Monday, May 31, 2021

Memorial Day, 2021

Golden Gate National Cemetery, San Bruno, CA
We are still partially confined to quarters, and last year's Memorial Day post, lightly edited, is still relevant:

Today I thought about my Dad, who passed away in June, 2019. He was the last of seven boys, six of whom served during World War II.

I thought of Harry Truman, who made the now-controversial decision to drop the bomb. After 3½ years of all-out war, I can see why he wanted to end it.

Look at us, we can barely tolerate 14 months of being confined to our air-conditioned Internet-enabled homes.

I probably wouldn't be here if it weren't for the bomb. Dad was training in Texas in the spring of 1945 and would have been part of an invasion of the Japanese homeland that would have cost the lives of up to a million U.S. soldiers and many more Japanese.
"I was terrified at what might happen and damned relieved when the invasion became unnecessary. I accept the military estimates that at least 1 million lives were saved, and mine could have been one of them."
----James Michener
Today we remember and give thanks for the lives of Dad, his brothers, Harry S. Truman, and all who wore the uniform to give their descendants blessings that many of them could not have imagined.

Sandwiches on Sunday

After church we loaded the sandwiches in two cars and headed to the Redwood City community center, less than a block from the Costco on Middlefield Road.

Antonio, who works at the center, wiped down the tables. He had masks and disinfectant for those who had forgotten to bring them.

Another important contribution was his ability to speak English and Spanish fluently. He shouted directions about where to stand and when it was okay to take an extra lunch or two.

Phoebe and her son set the paper bags and bottled water on the tables.

The line was shorter than last time--perhaps 30 in total--so we stuck around for 45 minutes to make sure everyone got as much as they wanted.

Antonio said the community center would be closed on Memorial Day, so he couldn't store the remaining sandwiches inside the center.

I took the remaining 12 bags and bottled water to the Catholic Worker House and left them on the large front porch.

The CWH is a place to leave donations like extra food including perishables, clothing, and other useful items. The materials are cleared off the porch every day.

Our next scheduled sandwich dates are in August and October. Perhaps by October we will resume serving cafeteria-style hot lunches in the garden.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Assembling Sandwiches on Saturday

The process goes more smoothly each time. On Saturday we made 80 brown-bag lunches.

In January I had to go back to Costco three times for ingredients. Yesterday I went to the supermarket only once, this time for bread.

Most bread isn't marked with the number of slices on the package, and the packages are often opaque, so it's hard to count the slices yourself. We needed
2 sandwiches/bag x 2 slices/sandwich x 80 bags = 320 slices
and underestimated the loaves needed.

No worries. I returned from the market in 20 minutes, and the assembly line finished the task in under two hours.

The church refrigerator had room for 17 packages. Fortunately my spare fridge was nearly empty, and I was able to squeeze the rest in. Most of the task was done, and we were ready for tomorrow.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

The Hand and the Heart

Passing the test (pictured) is a warning sign 
Your humble blogger is accustomed to failing tests of dexterity and flexibility, such as raising the ring finger or clover-leaf tongue rolling.

The thumb-palm test I'd rather not pass, however. [bold added]
The test is simple: Holding up one hand and keeping the palm flat, the patient flexes their thumb as far as possible across the palm.

If the thumb crosses beyond the far edge of the flat palm, the patient may be harboring a hidden aneurysm.
Yale researchers
I had to try it.
said it is important to emphasize that not everyone who tests positive is an aneurysm carrier. Also, they noted, aneurysms often take decades to progress to the point of rupture and a positive test is not cause for panic.

For the study, the researchers gave the test to 305 patients undergoing cardiac surgery for a variety of disorders, including aortic aneurysms. “Our study showed that the majority of aneurysm patients do not manifest a positive thumb-palm sign, but patients who do have a positive test have a high likelihood of harboring an aneurysm,” [Dr. John] Elefteriades said.
Passing the thumb-palm test does not guarantee an aneurysm in your future, nor does failing the test mean that you'll escape having one. It's just an indicator to guide future choices, and it doesn't cost anything.

Friday, May 28, 2021

What a Difference etc.

We keep the pre-school rooms, furniture, and materials as separated as possible from the church. This policy pre-dated the coronavirus.

The school supply closet, which I last viewed 15 months ago--it's locked on Sundays--had mostly contained disposable plates, napkins, utensils, and other food-service items.

Now it's filled with wipes, disinfectant, and paper towels.

What's changed?

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Vaping: the Hard Way to Change

Vaping devices confiscated from students (NPR)
In 2018 San Francisco banned the sale of e-cigarettes, primarily to prevent teenagers from getting hooked on this latest delivery system for nicotine.

A Yale study says the unintended consequence was to increase teen usage of traditional cigarettes, whose smoke causes much more damage to the body than e-cigarettes: [bold added]
When San Francisco voters overwhelmingly approved a 2018 ballot measure banning the sale of flavored tobacco products — including menthol cigarettes and flavored vape liquids — public health advocates celebrated. After all, tobacco use poses a significant threat to public health and health equity, and flavors are particularly attractive to youth.

But according to a new study from the Yale School of Public Health (YSPH), that law may have had the opposite effect. Analyses found that, after the ban’s implementation, high school students’ odds of smoking conventional cigarettes doubled in San Francisco’s school district relative to trends in districts without the ban, even when adjusting for individual demographics and other tobacco policies.
When politicians are convinced of the righteousness of their position, and when these politicians hold the power to impose their will, banning of supposedly harmful products and services seems like the quickest and easiest course of action.

We have seen how, in the case of Prohibition, drugs, gambling, and prostitution, criminalizing these behaviors never eliminates them. Moreover, the unintended consequences, i.e., creating black markets or forcing addicted consumers to choose more harmful substitutes, can make things worse.

It took half a century of public education and regulation to reduce consumption of conventional tobacco products to its current level of 14% of the U.S. adult population. To effect permanent change the right way is usually the hard way.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Moon over Foster City

There are high-res close-ups of this morning's super-blood-flower moon, and you won't find them here, dear reader.

I woke at 4:15 a.m. and snapped this photo of the moon over a neighbor's house. He has more lights on than normal. Perhaps he's gazing up, too.

Ryan Park

Leo J. Ryan Memorial Park is at the heart of Foster City. The recreational center hosts large gatherings, and the outdoor amphitheatre is used for activities such as school graduations, concerts, and exercise classes.

During the mid-1970's Leo Ryan was the House Representative for the district that included much of San Mateo County. He was killed during one of the most infamous events in Bay Area history--the murder-suicide of 909 members of the People's Temple in Guyana.

The Reverend Jim Jones founded the People's Temple, which had thousands of members in Mendocino County, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. To escape scrutiny for abusive and cult-like practices, Jim Jones created Jonestown, Guyana. In 1978 Leo Ryan flew to Jonestown with staffers, reporters, and relatives of Temple members on a fact-finding tour. Jones ordered the congressman killed after he uncovered damaging evidence; Leo Ryan and three other members of the entourage died, and the rest were wounded by gunfire on a Guyana airstrip.

That evening Jim Jones instructed every Temple member to commit suicide by drinking Flavor Aid laced with cyanide. Parents administered the poison to their children before ingesting it themselves and lying down beside them. Jim Jones also committed suicide, but from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

"Drinking the Kool-Aid" (although the actual drink was Flavor Aid) has passed into the popular lexicon. The phrase has lost its original horrific connotation (killing oneself because a speaker orders it) and has come to mean blind obedience to a leader, ignoring weaknesses in his arguments.

In 2003, 25 years after his death, Foster City rededicated Central Park, one of the most beautiful parks in the Bay Area, to Leo J, Ryan, who died horribly and tragically.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Mexico: Where Political Assassinations are Normal

Politics is indeed a rough business, with opposition researchers delving into every aspect of a candidate's past. What was once personal and off-limits is now fair, or should we say foul, game.

Once in a while Americans should be reminded how lucky they are to have political campaigns that destroy candidates, but only metaphorically.

Popular mayoral candidate and former prosecutor Abel
Murrieta was killed on May 13. (Mexico News Daily)
Headline: Dozens of Mexican Candidates Have Been Killed in a Bloody Election Season [bold added]
Even in a country with a history of electoral violence, this vote is shaping up as the most bloody in recent memory as more, smaller criminal gangs viciously compete to control local areas by intimidating or killing off politicians.

From February to April, 46 elected officials, members of political parties and candidates for office were killed, a 44% jump compared with the 2018 elections, according to Integralia, a Mexican political consulting firm. Since September, when the electoral process began, 82 politicians have been killed, most of them gunned down.
With politicians unable to protect themselves, many of them have withdrawn their candidacies. The gangs are the authority in various towns, and with little or no resistance to confront them, are expanding their operations:
Aside from trafficking drugs to the U.S., these gangs smuggle migrants, sell black-market gasoline, and extort legal businesses which range from avocado farms to taco stands. Once in control of local governments, the gangs also take a cut of tax money meant for public works, according to organizations that track and analyze crime trends.

As more of their income comes from activities such as extortion, these groups’ success depends on their ability to control territory. That means controlling, through threats and bribery, the local mayor, police chief, and other top officials. Those who don’t cooperate are often killed.
The environment in Mexico is so horrifying that we can't imagine how it could be transplanted here.

Meanwhile the progressive leadership in California is pushing for open borders, defunding the police, and more restrictions on private gun ownership. I really do need to learn Spanish...

Monday, May 24, 2021

Mickey Mouse Technology

They were cute and once upon a time ubiquitous and cheap. I even had one.

The old mechanical Mickey Mouse watches, which were on display in the Walt Disney Family Museum, are passé, superseded by high-tech wrist devices.

If the kids must wear watches with cartoon characters, they seem to favor ones that are popular from this century. Despite their current lack of popularity, I know several of the over-40 set who refuse to part with Mickey Mouse timepieces though they no longer wear them. Such is the powerful hold of nostalgia.

Another vestige of earlier days is our Mickey Mouse dial telephone, which I first mentioned in this journal in 2010. We keep it and our landline as insurance against natural disaster:
Mickey Mouse survives because it's our one phone that can operate if the power goes off say, during an earthquake. As long as our landline has tone, we can dial out ("dial" for once may be interpreted literally).
Many in the younger generation don't have landlines, because cell phones and router-plug-in phones are sufficient for their needs.

It's long been rumored that AT&T will abandon the pulse dialing technology that once powered everyone's phone. When it pulls the plug on that, I'll pull the plug on them.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Pentecost, 2021

The altar, the priest's vestments, and the worshippers' clothes were red, symbolic of the tongues of fire that visited the Apostles two millennia ago. It seemed like a normal Pentecost, although it was anything but.

Across the Bay Area Episcopal churches had their first in-person service in 14 months.

Masks were required of everyone, and communion was limited to the host (bread).

I'm not entirely sure why music was restricted to pre-recorded songs with no singing (extraneous exhalation?) while voicing the Creed and prayers was permitted. Nevertheless, everyone was happy to go along.

I didn't get pledge envelopes for this year.
Last year's, unused, will do just as well.
There was no coffee hour per se, but most parishioners lingered outdoors, catching up with each other in the sunshine.

There was some confusion and hesitancy at various points, but live worship will get better, judging by the improvement from the first streaming services that started a year ago. See you next week, said the priest. Amen to that.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

"When I used to read fairy tales, I fancied that kind of thing never happened, and now here I am in the middle of one!"

The 1945 musical Anchors Aweigh is famed for its dance sequence that merged live action with animation. Wikipedia:
The movie is remembered for the musical number in which Gene Kelly dances seamlessly with the animated Jerry Mouse (voiced by Sara Berner). Tom Cat appears briefly as a butler in the sequence supervised by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. The animation was entirely undertaken by Kenneth Muse, Ray Patterson and Ed Barge.

Originally, the producers wanted to use Mickey Mouse for this segment. Some sources claim Walt Disney initially agreed to loan out Mickey, but Roy Disney rejected the deal. According to Bob Thomas's book on Roy Disney, the studio was in debt after World War II and they were focusing on trying to release their own films out on time. According to Roy, they had no business making cartoons for other people. After Disney turned the offer down, Kelly went to Fred Quimby, the head of MGM's cartoon studio. Quimby was also not interested, but Kelly persisted, reportedly showing up at Hanna and Barbera's office to press the case. The dance sequence required meticulous storyboarding; after Kelly's dance was filmed, the animators used rotoscoping to painstakingly match the animated character's movement to Kelly's, even down to their shadows cast on the polished dance floor.
Gene Kelly's first choice as a dance partner was Mickey Mouse. Not only was Mickey the most famous cartoon character in the world, but Walt Disney had the expertise Gene Kelly was looking for: Walt was the first to mix live action and animation 20 years previously in the Alice Comedies.
Alice’s Wonderland—the last film Walt Disney made in Kansas City, Missouri—depicts the animated adventures of a true-to-life young girl in a make-believe world.

In the original 1923 short film, Alice arrives by train in “Cartoonland.” A large welcoming committee of animated animal characters greets her with excitement and adoration....Roy Disney was taught to hand-crank the movie camera...Walt directed the live-action and single-handedly created the animated drawings.
The Walt Disney Museum devotes an entire room to the Alice Comedies, which consist of 57 short films produced from 1923 to 1927. Walt tired of the effort required of this format and devoted himself to synchronizing sound in 100%-animated pictures. Steamboat Willie, which introduced Mickey and Minnie Mouse, was released in 1928.

Below--part of the Alice Comedies display in the museum:

Friday, May 21, 2021

Preternatural Positivity

Replica of the Model-T ambulance he drove in France.
We prepped for Saturday's expedition to San Francisco by packing water, jackets, masks, and hand-sanitizer.

The Walt Disney Family Museum still requires face coverings and social distancing; also, it distributes plastic-wrapped headphones and styluses to each patron for plugging into the audio jacks and for using the touchscreens.

We traveled up to the Presidio in our 17-year-old Camry, as we did on pre-pandemic trips to San Francisco.

Perhaps we were being overly cautious due to the regular reports of auto-smash-and-grabs. According to critics of the SF District Attorney these burglaries are not being prosecuted because his belief that lives are more important than property translates to not prosecuting property crimes at all.

(available on Amazon)
We had no trouble with our car, which was in a parking space clearly visible from the museum.

Speaking of cars, one of the great influences on Walt Disney's life was the year he spent in France as an ambulance driver just after World War I. So eager was he to volunteer, he adjusted the birth year on his passport from "1901" to "1900" so that he would meet the minimum age requirement; however, due to illness, he wasn't shipped out until after Armistice Day on November 11, 1918.

During his time in France Walt Disney honed his drawing skills and acquired material for his cartoons, as well as life experience:
Lesjack leaves us with a decent look at Walt’s life during the World War I years that foreshadow his choices later in life. The insight provided tells us about Walt’s thoughts before, during and after the war. In a few cases, Walt shows a preternatural positivity that would last throughout his life, even against hardships and loss.
That's what we all need--a little preternatural positivity. But I'm still driving the clunker to San Francisco.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Walt Disney Family Museum

DC and Marvel comics and MAD magazine were my
preference, but relatives kept giving me these
On a cool, foggy Saturday we made our first visit to the Walt Disney Family Museum. It was also our first "fun" outing in 15 months.

The museum is in the Presidio, the former military base. Families were picnicking on the great lawn. Kids were throwing frisbees, and couples were walking their dogs.

We spent three hours looking at the displays. Ample space was devoted to the well-known chapters of Walt Disney's life--the animated shorts, the feature-length movies and Disneyland--but what I found most interesting were the building blocks that led up to the creation of Mickey Mouse, his family life, and Walt's vision for the "Florida Project." Walt died in 1966 at the age of 65 and didn't live to see the opening of Walt Disney World in 1971.

Like the late Steve Jobs who died too soon at the age of 56, Walt Disney never stopped working and dreaming of the next big thing. He kept pushing cartoon art until it became the basis for feature-length Oscar-winning movies; he cajoled recalcitrant bankers to fund an amusement park despite the industry's seedy history, and he laid plans for the City of Tomorrow in Florida's swamplands.

Both men's roadmaps were so powerfully drawn that their companies continue to prosper years after they died, not so much by embarking on new ventures but by expanding upon their original creations. (The only person alive today who could compare with them, IMHO, is Elon Musk.)

Like other mere mortals, we could only gawk at the talismans from Walt Disney's life.

The Golden Gate is visible from an upstairs window in the museum.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Rental Real Estate: Still Not Normal

Apartment rents have been rising in San Francisco, but whether the trend will continue is highly uncertain:
San Francisco rents rose 3% in April, to a median $2,157 for a one-bedroom apartment, according to real estate site Apartment List. But another report by the listing site Zumper found that San Francisco rents dropped 1.9% from last month, and it calculated a higher $2,600 median price for the same size apartment...

Apartment List found that San Francisco rents are still more than 19% lower than last April, though prices remain significantly higher than other major cities like New York, Los Angeles and Seattle. Zumper reported that asking rents were down by nearly 25% compared to last April, and it calculated an even larger 30% drop in nearby Redwood City and a 28% decline in Facebook’s home of Menlo Park...

While things may be looking up for some landlords, it’s far less clear how confusion about eviction moratorium and rent relief programs may play out for San Francisco tenants hit hardest by job losses and instability triggered by pandemic shutdowns.
IMHO, the biggest questions in the rental market are the number of units on which back rent is owed and whether landlords will be free to evict tenants for non-payment on July 1st. If Sacramento does not extend the moratorium, both the supply of apartments and the demand (evicted tenants) will come on to the market. Counties that are inhospitable to the "cancel rent" movement should return to normal quickly.

As to what "normal" means, it wouldn't be surprising if rents continue to fall because of the exodus of skilled workers from the Bay Area, and the inclination of those that remain to buy a single-family house instead of renting a unit in a multi-family dwelling.

Below: these moderate density units in Foster City still rent or sell quickly.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Texas Eyes Hurricanes

Big swinging gates (WSJ graphic)
One of the overarching themes of history is how humankind battled and overcame the vicissitudes of nature. But some phenomena, like hurricanes, seemed too daunting to be resisted...until now.

Texas is considering a $26 billion barrier system to protect against hurricane storm surge.
The plan calls for 43 miles of new dunes and beaches and man-made fortifications designed to weather storm surges of up to 21 feet, including a gate system across the main entrance to Galveston Bay.

A complex gate system stretching between Bolivar Peninsula and Galveston Island would reduce storm surge while maintaining about 90% of current water flows when gates are open.

Three newly constructed man-made islands would anchor and house two pairs of large fan-shaped sector gates.
  • The engineering mentality that built much of America--its cities, superhighways, hydroelectric dams, railroads, and the space program--is still alive.
  • Much of this spirit and skill used to be in California and has moved to Texas.
  • The above is the type of real infrastructure spending that your humble blogger can support. Note: this is mostly not "infrastructure":
    Mr. Biden’s proposal includes $621 billion to modernize transportation infrastructure, $400 billion to help care for the aging and those with disabilities, $300 billion to boost the manufacturing industry, $213 billion on retrofitting and building affordable housing and $100 billion to expand broadband access, among other investments.
    While the technology may never exist to stop a hurricane, earthquake, or volcano, the worst damage from these natural phenomena is being reduced through projects like these.
  • Monday, May 17, 2021

    You Don't Have to Keep Score to Enjoy It

    The reason people watch basketball: in a meaningless game one can still see plays that mere mortals could not perform in a million years.

    Today's exhibit: Blake Griffin of the Brooklyn Nets intercepts a Cavaliers throw-in and fires a long behind-the-back pass. The sequence ends in a Kevin Durant dunk from a feed off the backboard. If you ever paid to see the Harlem Globetrotters, you'd understand.

    Sunday, May 16, 2021

    Resist the Temptation to Categorize

    Michal Beth Dinkler and Sandra
    Bullock have never been seen in
    the same room together.
    Yale Divinity Professor Michal Beth Dinkler says that the Four Gospels illustrate the diversity of perspective with which Christians should approach the Bible:
    Coming to any biblical text and trying to force it into one kind of capital ’T’ truth is an unimaginative way of understanding God’s work in the world. The New Testament itself tells us that diversity has been present amongst followers of Jesus since the very beginning.
    Many Americans--not just white Americans--have an aversion to the word diversity because it has come to mean diversity of visible attributes like skin color but not diversity of thought. Professor Dinkler, IMHO, is referring to diversity of thought when she speaks of reading Scripture.

    This is a reminder that everyone should resist the temptation to assume that individuals who belong to a group are uniform in belief and behavior, whether they be black, white, Asian, Hispanic, poor, wealthy, Republican, Democrat, or...yes, Christian.

    Saturday, May 15, 2021

    Wear a Mask for Protection.....But Not Against COVID-19

    Gun control activist David Hogg wears a mask to signal that he's not a conservative:

    Dr. Susan Philip (Chron photo)
    There's another, more important reason to wear a mask, despite the CDC guidance that fully vaccinated people don't have to wear a mask outdoors: to protect oneself from being yelled at or worse by people who want everyone to keep covering their face.

    Dr. Susan Philip, San Francisco health officer: [bold added]
    she has a message for city residents: Nobody needs to play the Mask Cop.

    “They’re getting dirty looks. They’re getting yelled at, and they’re feeling very uncomfortable in their neighborhoods following our recommendations,” she said. “We want to make sure that everyone understands that this is permitted. We want people in the city to feel comfortable removing their masks.”

    The Department of Public Health shared a particularly eye-popping email from a Glen Park resident who insisted on anonymity in this column “because of how irrational people can be about this particular topic.”

    His email described going on two short walks without masks after the CDC said that was fine. On one walk, a woman screamed, “COVID is real, and people die!” On the other, somebody flipped him off and said, “Why don’t you move?” even though he’s lived in the city for more than 15 years.

    “People are unhinged. ... My neighbors are scared to take their mask off outside because of other people — not the risk of COVID,” he wrote. “I would think such an educated city would understand science and trust the experts.”
    The SF resident made several mistakes in his previous sentence: that San Francisco is an "educated" city ("indoctrinated" is more accurate), that residents understand "science" (but only if science agrees with their preconceptions), and that they trust the experts (but only if the experts support their politics).

    David Hogg wears a mask to signal he's not a conservative. Conservatives wear masks in Cambridge--where he goes to school--and in San Francisco for protection against David Hogg's people.

    Friday, May 14, 2021

    Wealth Survey

    On a day like this I feel wealthy, and it's not from owning one of those houses.
    Eighteen years ago my work colleague, Phil, and I were musing about retirement over a beer. The question before the panel: what should our financial situation be to have a comfortable retirement? The initial bid was $1 million + a paid-up house + Social Security and Medicare coverage.

    Then we thought about the traveling we would like to do, the 3-years-old-or-less cars we would like to have in our driveway, and the need for long-term care, and the bank-account objective was raised to $2 million, which is easy to do when the sun is shining and you're on your third beer. The conversation was only half-serious--after all, we weren't yet on Medicare--so we had to keep working anyway.

    In the intervening years Phil retired, sold his Bay Area house, and moved to Palm Springs. Whether he hit the goals we set on that distant afternoon, I don't know, but I hope he's happy. Happiness, and its relationship to wealth, is a subject more for philosophers, psychologists, and priests than accountants, but we hone in on wealth because financial measurements are objective and easier to obtain.

    In the Bay Area one needs to have $3.8 million to be "wealthy". [bold added]
    Respondents to the 2021 Modern Wealth Survey from Charles Schwab said it takes an average net worth of $3.8 million to be wealthy in the Bay Area, down $700,000 from $4.5 million in 2020. If you’re just aiming for “financial happiness,” that carries a price tag of $1.8 million in 2021 compared to $2.1 million in 2020.

    A mere $1.3 million is enough to make you “financially comfortable” in 2021, versus $1.5 million in 2020, according to the survey responses.
    Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that "financial happiness" was not achieved at $1.8 million (the Schwab survey amount includes one's house).

    While having enough money to make ends meet is necessary, it's not a sufficent condition for happiness. For that you have to look elsewhere, maybe in Palm Springs.

    Thursday, May 13, 2021

    Spending More and Getting Less

    We took a Federal and California tax return to the Post Office today. Both were required to be postmarked by Monday, May 17th, and we did the mailing a few days early. (These returns weren't ours, which were mailed on April 14th.)

    First-class mail service has deteriorated. It will take four days to deliver the 1040 to Fresno, which is 180 miles (3¼ hours) away.

    Worse, the USPS estimates that Form 540 will be delivered on Tuesday to Sacramento, which is 110 miles (2 hours) from Foster City. It takes five days to get a piece of mail to the State Capitol.

    If speediness were crucial I would have driven the tax returns to the destinations myself, as I've done a few times in my career.

    Services that the government provides---police, schools, mail, tax processing, border patrol, public health--have experienced well-publicized failures during the past year. During the same period the private sector has erected the infrastructure to work from home and produced COVID-19 vaccines years earlier than anyone had a right to expect.

    Meanwhile, based on its stellar record, the government takeover of the economy continues apace with an explosion of taxes and spending....

    Wednesday, May 12, 2021

    Inflation Confirmed

    How inflation can change behavior: we intended to return
    this leased car next March but are seriously considering
    exercising our fixed price option to buy it.
    Just last Saturday we voiced our fears about a return of '70's inflation:
    The economy is warm if not hot, the Administration is proposing $trillions in additional spending, and the Federal Reserve is promising to keep rates low.
    I hoped I was wrong, but today's CPI data confirms that inflation is back, at least for this year. [bold added]
    The Labor Department reported its consumer-price index jumped 4.2% in April from a year earlier, up from 2.6% for the year ended in March. Consumer prices increased a seasonally adjusted 0.8% in April from March. The index measures what consumers pay for goods and services, including clothes, groceries, restaurant meals, recreational activities and vehicles.

    Higher prices for used autos surged 10% in April compared with the prior month—the largest monthly increase on record. That accounted for more than a third of the increase, the Labor Department said.

    U.S. stocks fell after the inflation data was released, extending pressure on financial markets. Investors are concerned that rising prices could prompt the Federal Reserve to move on interest rates sooner than expected.

    Policy makers are watching April’s reading to gauge the extent of what many expect to be a monthslong rise in prices, after a year of anemic overall inflation as the pandemic curbed consumer spending. Whether an upswing in prices proves temporary is a key question for financial markets and the U.S. recovery, as the Biden administration, Congress and the Fed continue to support the economy with fiscal- and monetary-policy measures.

    The so-called core price index, which excludes the often-volatile categories of food and energy, climbed 3% in April from a year before.
    The Treasury and the Federal Reserve are behaving as if the surge in prices is temporary, while many stock market participants worry that it will be long-lived, as evidenced by the sell-off today.

    There are numerous reasons why inflation and higher interest rates are bad for the market. Here are just a few: companies pay higher materials, labor, and interest costs, decreasing their profits; investors switch out of equities into bonds, which are safer and return cash in the form of interest; valuation models lower the value of future dividends due to higher discount rates.

    In this environment I think it's crazy for the Federal Government to be considering a multi-trillion dollar infrastructure program when the economy is already struggling with higher raw materials costs and labor shortages. If there are people who are left behind and still can't find jobs in this hotter economy, go ahead and help them, but limit the additional spending to these transfer payments, please.

    Tuesday, May 11, 2021

    Enjoying the Unprovocative

    After noticing the seahorse on April 27th, I retraced the path and found a dolphin and a seashell within a hundred feet.

    The pieces weren't inspired or inspirational, and they typify commercial art that developers suppose add a touch of class to housing developments. The images are part of the New England ambience that permeates Foster City. (We live in the Dolphin Bay development, which is next to the Edgewater Place shopping center across the lagoon from the Whaler's Cove neighborhood, etc.)

    50 years ago, before nautical themes became commonplace in newly built cities, our streets were given names such as "Beach Park", "Marlin", "Shell", "Bristol", and "Catamaran."

    Well, all clichés start somewhere. In the sleepy suburbs we like art that doesn't provoke.

    Monday, May 10, 2021

    We're Not Wrong, We Just Need to Redouble Our Efforts

    They're leaving, ergo build houses and trains! (WSJ graphic)
    Conservatives do it, too, but lately Progressives are so wedded to failing policies that they can't see the absurdity of what they're saying.

    For example, here's an opinion piece from the Chronicle editorial page: How working from home could actually make Bay Area traffic worse
    [Chronicle editorial writer Matthew Fleischer] reached out to California State Sen. Scott Wiener to see if the prospect of permanent work from home had altered his thinking around ambitious housing plans to densify San Francisco and other job-rich areas. Do we still need dense housing near offices if people are staying home?

    “Absolutely,” he said. “If we want to have any chance of meeting our climate goals we do.”
    The argument goes something like this: workers move to the suburbs where they're safer from infection and can get more square footage for the money, but when the economy revives they'll have longer commutes to work. Mass transit from the hinterlands is sparse, so there will be more greenhouse gas emissions when they drive in.

    It only takes a minute to come up with counter-arguments:

    1) But they won't be driving in! Do the analysis: how often will the working-from-home (WFH) employee come to the office? If it's one day a week the incremental pollution is negligible. Also, that will be one less resident who will be using expensive, crowded, unreliable SF Muni.

    2) But they won't be coming into the City! Employers are leaving San Francisco for cheaper digs in the suburbs, where taxes and regulations are lower. Some big ones, like Oracle and HP, are leaving the State. The new commute will be out in the 'burbs, at short distances, and won't strain your precious City services.

    3) But there won't be greenhouse gases! The State has banned the sale of gasoline-powered vehicles after 2034. In 14 years transportation CO2 is guaranteed to decrease. There's no urgency in pushing through expensive dense housing and mass transit for the sake of climate change, since driving EVs into the City won't add to greenhouse gas emissions. And don't say that the next 14 years are critical, because environmentalists were claiming 21 years ago that snowfalls were a thing of the past. A lot of people remember that one.

    By the way, England is on for its coldest May since record-keeping began in 1659 (during the Maunder minimum).

    4) Expensive multiyear projects fail in times of rapid technological and demographic change---look at the wasted $billions from the high-speed rail project that won't ever be completed. Don't break ground on any new construction unless you're extremely confident that the demand is there. Freeway traffic still moves at the speed limit during rush hour, and it's an open question whether housing is needed for San Francisco and other cities where people have left.

    Finally, I'll just go ahead and say it because comedians don't ever make jokes about their own side:
    Progressives want to free chickens from the crowded coops and let them roam free. As for people, just the opposite.

    Sunday, May 09, 2021

    Mother's Day, 2021

    I haven't visited Mom for over a year, but I "see" her on FaceTime nearly every day.

    Now that retirement homes in Hawaii allow for in-person meetings when vaccinated, I will be heading to Hawaii soon.

    Meanwhile, Mom's spirits have picked up because people have been coming to see her. Yesterday she called me twice to talk about relatives who visited recently.

    A couple of my brothers brought her the food she enjoys. It has every unhealthy ingredient--fat, sugar, flour, salt--that the facility feeds her only sparingly.

    On Mother's Day, dear reader, may you and the mothers in your life do what pleases you.

    Saturday, May 08, 2021

    That '70's Show

    My grandfather was a dad in his thirties during the Great Depression. Like many who lived through that period, he was extremely conservative in his finances and refused to take on debt (he did a home mortgage on his one-and-only house during the 1920's, before the Depression).

    We baby boomers had a similar chastening experience during the "stagflation" of the 1970's. Many economists of the time argued that the U.S. could not pay for both the Vietnam War and the Great Society ("guns versus butter") without a massive increase in taxes. At the time the Federal Reserve couldn't "print money" willy-nilly, that is, buy unlimited amounts of Treasury debt, because the quantity of dollars was constrained by the amount of gold held at Fort Knox.

    Richard Nixon caved to the intense pressure to de-link the dollar from gold ("go off the gold standard") in 1971. The money supply could now increase more freely, and all the bad things we hear about the 1970's---runaway inflation, a stagnant economy, fixed-income retirees losing ground (by the way, California property taxes at the time increased by double-digit percentages along with home prices, giving rise to 1978's Proposition 13 that capped property tax increases at 3%/year), gas shortages, wage and price controls, "windfall profits" taxes on oil companies--are an indelible memory for those of us who lived through that period.

    Ronald Reagan and Paul Volcker (London Times)
    Inflation was finally whipped, albeit painfully, by Fed Chair Paul Volcker during the early 1980's by limiting the growth in the money supply, almost as if we were back on the gold standard again. Treasury rates rose to 15% or higher, and consumer and mortgage interest rates followed, before getting back to normal a couple of years later.

    As a boomer now living off of savings, I have no desire to experience another round of 1970's-like inflation, and I certainly don't want to live through another "cure."

    To be fair, there have been several instances after the Volcker era when the money supply rose dramatically, usually in response to a financial crisis, and inflation did not occur. Many economists have convinced themselves that the world has changed, and that we can "control" inflation.

    Perhaps because I entered the workforce and paid bills during the 1970's I give more weight to 40-year-old negative experiences than latter-day economists, but I believe big inflation is coming.

    The economy is warm if not hot, the Administration is proposing $trillions in additional spending, and the Federal Reserve is promising to keep rates low. [bold added]
    The Fed has kept interest rates near zero for the past year and signaled rates won’t change for at least two more years. It is buying hundreds of billions of dollars of bonds. As a result, the 10-year Treasury bond yield is well below inflation—that is, real yields are deeply negative —for only the second time in 40 years.
    If we are going to reprise the 1970's, shift some investments into real estate, gold, art, or more stable foreign currencies that can keep up with dollar inflation. (I would recommend cryptocurrencies, but I don't understand them well enough.) Get out of bonds and low-growth dividend paying stocks. If you have variable-rate loans, convert them to long-term fixed-rate debt.

    It is possible that the economy will not experience inflation if high government spending on the wrong things (unemployment insurance extensions that keep workers home), high taxes, and high regulation results in stagnation. But an economic boom and low inflation? No way...and I hope my pessimism is wrong.

    Friday, May 07, 2021

    No Interest in CD's

    Twelve years ago we bought bank Certificates of Deposit, which at the time provided a yield that exceeded inflation. CD's are safe because they're backed by FDIC insurance under the same terms as regular bank accounts.

    We decided to "ladder" CD's. Laddering is a strategy that trades some flexibility for higher yield.

    $40,000 was split into four $10,000 accounts:
    2Y matures May 2011 2.90%
    3Y matures May 2012 3.35%
    4Y matures May 2013 3.75%
    5Y matures May 2014 3.95%
    CD#1: we rolled over the CD every two years.

    CD#2: in 2012 we reinvested the $10,000 plus interest for two years, then cashed out in 2014.

    CD#3: we rolled over the CD every four years.

    CD#4: we cashed out in 2014 at maturity.

    Note: "rolling over" the CD means investing the principal and accumulated interest for the same term at a market rate. The 2-year CD, for example, was reinvested for another two years at the bank's new two-year rate. Both CD#1 (2Y) and CD#3 (4Y) mature this month.

    I called First Republic Bank , a reputable bank that has serviced us well, for a quote this week on our two remaining CD's. The customer service representative said that the rates were 0.40% and 0.45% for two and four years, respectively. Since the consensus inflation rate for 2021 and beyond is 2% or higher, it took only a second to decide that the funds be returned to us when the CD's mature.

    The Compound Annual returns actually received on each CD are shown below. The returns show that reinvestment rates have always dropped below the original 2009 interest rates.

    Note: one "convenience" of CD's is that the bank makes it easy to roll them over. The notice of maturity states that if the bank doesn't hear from us it will automatically renew the CD. So I didn't bother to talk to them after 2014.

    In 2018 I received a notification that my account was "dormant" and subject to seizure by the State.

    One would think that the posting of interest income would count as "activity." Moreover, the State of California could cross-reference the interest to our tax returns and see that we were, you know, alive. But I don't trust them to take the effort.

    It goes to show that you can't go to sleep on even the safest investments

    Thursday, May 06, 2021

    Bay Area Rental Rebound

    Foster City rents for a 2BR apt. were under $3,000 a
    few months ago. Now they're above $3,000 per Zillow.
    In January we noted how San Francisco rents have stopped dropping, a possible indicator that the net exodus of people has halted. The rent rebound continues.
    Rents in San Francisco and throughout the Bay Area continue creeping back up, although they have a long way to go before they catch up to their pre-pandemic highs, new data show.

    The rent hike in San Francisco was 3% over the past month. The average one-bedroom apartment now goes for $2,157 a month and the average two-bedroom apartment rents for $2,498, according to a report published Tuesday by the Apartment List rent service.

    That’s the third straight month of rent increases, although prices are still down nearly 20% compared to last year...

    Elsewhere in the Bay Area, the average two-bedroom apartment was $$2,370 in Walnut Creek, $2,740 in Fremont, and $2,920 in San Mateo.
    The big unknown, as we have noted before, is the eviction moratorium that expires on June 30. Will the State resist pleas to renew it yet again? (The initial moratorium was three months, and it's been extended to 15 months.) When evictions resume, what will be the price effects when the supply is released to the market? Will evicted tenants leave the Bay Area or will the reviving economy permit them to stay and rent again?

    There's no question that rental units have been removed from the market because owners have been strongly motivated to sell. The uncertainty triggered by State intervention in landlord-tenant contracts, the rising demand for home ownership, and the prospect of higher Federal capital gains taxes have caused some landlords to decide that now is the time to exit.

    For those who stay in the business, they'll know a lot more come July.

    Wednesday, May 05, 2021

    Blogger in Chief

    Does he input the old-fashioned way? (Vice photo)
    If you missed ex-President Trump's unique communicative style, you can now read his blog. The latest post:
    Warmonger Liz Cheney, who has virtually no support left in the Great State of Wyoming, continues to unknowingly and foolishly say that there was no Election Fraud in the 2020 Presidential Election when in fact, the evidence, including no Legislative approvals as demanded by the U.S. Constitution, shows the exact opposite.

    Had Mike Pence referred the information on six states (only need two) back to State Legislatures, and had gutless and clueless MINORITY Leader Mitch McConnell (he blew two seats in Georgia that should have never been lost) fought to expose all of the corruption that was presented at the time, with more found since, we would have had a far different Presidential result, and our Country would not be turning into a socialist nightmare! Never give up!
    Father and daughter in 2016 (AP News)
    His blog doesn't allow comments, and the traffic is orders of magnitude less than his Twitter postings. Less traffic, however, doesn't mean he's been ignored. The WSJ editorial page responded to his attack on Liz Cheney:
    The better part of political prudence would be for Ms. Cheney to ignore Mr. Trump. But Mr. Trump won’t ignore her. He issued four statements on Monday and three of the four were attacks on fellow Republicans, including one on Ms. Cheney. She may be ousted because she is daring to tell the truth to GOP voters—and at personal political risk...

    Republicans will look foolish, or worse, to swing voters if they refight 2020 in 2022. They can truthfully say that Democrats used lawsuits to exploit the pandemic to change the election rules in some states. They can also say Democratic judges on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court let Democrats get away with it. Democrats did a better job of exploiting the pandemic election rules than did the GOP.

    But there’s no evidence any of this was decisive, as Mr. Trump lost the popular vote in a rout and the Electoral College by a similar margin to what he won in 2016. Mr. Trump lost even as Republicans gained 12 seats in the House. The election was close, but not as close as others in American history.
    We haven't even seen the text of the Biden Administration's tax and spending proposals, and we're already talking about the 2022 elections. Let's focus on this year; let's see the draft proposals, the responses from the public, and what happens in Congress.

    Let's see whether President Biden's mental faculties continue to deteriorate---I hope he stays healthy--and whether that affects the political calculus of not only 2022 but 2021. Or maybe international events will become paramount, and President Biden's actions will affect whether his domestic legislation gets passed.

    Meanwhile, the Democrats were right to complain about the weaknesses of election systems in 2016, and ex-President Trump is right to complain about them in 2020. But that election is over. Let's implement a Sarbanes-Oxley Act for elections to root out the potential for fraud.
    We sometimes forget that one of the foundational principles of democracy is that the losers accept the result because they trust the process. That trust is near tatters, but it can be restored by demonstrating to everyone, clearly and transparently, that cheating can't turn an election.
    Fixing these systems will restore trust in future elections, and maybe we'll begin trusting each other again.

    Tuesday, May 04, 2021

    The Big Easy Does It

    What social distancing? Frenchmen Street on Saturday (WSJ photo)
    New Orleans is coming back.
    Indoor dining, restaurants and bars are allowed to operate at 100% capacity with distancing and masks, though dance clubs are closed...

    The Royal Frenchmen’s April occupancy rates are 72% of what they would ordinarily be, up from 56% in March and a low of zero during the pandemic’s peak, general manager Tyler Daly said. The hotel has sold out every weekend since the beginning of March.,,

    At many downtown and French Quarter hotels, overall occupancy has been 90% or sold out on weekends and about 40% overall throughout April.
    I visited New Orleans once (on business), had a great time, took a leisure day with the family, promised myself to come back, yet never did.

    If I did have a bucket list, a return to the Big Easy would be on it.

    Mr. P likes this couple's porch.
    Note: New Orleans visitors and residents need to watch out for Mr. P, a peacock, who has no fear of humans and takes over spaces that he takes a fancy to.
    The neighborhood peacock, also known as Petey—or, sometimes, Picasso, for the abstract designs his pecks leave on cars—showed up in Pigeon Town around 2008. Mr. P found a special tree to call home until last year, when Hurricane Zeta felled its roosting branch.

    “He freaked out when he saw,” said Lisa Palumbo, a University of New Orleans marketing instructor. “He either honks like a goose or heehaws like a donkey when he’s upset.”

    ...Pigeon Town had divided over Mr. P a few years back. Some residents complained to the city about the bird screeching all night, damaging the paint on cars and terrifying those going about their workaday lives. Peacocks are known to be aggressive and territorial, especially during mating season. In response, the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals tried to trap Mr. P. The peacock kept a low-profile until the trappers gave up and left.

    Monday, May 03, 2021

    Palo Alto Loved Big Government Until It Came for Palo Alto

    A friend's modest Palo Alto 3BR sold for $1.3MM in 2011.
    $300K was put into it. Zillow's current value is $3.3 MM.
    Liberals often turn conservative, that is, anti-big-government, on issues that affect them personally. The latest example is deep-blue Palo Alto's resistance to State directives to build multifamily housing:
    Housing advocates say the city has a unique opportunity to change the course, and embrace multifamily housing rather than individual lots to help counteract housing and school segregation. But an uphill battle is on the horizon.

    Shortly after the Palo Alto City Council tightened restrictions against multifamily housing, a group of anti-growth homeowners and politicians held a town hall arguing that more housing could lead to problems and urged attendees to challenge a state directive for the city to approve 6,000 new homes by 2030.
    To halt construction the usual bag of tricks are being employed: insistence on time-consuming environmental studies and protests against traffic and "developer giveaways." But this time the tactics are being used against the Progressive dream of dense housing along mass-transit corridors.

    One surprise is denigrating the Sacramento housing directive as "Soviet economics", which I didn't think had any traction in the town that is home to Stanford University. One would think that the woke who dominate the campus and the town would welcome a chance to bulldoze single-family homes and small shopping centers to create a demonstration city of high-rise apartments. So far the lack of enthusiasm is shocking.