Monday, August 31, 2020

Holding Their Nose and Voting Republican

The Wall Street Journal highlights another consequence of the extended coronavirus lockdown: uncollected garbage. [bold added]
NYC sidewalk, Jan., 2020   (WNYC)
Philadelphia and Baltimore are among the hardest hit cities, though others, such as Atlanta and Nashville, also are having trouble. In Virginia Beach, Va., sanitation workers demanding hazard pay held a one-day work stoppage Aug. 19, putting trash collection behind for days. In New York City, garbage has piled up on some commercial corridors and residential streets after budget cuts reduced trash pickup.

Some residents are taking matters into their own hands. On two occasions the West Passyunk Neighborhood Association in South Philadelphia has trucked trash and recyclables in rented pickups to a city facility, after waiting in vain for municipal crews.

“Our streets looked like the city was abandoned,” said James Gitto, the association’s 29-year-old president. “It’s a daunting task when you look out and there is trash everywhere.”

At its worst, he said, the smell of rotten meat seeped into his home from trash bags piled by the street, and at night he could hear cats fighting over the spoils. He added that some garbage sat so long it stained the sidewalk.
Without knowing the answer in advance (except for New York), your humble blogger looked up the political affiliation of the mayors of the above-mentioned cities. They were overwhelmingly Democrats.
Keisha Lance Bottoms (D), Atlanta
Bernard "Jack" Young (D), Baltimore
John Cooper (D), Nashville
Bill de Blasio (D), New York
Jim Kenney (D), Philadelphia
Bobby Dyer (R), Virginia Beach
According to recent polls the Democrats have a good chance of winning the Presidency and sweeping Congress this year. Well, they might have done so despite the rioting and looting in cities they govern, but garbage in the streets? That may be enough for their constituencies to hold their nose and vote Republican.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Being Philosophical

Interest in philosophy rises during troubled times:
Clockwise from top left: Socrates, Michel
de Montaigne, Henry D Thoreau. (WSJ)
today’s lockdowns (partial or full) force us to pause and question assumptions so deeply ingrained that we didn’t know we had them. This, said Socrates, is how wisdom takes root. We crave a return to “normal,” but have we stopped to define normal? We know these times demand courage, but what does courage look like? Already, we’ve expanded our notion of “hero” to include not only doctors and nurses but grocery clerks and Grubhub couriers. Good, Socrates would say: Now interrogate other “givens.”...

Stoicism was born of disaster—its founder Zeno established the school of thought in 301 B.C. after he was shipwrecked near Athens—and it has been dispensing advice on coping with adversity ever since. No wonder it’s enjoying a resurgence, one that began before the pandemic.

Stoic philosophy is neatly summed up by the former slave turned teacher Epictetus: “What upsets people is not things themselves but their judgments about things.” Change what you can, accept what you cannot, a formula later adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and crafty T-shirt hawkers.

A good Stoic would have prepared for the pandemic by practicing premeditatio malorum, or “premeditation of adversity.” Imagine the worst scenarios, advised the Roman senator and Stoic philosopher Seneca, and “rehearse them in your mind: exile, torture, war, shipwreck.” A modern Stoic’s list looks a bit different—a screaming child, unpaid bills, a worrisome fever—but the idea is the same. By contemplating calamity, we rob future hardships of their bite and appreciate what we have now. Adversity anticipated is adversity diminished...

The pandemic has made a mockery of our grand plans. Graduations, weddings, job prospects—poof, gone, rolling back down the hill like Sisyphus’s boulder. Yet we must persevere, said Camus. Our task, he said, isn’t to understand the meaning of catastrophes like Covid-19 (there is none) but to “imagine Sisyphus happy.” How? By owning the boulder. By throwing ourselves into the task, despite its futility, because of its futility. “Sisyphus’s fate belongs to him,” said Camus. “His rock is his thing.”

Are you working on a seemingly fruitless project, a dissertation or a marketing strategy, forever delayed, buffeted by the gales of circumstance? Good, Camus says, you’ve begun to grasp the absurdity of life. Invest in the effort, not the result, and you will sleep better. His prescription is our challenge in the age of Covid-19: staring down the absurdity of our predicament but stubbornly persisting rather than yielding to despair. Just like a good philosopher.
One would be mistaken in thinking that philosophy--and religion--are ascendant at the expense of science.

Some may have "lost their faith in science", but true scientists have never claimed that science had the answers. Global warming, whether a coronavirus vaccine will work, smoking cigarettes will kill you, etc. are all outcomes that are couched in probabilities. Furthermore, true scientists are open to new evidence that could overturn long-held hypotheses.

"That which does not kill us makes us stronger," Friedrich Nietzsche famously said. Science, philosophy, and mankind will ultimately come out of these times stronger than ever. Nietzsche, of course, was a philosopher.

Saturday, August 29, 2020


Landed families are known for giving the same name to successive generations of men (example: Alexander Rae Baldwin III, who can trace his lineage to the Mayflower), but they don't hold a candle to Handsome Dan XVIII:
Don't mistake his sniffing
for haughtiness.
The tradition was established by a young gentleman from Victorian England, who attended Yale in the 1890's. The line now numbers 18, and the original successors have been the intimates of deans, directors, and coaches. One was tended by a head cheerleader who went on to become the Secretary of State. Another was featured on the cover of a national magazine. Yale was the first university in the United States to adopt a mascot, and to this date, none is better known than Handsome Dan.
The venerable university can take down statues and change the name of its residential colleges--perhaps even rename the whole institution--but if they put Handsome Dan in the doghouse, its donation request will go straight to the shredder.

Friday, August 28, 2020

San Francisco Has Topped Out

This month I've been posting--and probably boring you to tears, dear reader--about the untenability of life in the Bay Area ("Cascading Catastrophes", "Thousands Flee"). Chronicle writers have devoted time to this theme:
Bad things keep piling on — when is enough enough in the Bay Area? [bold added]

Come for the fog, stay with the smoke (Chron)
The lightning-sparked fires spreading in all directions, fouling the region’s air and driving people from their homes in at least six of our nine counties, are the latest onslaught in a year that already has given us too many layers of stress. They come as we enter our sixth month of a pandemic that has no clear end, as protests continue against the racial inequities made stark by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May...

In a poll last year by the Bay Area Council, for example, 57% of the people surveyed by the business group said that the region was on the “wrong track” — twice the number who held that view in 2015. Almost as many, 49%, classified themselves as “strongly” or “somewhat” likely to move from the region in the next few years. Asked why, nearly three-quarters identified housing costs or the cost of living as the main culprit.
Veteran writer Carl Nolte believes San Francisco will bounce back:
Forces keep battering San Francisco — and its spirit is still alive

2003: now this is fog.
There are a lot of examples of how the city has lost its soul: the tent encampments, the boarded-up stores, the urban failures you see everyday, the moving vans taking people away for good.

But I see other things: the man up the street who left some honey from local bees on my doorstep earlier in the summer, the woman who left a nosegay of flowers from her garden by her gate with an invitation to passersby to take the flowers home. The sidewalk libraries with free books. A city’s soul is intangible, wispy and ephemeral like the summer fog. You miss it most when the heat’s on.
Meanwhile, home prices are booming in a resort town:
Downtown Truckee, 12 mi from N Tahoe (Chron)
Tahoe’s new Gold Rush: Bay Area residents fleeing coronavirus push up home prices

The COVID-19 pandemic has stoked a real estate boom throughout the Tahoe region, propelled by thousands of workers fleeing San Francisco and the broader Bay Area. Freed from the shackles of 9-to-5 office work, these white-collar workers are seeking mountain homes near open space and tranquility far from downtown high-rises. And they have the money to pay for it.
Young people move here for the nightlife, job opportunities, networking, and the weather. The nightlife is non-existent, jobs and networking can be done remotely, and the smokey air, not fog, is now an annual summer phenomenon.

The population inflow is slowing, the outflow is accelerating, and, sorry Carl Nolte, IMHO I don't see what will stop these trends.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

We Plan to Go When She'll Be Right

Combining the yearning for epic travel and epic movies, Air New Zealand's 2014 safety video holds up well today, when we have neither:

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Embracing the Fake

I ordered some college paraphernalia, and they sent me the wrong shirt. It's two-sizes too big, I'm not a lawyer, and I didn't go to law school.

If I do wear it, people might get the impression that I'm smarter than I really am. Also, they might ask me about law stuff, and I could bluff them for only about 30 seconds.

Besides, going to a school named after a slave trader and owner is not cool and maybe even dangerous to the shirt wearer.

But I do like the shield emblem, and I do like the color. Eh, I'll keep it. When pressed, I'll say I got it from a friend.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

When Kimberly Guilfoyle Shouts, People Listen

Kimberly Guilfoyle was derided for her extravagant speaking style by hostile commentators in the mainstream media. Here is what the normally-friendly WSJ had to say about her speech at the Republican convention: [italics added]
Guilfoyle Goes Full Blast
The convention was peppered with dark predictions about the future if Mr. Biden wins the election in November. Trump campaign senior adviser Kimberly Guilfoyle, who delivered her warning to Americans in a nearly continuous shout, said Democrats want to enslave Americans with liberal ideology, steal liberty and freedom and “control what you see and believe.”

“They want to destroy this country and everything we have fought for and hold dear,” said Ms. Guilfoyle.
After that tantalizing review, one has to see the speech for oneself:

1) The usual outraged responders to the sexist criticism (if a man talked like that, they would say he was dynamic and forceful) are unusually quiet;
2) Her speech was over-the-top when one knows that there was no live audience; it was entirely appropriate for a speech in front of conventioneers. This will become apparent when the Trump campaign adds cheers, crowds, and confetti through the magic of CGI.
3) Kimberly Guilfoyle was once married to Gavin Newsom. Forget about the Conways and Matalin-Carville. Guilfoyle-Newsom would have sucked all the air out of the room.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Let's Talk About Racers Instead

Auto racing, hunting, and anything to do with heavy industry, extraction, and agriculture (raising tomatoes in containers doesn't count) are worlds removed from the bicoastal ivory towers, so it's no surprise that CNN got it wrong when reporting on the Indianapolis 500.

For CNN--which appears to have no knowledge of the rube culture in flyover country--referring to "NASCAR'S Indianapolis 500" is an understandable error, just like generalizing all non-STEM majors as worthless is an understandable error by people who don't bother with the finer points of credentialism (FYI, dear reader, I'm a non-STEM major). Lumping together two very distinct racing institutions like NASCAR and the Indy 500 is like referring to "Boeing's A320" or "Google's iPhone."

Christian Bale and Matt Damon (indian express graphic)
Speaking of racing, I watched the very fine Ford v. Ferrari, a "true-story" movie about the Ford Motor Company's all-out effort to wrest the 24 Hours of Le Mans trophy from Ferrari in 1966.

While it has excellent-and-not-too-dizzying racing sequences, the power of the movie rests on Carroll Shelby's effort to get Ford to agree to the car designs and the driver, Ken Miles, he wanted. Matt Damon (Shelby) and Christian Bale (Miles) give excellent performances as they battle each other, the Ford bureaucracy, Lee Iacocca, Henry Ford II, and Enzo Ferrari.

What resonated most with this boomer was the movie's depiction of pre-1968 America, when men were confident in their ability to accomplish anything after the shared experience of World War II and when the women they loved supported them while being smarter than they were--Holy Pride and Prejudice, Batman! (1966 language reference). In tone, color, character, and attitude the movie was very much like The Right Stuff, the movie and book about the fighter pilots who became the first astronauts.

Highly recommended, even for those who don't know the difference between carburetion and fuel injection.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Jesus' Wife (Not)

Karen King holds the papyrus in question
(Boston Globe/WSJ photo)
It wasn't great literature, but it was a provocative page-turner back in the oughts.

I read Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code in 2005, which (spoiler alert!) promulgated the theory that Jesus married and had children. Though fictional, the book sparked keen interest in the theory that Mary Magdalene was Jesus' wife. Fame and fortune would flow to the scholar who would find proof of this thesis.

In 2012 Harvard Divinity Professor Karen King unveiled the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife based on a papyrus fragment that purportedly said,
"“Jesus said to them, ‘My wife . . .’ ”
According to journalist and book reviewer Alex Beam in the WSJ
A married Jesus would turn the Catholic Church on its head. The papyrus hinted at a wife named Mary, presumed to be Mary Magdalene, painted as a prostitute by Pope Gregory the Great in the sixth century. The New Testament, however, never mentions a marriage, other than in references to the Church or holy Jerusalem as Christ’s spiritual bride. Christ’s purported bachelorhood undergirds the Catholic doctrine of priestly celibacy. If the papyrus accurately described a wife of Christ, “this means that the whole Catholic claim of a celibate priesthood based on Jesus’s celibacy has no historical foundation,” noted Ms. King, a feminist scholar and expert on the apocryphal, second-century Gospel of Mary.
Journalist Ariel Sabar's latest book, Veritas, recounts the history of Professor King's blockbuster finding, the subsequent re-examination, textual and physical, of the papyrus, and its ultimate debunking. Not helping Professor King's credibility was the background of the person who produced the fragment, one Walter Fritz. Mr. Fritz was a Berlin Egyptology student who ended up in Florida making pornographic films.

Ariel Sabar accuses Karen King of desiring and driving toward a conclusion that the evidence does not support.
“[Ms. King’s] ideological commitments were choreographing her practice of history,” Mr. Sabar writes. “The story came first; the dates managed after. The narrative before the evidence; the news conference before the scientific analysis.”
Ideological objectives have subverted premier education and news institutions that once held the search for truth (veritas) to be their highest calling.

Now their mission is combatting some -isms and elevating others. The truth takes a back seat to the narrative.

And if you want to take down the 2,000-year-old Christian narrative, you're gonna need a bigger piece of paper.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Bay Area: "Cascading Catastrophes"

SF on Wednesday: it's not the fog. (Chron)
We alluded to Northern California's perfect storm of problems--wildfires, COVID-19, homelessness, unemployment, crime, etc.--two days ago. The Chronicle describes how State and local governments are overwhelmed:
Firefighters may face increased risk of contracting the coronavirus while living and working in close quarters on the front lines. In hospitals and evacuation shelters across the region, people suffering smoke exposure may have symptoms that could be confused for COVID-19, complicating care and draining resources.

“These are all cascading catastrophes. We’re looking at the consequences of these overlapping emergencies,” said Dr. Matt Willis, the Marin County health officer. “We had been concerned there might be a fire here or there. And now we’re dealing with fires everywhere. And while we’re still seeing all this viral transmission.”

And on top of it all, everyone’s exhausted...
Adding to the constant chaos [not a hyperbolic description of the way things are, per Democratic VP Nominee Kamala Harris] is the confusion from government officials: [bold added]
In a pandemic, people are told that outdoor activities are better than inside. But with smoke choking the region, everyone’s being told to stay inside now. People evacuated from their homes often are urged to stay with friends or relatives if they can. But that’s not necessarily a wise choice now, either, when the pandemic message is to avoid others.
Don't count on the government to save us or our homes. It's paralyzed by indecision and is spewing conflicting advice in all directions. It also lacks resources; across Northern California Cal Fire is hoping the fires burn themselves out.

When the crises are over, a lot of jobs won't be coming back, and neither will the people who fled "temporarily".

Friday, August 21, 2020

IRS: So What, We Cannot Lose Them as Customers

Despite a backlog of millions of pieces of unopened mail--some containing checks from taxpayers---the IRS is sending out late payment notices.
Rep. Neal (Accounting Today)
Many taxpayers have been receiving balance-due notices from the IRS even though they sent in their tax payments to the IRS months ago, because trailers full of mail have remained unopened since the start of the pandemic....

“IRS officials reported that, due to office closures, the IRS has accumulated a staggering backlog of unopened mail,” [Rep. Richard Neal, D-Massachusetts] wrote in a letter Wednesday to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig. “At one point this summer, the IRS had approximately 12 million pieces of unopened correspondence in its inventory. Despite this unprocessed mail, the IRS reportedly has been sending notices to taxpayers whose correspondence and payments remain unopened. Therefore, many of the taxpayers receiving these notices already have made the payments that the IRS seeks.”

...Neal would like the IRS to stop sending out the notices when there is still so much uncertainty about what taxes have been paid by check and are sitting in unopened envelopes.
The IRS acknowledged it has received
Mom's return 5 months after it was
mailed but has yet to send the refund.
Somehow businesses that have managed to stay alive have coped with the unprecedented stress of the COVID-19 lockdown.

A broad swath of Government agencies--e.g., the CDC, the State Department, public education, and the IRS--have demonstrated gross inefficiency, if not incompetence.

Taxpayers should be given the benefit of the doubt that the mistakes lie with the IRS, not them.

It also doesn't bode well for the November elections, when enormous burdens will be placed on the U.S. Postal Service.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

God: "How Many Warnings Do I Have to Send You?"

Today's fishwrap [the late great Herb Caen's phrase--and he worked for them] headline is about the more-than-300 wildfires burning in our once-paradisiacal State (alas, Paradise was destroyed two years ago).

In the most environmentally-conscious state of the Union--home to the Sierra Club founded by the racist John Muir--the air quality is now the worst in the world: [bold added]
Wildfire smoke cast hazy red skies over the Bay Area on Wednesday, creating a seriously unhealthy atmosphere and adding to the region’s pandemic-heightened anxiety. Ash fell over many counties. Kids locked out of school remained shuttered indoors. Families evacuated homes.

Atmospheric testing revealed Northern California’s air quality to be the worst in the world.

Smoke from multiple fires polluted the air, sparking a renewed concern for residents with respiratory issues, including those suffering from COVID.
Here in Foster City the good news is that the out-of-control fires in San Mateo County are 40 miles distant, on the other side of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The bad news is that, if people in our County are suffering, we all suffer at least indirectly.

While San Mateo County's crime and homelessness problems aren't as bad as San Francisco's, we are afflicted plenty with COVID-19, unemployment, school and business closures, the recent heat wave, and power failures. And now, lightning, the wildfires, and polluted air.

Quote of the Day: “At this point, I’m waiting for the plague of locusts to come.”
The fight against the coronavirus sent their businesses outside.

Then swirling ash and acrid smoke from wildfires kept their customers indoors.

Restaurateurs, fitness trainers and other business owners across the Bay Area wondered where they were supposed to serve people, as one crisis made indoor service illegal and another made the outdoors untenable.

Sweltering conditions prevailed Wednesday as what the National Weather Service called the worst extended heat wave since 1913 blasted the region. Lightning-sparked blazes lit up the area, combining into fire complexes that sent pillars of smoke billowing into the skies, choking the air.

“At this point, I’m waiting for the plague of locusts to come,” said Wendy Klein, who started Nandi Yoga in 2008 in San Mateo.
I would join the caravans leaving the area and the State permanently if I had any brains or if I was from a more religious upbringing that believed that God was trying to tell me something.

What next? The Big One? 2020 has over four months to go....

Apple Floats Upward

Contra Isaac Newton, Apple defied the laws of gravity and floated above a Two Trillion Dollar ($2,000,000,000,000) valuation today.

When Steve Jobs died on October 5, 2011, everyone agreed that Apple's glory days were in the past. Tim Cook appeared to be a competent manager, but after a couple of years came the realization that there were no world-beating, industry-destroying products in the pipeline, nothing like the iPod, iPhone, and iPad.

There were no revolutionary devices---unless one counts the Apple Watch's niche in personal health---but it turns out they weren't necessary to power Apple in the coming decade. Selling services to over one billion Apple devices provided plenty of growth.

Apple's market capitalization when Tim Cook officially took over in October, 2011, was $344 billion. The company is valued six times as much today. As we've observed, naming Tim Cook as his successor was Steve Job's wisest decision.
(Chart by macrotrends)

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

On November 3rd I'm Voting in Person

Foster City polling center on March 3rd
By early March most Bay Area residents were aware of the coronavirus. Many people had already begun modifying their behavior: stocking up on food and cleaning supplies, minimizing going out, wearing masks, and washing hands.

However, concerns about this mysterious affliction did not deter a crowd, which included your humble blogger, from going to the polls during the March 3rd primaries.

It turned out that the virus had entered the Bay Area by January, perhaps even in December. And yet...there was no appreciable spike in infections despite the Statewide shelter-in-place having not begun until March 19th. (Infections and deaths as of March 31st were 8,155 and 171, respectively.)

With the current controversy about the reputed dangers of voting-in-person, the possible problems of widespread voting-by-mail, and the tribulations of the U.S. Postal Service, the above prefatory remarks are leading to the following point:

Wired: Honestly, Just Vote In Person—It’s Safer Than You Think
After state Democrats fought unsuccessfully to extend the deadline for mailing back absentee ballots, the ensuing photos of long lines at Milwaukee polling places seemed to presage an explosion of Covid-19 cases.

But the bomb never blew. As I [Gilad Edelman, Wired political writer and Yale JD] observed in May, there was no noticeable rise in coronavirus cases thanks to the Wisconsin primary. A follow-up study by researchers at the City of Milwaukee Health Department and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded, “No clear increase in cases, hospitalizations, or deaths was observed after the election.” In fact, case numbers in Milwaukee were lower in the weeks after the election than in the weeks before it. There are caveats: In-person turnout was low overall thanks to broad use of mail-in ballots, and we don’t know how coronavirus prevalence in March will compare with November. Still, it’s telling that there have been no credible reports of virus spikes attributable to any other election this year, even though ill-considered polling place closures have led to further instances of Milwaukee-style overcrowding.
I will wear a mask, practice social distancing, and bring hand sanitizer because I may be touching buttons, screens, and styluses. If there's in-person voting on November 3rd I'm going.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Willie Brown is a Lucky Guy

At the Houston debates last September (Chron/AP)
86-year-old Willie Brown still has his fastball:
I got a call from a guy who interviewed me when I was in Dallas for my sister’s funeral in January 2019.

“I asked you what you thought the ideal Democratic ticket would be, and you said, ‘Biden for president. Kamala Harris for VP.’ I even have it on tape,” he said.

“Play if for me,” I said.

He did.

“What do you think?” he asked.

“I think that was my lucky day. I just wish you had asked me to pick that day’s lottery number.”

Here’s hoping your day is lucky as well.
Willie Brown rose to the top of Sacramento politics as California's Speaker, then glided through two terms (1996-2004) as mayor of San Francisco before its recent troubles. He's found his calling as the still-stylish political raconteur with friends on both sides of the aisle. He was lucky that day when he made the call, but he has a lot of lucky days.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Melatonin: More Than Sleep Benefits

Melatonin supplements are helpful because "blue
light" inhibits production by the pineal gland.
(sleepy scientist)
Beginning this year I've been taking a 3-mg tablet of melatonin every night. Coincidence or not, the result has been five hours of uninterrupted sleep instead of the usual 2-3 hours since turning 60.

In addition to being a hormone that seems to help people sleep, melatonin has other health benefits:
it can help combat inflammation, promote weight loss, and maybe even help children with neurodevelopmental disorders...

One 2011 review found evidence that, in children with autism, melatonin supplementation led to improved sleep and better daytime behavior. A small 2017 study from Poland found that obese adults who took a daily 10 mg melatonin supplement for 30 days while eating a reduced-calorie diet lost almost twice as much weight as a placebo group. The underlying cause might be connected to the fact that blood measures of oxidative damage and inflammation were much lower in the people who took melatonin...

Inflammation, like poor sleep, is implicated in the development or progression of an array of diseases, from heart disease and diabetes to depression and dementia. If melatonin could safely promote both better sleep and lower rates of inflammation, it could be a potent preventative for a lot of those ills. And melatonin appears to be safe—though there isn’t much research on the long-term effects of taking it in heavy doses.
Over your humble blogger's lifetime daily doses of various substances have been touted as the key to good health, e.g., vitamin C, vitamin E, baby aspirin, oatmeal, red wine, and fish oil. Melatonin is just the latest in a long line of these miraculous foods and tablets.

Well, I don't know about inflammation, weight loss, and neuro-health. As long as I'm sleeping better--and until that nearly inevitable study comes out about melatonin's harmful effects--I'll continue to pop a pill every night.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Stormy Weather

The thunder woke me at 3:30 a.m. and didn't subside until 6:30.
The heat wave has been joined by thunder and lightning:
The Bay Area’s extraordinarily warm, stormy weather is expected to continue for several days, with more thunder and lightning Sunday and Monday, and excessive heat likely through Wednesday.

The bizarre storm early Sunday joined forces with a fiery heat wave that has pushed temperatures into the triple digits across the region over the past two days, shattering all kinds of records. Napa reached 103 degrees on Saturday, breaking its previous high temperature of 102 from 1906, according to the National Weather Service.
It's a good thing that we're a people of science and understand lightning and thunder, else we would sit cowering in our homes, fearful that going out will kill us.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Government Gas & Electric, Continued

Our home's central air-conditioning has not worked for at least 20 years, and I've been too cheap frugal to replace it. Besides, I'm being environmentally virtuous by suffering through the heat--currently 97°F--and not drawing fossil-fuel-originated electricity from the grid. (Yes, I plan to flaunt my green virtue to neighbors by installing solar panels with battery backup when the technology improves a bit.)

The planned rolling blackouts have begun: [bold added]
Current PG&E outage map at 6:15 p.m. today. Color code
for #customers affected: Green,1-49; Yellow, 50-499
Orange, 500-4,999, Red 5,000+
The rotating outages were ordered because of the increased electricity demand from customers running air conditioners and other devices. Demand outpaced available supply...

Today, California faces very different circumstances after spending much of the past two decades greening its power supply with large-scale wind and solar farms. The state has almost eliminated coal-fired generation and has been reducing its reliance on natural gas in favor of renewables, particularly solar power.

That poses a supply challenge when electricity demand jumps. Solar-energy production begins to decline in the early evening hours, when power usage peaks, reducing the capacity available during a supply crunch.

The California grid operator has complex, comprehensive plans in place to address such challenges. When demand surges, California relies more heavily on power imported from neighboring states, and natural-gas-fired power plants capable of firing up quickly are kept on standby. But during Friday’s blackouts, some of that power didn’t materialize as expected.

“The capacity that was supposed to be available just didn’t show up,” said Michael Wara, head of the climate and energy policy program at Stanford University’s Woods Institute. He said more information is necessary to determine exactly why the blackouts were necessary.
Last year we marveled at the demands placed on PG&E.
  • Deliver electricity and natural gas reliably to 16 million Californians;
  • Charge customers as low a rate as possible;
  • Earn a profit for investors, including a regular dividend;
  • Clear trees and brush to reduce the risk of wildfires;
  • Provide generous salary, medical and pension benefits in accordance with union contracts;
  • Repair and replace its aging infrastructure with less efficient and more costly carbon-minimizing energy sources (principally windmills and solar, but not nuclear);
  • Decommission Diablo Canyon, its last nuclear power plant, for an estimated $4.8 billion beginning in 2024;
  • Meet Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) standards;
  • Pay $billions in damages for its culpability in the 2017-2019 wildfires.
  • Transfer hundreds of thousands of acres to tribes and public agencies per agreements dating back to 2001.
  • The cries for a government takeover of the utility have intensified. Your humble blogger approves.

    Rather than continue the everlasting arguments about socialism vs, capitalism, socialists can prove the superiority of their system by running PG&E cheaper (it won't have to pay dividends) and more reliably.

    With all the money saved I might even loosen the pursestrings for central air.

    Friday, August 14, 2020

    Goodbye, San Francisco

    Due to the coronavirus and remote working, the trickle out of San Francisco has turned into a stampede. And unlike past exoduses [digression: exodi? 7th-grade Latin kicking in] those who are leaving tend to have higher incomes and valuable technical skills.
    (WSJ graphic)
    Tech companies are giving their employees more freedom to work from anywhere. Employees are taking them up on the option to relocate, forming the beginnings of a shift that could reshape not only the Bay Area, but also the cities where these tech workers are making new homes...

    Google-parent Alphabet Inc. last month said employees won’t be returning to the office until at least the summer of 2021, in part so they can sign one-year leases somewhere else. Facebook Inc. recently said its employees could stay away for that long too. The social-media giant, which has 52,000 employees, expects to shift to a substantially remote workforce over the coming decade, and is now recruiting a director of remote work. Other companies including Twitter Inc. and Slack Technologies Inc. have declared most of their employees can work remotely for good...

    Around 40% of Facebook’s employees were interested in permanent remote work, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in May, citing an internal survey. Three quarters of those employees said they might move to another place. Facebook declined to say how many employees have formally requested to relocate.

    A survey of 371 Bay Area tech workers, conducted in mid-May by the recruitment marketplace Hired, found that 42% would move to a less expensive city if their employer asked them to work remotely full-time. Another survey at the end of July by Blind, a platform for workers to discuss their jobs anonymously, found that 15% of more than 3,300 Bay Area professionals who responded had left the region since the pandemic began—though it was unclear how many considered their moves to be temporary. Of those remaining, 59% said they would consider relocating if their companies allow it.

    It's nice but not necessary to live close to the
    company HQ. (Largest rent decreases in red--WSJ)
    While it’s too soon to measure the total net outflow of tech workers from the Bay Area, it’s already affecting real-estate prices. Rents have started falling for the first time in years. The median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco in the month of July dropped by 11% compared with the same month a year prior, according to rental-listings platform Zumper, which analyzed nearly 11,000 listings in the city and several surrounding areas. In Cupertino, home to Apple Inc., and Mountain View, home to Google, the median rent for one-bedroom apartments fell by more than 15%.

    “The majority of techies in the Bay Area are not about to move out, but it is a significant enough minority that it’s moving the market,” said Zumper CEO Anthemos Georgiades. “This year is the first year that it’s actually real.”

    While the pandemic has slowed or stalled rent increases in cities nationwide, San Francisco stands out, said Joshua Clark, an economist at real-estate search service Zillow. Rents in the city have fallen for the first time since the firm began tracking in 2014.

    “The fact that San Francisco has turned negative, that is rare,” Mr. Clark said. He attributes that in part to the heights that San Francisco’s housing costs had reached before the pandemic.

    Those who are leaving the area permanently cite a variety of reasons, but high housing costs tend to be at the top of the list. Between 2009 and 2019, the median cost of a single-family home in the San Francisco Bay Area nearly tripled to around $1 million. Even renting a bunk bed in a room with five other people can cost over $1,300 a month.

    The region is expensive in other ways too. Getting a cheeseburger and fries delivered can easily cost $25. An ice cream cone can cost $7. Before the pandemic hit, classes at boutique gyms routinely ran $30.

    A large departure of tech workers could have significant implications for the industry, the Bay Area, and for other cities across the U.S. seeking to draw more tech jobs, say executives and analysts.
    We are about to enter a vicious cycle where a shrinking tax base and rising government deficits (blamed on COVID-19) will lead to ever higher taxes on those who remain, causing more people to leave, etc.

    As we wrote three months ago, The COVID-19 San Francisco Earthquake of 2020 has occurred, but not many people realize it yet.

    Thursday, August 13, 2020

    Watching the Watch Owners

    Apple Watch: more useful but frankly not as beautiful.
    Back in the day of men wearing suits I used a mechanical watch.

    It didn't have the prestige of a Rolex or Patek Philippe, but the Omega was respectable enough for a bankers' meeting.

    After nearly two decades of wear, the Swiss timepiece was put away in 2016, displaced by the less expensive but more useful Apple Watch.

    Picture of inner turmoil: socks, gold watch, no pants (WSJ)
    The COVID-19 lockdown has caused all of us to re-assess priorities. Were expensive watches acquired for social standing or personal enjoyment?
    Strapping on a Patek Philippe for Zoom calls just to have friends and co-workers salivate over your bezel is gauche, but the timepiece habits of dedicated collectors have scarcely changed in the Covid era....A good watch is a capstone to any outfit, but these days, people aren’t wearing outfits—they’re grabbing whatever’s on top of the laundry pile.
    The more possessions we have the more we have to worry about.

    Wednesday, August 12, 2020

    The Files Won't Scan and Shred Themselves

    The paper stack has been scanned and awaits shredding.
    We're extremely fortunate that none of us have gotten sick--in fact all the mask-wearing and hand-washing has kept us free from flu, colds, and infections.

    Our finances have been affected negatively to some extent, but we're doing better than a lot of people.

    Logically we should be taking advantage of this quiet period in our lives to attack projects that have been languishing for years.

    One of them is office clutter. 40 years of tax returns, business records, and vendor files need to be scanned and shredded.

    Over the past month I cleared one major stack with a dozen more to go. It's like exercise; the hardest part is getting started.

    Tuesday, August 11, 2020

    SF: It Hasn't Hit Bottom Yet

    Down memory lane: last October we mused on San Francisco's self-inflicted wounds.
    Despite the litany of San Francisco problems--homelessness, crime, needles and human waste on the sidewalks, astronomical real estate prices, astronomical taxes, boulders in the streets, taxpayers leaving, empty storefronts, $billions of transportation over-runs, not to mention picking fights with the Federal Government over immigration and the environment--now activists want San Francisco to set up its own bank.
    (Photo from grassrootsaction)
    (By the way, the public bank has gone nowhere, like other San Francisco projects where the mouth is writing checks that the a** can't cash.) Since October San Francisco's awfulness has escalated to the Nth degree with even more homelessness, business closures, the defund-the-police movement, and huge budget deficits.

    One might have expected that San Francisco voters would move away from far-left politicians like State Senator Scott Wiener (jailtime for wrong pronouns, tax California estates over $3.5 million, etc.). But one would be wrong. Scott Wiener is being challenged by someone who says he is not progressive enough:
    (Image from Jacobinmag)
    Jackie Fielder, a 25-year-old activist and college lecturer, is mounting a surprisingly strong challenge to state Sen. Scott Wiener in an only-in-San Francisco contest that features a progressive incumbent and an even more progressive opponent.

    Fielder, a democratic socialist who describes herself as a “Native American ... Mexicana, and queer educator and organizer,” is making her first run for office against Wiener, a 50-year-old gay attorney who was elected to the state Senate in 2016 after serving two terms on the Board of Supervisors...

    Fielder wants to see a $100 billion California Housing Emergency Fund, raised by tax increases on the state’s wealthiest taxpayers and corporations. The money would be used to buy at least 200,000 existing units and to build 100,000 new homes, owned either publicly or by nonprofit groups.
    Whether it's called rock bottom or the "misery threshold," San Francisco hasn't hit it yet.

    Monday, August 10, 2020

    To Run With Joe

    (Chronicle 2003 photo)
    Kamala Harris, the junior Senator from California, dropped out of the Presidential race last year. However, she is on the short list to become Joe Biden's running mate.

    Her friend and mentor, Willie Brown, advised her against being on the ticket in yesterday's Chronicle:
    If Joe Biden offers the vice presidential slot to Sen. Kamala Harris, my advice to her would be to politely decline.

    Harris is a tested and proven campaigner who will work her backside off to get Biden elected. That said, the vice presidency is not the job she should go for — asking to be considered as attorney general in a Biden administration would be more like it.

    Being picked for the vice presidency is obviously a huge honor, and if Biden wins, Harris would make history by being the first woman to hold the job.

    But the glory would be short-lived, and historically, the vice presidency has often ended up being a dead end. For every George H.W. Bush, who ascended from the job to the presidency, there’s an Al Gore, who never got there.

    True, the vice president does have an advantage the next time the party needs a new nominee, which in Biden’s case could be four years from now. But in the meantime, the vice president has no real power and little chance to accomplish anything independent of the president.

    Basically, no one takes the vice president seriously after election day. Just ask Mike Pence.

    Plus, if Biden wins, the Democrats will be moving into the White House in the middle of a pandemic and economic recession. The next few years promise to be a very bumpy ride. Barack Obama and the Democrats saved the nation from economic collapse when he took office, and their reward was a blowout loss in the 2010 midterm elections.

    On the other hand, the attorney general has legitimate power. From atop the Justice Department, the boss can make a real mark on everything from police reform to racial justice to prosecuting corporate misdeeds.

    And the attorney general gets to name every U.S. attorney in the country. That’s power.

    Plus, given the department’s current disarray under William Barr, just showing up and being halfway sane will make the new AG a hero.

    Best of all, being attorney general would give Harris enough distance from the White House to still be a viable candidate for the top slot in 2024 or 2028, no matter what the state of the nation.
    John Nance Garner, Vice President to FDR, apocryphally said that the office was "not worth a bucket of warm spit.” Willie Brown seems to agree with that assessment, but the veteran California politician is (deliberately?) ignoring the possibility that Joe Biden, if he wins, will not serve the full four years.

    If she has the same ambition as almost every elected politician in Washington, Kamala Harris would be crazy not to accept the invitation to run with Joe.

    [Update - 8/11/20: Yes, it's Kamala Harris.]

    Sunday, August 09, 2020

    SMOD, 2020

    It's a Presidential election year, and the contest is between an incumbent who makes half the country apoplectic and a man who reminds the other half of their nice, hapless grandfather who has trouble with the basics of living.

    It's no surprise that the Sweet Meteor of Death is making a comeback. Think we're kidding?

    February, 2020:
    A majority of New Hampshire Democrats said in a new poll that they would rather a "giant meteor strikes the Earth, extinguishing all human life" than see President Trump reelected.
    'Nuff said, or more accurately, snuff said.

    Saturday, August 08, 2020

    British Foods That are Hard to Find Here

    In America we don't serve these British foods partly because their names can't even be printed on the menu.

    Faggots and groaty dick: Why some foods travel and others don't
    Faggots are a kind of meatball
    Michelin starred chef Glynn Purnell...said the recent surge in "nose-to-tail" eating - a movement which looks to cook the whole animal rather than focus on choice cuts - has seen faggots popping up at eateries across the UK. "It is estimated that tens of millions of faggots are eaten every year, so they can't be that unpopular"...

    Groaty dick: firms up after cooling
    The thick meat porridge - sometimes known as groaty pudding - found its way to the Black Country, where it is still made at the Black Country Living Museum's bonfire night.

    Made from oat husks, leeks, onions stock and cheap cuts of beef, its appeal once lay in the fact it was "calorie heavy, cheap to make and could be left on the range for hours while out at work or looking after children," said curator Grant Bird....

    "In the olden days they'd cook this so thick, let it get cold, then cut it like a cake...the man would take a slice of this in his satchel to work and munch on it."
    Both dishes have British working-class origins and are the antithesis of the low-carb plant-based organic foods that the educated folk are eating. If I could find them in the Bay Area, I'd give them a try.

    Friday, August 07, 2020

    The Chickens Are Going Away to Roost

    The cocks of the walk are walking...away from NYC: [bold added]
    (Image from westfaironline)
    The governor of New York has begged the city’s wealthy, who fled the coronavirus outbreak, to return and help it recover.

    Andrew Cuomo said he was extremely worried about New York City weathering the Covid-19 aftermath if too many of the well-heeled taxpayers who fled to second homes decide there is no need to move back.

    “They are in their Hamptons homes, or Hudson Valley or Connecticut. I talk to them literally every day. I say. ‘When are you coming back? I’ll buy you a drink. I’ll cook,’ “ Mr Cuomo told MSNBC, naming popular getaways for the rich.

    “They’re not coming back right now. And you know what else they’re thinking, if I stay there, they pay a lower income tax because they don’t pay the New York City surcharge. So, that would be a bad place if we had to go there.”

    Lawmakers have proposed a wealth tax targeting the city's 100 billionaires to help fill a $30 billion (£23bn) budget shortfall created by the Covid-19 crisis.

    However, Mr Cuomo, a Democrat, said he could not support greater taxes on the ultra-wealthy as rich people already have one foot out of New York City and he fears they will leave for good if their taxes go up.

    Instead, he wants the federal government and New York's congressional representatives to send billions of dollars in aid.

    “A single per cent of New York’s population pays half of the state’s taxes,” he said, “and they’re the most mobile people on the globe.”

    Rather than temporarily riding out the storm, New York City residents - many of whom are able to work from home - appear to be settling down. Enrollment has spiked at Hamptons schools, while city restaurants have followed their customers out to the Long Island shores.

    Retailers say the city is now the worst place to do business in the country, blaming its strict months-long lockdown and exodus of its wealthiest residents.

    They report foot traffic at Manhattan stores is down 85 per cent from a year ago. Nearly 3,000 small businesses in New York City have closed for good in the past four months.

    Broadway theatres - normally a big draw for tourists - announced they will remain closed until at least January 2021.

    “We expected New York City to be like the rest of the country when we reopened our stores here, but it’s a complete outlier,” said Lawrence Berger, chairman of sports cap company Lids, which has a flagship in Times Square. “There is no way to make money. It’s not an economically viable situation."
    (Image from Simon Leyland)
    New York City is not alone. San Francisco emulates NYC's soak-the-rich scheme through its own income, real estate transfer, and other taxes. The City's tax system has been described as "crazy quilt".

    Record homelessness and the COVID-19 lockdown have further induced high-income workers to leave for their own "Hampton homes” in Napa and Monterey.

    Even if a vaccine or cure becomes miraculously available this year, it's a good bet that the ex-urban trend will continue. The chickens who fled the coop are getting comfortable where they are.

    Thursday, August 06, 2020

    San Francisco: Helpless About Homelessness

    The City Journal's Christopher Rufo walks the streets of San Francisco to get a first-hand view of homelessness. City Journal has a conservative perspective, but the 11-minute video doesn't engage in political talking points. It lets San Franciscans speak about what they think the problem is.

    The video is dispiriting because no one can see a way out of this, and homelessness is worsening by the day. Well, your humble blogger still believes in democracy, and San Franciscans continue to vote for these policies. They're getting it good and hard.

    Wednesday, August 05, 2020

    Caltrain Discussions Reveal Character

    Hillsdale, 2006: commuters and rain
    In a story we've been following for weeks, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties have been trying to seize control of Caltrain from San Mateo County through a ballot measure that would provide financial relief for the beleaguered rail line.

    However, the deadline for submission has forced them to eliminate governance language and draft a "clean" bill:
    The deal, crafted by political leaders in the three counties over the weekend, separates the governance issues from the ballot measure. Officials in Santa Clara and San Francisco counties wanted the ballot measure to require Caltrain and San Mateo County officials to agree on governance changes before being able to spend most of the money. The deal cleans up the ballot measure with the Caltrain board agreeing to pass a resolution with those changes. The governance issues would not be part of the ballot measure language.
    San Francisco and Santa Clara will likely get the control they want after November, but at least their threat to shut down Caltrain if they didn't get their way will not have succeeded.

    In future negotiations, when these counties try to take the moral high ground in discussions with monied entities, we shall remember how they behaved when they had the financial upper hand.

    Tuesday, August 04, 2020

    Eat, Drink and Be Merry

    Sleeping with the fishes? Fred Wilson and his
    tuna caught off Half Moon Bay (Chron photo)
    Giant bluefin tuna prefer warmer waters, but they have arrived in force this week, with local fisherman landing 30 to 35:
    In the past 50 years, anglers have caught Pacific bluefin tuna in a handful of encounters out of Bay Area harbors. These were often aberrations where the tuna were mixed in with schools of albacore in the fall, often at distances 30 to 100 miles offshore.

    The bluefin tuna arrived late last week near the Deep Reef, 10 miles out in Half Moon Bay, where anglers told stories of enormous fish, long fights and even losing 600 yards of line...

    Pacific bluefin are not endangered, but NOAA recognizes them as a species that has been overfished by commercial interests, and their stock assessment shows a slight improvement in recent years.

    Most believe the tuna have been drawn in by vast schools of juvenile anchovies that have also attracted large numbers of humpback whales and shorebirds to the area, said Tom Mattusch, captain of the Huli Cat, a sport fishing charter boat operating out of Pillar Point Harbor.
    Global warming may pose an existential threat, but if we're going to die we may as well enjoy some of its benefits. I hope some of the tuna finds its way to local markets.

    Monday, August 03, 2020

    I Like to Chortle

    In April I started following the recreational vehicle market and bought Winnebago (WGO) on little more than a hunch and a quick perusal of its financial reports. I took the profits on WGO--way too soon as it turned out--and began to look for another investment based on coronavirus-changes in behavior.

    Given the migration out of the cities, more time spent in the home and home office, and the defunding-of-the-police movement, it was a good bet that more businesses and individuals would be subscribing to home security service providers like ADT. A quick look at ADT's financial statements showed that it had a mundane story; on the other hand its low stock price afforded protection against the downside at roughly two times book value (book value bears a relationship to how much an investor would receive in a liquidation of the business). But enough accounting blah-blah.

    I bought some ADT at $8.42/share on a hunch on June 5th. Why didn't I mention it earlier, dear reader? With WGO I sounded like a stock-pump-and-dumper--one of those unsavory characters who loads up, then sings the stock's praises hoping to jack up the price. I am also glad that I didn't mention the purchase, because the stock fell below $8 for several weeks. Nevertheless, I still thought it had good prospects because of the rising demand for home security.

    This morning Google announced a $450 million investment in ADT: [bold added]
    Google has agreed to buy a 6.6% stake in security-monitoring provider ADT Inc. ADT -5.27% for $450 million, as part of the search-engine company’s effort to bolster its hardware business and capitalize on growth in the market for smart-home security products...

    ADT shares rocketed nearly 57% in Monday trading, to finish the trading day at $13.48. Google parent Alphabet Inc. GOOG -0.64% shares edged down 0.35% to $1,482.76.
    Why do I mention ADT now, dear reader? Because this development renders my opinion worthless--speculation about Google's intentions will dominate---and because I like to chortle.