Sunday, February 28, 2021

Early on a Sunday Morning

After running an errand, I stopped by Starbucks at 5:30. I was happy that they were open early on a Sunday morning, though with no other customers but me I wondered about their business savvy.

Two baristas were busily wiping the surfaces and tuning up sundry machines.

My order, a "black eye" (large coffee with two shots of espresso), was ready. "Good morning," I said, "Thank you."

The parking lot was deserted except for my 17-year-old Camry. As I departed, another customer arrived. He seemed to be in a hurry. Golfer? Fisherman? Work? The old reasons for rushing about haven't applied for nearly a year.

When it's quiet, dark, and lonely, being with strangers is better than just ourselves.

Edward Hopper, Nighthawks (1942), Art Institute of Chicago

Saturday, February 27, 2021

The Machinery is Working

The big trucks have been in our six-house courtyard all week. The men have been jackhammering, digging, and sucking up mud, sand, and gravel.

On Wednesday I went over to the supervisor to ask about the project. The storm drain at the end of the cul-de-sac wasn't draining, and water was accumulating.

The problem wasn't the usual clogging of debris; it was poor design of the grade, which erosion had made worse.

The rains of early February prompted the City, finally, to rectify the problem. The crew laid pipe at a sufficient angle to ensure draining, then connected it to a line to the Bay that they knew was working properly.

They sealed the opening and coned off the area to let the asphalt cure.

Yesterday, county vector control inspected the exterior of all our houses to make sure that there was no standing water where mosquitoes could breed.

Governments at all levels have been under a lot of criticism, but our little community of Foster City seems to be working just fine.

Friday, February 26, 2021

White Supremacy Math

NY Times: Capitol Riot Costs Will Exceed $30 Million, Official Tells Congress
The architect of the Capitol and other officials told lawmakers that the physical and psychological toll of the Jan. 6 riot — including damaged artifacts and staff trauma — will be extensive.
Wow, that's horrible.

Axios on last summer's riots: Exclusive: $1 billion-plus riot damage is most expensive in insurance history [bold added]
The protests that took place in 140 U.S. cities this spring were mostly peaceful, but the arson, vandalism and looting that did occur will result in at least $1 billion to $2 billion of paid insurance claims — eclipsing the record set in Los Angeles in 1992 after the acquittal of the police officers who brutalized Rodney King.
The summer riots caused 33 to 67 times the damage of January 6th, but pointing this out is probably white supremacy math.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

This Retailer Was Something Special

Palo Alto Fry's, 2003: when you couldn't find parking
My first visit to Fry's Supermarkets was in Fremont in 1976, when we bought our first home in the then-sleepy East Bay town at the BART terminus. Fry's had an aisle devoted to electronics parts, an unusual feature in an era when grocery stores only offered food and household items.

Over the next few years Fry's found its niche in the tech-happy Bay Area and switched out of the cutthroat supermarket business.

Fry's Electronics became a fixture in Silicon Valley. There are hundreds of stories about engineers running down to the local store to pick up a crucial part for research that couldn't wait.
Fry’s Electronics was a mainstay for electronics experimenters from the 1980s through at least 2018 and one of the “must see” locations during visits to the Bay Area of California. They supplied many of the electronic parts, computers, tools, test equipment and accessories needed by Silicon Valley startups and other geeks living in the area.
Even your humble blogger, no tech whiz, kept his old equipment alive by going to Fry's for an old part; sometimes I would find something on a nearby shelf that might work better. I kept my 2009 MacBook alive by swapping out the hard drive in 2012 and again in 2014.

But Fry's, like many retailers, couldn't survive the trend towards online sales. Today the company announced the closure of all its stores.
After nearly 36 years in business as the one-stop-shop and online resource for high-tech professionals across nine states and 31 stores, Fry’s Electronics, Inc. (“Fry’s” or “Company”), has made the difficult decision to shut down its operations and close its business permanently as a result of changes in the retail industry and the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. The Company will implement the shut down through an orderly wind down process that it believes will be in the best interests of the Company, its creditors, and other stakeholders.

The Company ceased regular operations and began the wind-down process on February 24, 2021.
Fry's fell victim not only to Amazon but also to the shrinking of its customer base. There are fewer people who have the knowledge, motivation, and courage to work on hardware---either as fixers or inventors--with only speciailzed tools, a soldering iron, and an oscilloscope. A bygone store for a bygone era.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Twilight of the Mom-and-Pop Landlord

Landlord Rian de Laat, left, and tenant Ollie Aldama (Time)
Time has been covering the eviction crisis from multiple angles, including the plight of small landlords. [bold added]
More than 70% of properties with four or fewer rental units aren’t owned by fat cats at all, according to the National Association of Realtors, but rather people like [Rian] de Laat: mom-and-pop landlords who often live nearby; manage the property themselves; and rely on the rental income to pay their own mortgages, health care bills and monthly expenses.

Almost half the nearly 49 million rental units in the U.S. are owned by individuals, who tend to offer more affordable housing in their communities than the billion-dollar conglomerates that build high-rises with marble counters and rooftop pools.

These small landlords are shouldering a huge burden during the pandemic. For many, it’s increasingly untenable. De Laat, who has since found a good new job working in gene therapy for a pharmaceutical company, is on better financial footing now. She remains “morally opposed to putting people out if they can’t pay, especially under these circumstances,” she says, but notes that “every bit” of the extra income she’s making goes toward paying for [tenant Ollie] Aldama’s housing. “It’s not sustainable,” she says. “But I also don’t see a means for them ever to be able to work on paying stuff back.”
This condo is vacant until evictions become legal again.
We've been writing about the looming eviction tidal wave since June. The repeated extensions of the eviction moratorium have caused mom-and-pop landlords to get deeper into the hole because they have been prevented from getting a new tenant who will cover more of their expenses.

When the bank, the local government (delinquent taxes), or the homeowners' association (unpaid dues) eventually seizes the property, the fruits of the eviction policy will be the ruination of some small landlords just so that tenants can live a few months longer in a place they can't afford.

The increased business and legal risk in real estate rental will cause a reduction in the supply of housing. No, it's not the opinion of your humble blogger, it's what's going on in the market.
Alex Brendon, who owns an investment property in the Seattle area, is among a growing group of small landlords considering getting out of the rental game altogether. After losing his own job in July and struggling to support two toddlers, Brendon was unable to evict his tenant, even though that tenant had stopped paying rent three months before COVID-19 began spreading rapidly in the U.S. After 10 months–and more than $18,000 in unpaid rent–Brendon took back ownership of his unit by moving into it himself.
Like small retailers, small landlords have been devastated by a government that has removed their legal protections. When after a few years people wonder why they have to rent an apartment or buy groceries from a big corporation, progressives will say it's a result of capitalist "greed", but we know who changed the rules to force small businesspeople or landlords out of the marketplace.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Another High Income Taxpayer Flees San Francisco

"The apartment is on the top floor of a boutique
building in the city’s SOMA neighborhood." (WSJ)
The deal is in escrow for Kamala Harris to sell her San Francisco condo:
The property had been on the market for just over a week asking $799,000, according to listings website Zillow. Listing agent Anne Herrera of Sotheby’s International Realty confirmed that the property was in contract but didn’t comment further.

The apartment, on the top floor of a boutique building in the city’s SOMA neighborhood, is about 1,069 square feet spread over two levels, the listing shows. There is a main floor living and dining space with high-ceilings, a home office alcove and a small outdoor space as well as a loft level with a bedroom, a bathroom and a walk-in closet.

Ms. Harris bought the apartment for $489,000 in 2004, records show, the year she began serving as California’s first Black district attorney. The unit is about a mile’s walk from the San Francisco Superior Court House.
The Vice President and Second Gentleman Doug Emhof have the condo in San Francisco, a condo in Washington, and a home in Brentwood.

IMHO, she should have held off the SF sale until she knew whether the movers should deliver the furniture to Blair House or the White House.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Urban Decline and Fall

From a Chronicle analysis of San Francisco out-migration
In a survey of demographic trends--specifically the exodus from cities--San Francisco is again number one:
For sheer lunacy, it is impossible to beat San Francisco, the pri­mary breeding ground for well-financed digital start-ups. The city continually places new taxes and burdens on tech firms, rejecting even their charity. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors recently voted ten to one to officially condemn Mark Zuckerberg for donating $75 million to a hospital. As observer Michael Solana suggests, activists now blame Zuckerberg and other oligarchs for having somehow “ex­tracted” their wealth from the terroir of San Francisco, and they deserve to be “demonized, scapegoated, and punitively targeted.” Of course, some tech firms are oligarchical and often socially insensitive, but scores of other communities, in Texas or elsewhere, are happy to welcome similar wealth “extraction.”
The old standard: people who didn't express gratitude had bad manners. The new standard: "condemn" gifts from the rich.

Hey, oligarchs, I know plenty of cities and people--including me--who will be happy to send you a thank-you note for amounts much less than $75 million.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

I Went to a Fight Tahoe the Other Night and a Hockey Game Broke Out

Vegas and Colorado practiced on Saturday (Guardian photo)
Making Lemonade Dept:
The pandemic has afforded a unique opportunity for the National Hockey League to stage outdoor hockey games in venues that could not accommodate thousands of fans. This weekend the NHL scheduled two games at Lake Tahoe.
The Edgewood Tahoe Resort will become its own bubble. Only those credentialed will be permitted through the gates.

Everyone will be tested and adhere to strict protocols. Teams and staff members will not be permitted to leave the grounds during their stay...

The NHL will build everything needed for an NHL game but, by design, little else. It will create locker rooms that feel like wooden cabins; the players will shower at the hotel. The scoreboard will be retro.
While most of us want to go back to the way things were just before COVID-19, the coronavirus has reminded us that the back-to-basics life can be beautiful.

The Right Ideology

Cardinal Sarah (NPR/Getty)
The usual critics of the Catholic Church are silent about Pope Francis' removal of an African cardinal who has been touted as a candidate for the Papacy:
In accepting Cardinal [Robert] Sarah’s resignation, the pope has removed a subordinate out of step with his approach to liturgy, homosexuality and relations with the Muslim world. The cardinal is a hero to many conservative Catholics, some of whom see him as a future pontiff. He will still be able to vote in a conclave to elect a pope until he turns 80...

Pope Francis had signaled a new openness to gay people, played down teachings on sexual and medical ethics and made high-profile overtures to Muslim leaders. But Cardinal Sarah told a Vatican meeting of bishops on family issues in 2015 that the modern family faced “two unexpected threats, almost like two apocalyptic beasts, located on opposite poles: on the one hand, the idolatry of Western freedom; on the other, Islamic fundamentalism.”

“What Nazi-fascism and communism were in the 20th century, Western homosexual and abortion ideologies and Islamic fanaticism are today,” he said.
A Black man has been forced to resign for his outspokenness--on Black History Month, no less--but it's not racist if the Boss has the right ideology.

Note: Cardinal Sarah's last name is that of one of the few prominent women in the Bible, but woke observers, who are known for their hyper-sensitivity to any sign of racism or sexism, have been strangely silent.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

San Francisco: Burglaries Are "Rampant"

Tourists to San Francisco are almost non-existent thanks to the pandemic (and homelessness and car smash-and-grabs and closed restaurants etc.), so the burglars have switched to breaking into stores.

Rampant burglaries plague San Francisco businesses, compounding the hurt of the pandemic
Across San Francisco, businesses are hiring armed security guards, pouring thousands into replacing shattered windows and even pulling up stakes amid a rash of commercial theft and vandalism.

Burglaries in San Francisco have spiked by 62% so far this year, rising from 691 reported incidents in 2020 to 1,123 as of mid-February. The break-ins have been particularly glaring in a city where overall crime is down by 31%, and San Francisco’s once most seemingly intractable crime — car break-ins — has plummeted by 52%...

Most of the burglaries in San Francisco are never solved. What police call the “clearance rate” — the percentage of arrests per reported crime — was 8.1% for burglaries this year to date, down from 14.5% by this time last year, according to police data.

As we've opined before, Progressive government proclaims the unimportance of property versus caring for people, and the surge in property crime was easily foreseeable. "Petty" theft ($950 or less) is a misdemeanor and on the police back-burner; "most...are never solved." Well, people may be the priority, but I don't see a lot of happy people in San Francisco.

The election is over, the winners safely installed, and negative information can't be used by Republicans. The Chronicle has now resumed reporting.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Surreal ID

For your mild amusement:

DMV Mistakenly Issues Driver’s License With Photo Of Woman Wearing Face Mask
Lesley Pilgrim received the ID in the mail with a greeting reading, “Congratulations, enclosed is your newly designed California driver license.”

“I knew the picture was not going to be good because license pictures are never good, but I did not expect the picture to be with my mask on,” Pilgrim said...

Lesley Pilgrim in real life
When it was her turn, the DMV employee took two photos, the first still wearing her mask, the second without it.

“I sign it and I then I go home, and unfortunately he had used my picture with my mask on, and that’s what showed up on my Real ID,” Pilgrim said.
Since the DMV took with- and without photos, one would think that they could just reissue her a correct Real ID, but they're making Ms. Pilgrim come in again.

Note 1: we drove to Roseville two years ago to get the Real ID because we anticipated doing a lot of traveling in late 2020 and beyond. Hah!

Note 2 - the DMV has more serious problems than using the wrong photo: Security breach at DMV contractor may have exposed personal information of millions of California drivers

Thursday, February 18, 2021

He Left Me Laughing

1988 in Sacramento, where his career took off (WSJ)"His
on-air presence in Sacramento was a lot more comedic."
I started listening to Rush Limbaugh fairly late in his career, not so much for his political views but for the entertainment.

During the George W. Bush Administration late-night comedy, including Saturday Night Live, became tiresome, vicious, and single-note, bashing the President and his supporters at every turn. Indeed, some bits were funny, but going after Republicans and their families personally while ignoring the foibles of Democrats was a sea-change from the light-hearted, even-handed joshing of Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, and the younger David Letterman.

Those were the 21st century rules of comedy, I supposed, and when different politicians took over they would become the objects of mockery. However, when the Democrats swept Washington in 2008, powerless Republicans like Trent Lott and Sarah Palin continued to be the targets of scorn. Comedians refused to pick the Democrats' low-hanging fruit, such as President Obama's verbal miscues when he was off Teleprompter and Vice-President Biden's provable history of creepy behavior.

So I turned to Rush Limbaugh. His political commentary was interspersed with comic bits that you couldn't hear anywhere else; the refusal of the entertainment and media industries to "speak truth to power" when their guys were in charge only made him more popular.

Rush Limbaugh has been recognized by supporters and detractors alike as the founding father of conservative talk-radio. He spoke insightfully about politics, but it was his skill as an entertainer that made him unique. R.I.P.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Rincon Reflection

Stay outside the circle and you won't get wet

The Rincon Annex at the foot of Mission has renovated its interior again. The restaurants are mostly gone, as is the "Rain Cloud" fountain in which water dropping 80 feet was engineered so precisely that the viewer didn't get splashed.
The complex includes a massive former post office at Mission and Spear streets that opened in 1940 and was conveniently located near the finger piers of the Embarcadero. By 1989 the piers were mostly gone and the Embarcadero was underneath a double-deck freeway. The back of the post office building was hollowed out to make room for a skylit atrium with cafes and shops around a central space where a fountain sent water descending gently 80 feet from a Plexiglass bowl perforated with 4,000 tiny holes.

That piece — “Rain Cloud” by Doug Hollis — was a popular sensation. But now it is gone, removed during the pandemic along with nearly all the retail spaces that drew workers on their lunch breaks. The basin into which water once fell has been replaced by flat terrazzo flooring.
One of my favorite pastimes was to walk over for lunch from the Embarcadero Center offices. The Rincon Annex had an upscale food court, where one had the choice of a dozen cuisines. From 2003:
About once a week I go to the Rincon Annex, the old San Francisco Post Office, for lunch. The interior has been lined with tile, and multi-ethnic restaurants abound. At the center is an atreum where water drops from the ceiling into a circular receptacle (I'm reminded of those Chinese restaurants where the waiter likes to show off by pouring tea from shoulder height into the cups on the table.)

Taking a leaf from Nordstrom's, there's a tuxedo- or gown-clad musician on a grand piano; the acoustics aren't the best, given the multiplicity of hard surfaces, the falling water, and the buzz of conversation. But let's put this in perspective--it's certainly better than the Post Office, which, by the way, has moved next door and has a stultifying gray interior.
I've become one of those geezers who liked San Francisco better in the old days.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Deferred Digestion

Clockwise from top left: seafood fried rice, beef
chow fun, chinese broccoli, hot and sour soup,
tomato beef chow mein Hong Kong style
On Valentine's Day we had Chinese takeout.

Friday was the Lunar New Year, and all the Chinese restaurants were closed. Except for reheated jai that was brought from Hawaii, we had had none of the traditional dishes. So the noodles were deferred to Sunday.

It's been the kind of year, unexpectedly, where we are continually falling behind. Today we'll be grilling the steaks that we would have had on Valentine's Day.

Pancakes on Shrove Tuesday will have to wait until next year (!) when things get back to normal.

(WSJ illustration)
Update - 2/16/21: My Covid Valentine: Couch, Takeout, Movie
Couples are digging deep this year to find Valentine’s date-night ideas with restaurants and cinemas closed—and working hard to summon romantic feelings about people they have slurped soup and folded laundry next to for the last 11 months.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Trump's Gone, So Now We Can Talk About This

"I support BLM" or "Please don't trash my business" ?
Embrace the power of "and." (Chron, Oakland Chinatown)
Beginning last year, attacks on Asians and Asian-Americans have been attributed to President Trump and his supporters' use of terms like the "Chinese virus" and "Wuhan flu." Because of the widespread media stereotype that Trump supporters are white nationalists and white supremacists, one could easily believe that we were talking only about white-on-Asian crime. But one would be wrong.

Chronicle columnist Justin Phillips, an African-American, writes about the "suffering" of Asians who have been attacked by black Americans:
The reality is horrifying. More than 30 violent crimes have befallen Bay Area residents of Asian descent this year. This is a community that has long felt unseen and ignored. A handful of these terrible incidents have turned into viral videos, all with Black aggressors.
The "reality" is one where Asians fear attacks from blacks more than from whites:
“There are people who jump to the conclusion that because a Black person did (the crime), then all Black people must hate Asian people. That’s such a slippery slope that I just don’t condone,” [State Assembly member Alex Lee, D-San Jose] said. “It is completely valid for people to feel upset ... to feel afraid and that is OK. But I believe from what I’ve seen that what’s happening are symptoms of larger issues.”

...But the dread is still there. It flickers with every email that asks me to explain why all Black people are targeting all Asian people, or claiming that the region is only dangerous because of the crimes committed by people who look like me.
I am glad that Justin Phillips is trying to dispel stereotypes about both Asians and blacks. Now that Donald Trump is out of Washington, we are no longer frozen into blaming him for everything that's gone wrong and can now start working on these problems.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

The Existential Alien

Why do human beings feel compelled to "do something" with their lives? If "existence is an accident", the inference being that there is no God, meaning, or purpose, then why waste your limited life span on what others say you're supposed to do?

Saturday, February 13, 2021

The Moving Finger

Brooke D'Orsay has become a regular lead actress in Hallmark movies. Graduating from her ingénue role in the USA dramedy Royal Pains (2009-2016), she's funny, modern- but not bombshell-pretty, and smart.

That's why it was disappointing to see this experienced actress play a professional photographer who puts her finger in front of the lens while she snaps a photo in Hallmark's Beverly Hills Wedding.

Hallmark doesn't have the biggest budgets, but, like a photographer, they could have taken a few extra shots just in case.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Now They Tell Us

One sure-fire way to get anything changed is to accuse the status quo of racism, sexism, colonialism, transphobia, white supremacy, or any other bête noire of the progressive academy.

A noose in the right hands is not triggering
The technique again proved effective when Maori representatives succeeded in changing the dress code in New Zealand's Parliament:
New Zealand’s parliament has dropped [neckties] from its dress code after Maori lawmaker Rawiri Waititi took a stand against ties, calling them “a colonial noose.” [snip]

Mr. Waititi, who also has a face tattoo, was first asked to leave the legislature in December after being elected earlier in the year. Like many Maori, he said he had come to view the parliament’s dress code and its requirement for men to wear a necktie as a colonial throwback to when Britain claimed the islands, and suppression of his own heritage.
It took us 20 years to get rid of neckties in Bay Area workplaces. Had we just said ties were a vestige of patriarchal colonialism it would only have taken a year or two.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Dump the Book Bins

The local supermarket has a couple of discount-book bins in the corner of the store. They are filled mostly with children's titles---nothing that I would consider reading, even if they were free. One mystery: the supermarket doesn't sell books, just magazines, so where do the books come from?

Physical publication sales have been falling, and the virus has only accelerated the decline. Few want to touch materials that others have handled.

Some small retailers thrive on selling discontinued items and new products that the big food companies test-marketed but decided not to go forward with. The local market would do well to get rid of the book bins and emulate its smaller competitors.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

San Francisco Education Clown Show

Yes, there's other, more important news, but sometimes the San Francisco education clown show--Abraham Lincoln not pure enough to name a school after, striking Lowell High's merit-based admissions so it can be like the other 14 mediocre high schools--cannot go unremarked:

19th century: it's who you are, not what you do.
20th century: it's what you do, not who you are.
21st century: it's who you are, not what you do.


Tuesday, February 09, 2021

The Minimum Wage, with a Short Digression Into Media Bias

(WSJ photo)
Economists have been studying the effects of the minimum wage for nearly a century.

The first Federal minimum wage was set at 25 cents per hour in 1938 . Over the years it's been hiked 22 times to the present level of $7.25 an hour. 29 states, including Washington, DC require employers to pay more than $7.25, with California and New York setting the highest State minimum wage at $15.

The current proposal before Congress, supported by President Biden, would raise the Federal minimum wage to $15. The pros and cons of raising the minimum wage are well known:

1) Some workers who make below the minimum will see their paychecks increase;

2) Some employers who have little or no profits and who are not able to pass on the higher wage costs to customers will have to reduce expenses in other areas or even go out of business;

3) Some employers will be induced to cut jobs through a combination of automation and rescheduling--for example raising two $10 employees to $15 and eliminating a third $10 employee. In the latter example there is an additional incentive to eliminate jobs because there are some costs that vary more with the number of workers, not total wages. These costs include Federal and State unemployment and disability insurance and employer-provided health care.

4) Some combination of the above will occur at larger companies.

Simplifying, a minimum wage increase will raise the pay of some and will result in others losing their jobs.

Yesterday the Congressional Budget Office released its analysis of the $15 minimum wage proposal.

But first, the headline from Yahoo! News on the CBO report:

CBO: $15 minimum wage would increase unemployment but lift 900,000 out of poverty

The above headline is a small example of why the majority of Americans believe the "news" media is biased. "Lift 900,000 out of poverty" is a very up-"lifting" phrase, and who wouldn't want that to occur? Meanwhile the cost of the bill--higher unemployment--is just a percentage, a faceless statistic.

Here's the quote from the CBO report:
  • Employment would be reduced by 1.4 million workers, or 0.9 percent, according to CBO’s average estimate; and
  • The number of people in poverty would be reduced by 0.9 million.
  • The honest comparison was 1.4 million jobs lost vs. higher wages for 0.9 million. But the headline writer chose to conceal the negative number.

    The Wall Street Journal takes its expected position and places it where it belongs, in the opinion sction.
    setting the minimum wage at a high of $15 would essentially put the country through an economic experiment. This would mean imposing the urban labor costs of San Francisco and Manhattan on every out-of-the-way gas station in rural America. The U.S. economy is made up of local and regional labor markets with prevailing wage rates that depend on varying standards of living, the kinds of employers, and the availability and skill of the workforce. Some 20 states have a minimum wage no higher than the current national minimum of $7.25.

    Monday, February 08, 2021

    The Brady Bunch (of Super Bowl Rings)

    Tom Brady and the Lombardi Trophy
    are old friends (WSJ photo)
    Like most football fans, I rooted against the New England Patriots because they dominated the NFL like the Yankees used to in baseball and because for a while they were competing with the 49ers (and Steelers and Cowboys) for the unofficial title of best franchise.

    By the mid-teens it was clear that the Patriots, Bill Belichick, and Tom Brady were the front-runners for, respectively, greatest franchise, greatest coach, and greatest quarterback of all time.

    In 2016, believing that Tom Brady's career was coming to an end, I set aside my rooting interest in the 49ers and appreciated what we have been seeing since 2000 when he started his NFL career.

    In 2018 the Patriots, Belichick, and Brady sealed their historical stature by playing in their ninth Super Bowl and winning their sixth. That was it, I thought, Tom Brady had all the accolades and money that he could ever want, and he will likely retire at the top. Of course, what we mortals would choose for ourselves wasn't for him. When New England did not renew his contract, instead of retiring he went to Tampa Bay for the 2020 season.

    What Tom Brady did yesterday at the Super Bowl (Bucs 31, Chiefs 9)--winning his 7th ring in 10 appearances--was mind-boggling. For perspective a quarterback who wins two championships is normally a lock for the Hall of Fame. Even those who "only" win one, such as Aaron Rodgers of the Packers and Drew Brees of the Saints, will probably make the HOF.

    Rather than debase ourselves as fan-boys in the face of unparalleled greatness, we can just make lame jokes about Tom Brady, e.g.:
    Seriously, you think Tom Brady isn’t subject to the laws of mortality? Not trying to be Debbie Downer here, but let’s be real — when Brady is 60, he’s going to be an ordinary quarterback...

    Tell you this, kids: Brady isn’t training on crap food and chemical sugar swill. In the postgame locker room, Brady’s teammates probably poured kombucha over his head.

    Sunday, February 07, 2021

    Sexagesima Sunday

    What, you're not observing Pre-Lent?
    The priest greeted us, "Happy Sexagesima Sunday."

    One dictionary describes Sexagesima as "the Sunday before Quinquagesima", an unhelpful definition.

    Sexagesima means 60 days before Easter, which is actually 8 weeks--56 days--from today. The reason for the unhelpful definition is now clear. Quinquagesima--50 days before Easter--is numerically accurate if one employs inclusive counting. Of course, next Sunday, February 14th, 9,999 people out of 10,000 will be celebrating Valentine's Day, not Quinquagesima.

    As for Sexagesima, anything else going on this Sunday?

    Saturday, February 06, 2021

    Helping Those Who Are Left Behind

    Keith Cormican, South Lake Tahoe (Chron photo)
    It's not your usual feel-good story because it's got grief, uncertainty, and death.

    Keith Cormican recovers the bodies of drowning victims that law enforcement and other agencies cannot find and brings "solace for anguished families, and sometimes more."(In California, without a body, a person cannot be declared dead for five years, and some families face financial ruin without the life insurance proceeds.)
    A stout Midwesterner with a round face, gray mustache and glacier blue eyes, Cormican is not part of a government agency — no badge, no uniform. The 61-year-old makes a living running a scuba diving shop in Wisconsin.

    But he has devoted much of the past 25 years to his macabre avocation, towing his custom-outfitted search boat around the country and spending long days motoring across lakes in pursuit of those no one can find. Since 2013 he has investigated more than 125 cases and located 32 bodies. He has searched for victims of murder and suicide, but most often for people who died in accidental drownings, which occur on popular lakes like Tahoe every year.
    Keith Cormican is expert at what he does and only charges for his expenses. (He earns fees for training others.) Grateful for his help, survivors can contribute to Bruce's Legacy, named after Keith's older brother, a fire fighter who himself died while trying to recover a drowning victim.

    When the time comes for him to stand before the Pearly Gates and account for his life, Keith Cormican won't stumble for an answer like most of us. He'll go right in.

    Friday, February 05, 2021

    Eviction Moratorium: Unintended Consequences

    (Image from Fullerton Observer)
    As we noted last week, the moratorium on evictions has been extended to June 30th. However well-intentioned the extension, when government unilaterally overrides contracts for an extended period the precedent will have lasting effects on the availability of rental housing and perhaps even beyond the real-estate industry.

    But there's another feature of the eviction bill that also has unintentioned effects: landlords must ignore unpaid rent--and evictions--on tenants' records when they apply for a new lease: [bold added]
    One part of the law that is likely to be particularly hard to enforce is a clause that prohibits landlords from denying housing based on rent debt accrued during the pandemic, said Leah Simon-Weisberg, legal director with Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, an organizing group that advocates for low-income households. Prospective landlords often screen tenant candidates through their former landlords, allowing them to learn of debts they aren't supposed to base decisions on.
    When the government orders that damaging information be concealed, the benefit to the protected group is usually small--in this case having a lease application accepted--in relation to the potential harm to another party, in this case the higher probability of a landlord having to endure months of unpaid rent and incur property damage.

    Landlords not being allowed to ask specific questions is similar to "ban the box" laws that forbid asking about a job applicant's criminal record.
    While advocacy groups including the NAACP have praised ban the box legislation, the laws are often being passed without enough data to support whether or not the policy is actually improving employment outcomes for people with a criminal history.

    Some studies show that ban the box laws could actually have a negative impact: When employers aren't allowed to ask about applicants' criminal background early in the hiring process, they may be more likely to assume certain applicants – especially black and Hispanic men – have a criminal history, denying jobs to qualified applicants who don't have a criminal history.
    In other words, not being able to find out about a criminal record causes some employers to look to other attributes that--however mistakenly--are indicators of law-breaking, for example, being male, Black or Hispanic, tattooed, etc. The innocent job applicant is screened out because he can't be asked about a criminal past.

    Similarly, if a landlord is not permitted to find out about a prospective tenant's rent history, then the landlord is left to look at other risk factors: employment, assets, the ratio of income to rent, etc. In the Bay Area many tenants are barely able to afford rent, and sympathetic landlords often give the marginal applicant a break if they have a spotless record.

    By suspending evictions the government has shown that a one-month security deposit is inadequate. By blocking information the government has made good renters suffer. And because of the much greater riskiness of being in the rental business, property owners--and I know some personally--are withholding their rentals from the marketplace or are converting their properties to sell.

    As often happens, a government whose stated objective is to increase the supply of housing has enacted policies that do the opposite.

    The LA Times article notes how an eviction often leads to a downward spiral in a tenant's life and includes interviews from various constituencies. (Entire article reprinted below without indentation.)

    Thursday, February 04, 2021

    The Days of Our Youth

    My high school class formed a Facebook group in preparation for the 50th reunion last summer, which, as might be expected, was cancelled. The organizational effort was not totally wasted, however, because now there was a message board that we used to catch up with each other, mourn classmates who had passed on, and wax nostalgic about high-school and earlier years (those who attended from kindergarten to 12th grade are members of the "13 Plus" club).

    The orchestra was required to play "Pomp and Circumstance" every June, so I attended three graduations before it was our turn to march in.

    The class ahead of ours chose as their song Try to Remember from the off-Broadway musical the Fantasticks. TTR is a sentimental number about reflecting back on a youth that is gone too quickly. Emotions were heartfelt; the war was raging, they were about to register for the draft, half the class was leaving the Islands, and many would never see each other again.
    Try to remember the kind of September
    When life was slow and oh, so mellow.
    Try to remember the kind of September
    When grass was green and grain was yellow.
    Try to remember the kind of September
    When you were a tender and callow fellow.
    Try to remember, and if you remember,
    Then follow.
    The original Fantasticks cast member who sang Try to Remember is Jerry Orbach (1935-2004), whom I only knew as an actor in the hit series Murder She Wrote and Law & Order. Here he is in 1982, 22 years after he introduced it on the stage.

    Wednesday, February 03, 2021

    Support Your Local Merchant

    Though continuing to shop at Amazon and Costco, I have diverted more spending dollars toward supermarkets, drug stores, and other physical retail outlets. Sure, the latter is more expensive, but while saving money is the most important thing, it's not the only thing.

    The stores provide local employment, immediate availability of goods, and a larger selection than Costco. I want to keep them in business; the negative externality of a half-empty mall detracts from our happiness and well-being.

    And so it was that I found myself picking up a package of Hello Kitty toilet paper at the local 99 Ranch. Neither the brand nor the store has a national presence.

    30 rolls for $20 wasn't an outrageous price. In fact the same quantity of Charmin costs $20 at the local Costco ($27.99 at Costco online).

    I still give the nod to Charmin for the combination of strength, softness, and absorbency, but Hello Kitty TP was perfectly adequate.

    And that's the bottom line.

    Tuesday, February 02, 2021

    Aging Wisely

    Lee Daniels in his LA backyard.
    Pajamas by Maison Margiela (WSJ)
    Producer and director of critically acclaimed, successful movies (Monster's Ball, The Woodsman, Precious, The Butler) and TV series (Empire) Lee Daniels, 61, has it all together. Excerpts from his WSJ interview:
    What time do you wake up on Mondays, and what’s the first thing you do?
    I start at 7 a.m. I pray, which has really been new, because I didn’t do that before. As this pandemic has grown, I’ve found myself praying longer. I pray, meditate and, after, I do my hike [in Franklin Canyon Park]. I do a brief workout. I do my infrared sauna. Then I shower and begin work.

    Do you have a go-to breakfast to start the week off right?
    I put on 17 pounds at the beginning of the pandemic, so I had to drop it all. If you’d asked me at the beginning, I would have said pancakes and bacon. But now I don’t have breakfast at all; water is what I have. I don’t eat until 2 or 3 in the afternoon.

    You’re doing the fasting thing.
    I’m in it to win it.

    Do you drink coffee or tea?
    So I lied, I’m sorry. During the holidays, I wasn’t completely fasting. I’d have a double shot of Starbucks espresso with eggnog. I’d put it in a blender with ice. If I wanted to treat myself, I’d put a slab of whipped cream in it, but that’s rare.

    Do you take any vitamins?
    Once you get past 60, you take everything under the sun. I take eight or nine every day: vitamin D, a men’s 50+ daily multivitamin, vitamin C, Flora Plus, lecithin, an advanced probiotic... adrenal support and liver detox.

    Do you have a time-management or efficiency hack?
    The last thing I do before I go to bed is I look at my schedule for the following day, and that really gives me an understanding of whether it needs to be edited, altered, [if] I need more on it [or] I need more me-time so that I can pace myself. Sometimes I like to cram it, but then I find myself out of steam.

    What’s your media diet?
    At the end of my workday, around 8, I’ll go into my bedroom and I’ll start with CNN, I’ll move to Rachel Maddow, and then I’ll hear Fox, so I can hear what they’ve got to say. I get a lot of alerts on my iPhone, [so] throughout the day I’m listening to news [on] Apple News.
    Lee Daniels and I are doing the same things--fasting, meditating, exercising, consuming vitamins, viewing media that we disagree with--but he's doing it better. He's an excellent role model for us over-60's.

    One other thing that I'm striving to do is to resist being provoked. Anger, along with pride, is an ancient sin that is too often praised. Lee Daniels has advice on that subject, too.
    What’s one piece of advice you’ve gotten that’s guided you?
    It’s never personal. Don’t take it personal.

    Monday, February 01, 2021

    It's Been Fun Playing, But I Will Pick Up My Marbles

    Benjamin Graham (1894-1976), the
    father of fundamental analysis
    Investing in stocks, your humble blogger first turns to fundamental analysis, which tries to determine the "intrinsic value" of securities both from a projection of earnings and dividends as well as the fair value of assets and liabilities on the balance sheet. Yes, it's hard work and as boring as it sounds, but some of the most successful investors in history have used FA to determine when to buy or sell a stock.

    More often than not, however, emotions rule markets, such as the Reddit frenzy that has driven Gamestop, AMC, and other heavily shorted names to prices that cannot be rationalized under even the most optimistic scenarios.
    Thousands of members of WallStreetBets, a forum at the online community, have been leading the swarm of amateur individual traders buying stocks that hedge funds and other institutional investors were betting against.

    Moving in sync and en masse, such traders can drive a stock way up or down even if each trader commits only a few dollars. Professionals, on the other hand, are legally restricted from colluding and incur much higher brokerage costs.

    These new mobs of amateur traders resemble swarms of animals that often coalesce in the wild. You may have seen videos of an immense school of fish flashing in unison through the sea or a murmuration of starlings forming a vast swirling vortex in the sky.

    These swarms shift direction in swift, coordinated bursts to find prey and evade predators.
    Even multi-billion-dollar hedge funds can be overwhelmed by the "swarm," so if an individual wants to participate on either side of the trade on one of these targeted stocks, it had better be with money that he can afford to lose.

    Silver (Reuter's image)
    The heavily shorted Reddit stocks have been well publicized, and to this bemused investor it is impossible to know whether they will go up or down from their present levels, However, one tidbit caught my eye last week: the price of silver was being discussed on the message boards, and precious-metal stocks had only risen modestly so far.

    Those of us who lived through the rampant inflation of the 1970's are dwindling in number. We old-timers remember the "guns vs. butter" debate from the 1960's, when fiscal conservatives argued that the United States could not both prosecute the Vietnam War and implement Great Society social spending programs. The rampant inflation of the 1970's seemed to prove the fiscal conservatives correct.

    The Federal Reserve under Paul Volcker wrung inflation out of the economy by forcing Treasury rates to the mid-teens and triggering a severe recession, and the lessons of that period have influenced generations of economic policy makers. Today's gargantuan deficits in the $trillions and near-zero interest rates have not resulted in inflation...yet; but now may finally be the time when history repeats.

    The above is a long way of saying that I have started to shift my retirement portfolio into hard assets like real estate, precious metals, and related stocks as a hedge against inflation. So, back to Reddit targets: the fact that thousands of individual investors were beginning to look at silver accelerated this investor's decision to buy some poor-man's gold.

    On Friday I purchased some Hecla Mining (HL) at $5.80, a stock that I had owned in the past, as a way of playing the silver market. As of this writing, HL is trading at $7.19, a 24% increase over cost.

    There's been some chatter that the big-money funds have disguised themselves online as individual investors and are planting information to drive up the price of silver and silver stocks. It's been fun for a day, and I'll ride it a little longer before getting out.