Friday, July 31, 2020

Both a Plus and Minus for the Resume

30 felony charges, stealing or extorting over $100,000 in Bitcoin, stealing Twitter accounts--despite his flawed morality and actions a teen-age Florida boy will be rich before the age of 30:
A Florida teen has been arrested in connection with the massive Twitter hack earlier this month that impacted the accounts of Barack Obama, Elon Musk, Kanye West and other high-profile users.
Although 17-year-olds can be prosecuted as adults in Florida, it will be a win-win if the kid serves his time helping out the Florida cyber-crime unit.
The 17-year-old Tampa resident, who was arrested Friday, was hit with 30 felony charges in connection with the hack, according to Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren.
Breaking into Twitter requires more skill than downloading a few hacking tools off the Dark Web.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

The Golden Rule (Those Who Have the Gold Make the Rules)

Last week we wrote about how San Francisco and Santa Clara might seek to wrest control of Caltrain as a condition of putting sales tax funding on the ballot.

On Tuesday the San Francisco Board of Supervisors formalized their threat: [bold added]
The three counties that fund Caltrain have reached an impasse that may shut down the Peninsula rail line, which is limping through the COVID-19 pandemic while carrying 5% of the passengers it had last year.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously approved putting a ⅛-cent sales tax measure on the November ballot, with controversial conditions that would tie up most of the money until the counties resolve a conflict about governance.
San Francisco progressives don't hesitate to alter existing deals when they have the financial upper hand.

In related news the State of California is withholding funds from two small California cities because they "rejected public health orders to shut down certain businesses":
At their city council meetings on Monday, leaders in Atwater, a city of 29,000 off Highway 99 in Merced County, and Coalinga, a city of 17,000 in the southwest corner of Fresno County, stood by resolutions they passed this spring allowing all businesses in their communities to reopen.

The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services warned the cities last week that they could collectively lose about $600,000 of federal coronavirus relief unless they come into compliance with state health requirements...

Atwater Mayor Paul Creighton and City
Attorney Fran Splendorio (Chron photo)
Local officials said it was an economic trade-off they are willing to make. They decry Newsom as a bully who is illegally denying them money they are owed.

Atwater Mayor Paul Creighton, who led an effort in May to declare it a “sanctuary city for all businesses,” said he worried that shutting down again would cost more in lost tax revenue and failed businesses than whatever financial aid the state is offering.
(These small cities have learned to use the vocabulary of progressives--"sanctuary"--to describe their resistance to edicts from the Capitol.)

If the State holds back funds to enforce compliance, it will do exactly what it has accused the President of doing when he threatened to withhold Federal monies from California, not to mention what he is alleged to have done vis-a-vis Ukraine.

The President's alleged misdeed was on the front pages for months and resulted in his impeachment trial. When the Governor of California does it, it's on the bottom of Page C1.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Belated Finding

Four weeks ago I was relieved that our hand sanitizer purchase from Costco was not on the list of nine that the FDA had warned against. They had contained methyl alcohol that is harmful to humans and can be absorbed through the skin.

On Tuesday the FDA added dozens more to the list, which now included our recent purchase as I discovered this morning. At 12:45 pm PDT Costco advised us of the recall via telephone. We've stopped using the sanitizer and will soon return it.

  • Powerful inventory control systems permit sellers to match buyers and products, which can each number in the many thousands, even millions. Such tracking is understandably feared for privacy reasons, but in this case provided a substantial benefit.
  • Partial recalls can mistakenly cause consumers to believe that products not on the list are safe. After the first announcement on July 3rd we used the sanitizer liberally, to our possible detriment as it turned out.

    Would it have been better to have halted all sanitizer sales until more could be known? That would have been consistent with the policy we seem to be following for COVID-19, that is, stop everything until we figure out more.

    Such decisions are way above my pay grade but I often wonder if we could have trusted people to make their own decisions by putting all of the incomplete and sometimes contradictory information out there rather than make them act or not act "for their own good". Some people will make unwise choices, which are indeed costly, but taking away their choice has costs, too.
  • Tuesday, July 28, 2020

    Minor Riddle Answered

    Following up on a minor item from yesterday's post on San Francisco taking down all the names :
    The committee isn’t sure which president Roosevelt Middle School is named after, but both Theodore and Franklin are being flagged.

    Theodore Roosevelt is cited for his opposition to civil rights and suffrage for Blacks. Franklin Roosevelt is on shaky ground for his refusal to support an anti-lynching bill proposed by his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, and for his support of limiting immigration based on race.
    It's obvious to me, so why isn't it to everyone? Just say that Roosevelt Middle School is named after Eleanor, not Theodore or Franklin, both of whom were highly flawed in the Names Advisory Committee's opinion.

    As to which President the school was actually named after, a few minutes on Google show the list of Roosevelt Junior High School graduates in June, 1934.

    Back in the day, children, "middle" schools were known as "junior high" schools.

    Also, it was a more modest era when there was no possibility that a school would have been named after someone who was still alive.

    Answer: Theodore.

    Monday, July 27, 2020

    Take Down Their Names

    He's not good enough for San Francisco
    We have sailed past the destruction of Confederate iconography to the villainization of anyone who had any connection to slavery. Fine, but what are the reasons for tearing down those, like Lincoln, who were on the "right" side of history? The San Francisco school district Names Advisory Committee explains: [bold added]
    According to the committee’s assessment of history, Lincoln, who led the North in the Civil War and whose name is on a Sunset District high school, wasn’t a true abolitionist because the Emancipation Proclamation only applied to states attempting to break away from the United States while some slave states remained in the union.

    The report also says that Commander-in-Chief Lincoln allowed more than 35 American Indians who took part in an 1862 uprising in the Minnesota and Dakota territories to be hanged...

    The committee’s criteria for removing a name includes the person being directly involved in the colonization or genocide of people, owning slaves, exploiting workers, oppressing or abusing women, children, gay or transgender people, engaging in human rights or environmental abuses or espousing racist beliefs.
    The latter-day Jacobins are parading everyone to the guillotine:
    Junipero Serra: “colonizer and slave owner”

    Paul Revere: “settler-colonial history”

    Francis Scott Key: “slave owner and wrote pro-slavery verse in national anthem”

    Herbert Hoover: “accepting of white supremacy”

    James Madison: “slave owner — worked at colonizing Native Americans”

    James Monroe: “slave owner”

    Daniel Webster: “wrote stringent fugitive slave laws”

    Commodore John Sloat: “stole California from Mexico, colonizer”

    John Muir: The naturalist, whose name is on a Hayes Valley elementary school, may be revered as the “Father of the National Parks” and cofounder of the Sierra Club, but, according to the committee worksheet, and more recently the Sierra Club itself, he was also a racist. The sheet also says Muir was “responsible for theft of native lands.”
    I personally can't wait to see whose names do meet the criteria set forth by the Committee of Public Safety . They must truly be paragons of perfection.

    Sunday, July 26, 2020

    Innermost Truth

    2011: Visiting with a centenarian at Christmas
    For the final sermon in his 23-year career at our church, the rector played it straight.

    He preached from today's lessons, excerpted below.

    In 1 Kings God responds to the prayer of the young King Solomon:
    God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.”
    Romans 8:
    For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
    Matthew 13:
    “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

    “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

    “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
    Our secular concerns of the moment are on the literal and metaphorical storms outside--COVID-19, civil protests, hurricanes--but the priest focused on the eternal. Quotes:
    "What gives our lives meaning is purpose."
    "Seeking the reign of God needs to be the purpose of our lives."
    "Good is kindness, mercy, compassion, a forgiving heart, humility, and faith"
    "Evil is the result of self-seeking."
    "It is my hope that...we will all continue to seek God's reign in our lives so that when we have completed them we will be able to return as loving servants and children to God who loves us all." "
    When it's time to say one's final words to people who have been part of one's life for 23 years, one speaks the innermost truths of one's being.

    A video tribute may be found here.

    Below, the Bradford family sings Aloha 'Oe:

    Saturday, July 25, 2020

    The Golden Apple is Out of Reach

    EU antitrust enforcer Margrethe Vestager (Forbes)
    The large-cap tech companies (Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook) all have attracted fierce scrutiny, but nowhere more so than in Europe. [Disclosure: a good chunk of my retirement portfolio is invested in these companies both directly and indirectly through funds and ETFs.] The authorities object to these companies creating legal structures that minimize taxes.

    It has long become clear to this writer that the European Union tries to extract huge tax awards by getting courts to apply tax "principles" retroactively to these successful companies, despite their following the letter of the law. That is why it was gratifying to see Apple win a $14.8 billion tax case last week in European court: [bold added]
    The case stems from a 2016 decision by the European Commission, the bloc’s top antitrust enforcer, which said that Ireland must recoup €13 billion in allegedly unpaid taxes between 2003 and 2014, money the commission said constituted an illegal subsidy under the bloc’s strict state-aid rules.

    The General Court swept aside that reasoning, saying it annulled the decision because the commission had failed to meet the legal standards in showing that Apple was illegally given special treatment.

    The 2016 decision against Apple was one of Ms. Vestager’s first big broadsides against tech companies in her role running the EU’s competition enforcement, earning her the nickname “tax lady” from President Trump. She later issued Google three fines totaling $9.4 billion, and launched formal antitrust probes into Amazon and Apple. She is now also responsible for tech regulation and is considering imposing a digital tax on tech giants...

    A central issue in the Apple case was whether two Irish tax rulings granted to Apple in 1991 and 2007 gave a form of special treatment to the company, or whether they just reiterated an interpretation of Irish tax law as it was applied more generally.

    Those rulings allowed two Irish-registered Apple units to attribute only a small sliver of some $130 billion in profit to Ireland in an 11-year period. The commission said all that revenue should be attributed to Ireland, but the Irish government and Apple say they split the profit reasonably, given that almost all of Apple’s intellectual property is developed in the U.S., not Ireland.

    In Wednesday’s ruling, the General Court said that, despite the gaps in the contested tax rulings, the commission hadn’t proven the Irish government granted a special advantage to Apple that was unavailable to other companies in Ireland.
    The European Union will now have to do the hard work of crafting new laws that will achieve their goals and not trying to re-interpret the past to try to solve present needs.

    Friday, July 24, 2020

    Lower Crime Trend Confirmed

    (Chronicle graph)
    Confirming the trend seen in April, San Francisco automobile break- ins are down by over 50%.[bold added]
    But in March, when shelter-in-place began, vehicle break-ins dropped by 38% — with 1,040 incidents reported this year compared to 1,691 last year.

    The difference since then has been even more pronounced: a decline of more than 50% each month from April through June.

    One reason is obvious, experts say: Tourists have largely disappeared, and with them the easy targets for burglars.
    On a district-by-district basis the steepest reductions have occurred where the tourists frequent, e.g., Fisherman's Wharf, Pier 39, and Chinatown. Only moderate declines have occurred in the residential areas:
    “The number of good targets is still lower than before the pandemic, but the reduction in the number of targets is smaller than somewhere else like Union Street or another fancy shopping area,” [Stanford Law professor Robert] Weisberg said. “They might go where the net loss of targets isn’t as bad as other places."
    We have seen police reports of burglary rings hitting apartment car ports at night outside of San Francisco, including our town. Suburban parking lots are less secure--gates are rare--and freeway access is less than 5 minutes away when there's no traffic, like now.

    The crooks are adaptable; although most do not have respectable credentials that can get them good jobs, it doesn't mean they're stupid.

    Thursday, July 23, 2020

    Sierra Club: They Thought They Were Protected

    Some conservatives have decried leftism's "long march" through American institutions like universities, entertainment, mass media, churches, and big-city governments. With few worlds left to conquer, progressives are turning on liberal institutions that once gave them succor, such as the Sierra Club:
    Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir at Glacier
    Point in Yosemite National Park in 1903.
    (Chronicle image)
    The executive director of the Sierra Club apologized Wednesday for its “substantial role in perpetuating white supremacy,” and said John Muir, the club’s founder and an icon of the environmentalist movement, was a racist.

    In his early morning post on the organization’s website, Michael Brune said that just as Black Lives Matter activists are pulling down monuments to Confederate leaders, the club must re-examine its past and “take down some of our own monuments.”

    That includes Muir, who Brune admitted was beloved of many of the club’s members and whose writings “taught generations of people to see the sacredness of nature.”

    But Muir also was close friends with Henry Fairfield Osborn and others connected to the eugenics movement, which looked to sterilize those whom white supporters of the movement pegged as “deficient”: the poor, physically and mentally disabled people, and those of “unfit” races, including Black, Latino and Jewish people.
    Though I've often disagreed with Sierra Club policies, I respected their single-minded dedication to the environment. One always knew where they stood.

    I could not care less about what John Muir said about non-whites like myself; Yosemite National Park and Sequoia National Park would not exist without him, and I give thanks for a life whose accomplishments far outweighed its faults.

    Straying from its original mission into wokeness not only will dilute its effectiveness, but the Sierra Club will likely experience a melting away of existing members and their donations. We have seen this phenomenon occur in churches and college alumni associations and newspaper/magazine subscriptions.

    I suppose that I should be happy about the slow dismantling of an institution whose politics are different from mine, but I'm not.

    Wednesday, July 22, 2020

    CalTrain Power Play

    2004 Christmas week: in the COVID-19 era it looks this deserted all the time
    Caltrain, the commuter rail that provides transportation from San Francisco to San Jose, is on the brink: [bold added]
    Having lost 95% of the ridership it relies on for the bulk of its revenue, the vital transportation and economic link between San Francisco and Silicon Valley needs voters to throw it a lifeline by raising sales taxes an eighth of a percentage point. All local governing bodies have to do is let the people decide.

    The proper course was therefore obvious to San Francisco’s supervisors: Take advantage of the dire emergency to promote class warfare and do bureaucratic battle while threatening to paralyze an irreplaceable public asset.

    Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Shamann Walton have joined officials in Santa Clara County in holding up the modest tax increase while reviving demands for more control over the commuter line, which is managed by the San Mateo County Transit District, known as SamTrans.
    California government officials file lawsuits against the Federal Government when the latter withholds funds to force compliance with Trump Administration policies.

    But when CalTrain, which is run by San Mateo County, wants a sales tax measure, San Francisco and Santa Clara hold up the ballot to get control over CalTrain's finances.

    Whatever principles they espoused in their arguments against the Federal Government go out the window when the progressives hold the pursestrings. It was all about the power.

    Tuesday, July 21, 2020

    Couch Potato Peeling

    If I'm going to watch TV for hours a day during sheltering in place, at least I can do something useful.

    (Peanut gallery: How is that different from before Covid-19?

    Speak only when spoken to, please.)

    There are many recipes that call for lengthy prep time, for example, a simple beef stew. The peeling, chopping, and slicing of ingredients require very little thinking, an ideal side task when binging on the latest Netflix series.

    I did have to get up from the couch to brown the onions and beef and throw everything into the stewpot. That task only took half an hour.

    Now I don't have to do anything useful until Thursday.

    Monday, July 20, 2020

    Not Guaranteed

    Buoyed by polls that show Joe Biden in a double-digit lead over President Trump, many Democrats are saying victory is in the bag. Willie Brown is not so sure. [bold added]
    D Trump, W Brown, and others in 1999 (NY Daily News)
    Those of you who think President Trump is politically dead and buried, think again.

    By my reckoning, Trump still has a 50-50 shot at winning re-election come November.

    Democrats are gleefully quoting a recent Quinnipiac University national poll that showed Joe Biden with a 15-point lead over Trump. An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll had Biden with an 11-point lead.

    Given Trump’s missteps and mistakes on everything from his handling the coronavirus pandemic to his racially charged rhetoric, however, Biden should be ahead by much more.

    Plus, as we know, there is often a disparity between what people tell pollsters and what they do when they actually fill out their ballots.

    So knock Biden’s lead in the polls down by half.

    And Trump’s base is still firm. They voted for him in 2016 when he leaned hard on race, crime and immigration, and they will vote for him again.

    Put it together and it’s still a five- to seven-point race.

    In other words, a toss-up.
    My opinion: impeachment, coronavirus, depression-level unemployment, multi-trillion-dollar deficits, civil unrest, cold war with China...2020 is not done with us yet.

    It's a long, long way to November, and it's not even guaranteed that the President will be one of those two guys.

    Sunday, July 19, 2020

    The Largest Virtual Choir Ever Assembled

    We can't sing together in church, but technology allows us to sing together virtually,

    Composer Eric Whitacre assembled a choir of 17,522 individuals singing his original composition. He coordinated their timing by means of him conducting the piece on a video accessed by each participant. Sound and video engineers did the rest.

    More on the production is in the CBS Sunday Morning segment below.

    Saturday, July 18, 2020

    Apple Store: All Business and a Lot Less Fun

    Apple people standing around, but Apple can afford it.
    We made an appointment at the Apple Store to fix a 2-year-old Mac.

    A security guard took our temperature and told us to wait outside. A masked Apple employee entered a brief description of our problem into his iPad. When the technician was ready, we were allowed to go inside, 15 minutes after our scheduled meeting. The broken screen will be fixed for $99. The cost would have been over $400 if we had not bought AppleCare.

    Customers were escorted in and out efficiently. They picked up their merchandise, got their technical problem handled, and shopped under the watchful eye of an Apple salesperson. There were fewer tables displaying Apple products for "just looking" customers to touch.

    It was all business, and a lot less fun than it used to be.

    Note: San Mateo is one of the few counties that hasn't been shut down--though it could happen at any time--so there's really no complaining here.

    Friday, July 17, 2020

    The Primary Second Home

    The well-named Narcissus Executive Desk ($6,200) is
    a welcome tax-deductible addition to one's home office.
    Many wealthy people have a primary home and a secondary (aka "vacation") home. The coronavirus-caused exodus from the cities and the boom in working remotely have created a new real estate term: the primary second home. [bold added]
    Buyers are looking for second homes where they can comfortably camp out for months, and in some cases, forever. They are not just driven by fear of an extended pandemic. As many firms—especially tech companies—embrace remote working, people are taking the opportunity to untether from astronomically priced cities and get more space, scenery, and quiet...

    While some buyers want to be close to big cities, the ability to work from anywhere has encouraged others to look in remote areas, said Kevin McDonald, an agent with Sotheby’s International Realty in northern Sonoma and southern Mendocino Counties. Estates with a vineyard or winery component—anywhere from 1 acre to thousands—are now in high demand, he said.

    “It’s similar to the rush to grab toilet paper and people grabbing the biggest ones they can find,” Mr. McDonald said. While most buyers are looking for second homes, they want “the potential of shifting to primary residences.”
    I'm guessing that many upper-middle-class telecommuters also have a tax motivation.

    The 2017 Tax Act limited the State and Local Taxes (SALT) itemized deduction to $10,000. Typical Bay Area homeowners have already exceeded that limit because of property taxes (at least 1% of the home's purchase price) and State Income Taxes. The tax benefits of owning a second home become low or nonexistent because its property taxes are not deductible, and deductions on mortgage interest are heavily restricted.

    If the second home becomes the taxpayer's principal place of business, however, much of its expenses--property taxes and mortgage interest plus insurance and utilities--now become deductible. Perhaps wealthy executives and professionals would have made the decision to purchase anyway, but it can't hurt to trick out the second home so that the taxman is on your side.

    Thursday, July 16, 2020

    Federal Government: Average Would be a Great Improvement

    4 months to process, lucky
    I'm not going anywhere
    In the coronavirus era everyone must allow extra time to get anything done, which is especially true if one has to deal with the U.S. Government.

    One prominent example: taxpayers have been granted an extra three months to file their returns--and I am grateful for the extra time--but the IRS isn't held to a deadline, relaxed or not.

    We mailed Mom's paper return in March and have not yet gotten her four-figure refund. (The IRS2Go app says the IRS has not even received her return.)

    The passport check cleared on March 18th.
    Also in March I sent in my passport renewal application. The renewal was straightforward---no new documents were required except for an updated photo--because the last passport was issued less than 15 years ago.

    Today the new passport arrived, four months and three days later. Yes, the safety of employees is paramount, but somehow other public and private organizations are managing to operate safely, with only a moderate diminution in speed. For the Federal Government just being average would be a great improvement.

    [Note - June 6, WSJ:
    “If you mailed us something, especially in February, it’s gonna be a while,” said Chad Hooper, an IRS worker in Philadelphia and president of the Professional Managers Association, which represents the agency’s supervisors.

    Wednesday, July 15, 2020

    Tax Day, 2020

    Determined to show that Parkinson's Law did not apply to me (though numerous examples from my life prove that it does), I started to work seriously on the tax return in June. There should be no excuse for being under a time crunch at the tax filing date since we had 6½ months to do the return.

    2019, which events have buried so deeply I can barely remember it, was a good year financially. The numbers were pretty much worked out, but I filed the extension forms anyway.

    The due date for filing is now October 15th, It will be worth the effort to spend a few days searching credit card statements for additional business expenses and charitable deductions.
    Though I was intent on proving it wrong
    Parkinson's Law was just too strong.

    Tuesday, July 14, 2020

    Marry in Haste, Repent at Leisure

    In April your humble blogger invested on the hunch that the recreational vehicle (RV) market would boom because of the desire for virus-free travel.

    In late May, though the trend was confirmed, I sold my stock in Winnebago (WGO)--too early, it turned out--because of the likelihood that RVs would run out of gas. Warning signs are now appearing:
    With coronavirus cases and hospitalizations now surging in many states, the industry may be running out of open road. Manufacturing difficulties and weak consumer demand could both take a toll...

    Manufacturing looks to remain a challenge, even if renewed demand continues into the summer. While Winnebago’s facilities are now open, Chief Executive Michael Happe said “every day is a battle,” given manufacturing work can’t be done remotely and stringent new safety protocols must be adhered to on site...

    The recent spike notwithstanding, demand for RVs as sizable nonessential purchases has been sensitive to economic swings and has even been predictive of them. With the virus still raging and the economic outlook so uncertain, #rvlife’s hot minute could easily be short-lived.
    Taking the RV to the beach sounded like a good idea... (Do It Yourself RV)
    Apart from economic considerations there is another limitation to growth: newbies don't know how to drive RV's. Novice drivers aren't aware that their vehicles are too tall for many drive-throughs, that they need more curb clearance for turns, and that lanes designed for cars are often too narrow. And a whole chapter could be written on improper toilet maintenance.

    Unless one is a specialist in big, lumpy goods like real estate, airplanes, and RV's, selling those products is hard, while selling shares in those companies is easy. Stick to the shares.

    Monday, July 13, 2020

    Health Check-up

    (GIF from rebloggy)
    I was prepared to make excuses. The doctor wanted me to lose five pounds, and I was doing so well until the lockdown.

    For the past four months I sat at home, watching TV, web-surfing, and snacking. I walked 3-4 miles every day until my knee started hurting, so I stopped. The gym is shut down, and my ancestors gave me the gene for arthritis.

    It's not my fault.
    The doctor read aloud the blood test results. Triglycerides and blood sugar had improved, but LDL ("bad") cholesterol was higher. He raised the atorvastatin dosage to 20 mg per day. The painful knee was probably the beginning of arthritis, so he ordered an X-ray to make sure.

    For the first time in years I didn't have to go on a diet, and I haven't yet crossed the line to diabetes. We scheduled an appointment for next July, another sign of optimism. All in all it was a good session.

    Sunday, July 12, 2020

    "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing"

    Re going back to church: the logical and theological answer about what we should miss most is Holy Communion, aka the mass. Communion washes away sins, and we've gone nearly four months without a cleansing.

    However, the honest answer for me is church music. There's no experience in the secular world that matches up to familiar hymns sung harmoniously (I mean that literally, as there are always a few capable voices in the choir and congregation who can perform the alto, tenor, and bass parts). 80-year-olds stand next to 10-year-olds as they belt out tunes that date back hundreds of years. [bold added]
    The great majority of the Anglophone world’s best hymns have emerged from the Reformed tradition—either from Presbyterianism or the evangelical side of Anglicanism. While the rest of 18th-century Europe was awash in ideas of the Enlightenment, the Reformed in Britain, Ireland and North America wrote hymns. The hymns of Isaac Watts and John Newton, John and Charles Wesley, and William Cowper are models of poetic efficiency: fresh ideas, evocative phrasing, natural rhymes. From Watts’s “O God Our Help in Ages Past”: “Time, like an ever-rolling stream, / Bears all its sons away; / They fly, forgotten as a dream / Dies at the opening day.” The 19th century produced many other gifted hymn writers associated with the Reformed wing of Protestantism, foremost among them Reginald Heber, Cecil Frances Alexander and Frances Ridley Havergal.

    There is something mysteriously fortifying about the act of singing together. Oral and chest cavities vibrating in rhythmic unison—which is all corporate singing is—creates a peculiar companionship among people who, apart from their creed, may have little else in common. You might barely know the lady in the pew next to you, but when you sing a common song or hymn together, she may as well be your auntie.

    It is one of the great tragedies of modern Western life that people so infrequently sing together. We may sing in the car or the shower, but mostly we listen to soloists gurgle the nonsense lines of pop songs. Somehow, with the rise of radio and recorded songs in the last century, we stopped singing together.

    Saturday, July 11, 2020

    Bay Area Real Estate: A Market of Individuals

    Stories about people fleeing San Francisco (and other urban centers) because of COVID-19 are prevalent. However, they may be overblown.

    Headline: San Francisco Real Estate Market Rebounds Dramatically
    Despite the ongoing health and economic crisis precipitated by COVID-19, the SF real estate market made a large recovery from the steep declines in March and April. The SF median house price hit a new monthly high in June ($1,800,000), and high-end houses, in particular, have seen very strong demand – this applies to virtually every market in the Bay Area. More affluent buyers - the demographic least affected by COVID-19, unemployment, and also having the greatest financial resources - have been jumping back into the market to a greater degree than other segments...

    Every Bay Area county had y-o-y increases, with low-density counties in higher demand.
    The Bay Area markets with the largest year-over-year increases in the number of listings accepting offers in June 2020 were the 4 outer Bay Area counties of Monterey (up 61%), Santa Cruz (58%), Sonoma (47%) and Napa (37%). They also have among the lowest population densities in the Bay Area. The more urban counties saw more modest y-o-y increases: San Francisco (6%) and Alameda (7%). Other factors may play a role in this: length/strictness of shelter-in-place rules, home price differences, second-home buying patterns, and so on.
    Besides, there's still the San Francisco X-factor. Despite the homelessness, high real estate prices, traffic and transportation problems, the hearts of many people still beat a little faster when they think of San Francisco. And some of them are rich, like tech entrepreneur Leah Culver.
    Leah Culver
    the second floor of 714 Steiner St., one of San Francisco’s “Seven Sisters,” the fifth home from the left on Postcard Row. It’s a landmark made famous, in part, by the opening credits of television shows “Full House” and “Fuller House.”

    Culver, a computer engineer, angel investor and longtime fixture of the Silicon Valley tech scene, closed on the house about two weeks ago. She ended up paying $3.55 million for the San Francisco icon — $800,000 over the asking price...

    Stove in a $3.5MM home (Chron)
    All told, Culver expects to spend another $3 million over two years to renovate the three-story, 2,849-square-foot home.

    “It’s a huge commitment,” she says. “This might be the stupidest thing I do in my life. But I think it’ll be great. I’m optimistic.”
    You can analyze statistics all you want, but when it comes to real estate buyers all it takes is one.

    Friday, July 10, 2020

    Life Planning

    This advice-column topic applies directly to me (and a half-dozen families who I know):

    When Siblings Can’t Agree on What to Do With an Elderly Parent
    My siblings and I are at odds over how to care for our mother, who is widowed and not in the best of health. She wants to continue living at home, but two of us think she needs to move to an assisted-living community. (A setting that seems problematic at best, given the coronavirus.) And if she moves, there’s no agreement about whether she should stay in the same area or move close to one of us. Any ideas about how to tackle this?
    Mom's current facility can't provide the services she needs, so we're discussing where to move her.
    Adult siblings who rarely talk about heavy topics suddenly have to discuss the mind-boggling expense of elder care, their own money, their parents' money (and usually not discussed but very important, what each hopes to inherit), mortality, individual time commitments, the degree to which they can honor an elder's wishes, (also not revealed but very important, how much love they really have for their parent), and the general topic of "fairness," which rarely ends well.

    One new insight: an "elder mediator" can help.
    Such individuals help families work through concerns—and fights—involving caregiving, inheritance, living arrangements, estate planning and related issues...

    A few basics: A mediator doesn’t solve problems; rather, she or he paves the way for family members to solve problems together. (Think: facilitate.) The process might begin with a mediator talking with family members individually, or it can move straight to group discussion. A good mediator also can enlist, or point you toward, other professionals—say, a geriatric-care manager...

    Mediation, by all accounts, is hard work. Family members today often are scattered across the country; siblings frequently are pigeonholed in decades-old roles (the smart one, the pretty one, the malcontent); agreements normally aren’t binding; and happy endings aren’t guaranteed.
    Another thing that can lessen animosity: the realization that the current battle re Mom and/or Dad will likely last for only a few more years, whereas your brothers and sisters will be around for the rest of your life.

    You may not care now, but you may later.

    Thursday, July 09, 2020

    Location, Location, Location

    In a study of 2,000 college students conducted before the lockdown, researchers found through GPS tracking that their subjects hung out at places that matched their personalities (extroverts at bars, introverts on home laptops, etc.), which wasn't a surprise. They also self-reported their feelings:
    At each alert, they (and their phones) recorded their location, noting if they were at one of 12 commonly visited places, including a cafe, a friend’s place, the gym, their apartment, a class, a store, a religious environment, work or a party.

    The students also answered five questions pertaining to their current state of mind, choosing among adjectives such as quiet, considerate, anxious, upset and lazy.
    If they were in the "wrong" place for their personality type the subjects felt discordant emotions.
    “People feel more extroverted, more agreeable, more conscientious, when they are in other places, compared to when they are at home,” [Stanford psychologist Gabriella Harari] said, while “people feel more disorganized and chaotic when they are at home.”
    (Image from Aluance Digital)
    The study confirms why an introvert like myself didn't find the past four months to be particularly troubling, while others in my household didn't fare very well.

    Tele-office, tele-medicine, and tele-education aren't healthy for the majority of people, and we should open up everything as expeditiously as possible.

    Yes, even for us introverts--get these people outta here because they're driving us crazy.

    Wednesday, July 08, 2020

    Another Karen Cancelled

    As a Hawaiian-born Asian American, I never encountered overt racism until I went to the Mainland for college in the 1970's. (There was plenty of racial consciousness in the Islands; everyone was very aware of and often made disparaging comments about each other's race, culture, foods, hygiene, etc. In many ways the atmosphere was healthier then.)

    At first it was surprising to be the target of epithets by people who didn't know me. It was hurtful and rare, but I always fell back on the old "sticks and stones" couplet. If you wanted to be a man like my Dad and his generation who went off to war, words were comparatively nothing and you moved on.

    Mt. Tam website states that dogs aren't allowed on trails
    Which brings me to a minor incident on the local news last night. A middle-aged white woman encountered a young Asian-American family on the hiking trail at Mount Tamalpais State Park. She reprimanded the family for taking their dog on the trail and uttered the phrase "you can't be in this country."

    It was clear from the video that she was upset about the dog, but the father took umbrage about "you can't be in this country." The result was that the woman's face was shown on the news, she was identified as Beth Taska, a Human Resources executive, and she was fired by her employer.

    Yes, Ms. Taska let out a seemingly racist remark (she claims it was misheard) and may not be in the right job. In her defense the racial identity of the family didn't seem to be what triggered the encounter. However, the father, Hiroshi, focused on the offending phrase and expanded it to mean "go back to your country." In the TV interview he talked about his resentment about being called "chink" and "gook." None of that history was Ms. Taska's fault.

    Further thoughts:
    1) We all have the tendency--me, too!--of attributing racial stereotypes to individuals who may not have them at all. Beth Taska may have done this to the family, but Hiroshi definitely did it to her.
    2) But go easy on Hiroshi; she is the classic Karen.
    3) This is an example of TV and the Internet inflaming a situation far beyond its significance to society.
    4) Speaking for myself, I would never react to a personal insult if that reaction would get someone fired. Contra the saying, the words may indeed hurt, but that doesn't mean you have to pick up the sticks and stones.

    Tuesday, July 07, 2020

    Ivy League Football: Another Coronavirus Casualty?

    If one can look past the death, loneliness, and economic ruination ("Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?"), one benefit of the coronavirus is that individuals and organizations of all shapes and sizes are seeing more clearly what is important to them.

    For example, the Ivy League is ready to drop football, at least for this season:
    Calvin Hill (Yale '69) was in multiple
    Pro Bowls a half century ago.
    everyone is bracing for the prospect that the Ivy League is going to take a pass on football this fall.

    Officials from the Ivy League will announce on Wednesday the status of athletics for the 2020-21 academic year. The best-case scenario is that fall sports will shift their competitions to the spring of 2021. At worst, fall sports will be called off with no chance for seniors to recoup their lost year of eligibility...

    Unlike teams in the top tier of the Football Bowl Subdivision, the Ivy League does not bring in millions from ticket sales or nine-figure television deals. There’s less revenue at stake if games don’t happen. Other small conferences have the same situation...

    all face the specter of elevated costs that accompany testing athletes frequently. Broad public health guidelines from the NCAA suggest that athletes should be tested at least once per week. Frequent testing is potentially a $100,000 addition to a budget.
    No single activity is essential to the college experience, as the coronavirus has proved. One need not reside in a dorm, or participate in-person in an advanced seminar, or play poker all night, or eat in the dining hall, or join a fraternity, or study in one of many campus libraries, or do the laundry needing a roll of quarters, or cheer for Old Blue together with thousands of students and alumni, but eventually it stops being "college".

    And whatever it is certainly isn't worth $40,000 a year in tuition.

    Note: Ivy League teams are not competitive against the major football conferences, but 22 graduates made the cut at the beginning of the NFL's 2019 season.

    Monday, July 06, 2020

    San Francisco Dreaming

    Homeless with social distancing: the city painted white rectangles by Civic Center (Chronicle photo)
    San Francisco and California's failure to address the homelessness problem during the pre-coronavirus decade of prosperity is coming home to roost: [bold added]
    Before the coronavirus crisis hit earlier this year, nearly 600,000 people were already on America’s streets every night — a quarter of them in California, which has only 12% of the nation’s population overall...

    Several nonprofits estimate that the number of “new homeless” in San Francisco is already swelling by as much as a quarter — many believed to have come from out of town. A Columbia University professor has projected that, if unemployment reached above 20%, homelessness could surge nationally by as much as 45% by 2021 — and by 20% in California. His calculation is a worst-case scenario, based on federal estimates of how much homelessness increases with joblessness, and doesn’t take into account stimulus or relief funding...

    Every bit as distressing is the escalation of open-air drug use in the city, as dealers emboldened by the disruption of the pandemic step up their street trade. It’s exacerbating what had already been a worsening crisis in recent years in homeless methamphetamine and opioid abuse, hitting a new high this spring with a spike in overdose deaths to nearly triple the previous rate.
    1) The pandemic has lowered real estate values, and there's a possible opportunity to buy up real estate to provide housing. Such action helped to reduce homelessness from 2008 to 2011 after the Great Recession. The difference this time, however, is that governments have borrowed to the hilt; there's no money to buy and develop real estate without raising taxes significantly, and I don't see any appetite for doing so.

    2) One popular image of the new homeless is that they consist of the recently-unemployed poor who are now on the streets. Fine, don't hassle them but do crack down on the open-air drug dealing. That's one of the reasons that the formerly sympathetic citizens of San Francisco have demanded that the City clear up the tents.

    3) A significant number of the new homeless have "come from out of town". From the Gold Rush to the building of the railroads and the Liberty ships San Francisco is the great attractor for those who have nothing, maybe just flowers in their hair.

    Sunday, July 05, 2020

    Independence Day, 2020: I've Stopped Looking For a Pony

    (Business Insider image)
    The headlines about President Trump's speech on Independence Day eve were uniformly negative, so I decided to exercise my right to independent thought by reading his speech in its entirety (after the break at bottom) before checking out the reviews.

    A generation ago you wouldn't have blinked at most of the speech: praise for American exceptionalism, the words and deeds of the Founders, the great inventions and triumphs ("electricity, split the atom, and gave the world the telephone and the Internet. We settled the Wild West, won two World Wars, landed American astronauts on the Moon"), and a recitation of the accomplishments of the four Presidents on Mount Rushmore.

    The latter allowed the President to transition to a condemnation of those who tear down monuments (he was careful not to mention Confederate symbols). He then levied a much broader attack against
    “Cancel Culture"— driving people from their jobs, shaming dissenters, and demanding total submission from anyone who disagrees. This is the very definition of totalitarianism, and it is completely alien to our culture and our values...

    In our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance. If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras, and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted, and punished.
    Throughout his term the President has been called every name in the book, including Nazi and dictator, so his opponents won't like it that he's calling them the Fascists and totalitarians.

    Actually, I've decided not to read the reviews because I know they're going to say what they've been saying for the past 3½ years: the President is divisive, he's firing up his base, he's a racist and white supremacist.

    From Russian collusion to the Ukraine-whatever-that-was to the emoluments clause to the Logan Act to the climate denialism to the #MeToo movement that toppled mostly Democrats to the Trumpian over- then under-reaction to the coronavirus the media has been shoveling a lot of [stuff] since 2016 and affecting outrage throughout.

    I used to trust their profession of journalistic principles to believe that they had something, but frankly I've stopped looking for a pony.

    Saturday, July 04, 2020

    Too Useful to Get Rid Of

    My Amazon shopping cart normally has 1-5 items.
    Abandoned shopping carts are a burden to supermarkets that have to retrieve them. Abandoned carts are also a nuisance in the on-line world because they distort merchants' data on what products attract customers.

    They also cause an administrative burden by triggering e-mail reminders to "customers"; if the messages bounce back, eventually the merchant has to intervene and delete the cart.

    Which brings us to the mysterious shopper John Smith who has been abandoning carts across the Internet.
    John Smith started shopping early on a recent Wednesday and didn’t stop for days.

    (Image from iaffiliatemanagement)
    He visited an auto-supply site where he loaded his cart with a replacement turn-signal lever, emergency strobe light and two dozen other items. He hopped over to a home-goods merchant for another 10 items including wood picture frames, address plaques, a towel rack and mailbox. He ordered one of every kind of baby bundle, ranging from about $80 to nearly $500, from a site that sells infant sleeping boxes popular in places such as Finland.

    When the roughly 48-hour spree was over, John Smith did what he always does. He walked away without buying anything.

    For more than a year, online merchants selling items ranging from kayaks to keychains have puzzled over the mystery shopper with the generic name behind thousands of abandoned carts.
    In a triumph of investigative journalism the Wall Street Journal tracked down the serial looker. Merchants noted that John Smith always had a gmail address. Repeated telephone calls to Google unearthed the truth:
    The mystery shopper is a bot of its own creation. The purpose: making sure the all-in price for the product, including tax and shipping, matches the listing on its Google Shopping platform or in advertisements. It wasn’t to cause angst to merchants due to thousands of abandoned carts.
    Internet platforms and news sites have been flooded by bots that dispense fake news, sell products, and degrade debates. So why aren't they eliminated completely? Because the platforms find them useful, too.

    Friday, July 03, 2020

    Please Don't Poison the Customer

    The above hand sanitizers contain harmful methanol, not ethanol. (AARP image)
    American consumers, including your humble blogger, generally trust the safety of branded products.

    However, the coronavirus has disrupted supply chains, and unfamiliar labels have popped up on retail shelves,

    New suppliers, for example liquor manufacturers, are helping to meet the demand for hand sanitizers.

    I've been using an unknown-brand one-liter bottle from Costco for the past two weeks. When the FDA issued a recall of certain hand sanitizers made in Mexico, which this one was, I immediately checked the label. It wasn't on the list (above), and it didn't contain methanol.

    It's one thing for a product not to work, it's quite another to make a consumer (a lot) worse off than if he didn't use it.

    Thursday, July 02, 2020

    If You Don't Like the Policy, Wait Five Minutes

    Tenderloin district, San Francisco, June 11, 2020 (Chron photo)
    In April we noted how San Francisco, which had been trying to reduce homeless encampments for years, reversed course by distributing tents as a solution to the coronavirus.

    What happened in April and May was predictable: [bold added]
    With time, however, tents took over block-long stretches of the neighborhood, making it difficult for people to walk and at times serving as a cover for drug dealing. Residents said conditions on the streets were so bad that they were afraid to leave their apartments and felt like they were being held hostage.

    After months of frustration, Tenderloin residents and businesses, together with UC Hastings College of the Law, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on May 5. The suit demanded the city clear out the “dangerously crowded” encampments, find housing for the homeless and stop the open-air drug dealing.

    An out-of-court settlement was reached on June 12, with the city agreeing to remove 70% of the tents by July 20. The city also agreed to “discourage” new tents and their residents from settling in the Tenderloin.
    San Francisco has made progress in clearing the tents.
    San Francisco City Hall’s overdue efforts to clear the tents from the Tenderloin appear to be working, with more than 388 homeless people moved off the sidewalks and into hotels or safe sleeping camps since June 10.

    The block-by-block cleanup and counseling effort has reduced the number of tents in the 49-block Tenderloin area to 172 as of Tuesday morning, compared with the 443 when the cleanup began last month.
    The cost of housing, feeding, and providing medical care to the homeless is about $200 per person per day.

    Tents-bad / tents-good / tents-bad is yet another example of authorities reversing themselves completely (don't bother wearing a mask unless it's N95, oops, wear some kind of face covering; young people are safe, oops, no they're not; don't gather outdoors with strangers, oops, Black Lives Matter crowds are fine, etc.).

    We can't keep up, but unlike others we don't pretend to have wisdom or knowledge.

    Wednesday, July 01, 2020

    Claiming a Right Means Everyone Else Has It, Too

    "Black Lives Matter" on a Washington street (
    Last month, when corporations and public officials fell all over themselves to denounce purported systemic racism, Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel painted "Black Lives Matter" on a city street.

    While your humble blogger agrees with the sentiment, and certainly supports the right of individuals and private groups to espouse it, the action crossed a line:
    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.
    The conservative group, Judicial Watch, has asked the above questions through a lawsuit: [bold added]
    Judicial Watch went to court Wednesday demanding access to paint the streets of Washington with its own political message after the city wrote “Black Lives Matter” on one street and allowed protesters to paint “Defund the Police” next to it.

    The conservative group said the city has effectively turned its roadways into a public forum, and so it must allow those with differing viewpoints than BLM protesters to have the same access, or else it’s violating the First Amendment.
    Claiming a right means everyone else has it, too.