Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Simpler Life, for a While

(The above WSJ graph shows the percentage year-over-year reduction in the number of varieties per product category.)

May 28: only whole chicken, but at least it's organic
A couple of months ago we observed how only whole chicken was at the time available at Costco; the packages of parts--breasts, wings, drumsticks, and thighs--were nowhere to be found.

But it's not just food; broad sections of the consumer industry are winnowing their product offerings: [bold added]
Some IGA Inc. grocery stores now offer only four choices of toilet paper. A few months ago, before the coronavirus pandemic, IGA’s 1,100 U.S. stores typically carried about 40 varieties.

Harley-Davidson Inc. has cut some models from its motorcycle lineup. Outback Steakhouse has stripped roughly 40% of its menu, is studying whether customers care and may drop some items for good even after the pandemic...

Restaurants are thinning menus as Covid-19 changes how they can seat and serve customers. For years, eateries used new menu items to attract customers. Those often required chains to buy more ingredients and train employees, while complicating customer ordering...

Last year, auto makers built and offered more than 605,000 vehicle configurations even before taking different colors into account, according to industry research firm J.D. Power. In auto showrooms today, U.S. buyers will likely find choices more limited for now because of supply-chain bottlenecks and lower volumes, said Doug Betts, president of the firm’s automotive division...

Consumer choice in meat aisles has narrowed as Covid-19 outbreaks among meatpacking-plant workers in late April forced meatpackers like Tyson Foods Inc., JBS USA Holdings Inc. and Cargill Inc. to temporarily shut plants and allocate workers to lines producing more basic products, meat-company executives have said.

The result in grocery stores has been more bone-in hams and chicken breasts with ribs attached that require less hands-on cutting in plants. Though meat plants have resumed operations, many workers have continued to stay home. “Right now,” said Will Sawyer, economist for agricultural lender CoBank, “the processors are more focused on supply than they are the convenience.”
It does look like we will have to live in a world of fewer choices for a while. That's what happens when it's a supplier's market for an extended period.

When the manufacturers and supermarkets go looking for customers again, the niche offerings will return.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Mom at 91

2006: Dad, 80, and Mom, 76 in San Mateo
Mom's birthday was much more subdued than last year when she turned 90.

Her assisted-living facility is under lockdown---visitors must meet her outside in very small groups, wear masks, and keep apart by a minimum of 6 feet. One of my brothers did take her to lunch in one of the few restaurants with table service.

All her children and grandchildren called and/or wrote. She happily panned the room with her iPad camera to show me her gifts on FaceTime.

Happy Birthday, Mom, and many more.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Look to the Heartland

"How Cincinnati Salvaged the Nation’s Most Dangerous Neighborhood" (Politico, 2016)
The spiritual hollowness of an all-consuming "greed-is-good" mentality has spread beyond Wall Street into other business settings, and in the startup mentality it's found fertile ground.

Here in the Bay Area we pay lip service to work-life balance, but in order to get to the top of the mountain many find that they have to cast aside the weights that are slowing them down, i.e., marriage, children, family, religious observance, and education outside of their specialty.

Efforts to right the ship, especially if they come from a Christian sensibility, don't get heard because of the scorn for traditional values that permeates this region (an exception is made for Christians who mouth their fealty to the anti-structural-racism, social-justice, and group-identity objectives of progressivism, but that is a topic for another day).

To find a place where religious solutions are given a sincere trial one has to go geographically and culturally remote fly-over country, a place like Cincinnati.
welcome to the worlds of both Christian and startup evangelism—worlds that, as recent trends in the American Midwest demonstrate, are increasingly intertwined...as the demographics of tech have become incrementally more Midwestern, those regional outposts have also set about remaking the industry in their own likeness—particularly where matters of faith are concerned...

Kristi Zuhlke
But perhaps the most interesting part of the Midwestern convergence of faith and technology, the most salient for believers and nonbelievers alike, is the way people there have begun to question the culture of tech entrepreneurship—and try to make it more humane. “Being an entrepreneur, you go through some very dark moments,” says Kristi Zuhlke, the 37-year-old cofounder of KnowledgeHound, a Chicago-based data visualization startup. “Raising funding is very lonely. You're basically convincing everyone that your idea is amazing while they constantly shoot you down.” It's the sort of thing that can make people question their faith, she continued, “or, if you don't have a faith, you start to clamor for hope that there's light at the end of the tunnel.”

Cincinnati, which has become one of the Midwest's leading tech cities, has also become a hub for people trying to find some relief from the loneliness at the heart of an industry that prizes unending drive and competition.
Cincinnati reached its nadir in 2001, when after decades of business closures and white flight, unarmed black teenager Timothy Thomas was shot and killed by police. Riots ensued, dozens were arrested, and $millions in property damage occurred.

Today Cincinnati is on its way back (Democratic Mayor John Cranley: “the Cincinnati Miracle") with a tech-based revival fueled by public-private-nonprofit seed capital.

Its resurgence has been paralleled by the growth of Crossroads, a Cincinnati-based church with tens of thousands of members who attend services physically and online. Many Crossroads attendees are themselves entrepreneurs who have created business-counseling-financial networks of kindred spirits.

American innovations in technology and culture have often come out of the West, but I suspect that in the 21st century we will be looking to its heartland.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Beyond the Outer Limits

Yesterday, we commented on the threat to American cities from the spiral of urban flight, declining services, higher taxes, more urban flight, etc. Reihan Salam of the Manhattan Institute elaborates:
As cities grow poorer and less populous, and as public employees come to represent an even larger share of those with meaningful political influence, urban populists may promise to redistribute whatever wealth is left—which in turn will contribute to further outmigration...urban residents aren’t a captive audience. Cities are facing a much more competitive landscape than they were even six months ago. Those that succeed will do so by offering the highest quality of life at a price that won’t cause sticker shock. That is the surest route to maintaining urban communities that are more integrated, prosperous and just—a goal worthy of this moment.
Before the coronavirus San Francisco and Silicon Valley high-paying jobs, coupled with the unavailability of affordable homes, caused developers to test the limits of "super-" commuting by building homes that require a commute of up to two hours one-way.

A Chronicle ad for Chico, which few San Franciscans have even driven through since it's not on Hwy 5.
The COVID-19 recession and civil unrest have prompted home-building beyond the outer limits of a practical commute from San Francisco. An ad section for homes in Chico, nearly three hours away, appeared in the Chronicle last week.

Developers are betting that their cheaper-but-not-cheap-looking product will appeal to first-home buyers who can telecommute from San Francisco.

I'm betting they're right.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Green Acres is the Place to Be

The Grand-Dewyse family will spend more time in Errancourt
2 hours NE of Paris when the child comes (WSJ photo)
The move out of the cities is occurring worldwide:
Fears of a second wave of infections and the ease of remote working are prompting families with children, pensioners and some young people to question the long-term benefits of city life.

In the U.S., 39% of urban dwellers said the Covid-19 crisis prompted them to consider leaving for less densely populated areas, according to a Harris poll of 2,050 adults conducted in late April.

In France, 38% of potential home buyers widened their searches further from big cities as they sought gardens and an extra room for remote working during the pandemic, according to a survey mid-May by French real-estate portal SeLoger.

In Germany, where economic activity is more spread out across the country, demand for houses in rural areas has risen steadily since lockdowns began in mid-March, according to online real-estate portal ImmoScout24.
Some historians think the urban exodus is short-lived:
Examples from past crises—from the Spanish flu of 1918 to wars in Europe and 9/11 in New York City—show that urban exiles tend to return, researchers say.
Your humble blogger believes that this time is different; the de-population of urban centers won't reverse itself for at least 20 years. As services like fire, education, health, transportation, and police are asked to do more on frozen budgets, businesses and the middle and upper classes flee--not all at once, to be sure--but enough so that the tax base erodes. Services are further reduced, and the flight continues. The admittedly extreme example is Detroit, a once-great American city that has never recovered from the 1967 riots.

We are entering a downward spiral that is extremely difficult to turn around. Almost everyone wants to feel safe where they live, and cities are going in the opposite direction with COVID-19. (Defunding of police forces might be the last straw for many American urban dwellers.)

If you have property in the city, sell it. If you are considering a move into the city, rent, don't buy. Even better, don't do it.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Polish Joke

Cauliflower polonaise (riverford)
A real text: "Please do not put any Chopin the dishwasher."

(Yes, I know she meant "chopsticks in the dishwasher.")

A text reply that I didn't send: "But they had polonaise sauce on them."

I know that once you explain a mild joke the humor is drained away, but here goes: his Polonais(es) are some of the most famous pieces in classical music, so the juxtaposition of dishwasher and Chopin was an opportunity not to be lost. Like I said, drained away.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020


"Spinning squirrel on Randy
Lindorff’s birdfeeder" (WSJ)
In their loneliness and boredom home-shelterers are befriending backyard squirrels:
For people whose social lives have ground to a halt during the pandemic, squirrels are a cheap date. Sales of squirrel feeders are up. A video featuring a squirrel obstacle course designed by a former NASA engineer scored more than 28 million views in less than a month. Some squirrel watchers are bonding with the rodents, even welcoming them into their homes.
But remember the wet-market bats? The Washington Post reminds us on June 19th that animals can possibly transmit the coronavirus to humans (and vice versa, by the way):
After reports of infected dogs emerged from Hong Kong, they said there was no evidence animals could transmit the virus to humans. Now, the CDC says there is no evidence animals “play a significant role” in transmission but advises socially distancing pets from non-household members and isolating pets from people with covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
I don't mind the squirrels taking the occasional fruit, but it's irritating that they leave it half-eaten on the lawn. And now they can potentially kill us, too. It's a nutty, squirrelly world.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

HSR: Still Lingering

We were highly skeptical when we first looked at the high-speed rail (HSR) project, which has grown more problematic with each passing year:
Merced-Bakersfield route (Chron graphic)
Since 2012 we've been commenting on the complicated design, pie-in-the-sky ridership assumptions, and cost overruns of the California high-speed rail project.

On February 12, 2019 Governor Newsom effectively killed the project by announcing that he would only commit to completing the Central Valley line between Merced (pop. 83,000) and Bakersfield (pop. 376,000).
One could have reasonably expected the coronavirus to put HSR out if its misery (since many riders have soured on germ-ridden mass transit), but one would be wrong. It's being kept alive as a jobs program for powerful unions and the hope that a President Biden ("a train guy") would reverse the Trump Administration position and support Federal funding.

If the Republican Party were just slightly competitive in California, Democrats would fear wasting $billions on HSR when the State is facing a $54-billion-dollar deficit. Democrats guess that they won't pay a price in November, and they're probably right.

Monday, June 22, 2020

It's For Our Protection

Magazine rack: a pre-2020 relic.
At the doctor's office I like to browse through magazines that I would not otherwise read.

There are medical journals that I don't have access to, alumni magazines, and longer-form periodicals like the Atlantic and New Yorker. The racks have been cleared because of the coronavirus, and we're the poorer for it.

If you live long enough, you'll see history repeating itself, often ironically. Up to the mid-20th century books such as Ulysses, Tropic of Cancer, and Lady Chatterley's Lover were censored by the rubes, blue-noses, and anti-Communists. (Side note to the young ones: the phrase "banned in Boston" once was in common use.)

Now books are being removed from libraries and schools because of objectionable ideas, and printed material is disappearing because of the virus. It's all being done to keep us safe from physical and mental contagion.

And this time it's the smart people who are doing it.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Father's Day, 2020

After being fairly well-behaved, I threw out the healthy-food regimen on Father's Day and went to Jollibee, the Philippine fast-food chain with several outlets in the Bay Area.

It was time for palabok ("a traditional Filipino noodle dish covered in garlic sauce, crushed pork rind, shrimp, and egg"), burger steak smothered in gravy, and fried chicken, which also had gravy on the side.

The family went along, though the dishes aren't their favorites, because it's the one day where the man of the house is still the man of the house.

I'll take an extra Lipitor tonight.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

A Little Bit of Funny

The coronavirus being on everyone's mind lately, I expected this real-estate story to be about changes in how to display a property:
When Buyers and Sellers Bare It All
Sure, that makes sense. Denude the house of all furniture, pictures, beds, etc. which can carry germs. Renters and buyers need to feel safe. Staging houses is out, stripping houses is in.

Actually, the headline describes mildly amusing real estate anecdotes that would have been more interesting in a bygone era:
in the middle of the showing the woman comes out of the bedroom into the living room with her robe flying open. She was naked...She just walked out of the room with a bra in her hand. She acted like she didn’t think I was going to be there, but she knew I was because I had spoken to her before the showing. I was showing the apartment to a couple. The three of us went wide-eyed and I said, “I think we should reschedule.”...Her display of nudity was just a tactic to scare off potential buyers.
(Realtor magazine photo)
Another prospect did more than test the handles in the shower:
He was still in no rush. He finished his shower and got out. The apartment was staged, and there was a stage towel that he used to dry off. Thankfully he put his clothes back on.
Come to think of it, with all the worries about COVID-19, civil unrest, and a crippled economy, we can use a little bit of funny.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Easy to Put Down

A weighty tome
Months of sheltering in place have yielded numerous benefits (to those who can handle the economic pain of not working), among which are cracking open books that one never could find the time for.

Apparently, reading War and Peace is now a thing:
Americans have been so desperate for diversion they are reaching for fat literary works that taunted them from their bookshelves for years—the same ones many have falsely claimed at dinner parties to have read...

Tolstoy’s plot traces the upended lives of the Rostov and Bolksonsky families, weaving in and out of the aristocratic salons of Moscow and St. Petersburg before moving on to the battlefield. Pages dwell on gambling, carousing, dueling and love scenes, while an unanticipated disaster (in this case Napoleon) approaches.
After Hawaii, my 2nd Michener book
Long before the distractions of the internet and 500-channel television, your humble blogger went through a James Michener phase. 800+-page tomes like Hawaii, Iberia, Chesapeake, the Source, and Centennial did require setting aside at least a couple of weeks apiece but I did manage to finish all of them.

(In order to impress you, dear reader, I could attribute such dedication to a thirst for knowledge, but that would be wrong. Pronounced introversion plus an almost OCD-like compulsion to finish every book were stronger reasons.)

It's a sign of how much my reading has deteriorated that I'm having a great deal of trouble completing Pride and Prejudice, which clocks in at a mere 272 pages.

There really should not be any difficulty because Jane Austen's writing is not abstruse, plus I have the motivation finally to learn to recognize the Austen references that pervade our culture; at least once a week a Hallmark movie has a character named "Darcy" who falls in love with "Elizabeth".

(In my defense I find English manners in the 19th century to be stupefying, when women can only meet the male object of their desire by being properly introduced through a mutual acquaintance, they spend chapters discussing how they can manipulate the mutual acquaintance, woman and man have the meeting where a few words are spoken, then the women discuss for chapters what the words meant. Arrggh.)

I'd better finish Pride in the coming week, because if the lockdown ends I won't. I did enjoy one movie version, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, where the Bennet sisters, bosoms heaving, defend themselves against the undead with martial arts and swordplay. If only Jane Austen had written about George Wickham dining on brains, it would have been a faster read...

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Dwindling Knowledge, Dwindling Value

Taking the VW Bug for its weekly outing, I left the keys in the ignition when I stopped at Starbucks for a blackeye.

All was well upon returning. A 2016 survey revealed that only 18% of Americans know how to drive a stick...and I suspect that most of the skilled are over 50. So there was little risk in leaving the keys.

Periodically one hears of a car hijacking that is foiled because the thief can't operate a manual transmission.

Other advantages of driving an ancient automobile: 1) no GPS for Big Brother to track; 2) A terrorist EMP attack would cripple newer cars only; 3) No biennial smog check.

Like the fancy bamboo slide rule my Dad gave me, the Bug has value only to someone who knows how to use it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

National Geographic Features Another Strange Culture

Venice Beach Boardwalk (National Geographic photo)
One silver lining in the California drought of the mid-1970's--a cloudless silver lining, to be sure--was that swimming pools were empty, skateboarders took advantage, and the modern skate board movement was born:
[Steve Alba], Salba (as he’s known), now 57, was among the second wave of pioneering skateboarders after the Z-Boys, so named for the Zephyr surfboard shop in Santa Monica that they frequented. He helped popularize vertical, or “vert,” skateboarding during the 1970s, when a severe drought in Southern California kept many residents from filling their swimming pools.

The deep bowls in today’s custom-designed skate parks are modeled after the private pools that Salba and his gang used to sneak into, merrily launching their daredevil sky-bound tricks before the police came.
Now an Olympic sport, skateboarding is on the verge of breaking out:
The skate parks of Southern California—now influencing public spaces all over the world—are themselves copies of denuded urban thoroughfares. They emulate the outlaw tradition of skateboarding as a reimagination of staid, orderly cityscapes. Staircases, park benches, guardrails—they’re all there to be skated on.
Your humble blogger has never skateboarded--and will never do so now that aging knees make walking downhill a challenge--but as cities are being re-imagined the boarders' "scruffy DIY ethos" has become pervasive among the influential under-30 crowd.

Skateboarders sandbagged in Venice, CA (laist.com)
A couple of months ago a brief controversy ensued when authorities filled the Venice Beach Skate park with sand, and enthusiasts tried to remove the obstacle by hand. The health officials won, but as more becomes known about transmission of the coronavirus in the sunny outdoors they are looking sillier by the day. I don't think they'll try this again the next time.

Below: Steve Salba and the next generation hang out by the pool.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The World Turned Upside Down, But in a Nice Way

Looking west toward San Mateo
It's a nice picture of San Mateo from across the lagoon, but what is that odd-looking bird near the top with a streamer behind it?

Sometimes the skies are so bright and the water so still that one can't tell if a picture is upside down, which this one is.

Yes, that's a duck a-swimming.

You can't believe everything you see, especially on the internet.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Your Choice: The Dumbest Idea or the Worst Slogan Ever

Willie Brown in SFPD's 2018 lip-sync video
Grey eminence Willie Brown--rich, fashionable, extremely successful as California Speaker and Mayor of San Francisco--doesn't hesitate to call 'em as he sees 'em though it may not be what his Democratic Party colleagues want to hear.

According to Willie Brown there is no way "defund the police" is a winner: [bold added]
The call to “defund the police” as part of the anti-racism, anti-police-brutality movement is either one of the dumbest ideas of all time or the hands-down winner of the worst slogan ever.

...But many defenders of the concept say they don’t really mean defund — they mean reimagine. Take away dealing with homeless people from police, for example, and re-steer the money for that to social services programs.

Fine. Let’s talk about how to do that. But we’re starting from a terrible disadvantage because of that “defund” slogan...

People are legitimately shocked by the police misconduct they see on TV and social media. But everyone still wants the assurance that when they dial 911, a cop is on the way.

You take away people’s feelings of personal safety, and you lose voters.
While I do agree that we should restrict the number of interactions between armed public servants--for example, taking accident reports, clearing homeless encampments, and reporting internet scams may well be offloaded to someone other than the police--asking the public to distinguish types of incidents then calling the right number is too much of a burden. I like the simplicity of "911", which like Google's home page can branch off in a multitude of directions.

Final thought, not original: they meant "defund the police" and tried to retreat to "re-imagine the police" after the outcry. A sensible riposte is why didn't you say "reimagine" in the first place?

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Recognizing the Enemy

A mobile version was the only update
the 1919 Protestant Union Bible needed
After receiving their MBA degrees, two of my business-school classmates decided the pursuit of filthy lucre wasn't for them and entered seminary. One became an Episcopal priest, and the other, a Chinese-American evangelical, went to Hong Kong. I thought of him when the Chinese Communist Party announced that it was producing its own version of the Bible: [bold added]
the party sees Christianity, which some estimates suggest is the country’s fastest-growing religion, as a unique threat. [Duke Professor Xi] Lian cites three major reasons. First, Christianity is an international religion. Bonds of affection and solidarity link Christians around the world to their brethren in China.

Second, it is congregational: “You have this ability to mobilize a stable, reliable community.” Congregations helped topple dictatorships in South Korea and Poland. Third, and perhaps most important, Christianity’s “transcendent vision, transcendent values” present the Communist Party with an insuperable “moral and ideological rivalry,” Mr. Lian says, because Chinese people largely see the party’s Marxist-Leninist foundation as a spent force.
Over the centuries translating the Bible has required knowledge and dedication far beyond that of your average scholar. Those undertaking the task must not only be fluent in Greek, Hebrew, and the destination language but know when to deviate from a word-for-word translation in order to capture the poetry of Biblical passages. The CCP version will not only be a crude effort, but the language will be bowdlerized to comport with Marxist ideology:
Purging passages deemed incompatible with “core socialist values” while retaining a measure of the original poetry—this would require literary achievement and deep religious knowledge, both of which are lacking in the party’s handpicked experts.
Joseph Stalin thought little of the power of religion when he asked, "How many divisions does the Pope have?"

67 years after Stalin's death the Soviet Union exists no longer, and Christianity has been targeted as a threat by the most powerful Communist government on earth. Xi Jinping may be ascendant today, but the same fate awaits his attempt to suppress and alter truths that have lasted millennia.

The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceeding fine.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Plus ça change

One of the required books in 1960's history classes was Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August. It was a very readable account of the entangled alliances and misunderstandings that led to World War I.

What made me think of the "Great War" was its catalytic event--the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria. Not only did the murder of one man eventually lead to the death of millions, but it also resulted in profound changes in economics, philosophy, the arts, technology, religion, and politics. Also, the failure of Tsarist Russia in World War I triggered the Russian Revolution, an event which affected the rest of the 20th Century.

How crazy those people were, this schoolboy thought. Things would never get so out of control nowadays over the death of one man few had heard of.

Like the Archduke Ferdinand, the killing of one man, George Floyd, by the police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis in May has mushroomed unimaginably. Nationwide protests, looting, and riots have been the result, with millions agreeing that "structural racism" has been built into the bones of America since its founding.

One man, one death, one crime---and suddenly the world's one indispensable nation of 330 million people is rotten to the core.

I am not going to dismiss or deride the feelings of those who are upset, but this geezer has seen such emotion many times before. Programs will be started, most of which will be ineffectual.

All this, too, shall pass.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Just Like a Picnic

The Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) is less than
two miles from the Space Needle and Pike Place Market.
On Tuesday Antifa militants took over six blocks of downtown Seattle in the Capitol Hill area, including the East Precinct Police Station.

It's a sign of news polarization that your humble blogger learned of it through conservative media, some of which are likening the takeover to the armed insurrection by the Confederacy.

Looks like fun in the sun (Seattle Times photo)
As for liberal publications, the San Francisco Chronicle as of this writing has zero mention of the story, not even on the back pages. (It's a conservative belief that a biased media buries stories unfavorable to Democrats until they are forced to cover them.)

President Trump has made noises about sending in the military to re-establish control, while the Governor of Washington and the Mayor of Seattle dismiss the ongoing situation as minor.

The Seattle Times, which of course has to report on the story, has chosen to cover it from the human-interest side much as it would a picnic. The first three paragraphs:
Welcome to the CHAZ, the newly named Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, where most everything was free Tuesday.

Free snacks at the No-Cop Co-op. Free gas masks from some guy’s sedan. Free speech at the speaker’s circle, where anyone could say their piece. A free documentary movie — Ava DuVernay’s “13th” — showing after dark.

A Free Capitol Hill, according to no shortage of spray paint on building facades. And perhaps most important to demonstrators, the neighborhood core was free of uniformed police.
A mask-wearing family! (Don't
show anyone without a mask)
Hey, free food, free movies, free gas masks. Except for the guys openly carrying guns, the air is filled with peace, love, and understanding.

President Trump would be wise to let Seattle and Washington State handle the situation. It's way too early to give the political opposition a photo-op of the tanks rolling in. (Too much like Hungary, for you old-timers.)

As of this moment the area is controlled by a peaceful mob (an oxymoronic phrase, to be sure) but the situation is unlikely to remain stable. Without a police presence the temptation of a few bad actors to loot businesses and perhaps residences will be too strong to resist. At that point Seattle police will have to step in (frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if the area isn't already crawling with undercover cops.)

Show them you believe in Federalism, Mr. President, and wait for an invitation.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

In Giving We Shall Receive

People with blood type O have reduced risk of contracting the coronavirus. Even if they do get infected, the symptoms are less severe: [bold added]
O-positive: the largest plurality
23andMe on Monday published a potentially significant finding that people with the blood type O were on average 14% less likely than other blood types (A, B, AB) to get Covid and 19% less likely to be hospitalized after accounting for age, sex, comorbidities, ethnicity and body mass.

Among exposed individuals, O blood types were 19% less likely to test positive. There appeared to be little difference in susceptibility among other blood types.
Your humble blogger is O+, which means that he can donate to all positive blood types, i.e., over 90% of the population. (O- is the true universal donor.) However, "O's" can only receive blood from other "O's".

In return for this giving-receiving asymmetry, nature has granted "O's" greater resistance to COVID-19. Life does not come with guarantees, but it doesn't hurt to have statistics--and luck--on your side.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

They Didn't Think This Through

Washington, DC (abc.net.au)
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser has renamed a street leading to the White House "Black Lives Matter Plaza" and had the slogan painted in huge yellow letters on it.

"Black Lives Matter" murals and street signs are springing up all over.

I wonder if politicians have thought this through. The understanding that overt political messaging is forbidden on public property has been resoundingly overturned by officials who created the well-meaning signage.

Is "Black Lives Matter" spray-painted on a a fire-station wall still a crime? The graffiti artist was just emulating the example of the mayor.

If it isn't a crime, what about painting "All Lives Matter?" Any attempt to criminalize "All Lives Matter" counter-signage will be viewed as more liberal hypocrisy, i.e., free speech for me but not for thee.

People are already resentful of being scolded and even arrested for gathering in crowds while public health officials make an exception for politics they support.

It strains credulity that police defunding, dismantling, and disbanding is seriously being discussed when riots have destroyed city blocks across America.

Like the super-volcano under Yellowstone, I sense an anger building quietly beneath the surface. It will explode in November, and not in the direction that the headline writers hope for.

Concluding note: your humble blogger has long ago ceased to be angry about hypocrisy, injustice, and unfairness. Getting worked up about politics--or anything that I have no control over--is injurious to health.

Once this blows over, and it will in short-attention-span America, I will work toward improving the lives of the less fortunate as I have been doing for a while.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

A Benefit Program That Ends After 155 Years

World War II is remembered by a dwindling number of Americans and World War I by almost no one (the last WWI veteran of any nation died in 2012). The last survivor of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake died in 2016.

Which makes it all the more remarkable that veterans' benefits from the Civil War (1861-1865) were being paid until this month.
Irene Triplett (1930-2020, WSJ)
Irene Triplett, the last person receiving a pension from the U.S. Civil War, has died at the age of 90.

Ms. Triplett’s father, Mose Triplett, started fighting in the war for the Confederacy, but defected to the North in 1863. That decision earned his daughter Irene, the product of a late-in-life marriage to a woman almost 50 years his junior, a pension of $73.13 a month from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Mose Triplett (WSJ)
Mose Triplett fathered his daughter in 1930 when he was 83 years old. By all accounts he had an undistinguished life:
a civilian with a reputation for orneriness, [he] kept pet rattlesnakes at his home near Elk Creek, N.C. He often sat on his front porch with a pistol on his lap.

“A lot of people were afraid of him,” his grandson, Charlie Triplett, told the Journal.
If you live long enough, it's probable that you'll become famous. In the case of father and daughter, their combined longevity put them in the history books.

Monday, June 08, 2020

The San Francisco Meaning of the Rule of Law

If you want to accelerate the death of the formerly beautiful City by the Bay, here's how to do it.

Chronicle: "Supervisor Dean Preston introduced legislation in April that would permanently bar landlords from evicting tenants."
Preston’s legislation would not cancel rent, or absolve the tenants from ever having to pay it. Instead, it would make San Francisco’s current moratorium permanent by forbidding landlords from ever using the missed payments as a grounds for eviction — regardless of when the public health emergency ends.
Under the proposal unpaid rent is legally owed to the landlord, but there is no consequence to the tenant for not paying. The tenant has effectively acquired the benefits of property ownership for zero dollars. No, it's even better than an owner, because the tenant doesn't owe property taxes or mortgage payments or have to buy fire insurance to satisfy a lender.

My suggestion would be that 1) anyone who leases property from the City not pay the rent and 2) landlords--maybe all property owners?--not pay property taxes to the City and County of San Francisco.

Let the City claim in court why only contracts that benefit the City should be enforced.

Sunday, June 07, 2020

The Episcopal Church Unmasked

In the days after 9/11 no one in the general public knew much about why or how it happened. There was more FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis.

The twin towers were still a smoking ruin, and hope of finding survivors was fading. We were afraid to ride a train or airplane or attend a ball game or concert or go back to work in our high-rises.

Who were the terrorists who had slaughtered thousands of innocents? Where would they strike next? The anger was starting, and it was unfocused because we only had a general idea of where the terrorists came from.

I went to a crowded evening service that week to pray for wisdom and guidance and the souls of those who died.

The church did mention those subjects but had a different emphasis. The message from the pulpit was about forgiveness. Priests were already worried that we would lash out in anger at those who looked like the terrorists or those who came from the same countries.

That was one of the reasons I like going to church--to remind us how we can be better, to appeal to the better angels of our nature.

Over the years I've become alarmed at the changes in my church. In the name of social justice priests ask us to forgive some people but I've seen them become angry at those with different political views.

I still remember, while attending a convention before the 2016 election, how a lay delegate spoke against electing someone who would create a "vile" Supreme Court. (It was a middle-aged white woman from Marin County--see how stereotypes are created?)

Variants of this sign are in front of every Episcopal Church.
In the past week I've seen how Episcopal bishops, priests, and lay people have become extraordinarily upset by President Trump holding a Bible in front of St. John's Church.

Whether his photo-op was "appropriate" is controversial, but his right to do so on a public sidewalk cannot be in dispute.

The Episcopal Church in the 21st century: its leaders preach peace, love, and forgiveness when 3,000 are murdered in New York but fulminate against a President whom they loathe--yes, they should admit it!--taking a picture in front of a church.

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Bottoms Up

Last week Friday, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta spoke (YouTube video above) about the death of George Floyd. This was before the political battle lines were drawn, talking points were crafted by the various sides, and the essays on America's history of racism and police brutality were updated.

Though unscripted, it struck a thoughtful balance between sorrow and anger both at the murder of an innocent man and the riots that were destroying parts of Atlanta.

Leadership expert Sam Walker breaks down the components of her effective presentation. Excerpts:
1. Ditch the Notes: She never broke eye contact.

2. Lose the Badge: “I am a mother to four black children in America, one of whom is 18 years old. And when I saw the murder of George Floyd, I hurt like a mother would hurt.” This brought her down to eye level with everyone.

3. Show Vulnerability: “I called my son and I said, ‘Where are you?’ ” The fear showed on her face. Her voice quavered as if she might cry. “I said, ‘I cannot protect you. A black boy shouldn’t be out today.’ ”

4. Focus on Behavior: Telling them, “you are disgracing our city,” was quite different from saying “You are a disgrace to our city.”

5. Be Fierce, But Offer Solutions: “You’re not protesting anything, running out with brown liquor in your hands, breaking windows in this city,” she shouted....Here, at the peak of volume, the mayor offered a better solution. “If you want change in America, go and register to vote,” she said. “Show up at the polls on June 9. Do it in November. That is the change we need in this country.”

6. Show Control: Ms. Bottoms made it clear, right away, that she hadn’t shown up in a lather. “Let me just speak to what’s happening here, today,” she calmly began. In the first minute, her pace was slow, controlled and deliberate. Later, after fully unleashing her “red” emotion, the mayor quickly went “blue” again. She fell silent for three full seconds.

7. Reel It Back: Early on, Ms. Bottoms had leaned on two pronouns, “I” and then “you.” As her speech wound down, she added a third. “We are better than this,” she said. “We’re better than this as a city, we are better than this as a country.”...Start with “I,” pivot to “you” and finish with “we.”
Mayor Bottoms is rumored to be on the list of Joe Biden's potential running mates. Can one speech catapult a non-Governor state official to national prominence and, eventually, national office? Why not?

Friday, June 05, 2020

Off the Table

"Off the table" means that something is not a matter for negotiation. In investments it refers to lowering risk, as in "taking money off the table".

The latter is a gambling term used in finance, but to the professionals who insist on distinguishing gambling and investing, give it up already; the public, including myself, will never concede that there is a difference in kind.

This morning the Labor Department reported that the economy added 2.5 million jobs in May, a huge positive surprise given that job losses in the millions had been expected. The stock market took off--as of this writing the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up over 900 points--and it's time for your humble blogger to take some money off the table.

Apple is up 12.34% year-to-date, and the NASDAQ is up 9.49%; it's as if COVID-19 never happened.
I've sold winners and losers into this rally, including the flyer on Winnebago (WGO) in April--because I don't think the enthusiasm is warranted. There are the three "C's" to worry about--China, coronavirus, and civil unrest--and the economy remains heavily damaged by the lockdown.

The second quarter earnings reports are going to be horrible, and the bright future that the stock market is forecasting won't be uniform. Travel and leisure, restaurants, sports, and retail will incur heavy expenses getting traffic back to normal and normalcy will take years.

So I'm taking some profits but still have a majority of holdings in stocks. Pigs don't win.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

“Caravans Full of Looters”

Looted Ross store, Emeryville, May 31st. (Chron photo)
Over the past week significant law enforcement resources had been assigned to the George Floyd protests.

Criminals exploited the lack of police presence elsewhere by hitting stores miles away in "caravans full of looters." [bold added]
at around 10 p.m. on Saturday, Oakland police responded to calls for assistance from police in Emeryville who were dealing with looting on 40th Street at stores like Best Buy, Target and Decathlon.

Even with Oakland’s support, the officers were outnumbered and had to pick and choose their battles. They secured one store only to stand by helplessly as hundreds of people walked and drove to another store and looted it.
Besides the lack of police, additional factors in the crime wave are possibly the passage of Proposition 47, which reduced the theft of anything under $950 from a felony to a misdemeanor, and the increasing prevalence of "no cash bail," that is, releasing alleged criminals if an algorithm says they are likely to make their court appearance.

In the Bay Area we are living through a live experiment about how to build a society based on progressive beliefs of human nature, governance, and racial fairness. I just hope that there are enough people and businesses left to rebuild after everyone recognizes that the experiment has failed.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

The Church and its Discontents

[Update - 6/4/20: I am going to take back some of this post's criticisms about the Episcopal Church's reaction to President Trump's walk to St. John's on June 1st. USA Today has confirmed that pepper spray or pepper gas or "pepper balls" were used to disperse the demonstrators. While Bishop Budde's claims of "tear gas" being used have been refuted, pepper gas does cause breathing difficulties; whether it is as harmful or painful as tear gas is a question beyond my expertise. Also, the USA Today article did not find evidence of bricks, bottles, etc. that officials say were thrown. So let's just say neither side has provided sound evidence either way. In this era of ubiquitous cameras, it's disappointing. (One can imagine reasons on both sides for withholding such evidence, but those are just imaginings.)]

Bishop Budde: just another
partisan political hack?
Yesterday we quoted Bishop Mariann Budde of Washington, DC, who was "outraged" that President Trump used "tear gas" to clear "peaceful protests" out of the way as he walked to St. John's Episcopal.
"Consider the context," Budde said. "After making a highly charged, emotional speech to the nation where he threatened military force, his officials cleared peaceful protests with tear gas and horses and walked on to the courtyard of St. John's Church and held up a Bible as if it were a prop or an extension of his military and authoritarian position, and stood in front of our building as if it were a backdrop for his agenda. That was the offense that I was speaking to."
The Federalist debunks Bishop Budde's account:
local journalist Neal Augenstein of WTOP reported that a Park Police source said “tear gas was never used — instead smoke canisters were deployed, which don’t have an uncomfortable irritant in them.” Further, the source said the crowd was dispersed because of projectiles being thrown by the “peaceful protesters” at the Park Police and because “peaceful protesters” had climbed on top of a structure in Lafayette Park that had been burned the prior night.

Sgt. Eduardo Delgado, the public information officer for the Park Police, confirmed the agency did not use tear gas. And later this afternoon, United States Park Police acting Chief Gregory T. Monahan exploded the entire false narrative:
On Monday, June 1, the USPP worked with the United States Secret Service to have temporary fencing installed inside Lafayette Park. At approximately 6:33 pm, violent protestors on H Street NW began throwing projectiles including bricks, frozen water bottles and caustic liquids. The protestors also climbed onto a historic building at the north end of Lafayette Park that was destroyed by arson days prior. Intelligence had revealed calls for violence against the police, and officers found caches of glass bottles, baseball bats and metal poles hidden along the street.

To curtail the violence that was underway, the USPP, following established policy, issued three warnings over a loudspeaker to alert demonstrators on H Street to evacuate the area. Horse mounted patrol, Civil Disturbance Units and additional personnel were used to clear the area. As many of the protestors became more combative, continued to throw projectiles, and attempted to grab officers’ weapons, officers then employed the use of smoke canisters and pepper balls. No tear gas was used by USPP officers or other assisting law enforcement partners to close the area at Lafayette Park. Subsequently, the fence was installed.
Prior to getting the actual facts, nearly every major media outlet falsely reported that canisters of tear gas, not smoke canisters, were used against peaceful protesters. The false story spread internationally despite its lack of evidence.
The protests were not peaceful, and no tear gas was used.

I have seen it over and over again: Episcopal leaders appear to be uncritical consumers of left-wing narratives. They are quick to issue proclamations without considering that there may be more to the story or even that the story is wrong. (Yes, your humble blogger is susceptible to confirmation bias, too, and makes a sincere effort to avoid snap judgments on fast-moving stories. I will wait to see if someone presents evidence to counter the Federalist counter-narrative.)

I witnessed the enthusiastic reception accorded to the widespread Ferguson narrative at the 2014 Diocesan Convention in San Francisco. Priest after priest rose to speak about racism and police brutality visited upon black Americans; some had gone to Ferguson to stand with groups outraged by the shooting of the allegedly innocent Michael Brown in 2014. Mainstream media publications, long after the fact but to their credit, debunked the entire "hands-up-don't-shoot" story. Too late for the priests to take it back, however, whose righteousness had been on proud display.

One of the reasons I go to church is to get away from the sturm und drang of the world and its politics, at least for a moment. Unfortunately, the Episcopal church continues to disappoint.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Episcopal Leaders Go Nuts

Yesterday President Trump walked to St. John's Episcopal Church from the White House, held up the Bible, uttered a few words about America being a great country and keeping it safe, and Episcopal leaders went nuts.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry: [bold added]
This evening, the President of the United States stood in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, lifted up a bible, and had pictures of himself taken. In so doing, he used a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes. This was done in a time of deep hurt and pain in our country, and his action did nothing to help us or to heal us.

The bible teaches us that “God is love.” Jesus of Nazareth taught, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The prophet Micah taught that the Lord requires us to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.”

The bible the President held up and the church that he stood in front of represent the values of love, of justice, of compassion, and of a way to heal our hurts.

We need our President, and all who hold office, to be moral leaders who help us to be a people and nation living these values. For the sake of George Floyd, for all who have wrongly suffered, and for the sake of us all, we need leaders to help us to be “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”
Bishop Mariann Budde of Washington, DC:
"Consider the context," Budde said. "After making a highly charged, emotional speech to the nation where he threatened military force, his officials cleared peaceful protests with tear gas and horses and walked on to the courtyard of St. John's Church and held up a Bible as if it were a prop or an extension of his military and authoritarian position, and stood in front of our building as if it were a backdrop for his agenda. That was the offense that I was speaking to."
Why did the President pick St. John's for his "photo op"? Because it "sustained minor damage during riots" (quote from the Episcopal News Service).

When racists burn churches, especially those with black worshippers, every law-abiding citizen rightly denounces the attacks.

When churches are collateral damage to protests that progressives approve of, the Episcopal Church condemns the President for symbolically defending the right to worship.

Bishop Marc Andrus
There are numerous examples of Episcopal leaders wrapping themselves in raiments of righteousness, then getting political.

In 2006 Bishop of California Marc Andrus protested the Iraq war by lying on the sidewalk in front of the Federal Building in San Francisco.

The bishop had every right to protest as a private citizen but those of us who disagreed with his position did not appreciate the church being associated with his stunt.

Bishop Curry in ND
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and other Episcopal bishops and priests protested against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The issues of climate change, native American rights beyond the lands they control, energy independence, and the necessity of not freezing during winter are not easily balanced, but to the wealthy mostly-white Episcopal liberals of the Bay Area the answers are obvious.

At Episcopal conventions it seems that every year there are anti-Israel, anti-gun, anti-immigration enforcement, and anti-fossil-fuel resolutions on the ballot.

But that's okay, because we Episcopalians are all motivated by the love of Christ, while President Trump is not.