringes reached the end of the line?
    Suburban voters with long commutes have rejected two tax measures that aimed to drum up funding for roads and transit — raising the question of whether the push to expand rail into the outer reaches of the Bay Area has run its course.
    Marin, Sonoma county voters say no to SMART train tax measure

    Contra Costa County voters reject sales tax for transportation

    The one-party State keeps pushing for more. One of these days the earth will shift, and they'll act surprised.

    Related - too much regulation is antagonizing the Party constituency :
    An overwhelming majority of professionals in fields affected by AB5 [the "anti-gig-worker law"] identify as liberals and have generally voted along the blue line. Today, however, many are so disillusioned with their representatives that they’re changing political loyalties.

    Monday, March 09, 2020

    Market Bottom Not Here Yet

    Including today's drop (so far), the markets are down 10% from a week ago, 20% from the highs.
    As of 11 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time the stock market indices are down 6-7% (it's pointless to give an exact number; it changes materially every second). I've nibbled a little but the markets keep going lower, a reminder of the old Wall Street saying: "never try to catch a falling knife."

  • The markets began falling last month when the coronavirus and a Bernie Sanders presidency, though unlikely, factored into investors' analyses.
  • With Bernie's chances receding, a Saudi oil-price war has replaced the socialist bogeyman. But aren't low oil prices great for consumers? Not in this case, because the Saudis are behaving like classic monopolists: bankrupt the weaker players as well as alternative energy companies, then raise prices.
  • The market's best case is an announcement that a coronavirus vaccine has been developed.
  • The second-best case is that treatments like Gilead's remdesivir stop the sick from getting worse.
  • The third-best case is that the contagion (inevitably) spreads in the U.S. and U.S. fatality rates show that the coronavirus is 2x or 3x worse than the flu. The worst case is that the disease is 10x as bad or more.
  • If we can take the worst case off the table, everyone--businesses, governments, consumers--can adjust accordingly. That will signal the market bottom.
  • I wish I had more cash to invest....
  • So Now They're Nice to Us

    Major airline stocks were down sharply last week: Delta (20.48%), United (34.44%), American (44.53%)
    The coronavirus has resulted in contraction of all travel-related business, in turn triggering abrupt airline flight cancellations and layoffs. San Francisco is particularly affected by cutbacks in United Airlines, the only one of the three major airlines that has a hub in SFO:
    The carrier said Wednesday it plans to store some wide-body jets and is offering staff unpaid leaves of absence in April...United will cut domestic capacity by 10% in April from its previous plan and international flying by 20%
    Those who are not afraid to buy tickets can seize upon great deals. As for those who keep their reservations, the airlines will bend over backward to accommodate them. Below is an e-mail from Bob, who lives on the Peninsula:
    We changed 3 out of our four flight segments with no change fee. The United internet site was going to give us a change fee.

    They also upgraded at no cost every United flight to Economy Plus, window, with vacant seats next to us in the middle. Our first flight is N/S to Singapore, 17.25 hours, the 9th longest commercial flight being flown now, so these good seats will make a difference.

    “Oh we have a lot of economy plus seats ,so we’d be happy to give you , our good frequent flyer, any seat there at no cost. And we so apologize for your long wait time time on hold, so that’s another reason we are giving you the upgrade."
    Stay safe, Bob and Barbara. The good news and bad news is that Singapore has very strict health protocols.

    Sunday, March 08, 2020

    Just Say No Go

    Today's earlier post is about safe health practices during Holy Communion.

    The CDC has another solution:
    [bold added]
    Amid a coronavirus outbreak in the United States, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is encouraging older people and people with severe chronic medical conditions to "stay at home as much as possible"....

    Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University professor and longtime adviser to the CDC, said these two groups should consider avoiding activities such as traveling by airplane, going to movie theaters, attending family events, shopping at crowded malls, and going to religious services...

    "Don't go. Be reverent at home," Schaffner said.
    Matthew 18:20 - "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

    Addressing a Felt Need

    Passing of the Peace, St. Andrew's, Spokane
    The Episcopal service of Holy Communion has two aspects which are worrisome in a period of pandemic:

    Passing the Peace occurs halfway through the service. The congregants greet one another ("The Peace of the Lord be always with you" And also with you) and typically shake hands.

    Receiving the bread and wine (aka "the Host", or the Body and Blood of Christ) includes handling of same by Eucharistic ministers and communal use of the chalice either by drinking from it directly or dipping the bread ("intinction").

    Since January congregations have been modifying their services on their own. There was a felt need, however, to receive instruction, not only to promulgate best practices but also to assure Episcopalians that changes were theologically sound.

    Sunday is a day of rest, partly because someone we trust tells us independent free-thinkers what to do. This week Bishop Marc Andrus told the Diocese of California what to do.
    March 5, 2020

    Dear friends,

    In the name of Christ, I send you my greetings and prayers as, together, we navigate this time of intense concern over the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). As of this writing, health authorities today are confirming new cases of coronavirus in the Bay Area, including six in Santa Clara County, and two in San Francisco. Let us add them to our prayers for all those affected by the pandemic, who also include the thousands of passengers on the Grand Princess Cruise ship currently unable to dock in San Francisco because of coronavirus concerns.

    In light of these developments, and out of love and concern for all, including our neighbors, I now direct all lay and ordained leaders to cease offering communion wine, either for sipping or by intinction, until we learn more about the nature of COVID-19 transmission and are confident the threat of mass infections has passed.

    I also add to our evolving set of guidelines* the ask that all those who touch the communion bread/wafers, including altar guild members, wash their hands for thoroughly beforehand and use hand sanitizer during the service if handling communion elements during that time.

    As I said in Tuesday's letter to the diocese, I understand the tremendous upset that these and other health precautions taken during the coronavirus outbreak may bring to you. As we walk this path together, I hope you will remember that our all-loving God will give us what we ask for from our hearts. On behalf of the entire diocese, thank you for your willingness to alter, temporarily, some of our behavior in favor of protecting one another and the neighbors we serve.

    In Christ,

    Marc Andrus

    *At the peace, please consider alternatives to handshaking or hugging. A nod, a wave, or touching our hands to our hearts are among the many ways we can acknowledge Christ in one another.

    Saturday, March 07, 2020

    The Orb of Riyadh

    2017: President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, King Salman of Saudi Arabia, Melania Trump and
    President Trump during the opening of an anti-extremist center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (NYT)
    There has been no credible explanation* for all the strange events that have occurred since 2016--pandemic, wildfires, droughts, floods, locusts, tornadoes, stock market booms and busts--until yesterday's WSJ reminded us of an all-but-forgotten event in early 2017:
    President Trump produced one of the most memorable photos of his presidency when he placed his hands on a glowing Orb at the opening of a new center to combat Islamic extremism during a visit to Saudi Arabia nearly three years ago.
    To those who are skeptical of the power of the supernatural, we will remind them that many educated people believe that we can magically eliminate all petroleum products like gasoline and plastics without any diminution in our quality of life or can have a government takeover of the entire medical industry, give everyone free medical care, and keep the miracle cures coming.

    Whether the orb is a conduit to the supernatural merits further study, but unfortunately
    It is locked up, largely forgotten, in storage at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh....exactly where U.S. officials won’t say.
    It wouldn't surprise me at all if the orb has been moved to Area 51.
    Gently painted on the evening sky
    By a Hand, infinitely Divine.
    The orange orb rests assuredly--
    -------Lawan, 2016
    *Global warmists may claim credit, but not even they predicted the coronavirus pandemic or the plague of locusts. Furthermore, California was going to have droughts forever until it had four consecutive normal-to-wet winters. If it's science, I say make the prediction! Will we have a bad hurricane season? Will we have a dry or wet winter? If it's obvious in retrospect only, then it's religion (the earth quaked because of our sins).

    Friday, March 06, 2020

    Primal Moment

    When Jill Biden blocked a protestor from approaching her husband on Tuesday, the moment was primal.

    It's not often, these days, that we see a wife and mother leap to the physical defense of her family, an action that women have performed for millennia.

    Joe Biden has staged a remarkable comeback over the past week, but his road to the Presidency faces long odds. With Jill by his side the odds have improved.

    Thursday, March 05, 2020

    Out and About

    Too Much Nudging

    (Image from phillymag)
    Restaurants want their patrons to have a pleasant experience, but where it's most important, i.e., at the point of sale, many customers have become uncomfortable with the new payment touchscreens.
    At checkout, the clerk, someone you see all the time, spins the point-of-sale tablet around to display your tipping options, ranging from a buck to two or even three.

    You feel bad denying a friendly face but did the clerk’s efforts really rise to a level that merits a gratuity, let alone one of 60% or even 100%?
    Payment screens are usually found at establishments with no table service, so no one should feel embarrassed about pressing the "No Tip" button. However, I often do succumb to social pressure and chip in a buck or two under the "Custom Tip" option whenever paying with a card.

    All this nudging for dollars has led me to pay cash more often, not only to avoid these tipping situations but also to prevent the restaurant from acquiring my card number and other personal information. My negative feelings will not reach the point where I stop going to places that have the screens, but if an alternative presents I'll go somewhere else.

    Wednesday, March 04, 2020


    Gardening outfit 
    Surviving the coronavirus may not make us stronger, but it has definitely made us more conscientious.

    I wash my hands as frequently as a hypochondriac and wear a mask whenever there are chemicals or dust in the air.

    A mask is poor protection against the virus, but it does mitigate weakening of the lungs before the virus breaches the castle walls.

    Some purple prose from Poe, for perspective:
    Plague doctor (allthatsinteresting)
    And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.

    Tuesday, March 03, 2020

    FORO (Fear of Running Out)

    The chicken was sold out at FC Costco.
    Bay Area residents often look askance at the hoarding behavior of other Americans hunkering down for (or fleeing) hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes, but when put to the test by coronavirus, we're no better:
    Bare shelves and frayed nerves were on full display over the weekend at Bay Area grocery stores as the coronavirus continued to spread.

    Shoppers described chaotic scenes, many of which were shared on social media: stacks of rice and toilet paper snatched up within seconds, checkout lines that snaked through entire stores, and jam-packed parking lots reminiscent of Christmas Eve.
    I have been restocking more frequently, but not to the extent of amassing above-normal levels of supplies. (Think of it as refilling the gas tank when it is half full and not waiting until the one-quarter mark.) A 50-lb. bag of rice, plus 20 cans of spam, will ensure survival through summer.

    Note: preparing for the coronavirus is easier than it is for natural disasters, when one cannot assume water, power, and communications, including WiFi, will be operational.

    Monday, March 02, 2020

    Seize (Cease?) the Reservation

    Starting a restaurant is always uncertain, but in this fear-filled environment, the risks may be overwhelming:
    Easy to get a table at pricey Mr. Jiu's
    in SF Chinatown (Chron photo)
    San Francisco Chinatown restaurants have seen the neighborhood’s streets empty out because of misplaced concerns and suspected xenophobia. Other restaurant owners aren’t sure exactly why business has dipped, but mounting fears around the coronavirus as cases emerge in Northern California could be the answer...

    Christopher Kostow, executive chef at the three-Michelin-starred Restaurant at Meadowood in Napa Valley...said some cancellations stemmed from international tourists who opted out of their vacation plans, while others were domestic visitors newly nervous about coming to the Bay Area after San Francisco Mayor London Breed declared a state of emergency.
    We walked into a popular Japanese restaurant last Friday and were seated immediately.

    We had our pick of tables. Service was prompt, the sashimi was fresh, and the presentation was attractive (right).

    As the Good Book says, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow...

    Sunday, March 01, 2020

    Balm in Gilead

    Gilead HQ in Foster City on a Saturday morning in 2015.
    Pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences hasn't excited stock analysts for years. Due to the paucity of new medications in the pipeline, GILD traded 30% lower than in 2015.

    Last week Gilead was back in the headlines because the World Health Organization spoke highly of its proprietary drug:
    Shares of American biotech firm Gilead Sciences rose nearly 5% Monday after an official from the World Health Organization said that Gilead's drug remdesivir is showing signs that it may be able to help treat the deadly coronavirus.

    "There is only one drug right now that we think may have real efficacy and that's remdesivir," Bruce Aylward, an assistant director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), said at a press conference in Beijing.
    Testing on remdesivir and potential vaccines will take months, a seemingly interminable wait in a world in which we expect miracles to occur at light-speed.

    For perspective Gilead Sciences took its name from an ancient reference to a healing substance that originated from a region in Jordan. Jeremiah 8:22:
    Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?
    The passage inspired the spiritual:
    There is a balm in Gilead
    To make the wounded whole;
    There is a balm in Gilead
    To heal the sin-sick soul.
    Some times I feel discouraged,
    And think my work’s in vain,
    But then the Holy Spirit
    Revives my soul again.