Saturday, October 31, 2020

Knowing What I Know Now, I'd Still Take the Shot

Yesterday I got my flu shot at the Costco Pharmacy.

That's not newsworthy, of course, but it is unusual for me to get it this early in the season. I often skip the shot or get it in the winter because the flu does not normally affect me greatly, and the injection is only about 50% effective anyway. But these days one must be extra cautious and extra diligent.

I was out of sorts today with a fever (101 °F) and mild aches and pains. Thankfully, there were no breathing or gastrointestinal problems, which are other signs of the coronavirus. I'm hoping they are just a reaction to the shot.

This actually been the healthiest year in memory. Mask-wearing, social distancing, and limited interactions with non-family members have kept sickness at bay.

Getting a flu shot, IMHO, is worth the downside risk of a reaction. One doesn't want to get both the flu and the coronavirus, as one unfortunate person did in Solano County.
The first known case in the Bay Area of a dual coronavirus-influenza infection was confirmed Thursday in Solano County, prompting health officials to urge residents to hurry up and get flu shots and double down on social distancing and mask wearing.

The Solano County Department of Health and Social Services described the unlucky patient as an otherwise healthy individual under the age of 65, but the county did not release any personal information.

Bela Matyas, the Solano County health officer, said the victim is older than 20, works in the “health care realm” and appears to have recovered from the co-infection.
Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 30, 2020

A Spike in Coverage

There's been a spike in coronavirus cases in the United States.

Although the WSJ article was packed with information, your humble blogger has trouble grasping written descriptions of numerical data and can comprehend it more easily in graphs or tables. Below are graphs from the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 website via Google:

U.S. Total Cases = 9,020,000

U.S. Deaths = 229,000


1) Yes, infections have spiked, but deaths per day have leveled off.

2) With total U.S. cases of 9.02 million and total deaths of 229,000, the cumulative data showed that one has a 2.5% chance of dying if one contracts the coronavirus.

3) The chances of recovery from COVID-19 are getting better than 2.5%. Whether due to improved treatment, better health among the new cases (for example, younger, fitter patients), earlier detection, or a combination of factors, the graphs show that the chances of dying after diagnosis is now 1% or less.

4) The coronavirus is unquestionably deadlier than the flu. According to the CDC 2018-2019 infections and deaths were 35.5 million and 34,200, respectively, which is a 0.1% chance of dying if one catches the flu. In 2017-2018 infections and deaths were 44.8 million and 61,099, respectively, a 0.14% mortality.

5) A vaccine is not yet available for the coronavirus, while flu infections and deaths are undoubtedly lower because a flu vaccine has been widely distributed and is inexpensive.

6) If I were in charge, I would recommend masks and social distancing indoors with modifications for quality of ventilation. I support universal reopening and would require each establishment (e.g., schools, churches, restaurants) to post its policy so that patrons are fully informed before they make the decision to enter. Then again, it's probably a good thing that I'm not in charge.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Mondrian Memory

On the list of 2020's disappointments this item is nothing, but the loss of San Francisco's Mondrian House merits a moment of reflection. (It's only an intangible loss because the house has been painted over--see above before and after.)
The two-story home at 2140 Great Highway, separated from Ocean Beach by a sand dune covered in ice plant, was one of those unexpected encounters that stood as a vivid treat in what can seem an ever-more-predictable Bay Area landscape. The taut balancing of blue, yellow and red planes within a meticulous white grid also had been a presence for at least 20 years.

No longer. Just like that favorite store or saloon that has closed for good because of the coronavirus....The house changed hands last year, and earlier this month the color scheme changed too. The garage door and front entrance are now soft yellow. Everything else is a sky blue that already looks washed out.
Composition with Yellow, Blue,
and Red (
Dutch painter Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) created a distinctive style, "restricted to the three primary colours and to a grid of black vertical and horizontal lines on a white ground," that once one becomes conscious of it one sees duplicated everywhere.

Mondrian dresses became fashionable in the '60's. Their rectangular frame, perpendicular lines, and primary colors were minimalist and futuristic. They echoed the block letters and basic colors of the nascent computer age, the transition from the complexity of analog to the simplicity of digital 1's and 0's.

That world, along with the Mondrian House, exists no longer.

YSL Mondrian dress (pleasure photo)

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The Eviction Tidal Wave is Coming

Sign in LA (
Last month we wrote about the extension of eviction moratoriums to 2021:
There is a next-to-zero chance of collecting the unpaid rent once a tenant moves out, so basically the State will have taken tens of $thousands per rental unit from property owners in order to effect public policy.

Many owners cannot afford to go without rent for a year. I know elderly landlords who rent out their homes to pay, partially, for their assisted living apartments, which cost $10,000 per month. I know another single-property owner who is taking her condo off the market.
Nationally, defaulting renters number in the millions and unpaid rent is in the $billions:
Moody’s Analytics estimates that [outstanding rent debt] could reach nearly $70 billion by year-end if there is no additional stimulus spending. The economic-research firm calculated that 12.8 million Americans would then owe an average of $5,400 from missed payments.
Small landlords have not been granted relief from property taxes, nor can they defer loan payments because their debt is categorized as commercial, not residential.

All the sympathy has been directed to the tenants who can't pay, but give a thought to the landlords whose properties are in effect being taken because of the State decreeing that legal agreements are not enforceable in one direction.

The eviction of millions, as well as repossessions of thousands of rental properties, will be upon us soon after November 3rd. Though many publications have written about it, looming evictions have not captured the imagination, and politicians have not been asked to come up with solutions.

That's too bad, because real estate experience could have been relevant in the election, and it's a mystery why the media didn't mention it more.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Find My iPhone Will Need to be Updated

(ArtistShot Image)
In case you missed it, Your iPhone will soon work on the moon: (H/T Tyler Cowen) [bold added]
Nokia will build a 4G cellular network on the moon. It’ll allow future astronauts to make voice and video calls, but also transmit data and remotely control equipment.

The goal is to have the wireless network in place on Earth’s largest satellite by 2022. It’s part of NASA’s Artemis program, which has the goal of establishing a sustainable presence on the moon by the end of the decade...

NASA could have skipped 4G and gone straight to the latest standard, but telecoms are only just now rolling out 5G on Earth.
It's wise that they're installing 4G instead of the much-faster-but-unproven 5G.

If you bring a vintage 2014 iPhone 6 (valued at $100) to the multibillion dollar lunar base, you want to be sure it's going to work.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Hornets Weren't Part of the Model

Murder hornets in Washington (Chron photo)
Global warming may not be all bad. If it is indeed responsible for California's hot, dry weather, then it keeps away the murder hornets:
The insect, whose actual name is the Asian giant hornet, inflicts painful stings and can spit venom but typically doesn’t attack people and pets unless threatened. It earned its “murder” moniker because it is highly lethal to honeybees and can annihilate entire hives in hours...

“It is exceedingly unlikely that these hornets can establish in California,” [UCD entomologist] Lynn Kimsey said. “If you look at where they're found in their native range in southern Asia, this region has summer rain. I think California is too dry, except perhaps along the far northern coast.”

A recent study by Washington State University researchers also concluded that while murder hornets could spread down the West Coast through Oregon within a few decades, they likely would not settle in California. The study found that “much of the interior of the U.S. is inhospitable to the hornet due to extremes of heat, cold and low rainfall,” including California’s Central Valley, according to a university news release.
By killing our honeybees murder hornets would threaten
California’s agriculture industry, which state data shows is the largest in the U.S., accounting for over 13% of the nation’s total agricultural value. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the Golden State produces two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts — crops that rely on pollination by honeybees.
To support State agriculture California should spend its scarce dollars on building more dams and water infrastructure while letting markets dictate the speed of the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. We should accept high temperatures because it keeps the honeybees safe.

This path, however, would need much less regulation, and where's the fun in that?

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Beer, Conversation, and God

(Syracuse Diocese)
Before the coronavirus people had already begun finding their faith outside of churches.
“pub theology” meetings...have grown increasingly popular in recent years. The modern trend began in 1981, when a group of Catholic priests in Illinois began holding gatherings to talk about God over beer. They called it “Theology on Tap.” The concept soon gained popularity in the U.K., where it picked up the “pub theology” name...

Over the past decade, the pub theology movement has grown to more than 200 weekly gatherings across the U.S. Average attendance can reach around two dozen people. Over the phone, [Pastor Bryan] Berghoef describes a regular pub-theology night in Western Michigan. Scripture from any of the major world religions is read and discussed, as are current events.

A current topic of discussion could be Halloween, which remains contentious for some of the faithful because of its pagan roots. Most Christian denominations are present every week. Jews and Muslims often attend. The occasional Hindu, Buddhist and Baha’i comes by, along with a few atheists and agnostics
The sharing of food goes back to Christianity's founding. The Lord's Supper was a real meal:
It was meant to satisfy the participants' hunger. In principle the idea was that the more well-to-do members of the community would share food with poorer members. This sharing of food gave the Lord's Supper, inter alia, the function of a charity meal.
I suspect that pubs and bars will bounce back more quickly than churches will as America re-opens. Pastors, priests, and rabbis would do well to have conversations about God, with beer, in a place where the younger crowd feels more comfortable.

As Willie Sutton might have said, that's where the people are.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Give Me a Bigger Piece of the Rock

Trillions of dollars have been spent so far, and the economy is hurting so badly that Congress and the President are negotiating another $2.0 trillion coronavirus rescue package.

Yet in the midst of misery there's a housing boom. [bold added]
There are, broadly, three forces behind housing’s resurgence. First, while the crisis has put millions out of work, those job losses have been concentrated in lower-paying services industries, so those hit hardest tend not to have the means to buy a house in any circumstances. Meanwhile, the higher-income earners who generally can afford a house have weathered the downturn much better.

Second, the downturn, and the Federal Reserve easing efforts it brought forth, have led to a sharp decline in borrowing costs. The average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage has fallen to 2.8%—its lowest level on record—from 3.7% at the start of the year. That has made it, on balance, easier for many people to afford a house.

Finally, the pandemic has prompted many people to move away from urban centers, such as New York City, to more socially distant accommodations in the suburbs, while the work-from-home revolution has convinced some to move even farther afield. There has also been an increase in demand for vacation and second homes.
Normally during periods of uncertainty even the well-off hunker down and preserve their savings. In this unusual year many have decided there's greater risk in staying where they are, especially if they're renting or owning in a high-density urban area.

Some experts believe the exodus from the cities is short-lived, while I, no expert, think it has some staying power. From four months ago:
Your humble blogger believes that this time is different; the de-population of urban centers won't reverse itself for at least 20 years. As services like fire, education, health, transportation, and police are asked to do more on frozen budgets, businesses and the middle and upper classes flee--not all at once, to be sure--but enough so that the tax base erodes. Services are further reduced, and the flight continues. The admittedly extreme example is Detroit, a once-great American city that has never recovered from the 1967 riots.

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

Friday, October 23, 2020

Strained Relationship

Levi's Stadium: not much revenue these days (NBC photo)
In this unusual political season the locals are talking about a single $3 million contribution to a campaign, not for a House seat or State Proposition or a seat in the State Assembly but to replace the Santa Clara City Council: [bold added]
This week’s decision by Santa Clara County not to allow fans at 49ers games, despite getting the OK for limited ticket sales from California’s health department, is the latest blow in a strained relationship between the football team and its hand-selected locale...

Team owner Jed York has poured an astounding and unprecedented $3 million into the upcoming city-council election, backing four candidates and opposing four other candidates — including two female incumbents who have stood up to the 49ers on several issues. It’s a mind-blowing amount of money to infuse into a local race in a city of 130,000 people, and has some worrying that the 49ers are trying to turn the city into “Yorkville.”
(Note: the City of Santa Clara shouldn't be confused with Santa Clara County, which btw is home to prominent cities like Palo Alto, San Jose, and Mountain View.)

California's COVID-19 policies have been among the strictest in the nation, yet Santa Clara is saying that these are not strict enough. The 49ers attendance issue was initially about the tradeoff between health risk and business, but in California it quickly devolved into interest-group and identity politics:
[Mayor Lisa] Gillmor and the council, which is majority female (four council members) want to maintain oversight over the stadium. York’s influx of campaign funds, both for and against candidates of his choosing and which dwarfs the backing of any other funds coming into the race, appears to be an effort to change the dynamic.

The 49ers want to make the race an argument about diversity and describe York’s preferred candidates as an effort toward better representing the makeup of the city (40% of Santa Clara residents identify as white). Three of York’s preferred candidates are Asian American.

Rahul Chandhok, the 49ers’ vice president of public affairs and strategic communications, said in an email that York’s support was a “swift, open and transparent” response to seeing Gillmor “orchestrate her developer allies to funnel money through the Police Union PAC” and to “the outcry from civic institutions like the NAACP and the Asian Law Alliance.” Chandhok charges that Gillmor is “supporting a slate of all white candidates” and has worked to “upend voting rights to dilute minority representation.”
The 49ers are bringing out the big guns by stressing the female majority of the City Council (subtext: women don't care about a sport that men love) coupled with the Council's all-white make-up (bunch of Karens!).

Introduce the sex and race angle, now add in a dollop of negative-association words ("developer", "PAC", "union"), and so it goes in California politics.

For the record your humble blogger is in favor of the 49ers position, but c'mon, man, don't trash city council candidates.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Teach Your Children

The Mitchells and Gates families, left and right (!), respectively (WSJ photo)

Finally..a rare election story that makes one hopeful about the future:
The Mitchells, lifelong Democrats, planted a Joe Biden sign in the front yard of their suburban Pittsburgh home. The Gateses, who live next door and are lifelong Republicans, put a Donald Trump sign in theirs.

Another homemade sign stands in each yard. It reads: “We (Heart) Them” with an arrow pointing to the other house. In the middle of each heart are the words “One Nation.”
The Mitchells and Gates
don’t argue. They don’t label each other. They listen to each other’s perspective, look for common ground and recognize that reasonable and good people can reach different conclusions.

“I think it boils down to respect,” says Chris [Mitchell]. “We have no desire or illusion that we are going to change them or each other’s minds.”

They also rarely bring up issues that are more divisive than others, like abortion.
The vast majority of Americans have to work with--and maybe live with---people who hold different political views. Both you and the person you're talking to have an infinitesimal effect on an election, so the heat of the argument is fueled by pride and about who has the superior morality.

Is it worth losing a friendship or having a loved one never speak to you again just to insist that you are right?

There's a lot of wisdom in the old advice to bite your tongue, never discuss politics or religion, and count to ten before responding in anger, especially if the fight is over something that neither of you can control.

Pax vobiscum.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Good Goes Around, Then Comes Around

Maj. Gen. Miguel Correa, rescued Zayed bin Hamdan al
Nahyan, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan (WSJ)
The peace agreements (Abraham Accords) between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain would not have occurred without an unpublicized good deed in which the United States risked its soldiers' lives in 2017:
Gen. [Miguel] Correa was at his home in Abu Dhabi in 2017 when he got a call that the Emirati helicopter had gone down in Yemen while carrying out a counterterrorism mission...

Three Emirati soldiers were killed. Zayed bin Hamdan al Nahyan, a 27-year-old nephew and son-in-law to the country’s crown prince, was one of seven others seriously injured. U.S. officials soon learned that the young Emirati royal was among those being rescued.

Two American Ospreys carried a special operations forces medical team to the helicopter crash site in Yemen. The American medical team flew the seven injured soldiers to the USS Bataan, a U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship in the Gulf of Aden, said Capt. Bill Urban, spokesman for U.S. Central Command. One soldier died on the way to the ship as a surgeon on the Osprey revived a second Emirati whose heart stopped, said Capt. Urban.

Medical teams on the Bataan worked frantically for 48 hours, Capt. Urban said, as American forces onboard lined up to give blood for the Emirati soldiers. The medical team used 54 of 66 units of blood, making it the largest such “walking blood bank” the Navy has used since World War II, said Capt. Urban.

Meanwhile, U.A.E. leaders asked the Americans for special permission to fly the six soldiers, including the Emirati royal, to Landstuhl, Germany, where the U.S. Army has a medical hospital that specializes in treating combat injuries.

Gen. Joseph Votel, then head of Central Command, called then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who quickly approved the plan as Gen. Correa kept the anxious Emiratis apprised.

The U.S. flew the Emirati soldiers from the ship back to an airport in Yemen, where an Air Force C-17 cargo plane equipped with a special medical unit was waiting to fly them to Germany,

Flying the massive plane into Yemen posed a risk. The U.S. landed the plane at night and flew out before the sun rose to ensure everyone’s safety.
General Correa coordinated the mission and became "something of a hero" in the UAE. The trust that had developed between him and the UAE royal family was an invaluable part of the peace negotiations. Emirati ambassador Yousef Otaiba:
“The truth is, for the Abraham Accords to have materialized, there was a very much-needed element of trust, and we had that trust with Miguel Correa and the White House,” he said. “A pretty big leap of faith was required from all sides for this to happen.”
One good thing that will come out of a Biden victory is that the historic foreign policy triumphs of the Trump Administration may finally be given their due. Who knows, Hollywood may even make a movie (or limited series) about Major General Miguel Correa, soldier and diplomat.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Secure, Transparent, Auditable, and Reliable Voting

Homomorphic encryption: the picture helps a little

Protecting voting systems against hacking is difficult, and the principal reason is not government incompetence or corruption but the requirement of the secret ballot:
modern elections enshrine privacy at the cost of transparency, and try to compensate for the loss with a host of bureaucratic patches: voter-registration schemes to prevent people from voting twice, tally systems that ensure the number of voters matches the ballot total, and centralized polling places where rival election monitors can scrutinize the proceedings, all to impart legitimacy to a system of vanishing ballots.

“If you want to understand why elections are hard, it's because of the secret ballot,” says [MIT Comp Sci PhD Ben] Adida—that's the single variable “that introduces all of the operational complexity and trust.” Not for nothing did a leading technology conference recently declare voting the “hardest problem in IT security.”
A promising solution lies in homomorphic encryption, related to the same technology that produced bitcoin.
In 1987, [Microsoft cryptographer Josh] Benaloh's thesis at Yale spelled out how a homomorphically encrypted voting scheme would come to life. First, voters would need access to a machine that could perform advanced cryptography. When they cast their ballot, each digital vote would start out as a simple binary—1 for Biden, 0 for Trump—but its ciphertext might be thousands of characters long. Rather than send voters home with a binder full of hexadecimal gibberish, the computer would print the ciphertext as something much smaller: a hash code, much like how a URL is shortened into a That would serve as the voter's unique receipt, which they would keep and carry away with them.

At the end of the night, when the computers stopped whirring, all those encrypted votes would be added together. A small number of election officials—the county clerk, the secretary of state—would possess a key that allowed them to decrypt the sum. They'd compare the columns of votes for each candidate and reveal the winner.

Thanks to the nature of the math involved, those resulting sums would also be verifiable by independent outside observers. After the election, all the encrypted votes could be posted on a public, online bulletin board for all to inspect. Using a set of mathematical operations called Chaum-Pedersen protocols, auditors would be able to crunch all those ciphertexts to arrive at what cryptographers call a non-interactive zero-knowledge proof: “Proof that the vote is correctly captured,” Benaloh explained, but without any way to know whose ballot said what.

But the thing that excited Benaloh most was what this scheme would mean for individual voters. When a voter left the polling place, clutching a receipt that bore their unique hash code, they could go home and perform a search for its twin among all the encrypted ballots on that massive public bulletin board. For the first time, elections would not only be verifiable, but people could be certain whether their specific vote had been counted, all without violating the secret ballot.
Even if STAR (secure, transparent, auditable, and reliable) machines could be produced, convincing election officials and the general public that they perform according to specifications will require extraordinary wisdom and patience. To non-experts--which are most of us--the mechanism looks like a black box, and everyone knows that black boxes 1) can be hacked and 2) have "back doors" built in by the makers.

Maybe homomorphic encryption will be too hard a sell and we should just go back to the way we used to do it. Yes, elections were stolen back then, but the methods weren't mysterious. And paper voting systems can have STAR qualities, too:
the reliance on paper in key states may strengthen voter confidence this year. Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin all have voter-verified paper trails in place for November. This changes the total number of voters using a paper trail to almost 95 percent, according to voting experts. That’s up from 75 percent during the last presidential election.
In two or more weeks the votes will be tabulated. The continuity of the American experiment will depend upon 60 million voters trusting the process even though their candidate lost. Never in the past 160 years has that trust seemed so fragile.

Monday, October 19, 2020

San Francisco: Getting What They Wanted - Part 2

The 730 Market Walgreens closed in March
Chronicle writer Phil Matier succinctly summarizes the codification of California's enlightened attitude toward property crime:
Under California law, theft of less than $950 in goods is treated as a nonviolent misdemeanor. The maximum sentence for petty theft is six months in county jail. But most of the time the suspect is released with conditions attached.
So how's that working out for the citizens? [bold added]
After months of seeing its shelves repeatedly cleaned out by brazen shoplifters, the Walgreens at Van Ness and Eddy in San Francisco is getting ready to close.

“The last day is Nov. 11,” Walgreens spokesman Phil Caruso said.

The drugstore, which serves many older people who live in the Opera Plaza area, is the seventh Walgreens to close in the city since 2019...

In February, the local news website Hoodline reported that an employee at the Market Street store said the store couldn’t cope with the shoplifting, which was costing the company $1,000 a day.
I do empathize with the law-abiding citizens of San Francisco, but they did vote for these laws and a District Attorney who calls for even more leniency.

One might call it karma.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Bullish on Karma

(Image from
(Note: this post is not about secular law or the criminal justice system.)

Our rational brains tell us thst there is no Divine Justice that is meted out in this life. Even most sincere Christians don't believe in justice in the here-and-now---there are too many examples of bad things happening to good people and vice versa.

Occasionally a miscreant does receive his comeuppance, but rather than attributing the balancing of scales to God or Allah, the mysterious force is now called karma. An example from earlier this month. [bold added]
Shortly after President Trump’s early-morning revelation on Twitter last week that he and his wife, Melania, had tested positive for Covid-19, one of the top trending terms on Twitter was “karma.” Critics of the administration used the word to convey what they saw as a kind of poetic justice for Mr. Trump publicly playing down the threats of the coronavirus pandemic...

The word “karma” derives from Hindu and Buddhist teachings about reincarnation, which hold that people’s actions in their current lives, good or bad, determine what their fate will be in future existences. Used more generally in English, “karma” alludes to a vaguer concept that your destiny stems from how you live your life. Put another way: You reap what you sow.
One problem with karma is that it doesn't always show up. Another is that it can be short-lived: now that President and Mrs. Trump apparently have recovered, one rarely sees the term.

Expect usage of karma to increase markedly in a couple of weeks, after the election results are in. That's what happens when the contest is no longer between the policies of D versus the policies of R but a battle between good and evil.

As the media has told us, both of the leading Presidential candidates have plenty of evil actions to answer for. There will be a lot of karma that will be going around, but even at this late date we aren't sure who the recipient(s) will be.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Renaming Solution: Disband the Committee

Abraham Lincoln High School (Chron photo)

Three months ago we remarked somewhat bemusedly upon the movement to rename scores of San Francisco schools. Even an icon like Abraham Lincoln, who, because he had to make compromises with racists to win the deadliest war in American history, is a candidate for erasure.

Reality should have set in by now. Surely changing school names would be the lowest priority as educators struggle to figure out how to re-open safely. Surely the resumption of in-person learning--as well as improving the experience of on-line classes--should command most of the financial resources and the full attention of teachers and administrators.

But never doubt the fanaticism of ideologues---reminiscent of the Scopes trial of nearly 100 years ago--to place their "religion" above the welfare of children.

S.F. might change 44 school names, renouncing Washington, Lincoln and even Dianne Feinstein
Parents and principals at 44 sites were forced to scramble this week to brainstorm new school names while also juggling the demands of distance learning in a pandemic.

Those names on the school buildings, including Lincoln, Washington and Jefferson, that have connections to slavery, genocide or oppression should be changed, according to a committee recommendation heading to the school board.

More than a third of the district’s 125 schools made the list of objectionable names, which also included Balboa, Lowell and Mission high schools, as well as Roosevelt and Presidio middle schools and Webster, Sanchez and Jose Ortega elementary schools.
Repainting the signage while the schools are (metaphorically) collapsing is like re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic--a cliché, to be sure, but one that some of our more junior readers may not know.

The duly elected African-American mayor of San Francisco thinks that the renaming project is of scant importance, and who are we to argue?

Friday, October 16, 2020

Left-Handed Compliments

Scientists have long thought that a single gene caused left-handedness, but that hypothesis is wrong. There are multiple genes, and multiple environmental factors responsible.

Shedding Light on the Riddle of Lefties and Righties [bold added]
The new study on multiple genetic variations, published in the journal Nature Human Behavior, involved 1.7 million people and is the largest genetic study of hand preference ever conducted. An international consortium of 118 scientists led by Sarah Medland, head of the psychiatric genetics group at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane, Australia, discovered 41 genetic variations active only among people who are left-handed. They also detected another seven genetic variants associated only with people who are ambidextrous—able to use either hand with equal facility.
The percentage of left-handers is about 10% worldwide, and the percentages vary by ethnicity and geography.

Just a subjective assessment: the ranks of famous people who are left-handed do seem well above 10% of that cohort. An abbreviated list of lefties who changed the course of the 20th century includes Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Neil Armstrong, Winston Churchill, Marie Curie, Henry Ford, Paul McCartney, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton.

The above subjective assessment is also corroborated by personal experience: the number of lefties among the talented, smart, and high-achieving people I have met seems much higher than 10%. Their brains are wired different...and probably better.

Below--left-handers who achieved fame in the 21st century:

Thursday, October 15, 2020

COVID-19 Blew Up the Business Model

Nice house in San Jose. Hope they work it
out with the owner (Chron photo).
It was a great pre-coronavirus housing concept.

With San Francisco and prime Silicon Valley studios costing close to $3,000 per month, four unrelated individuals could be eager to house-share by paying $1,750 ($7,000 total rent) for a four-bedroom house. The middleman would lease the home from an owner-landlord for $5,000-$6,000 and would manage the hassle of credit and collections from four different renters. The intermediary would find a replacement if a tenant moved out--not too difficult in a hot job-and-housing market.

COVID-19 blew up the co-living business model. People lost their jobs and left the area. Many who kept their jobs didn't want to live with non-family members.

With the lockdowns dragging on for over six months the following headline was inevitable:

Bay Area co-living startup HubHaus implodes, stranding renters and homeowners
HubHaus, a venture-backed startup in the burgeoning new field of “dorms for grownups,” has imploded, stranding hundreds of renters and homeowners, mainly in the Bay Area.

The 4-year-old Los Altos company, which had raised $13.4 million, is undergoing “a closure and liquidation process, commencing Sept. 23, 2020,” it wrote in emails to homeowners and tenants. It’s laid off all employees, the letter said, blaming the coronavirus pandemic’s severe impact on housing. Several renters and landlords provided copies of the emails to The Chronicle.

“The company is unable to pay October rent,” the emails said, suggesting that landlords use security deposits to cover it. The emails said that tenants’ leases were being transferred to the homeowners.
When landlords go bankrupt, tenants who have paid rent are left high and dry when the bank takes over the property. When the middleman goes bankrupt, both the renters and landlords take a financial hit.

Nevertheless, there are the makings of an acceptable arrangement because the subleases "have been transferred to the homeowners." If the parties can direct their anger at HubHaus, they have a good chance of working out a deal with each other.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Apple Event: Now That's Something

(Image from 9to5Mac)

And one more thing..... before we move on from yesterday's Apple event.

Before talking about the iPhone 12, Apple spent the first 13 minutes of the presentation on the HomePod mini. The HomePod mini sells for $99, has an excellent speaker system, and can run all of the Apple devices in the house through the issuance of verbal commands.

The mini may be a great product, but why did Apple spend so much screentime on an item so immaterial to its business? (If Apple sold 10 million units, the revenue of approximately $1 billion means nothing to a company whose annual sales are $260 billion.)

The final image from the section reveals, in my humble opinion, Apple's long-term strategy: it wants to run the home of the future.

Today everyone is adding smart devices to their home on a piecemail basis, from doorbells to coffeemakers, from refrigerators to stoves, from cars to entertainment systems. from solar panels to water heaters. It's all balkanized, and many devices can easily be hacked. And some systems like plumbing and wiring will be very expensive to upgrade.

Ten years from now when I need to move to assisted living or get a lot of help around the home, Apple may by that time have a completely integrated House of the Future. It will be powered by solar panels and batteries and come with robot health aides, cooks, and cleaners, and a self-driving car. The whole residential living system (aka "my home") will be operated by voice command and sell for $1 million (just spitballing here on the price) plus land.

The HomePod mini revenue (10 million x $99 = $990 million) is nothing. The House of the Future (10 million x $1 million = $10 trillion), now that's something.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Apple iPhone 12: Awfully Tempting

Anechoic chamber: a long way from the garage

Finance classes teach the power of compound interest. A 15% rate of return may not seem like much to someone who wants to get rich quickly, but after five years the investor's money is doubled:
Year 0   $100.00
Year 1   $115.00
Year 2   $132.25
Year 3   $152.09
Year 4   $174.90
Year 5   $201.14
Warren Buffett, by the way, is a ceaseless advocate of compound interest as one of the keys to wealth.

Which brings us to today's Apple iPhone 12 event. Already some reviewers are saying that the "incremental upgrades" to the iPhone 11 are disappointing. Maybe so, but upgrades, like interest earnings, compound, and for those of us who own phones that are more than two years old, the 12's features look pretty good.
The focus of the event was 5G’s ultrafast network speeds, available on all the new iPhones. But that shouldn’t be your sole reason to upgrade, or necessarily your biggest reason.

Some of the more significant highlights of this year’s Apple handsets: cameras better suited for lowlight photography, tougher display glass, a faster chip and built-in magnets to align the phone with a wireless charger. The most expensive models, the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max, include additional camera capabilities—although those are mostly aimed at actual pros, or at least hard-core enthusiasts. As with every year, there’s a faster processor inside, and this year it’s the A14 Bionic Chip.
I'm very tempted to order a 12, but I still haven't come down from the high of buying an XS Max in 2018 and discovering how much better that phone was than the then-four-year-old iPhone 6. The right decision is to hold on to the XS Max for another year. The greater the patience, the greater the pleasure.

Monday, October 12, 2020

San Francisco Agonistes

Lately the hometown Chronicle has been running one or more articles a day on the deterioration of the once-wonderful City. A recent sampling:

Market St.: like a movie where all
the people disappeared. (Chron)
Yes, people are leaving San Francisco. After decades of growth, is the city on the decline?
Plunging BART and Muni ridership. The weakest online sales tax collections in the state. A 20% drop in apartment rents. Spiking office vacancies.

San Francisco’s bleak economic vital signs over the past six months strongly suggest residents are leaving amid record job losses, the entrenchment of remote work, and a coronavirus pandemic that shows no signs of ending.
‘Worst in the state’: S.F. sales tax data show likely population decline
Sales tax data shows San Francisco’s population likely declined during the coronavirus pandemic, the city’s chief economist Ted Egan told The Chronicle.

From April to June, the city’s sales tax revenue dropped to $30.8 million, down 43% from the prior year. Of the city’s 8.5% sales tax, it collects 1% for local use.
S.F. is facing its worst fiscal crisis in decades. Here’s the city’s 41-point plan for recovery
The Economic Recovery Task Force proposed 41 recommendations in its final report on strategies to revive the economy during and after the pandemic. The group called for immediate aid to artists and small businesses and reiterated long-standing goals such as more affordable housing and economic support for minority communities.

But with the city in its worst fiscal crisis in decades, achieving the goals could be tough if they require new funding. The city resolved a $1.5 billion deficit — on paper, in the current budget — using money expected from Proposition F [blogger's note: it would increase the SF business "gross receipts" tax and reduce the SF payroll tax.]
Businesses and residents are leaving, so the City's answer is to raise taxes, causing more to flee in a downward spiral reminiscent of the Rust Belt out-migrations of the 1970's. As for 41-point plans? Straight to the round file, as we used to say.

To be sure, it's entirely possible that San Francisco can pull itself out of its tailspin.

It is still the acknowledged lead city of the Bay Area, which is home to eight (Apple, Alphabet, Facebook, Visa, Tesla, NVIDIA, Salesforce, Adobe) of the 20 most valuable companies in the U.S. Other Bay Area companies, for example Cisco, Oracle, Twitter, Netflix, Intel, and Chevron, are world leaders in their respective industries.

Technological wizardry envelops us. Unfortunately, little of it has shown up in governance. If San Francisco were a stock, expect it to come down more before buying in.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Charity Takes Many Forms

Chelsea, MA food distribution (WSJ)
The WSJ reports on a not-illegal possible misuse of a government food program:
[The USDA} began allowing schools to distribute food without verifying that a recipient has a child enrolled in public school or eligible for free or subsidized meals. That means anyone can roll up to a food-distribution site to get a free bag of food.

On Facebook, a mom...recently posted pictures of an elegant cheese board she’d created with items she snagged from the city’s food giveaway. She could afford to buy the cheese, dried and fresh fruits, vegetables, whole-grain muffins, breakfast bars, dip, yogurt, crackers and bread, all displayed on a wood platter.

Reactions were glowing. In the comment section, two moms swapped tips on which city food-distribution site had the best products.
In the age of instantaneous over-reaction it's too easy to come down hard on those who are apparently receiving charity but don't need it. The mother in question is performing a public service by taking the time to prepare an attractive, nutritious meal from free ingredients. By teaching others how to do so she could be enhancing many lives at the cost to the government of a bag of groceries. Plus, I like to think that the woman made a donation to the school or local food bank to compensate them for the materials.

Charity takes many forms. When Girl Scouts come by for the annual cookie drive, I sometimes make a cash donation without placing an order. In other instances I will buy the cookies--to be given to someone later who can handle the sugar--to encourage the Girl Scouts to continue the program; learning about the selling process from order-taking to delivery and collection is a useful experience.

Leanne Brown
In the COVID-19 era everyone has been forced to make do with fewer choices. Yet it's possible as we learn skills that our progenitors knew (gardening, cooking, self-care, conversation with family) to lead more fulfilling lives than we had before.

But back to the original story of eating well on a tight budget, food writer Leanne Brown has published a free book of recipes for those on a food-stamp budget.

The give-a-man-fish proverb has been repeated so often that I wince when I hear it. But it's also true.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Archimedes Would Have Approved

Physics prof. Tim Gay
Physicists who are obsessed with American football have puzzled over the mystery of a perfectly thrown pass: [bold added]
The start of a football pass exhibits the properties of “angular momentum”—once launched, it spins away, nose upward, maintaining much of its rotation, but then, after reaching its apex, it falls to earth (and hopefully, into the hands of a wide receiver) nose down, still spinning, still symmetrical.

To [Nebraska professor Tim] Gay, this flight pattern didn’t add up. Physics told him that the ball, at a certain point in its trajectory, should start wobbling and tumbling, counter-clockwise. Gravity alone couldn’t explain why a pass could begin as a beautiful spiral and also finish as a beautiful spiral.

Something else had to be going on.
After years of study they figured it out:
We have shown that the paradox is simply resolved by focusing on the gyroscopic precession driven by the torque that results from the ball’s nonzero angle of attack and by the interaction of that torque with the ball’s angular momentum.
That's all very enlightening---and I'm sure the discovery will help in the development of football-playing robots--but I, as well as 99.99% of the population, prefer to learn how to throw a football from coaches and players.

Friday, October 09, 2020

Filing, Finally

Peanut M&M's helped during the ordeal.
On September 30th we mailed in our 2019 tax returns, a couple of weeks before the October 15th extended deadline.

By July 15th we had done 99% of the work. However, we filed the three-month extension to scrounge for more charitable and business deductions in the pile of credit card receipts.

After a few hours I quit, since at most I would be able to come up with a couple of hundred dollars of tax savings.

I did take the time to fill out Forms 2210 and 5805, the estimated-tax underpayment worksheets for the U.S. and California, respectively. The 2019 balances due on July 15th were sizeable, but our income was skewed to the 4th quarter, not smoothed throughout the year which is the default assumption for the underpayment penalty.

If taxpayers receive a lump of income in the fourth quarter, they couldn't have been expected to know ahead of time when making earlier estimated-tax payments, so the tax code allows them to pay as they go. (There is an estate-tax joke in there somewhere.)

I've been enjoying the feeling of relief from the burden. Next week I'll start compiling the information for the 2020 returns.

Thursday, October 08, 2020

Puppets on a Screen

(Image from South Asia Times)
The documentaries that I find most fascinating are the ones that tell me something new on topics that (I thought) I was familiar with. Netflix' "/the social dilemma" is such a movie.

It describes how the Internet companies--Google and Facebook, primarily, but also Twitter, pinterest, Tiktok, LinkedIn, Snapchat, et. al.--watch everything that we read, write, upload, download, or view. They know the identities of our friends, families, and business associates and where we are at all times.

The companies use that data to show us ads that are likely to trigger a sale, but marketing efficiency is only a small part of the algorithms' power. The programs predict what we'll do next; a search that begins Climate change is.. will fill in "a hoax" if one is a conservative or "a threat to humanity" if one is a liberal.

The user is steered toward sites and news--even fake news and conspiracy theories--that the algorithm believes will keep the eyeballs fixated. By making it so easy to view materials that one agrees with leads to today's political polarization; it is the rare user who actively seeks alternative points of view.

The movie dives into the ways in which social media hooks the users--for example, continuous notifications about friends and celebrities, or beeping when someone likes their selfie--but is weak when it comes to suggestions about what to do about its pervasive influence. Some speakers call for much greater government regulation--just after a section on the danger of letting tech tools fall into the hands of governments. Parents wage a lonely battle trying to keep their children unplugged when all the other kids stay connected.

Your humble blogger doesn't have any solutions either. I'm just grateful that I grew up when high schools and colleges actively introduced students to different points of view. My education and career beginnings occurred long before the Internet but after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which, grossly simplified, said we must judge individuals for what they can do and not who they are. (Obviously there existed a large gap between the law and reality, but everyone knew what the aspiration was.)

15 minutes from the end, the movie runs a clip from Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana) at a 2019 Senate Commerce Committee hearing:
I am 62 years old, getting older every minute the more this conversation goes on, but I will tell you that I'm probably gonna be dead and gone, and I'll probably be thankful for it, when all this s*** comes to fruition. Because I think that this scares me to death.
I identify with Senator Tester more than anyone else in the documentary...and I'm sure that Facebook, Google, et. al. already knew that!

Below is the testimony from Tristan Harris, whose ideas are featured prominently in /the social dilemma, at the same hearing.

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

It's His Métier, Stupid

With Joe Biden's lead in the polls rising to double digits, President Trump tweeted yesterday that there would be no stimulus package until after the November 3rd election. The move seemed politically suicidal to Republicans and even Democrats. [bold added]
...request, and looking to the future of our Country. I have instructed my representatives to stop negotiating until after the election when, immediately after I win, we will pass a major Stimulus Bill that focuses on hardworking Americans and Small Business. I have asked...

Mitch McConnell not to delay, but to instead focus full time on approving my outstanding nominee to the United States Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett. Our Economy is doing very well. The Stock Market is at record levels, JOBS and unemployment...

also coming back in record numbers. We are leading the World in Economic Recovery, and THE BEST IS YET TO COME!
Your humble blogger cannot believe that, after watching Donald Trump in politics for four years, observers would think that would be the last word--on second thought, maybe I do believe it--on the stimulus negotiations. We are back to his métier, deal-making.

Speaker Pelosi tried to push through a stimulus bill that included state-and-local government aid primarily to Blue States and used the imminent election to panic the President and the Senate to make a deal on her terms.

The President today tweeted his support for a "clean" bill with little for Democratic constituencies.

How the stimulus negotiations will play out in the weeks ahead is anyone's guess, but I suspect the perceptions in the rest of the country are not as one-sided against the President as the commentators thought yesterday.

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Nintendo Harbinger: No, It's Not a Game

20x more efficient than the 1989 Game Boy
I have a Nintendo Gameboy stored somewhere, but not like this one: [bold added]
Custom designed to run entirely without batteries, the hand-held gaming device is powered by small solar panels as well as the button presses of the person playing it...

The implications of this demonstration are potentially huge, and not just for videogame junkies. In our battery-free future, carbon, moisture and light sensors that last for decades could be scattered by drones across farms.

Smart cities might be inundated with all-seeing, all-hearing surveillance devices; vehicles and buildings will use artificial intelligence to anticipate needs and perform simple tasks; and “implantables” in our bodies will more tightly integrate humans with everything else connected to the internet...

It’s this combination of traits—never needing to reboot, using very little power, and harvesting energy from the environment—that yields a system that could be a “perpetual” computer.
Devices that are so energy-efficient that they won't need batteries, that possess intelligence that already surpasses human beings', that can reproduce (much as software can write other software) and "teach" their offspring--it's a wonderful world that's approaching (/sarc).

Silicon Valley guru and Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang "has predicted this future of computing will eventually include trillions of devices." Oh, joy.

The Luddites may have been mocked for centuries, but this is their moment.

Buy, Hold, or Stand Pat?

OK, stock futures, it was funny last week, but we're not laughing as hard the second time around.

Monday, October 05, 2020

Accountants Don't Want to Stand Up and Be Counted

In 2008 I contrasted my profession of accounting with that of journalism:
CPA’s can’t get too close. Accountants’ principal duty is to the shareholders, lenders, and anyone else who reads the financial statements. There may come a time when auditors must disclose information that will damage the stock price. They have to make a choice between their client and their responsibility to the public. There is no question what they are expected to do.

Keeping their distance and independence is a must for CPA’s if they are to maintain trust and a reputation for integrity. Some accountants violated that trust during the go-go tech boom and Enron / Worldcom scandals. In order to save the profession, accountants had to reassert the guiding principles of independence and integrity. You don’t see auditors standing up and cheering at shareholders meetings.

...Today the profession of news journalism has lost its way. Opinion has leaked beyond the editorial pages to the rest of the newspaper. “Newsmen” publish unconfirmed rumors that support their stances and ignore inconvenient facts that don’t. Outside the office, they openly display their political preferences; there’s no attempt to maintain even the appearance of objectivity.
Yet when Obama emerged from a curtain on stage, the audience of more than 2,000 [minority journalists] bolted to its feet, cheered and whistled. His remarks drew repeated applause throughout the 30-minute broadcast, which CNN and Time Inc. sponsored.
12 years later accountancy by and large has held steady to the principles of independence, objectivity, and the appearance of objectivity, while journalism has only gone downhill.

But back to accountants: I wonder if there's any connection between their ethics and political preferences?

Headline: Accountants favor Trump in election by large margin
In a survey of over 400 accountants from across the country conducted by Arizent, the publisher of Accounting Today, 55 percent of respondents said that they plan to vote for the incumbent president, against 38 percent who plan to vote for his rival, Democrat Joe Biden....

"If we end up with a Democratic presidency and Democratic control of both houses, then the 2017 tax act will probably be vitiated and as much as the market increased due to the lower corporate rates, it will fall," predicted one respondent. "Ironically, raising the corporate rate will almost certainly cause less government revenue due to multinational business fleeing our shores, and less capital gains income tax income."

...Respondents were roughly evenly divided about the potential impact of lots of mail-in ballots, with 44 percent saying they would be not very or not at all confident in the results of such an election, and 39 percent saying they would be very or extremely confident in them.

...When asked if they thought social media platforms and the media business were doing enough to stop the spread of misinformation and to help protect the integrity of the election, the vast majority of responding accountants said they weren't — but their direct responses suggest that they don't want media to do more, so much as to do it very, very differently.

"It is not the job of social media companies to regulate political speech," said one accountant. "It is, however, the job of our news outlets to report news without political bias and without opinion. Our country is being fed distorted news every day!"

"Social media should stay out of deciding on reliability of information," added another. "The mainstream media is so biased, their reporting is largely ignored."
Bucking the stereotype, accountants are white-collar and college-educated, yet prefer Republican policies. I suspect the reasons are:

1) In college and later at work accountants are in an environment where there is "objective truth" to be discovered. There are different opinions about what the numbers can mean, but Generally Accepted Accounting Principles and Generally Accepted Auditing Standards keep the differences to a defined range. There is little room for "your truth," "my truth", and diverse perspectives when it comes to preparing financial statements and tax returns;

2) Accountancy is not glamorous, and most practitioners do not seek publicity or influence. Consequently it has escaped the left's notice as an institution to be captured, that is, to be made "woke".

Flying under the radar is how accountants like it; let them do their jobs and don't discuss matters that have nothing to do with work. It's no surprise that the political party that is more likely to leave them alone gets accountants' vote.

© 2020 Stephen Yuen