Saturday, July 31, 2021

Maybe POTUS Is Just Going Home

An opinion piece in the respectable Wall Street Journal has the attributes of a put-on, but it's not written by a humorist.

The U.S. Should Send a President to Space
(graphic from
To rekindle the spirit of American adventure, a U.S. president should travel to space by the end of the decade. This will show that space is a priority for American leadership, and it will signal that the best has yet to come...

To launch a U.S. president into space, NASA should form partnerships with the private sector, underscoring the unmatched entrepreneurial spirit of the U.S. The president should also take along the leader of a strong ally or partner like the U.K., France, Germany, Japan or India to show a unified front against China’s space aspirations.
Even if they are serious, a Presidential candidate who announced this ambition would disqualify him- or herself and quite possibly be institutionalized.

Oh, well, the two writers have given us a clue that they're pulling our leg. One goes by the name of Chris Mulder.

Friday, July 30, 2021

The Popcorn is Cheaper at Home

Black Widow's value is abbreviated (AP/WSJ photo)
Significant but slow-developing issues don't get the public's attention unless a celebrity is involved. Such is the case with how movie actors are compensated now that theaters appear to be dying: [bold added]
Scarlett Johansson, star of the latest Marvel movie “Black Widow,” filed a lawsuit Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court against Disney, alleging her contract was breached when the media giant released the film on its Disney+ streaming service at the same time as its theatrical debut...

The suit could be a bellwether for the entertainment industry. Major media companies are giving priority to their streaming services in pursuit of growth, and are increasingly putting their high-value content on those platforms. Those changes have significant financial implications for actors and producers, who want to ensure that growth in streaming doesn’t come at their expense.

During its July 9 opening weekend, “Black Widow” grossed $80 million at the domestic box office and $78 million overseas, and generated another $60 million from $30 at-home purchases on Disney+. It was the first time Disney broke out a film’s streaming performance in such detail. Disney shares ticked upward on the news that Monday.
The current model--theatrical release to streaming purchases to DVD sales to premium channels to non-premium channels with ads--is being upended again with the time compression between events, or in Black Widow's case, no delay at all between the theatrical release and initial streaming.

Apparently, Ms. Johansson's contract was not up-to-date with the latest market developments, further aggravated by the lack of future Black Widow opportunities (the character is less marketable because she died in an earlier movie). The issue of actors' compensation will recede as contracts adapt.

Honolulu's Cinerama theater, where I saw It's a Mad
Mad Mad Mad World, How the West Was Won,
2001, is now an auto parts store.
The important takeaway is this: the coronavirus only accelerated the trend towards streaming as the at-home technology became cheaper and better. Brick-and-mortar theaters have high labor and plant costs, and last year's health issues were the killer blow (the opposite of the killer app that marks the birth of an industry).

No, theaters won't completely disappear but will be more like booksellers where only one or two major chains survive.

I'll start going to the movies again, but it won't be this year.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Crime and Punishment

I'd be smiling, too (Chron photo)
Chapter 1: Longtime Contra Costa politician sentenced to jail for misusing campaign funds [bold added]
Prosecutors charged [Joe] Canciamilla last year with 30 felony counts of perjury for alleged misstatements on campaign disclosure forms and four additional counts related to his alleged personal use of more than $260,000 in campaign funds.,,

Canciamilla was sentenced to 365 days in county jail and two years of formal probation.
Chapter 2: Disgraced Contra Costa politician to serve home detainment in his Hawaii condo
Joseph Canciamilla, a Contra Costa political stalwart who pleaded guilty this month to nine counts of perjury and grand theft, will serve his one-year sentence under electronic home detention at his luxury beachfront condo in Kauai, rather than in county jail, according to public records...

The probation department is now pursuing an interstate supervision agreement with Hawaii to monitor Canciamilla’s one-year sentence, which could be cut in half for good behavior...

Public records show that Canciamilla and his wife own a 1,714-foot waterfront condo with 200-square-foot porch at the Makahuena Condo complex at Poipu Beach on the southern tip of Kauai. The unit was assessed at $1.287 million this year.
Mr. Canciamilla can thank the coronavirus for his "punishment:"
Because of COVID, jail time for nonviolent first-time offenders is rare, [Asst DA Steven] Bolen said. “Right now, jails are only holding the most violent and serious offenders,” he said. “The sheriff is very careful of not overcrowding jails.”

1) The same relaxation of rules applies to those that the cognoscenti currently favor as well as to those they do not. Please see the meaning of blind justice.

2) Personally, I think that all the miscreants who would have been jailed pre-COVID should be. The same safety protocols (masking, distancing, sanitation) that health care workers have to follow should be applied to the prison system.

3) One wonders how hard Mr. Canciamilla will apply for a reduced sentence for good behavior. Kauai breezes vs. the angry shouts of Contra Costa citizens: it's a tough choice.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

China Markets: a Rough Ride

The MSCI China ETF is down 16.28% year-to-date while the S&P 500 is up 17.18%
Yesterday's blowout earnings reports of tech giants Apple, Microsoft, and Alphabet/Google captured the headlines, but your humble blogger suspects that the most significant financial news was the deepening slide in China's stock market.
A selloff in Chinese technology stocks accelerated on Tuesday, as investors unnerved by China’s widening crackdown on Internet companies and other industries sold down their holdings of many popular stocks.

The Hang Seng Tech Index in Hong Kong, which includes stocks such as Tencent Holdings Ltd. TCEHY -2.13% and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. BABA -2.97% , tumbled 8%, registering its third day of declines. The city’s flagship Hang Seng Index dropped 4.2%.

In mainland China, the CSI 300 benchmark retreated 3.5%. The Chinese yuan weakened against the dollar, with the offshore currency trading beyond 6.50 yuan per dollar, versus a previous close of 6.4834, according to FactSet.
Observers outside China universally attribute the contraction to regulators' attempt to rein in the private sector.
“National security considerations trump everything else,” including growth, in Mr. Xi’s administration, said Diana Choyleva, chief economist at Enodo Economics in London.

With the recent slew of actions, business is being brought to heel by the Chinese government and the Communist Party, said George Magnus, an economist who is a research associate at Oxford University’s China Centre.

“It’s about systemically trying to establish the authority of the state, or of the party, over the private sector—which effectively has been at the cutting edge of China’s economic eruption for the last 20 or 30 years,” he said. “To the extent it stifles the private sector, and private-sector innovation, I think it will cost China in years to come.”
President Xi Jinping: His "Thought on Socialism with
Chinese Characteristics for the New Era"
are written into the Constitution (BBC)
Despite the tremendous growth opportunity, your humble blogger has steadfastly avoided investing in Chinese stocks. While there are honest Chinese business persons--and I personally know some--there are too many Chinese businesses that will break agreements, steal trade secrets, and falsify their financial statements.

This year another risk has been made plain for everyone to see: the Chinese government's assertion of its supremacy over a private sector over which it was losing control. China's rise to the top rank of global power rested upon the explosion of entrepreneurship, wealth, and technology triggered by the loosening of command socialism. It is clear that the government thinks deregulation has gone too far.

The government prefers to have a compliant private sector, even at the expense of innovation. While the Party is reasserting its power, the world's economies and markets, not just China's, will be in for a rough ride.

[Update: 10:30 a.m. PDT - bold added]
Fighting the Fed, or Washington, is usually a losing game—but betting against Beijing’s fast-moving, often opaque regulatory apparatus in Xi Jinping’s new era of centralized control is suicidal...

The country’s opaque authoritarian system allows swift and forceful action, but that also means investors face greater uncertainty—and very little recourse when policy winds blow against them. Instead of trying to argue their case in courts or the media, Chinese tech companies often thank regulators after being punished.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Vice President, Mother, and Woman of Color

Kamala Harris, husband Doug Emhoff, and step-
children Cole and Emma Emhoff (Chron photo)
The Chronicle features another puff-piece on the Vice President:

Kamala Harris is the highest-ranking mom ever in U.S. politics. Here's why that matters
Harris is also a mother, affectionately known as “Momala,” to two now-adult stepchildren with husband Douglas Emhoff, whom she married in 2014 when she was California attorney general.

That has meant her own juggling of career and family, including a high-profile Senate hearing that conflicted with her stepdaughter’s high school graduation.

Experts say this is one of the subtle but powerful ways that Harris is changing politics by virtue of being the first person like her in her position — including the first mother elected on a presidential ticket, as well as the first woman and woman of color. And, they say, it couldn’t be more timely.
The article goes on with nary a discouraging word. I was surprised, however, about all the references to motherhood given the Biden Administration's renaming "mothers" as birthing persons.

The Chronicle has to update its style book. Even the woke can't keep up with the woke.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Not Seeing the Red

I am inclined as the next person to over-projecting my experiences to the general population. Nevertheless, it seems to me that the drivers of large trucks have overall become less skilled, less courteous, and less professional.

Two trucks made deliveries in the fire lane (both curbs were painted red) in the nearby shopping center. Two-way traffic had to proceed very carefully, and congestion was exacerbated by the construction cones in the area.

As for a real fire truck using the fire lane in an emergency, which happens in the center's restaurants several times a year? Fuhgeddaboudit.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

The Abundance Around Us

The priest had laryngitis, but he showed up.
The seasonal allergies caused a bit of respiratory congestion, so for the first time since church re-opened in May I didn't attend. Fortunately, there was an alternative.

The necessities of last year had forced our little parish, like thousands around the world, to acquire both the equipment and knowledge to stream live services. About two-dozen fellow parishioners were tuned in; some posted short greetings on the YouTube message board.

The priest reflected on the readings---David and Bathsheba, Paul's description of God's love, and the feeding of the five thousand--and how the common theme was that of scarcity and abundance. The initial thought that comes to our secular minds is that of earthly riches or the lack thereof. Of course, the ancient chroniclers were really writing about attitudes toward material things and the actions we take to acquire, use, and share them.

On the last Sunday in July, 16 months after the shutdowns began, let us dwell not upon what we have lost or never had, but the abundance that exists all around us.

Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, Tintoretto (16th Century, Met)

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Laughing Because It's The Dodgers

It's only a strike if the umpire says it is.
Whenever I fancy myself to be an ethical person, something comes along to remind me that I still have work to do.

On Thursday night the Dodgers were beating the Giants, 3-2, in the top of the 9th inning at Dodger Stadium. The Giants had the bases loaded and two outs, and Darin Ruf had a full count of three balls and two strikes.

The Dodgers thought Ruf swung and missed on the next pitch and that the game was over. Instead the umpires called a ball and a checked swing, and the walk forced in the tying run. Photographs showed that Ruf had broken his wrists, and my personal weakness stood revealed: I immediately cheered the umpires' mistake.

What was even more delicious is that the reprieve not only tied the game, but the Giants ending up winning with a score of 5-3. The fulminations by the Dodgers and their fans on social media made me laugh even harder.

I suppose I'll have to go to church tomorrow and ask forgiveness for my sins. Meanwhile, that's 24 hours from now and I'm still smiling.

Friday, July 23, 2021

52 Years After Apollo 11

Blue Origin crew: Oliver Daemen, Wally Funk,
Jeff Bezos and Mark Bezos. (CBS)
52 years to the day after the first moon landing Jeff Bezos' company launched four men into space:
Tuesday’s space flight was Blue Origin’s first with passengers on board, a group that included the world’s wealthiest person—Mr. Bezos’ net worth amounts to more than $200 billion, according to Bloomberg—as well the oldest-ever space traveler and the youngest, 82-year-old aviator Wally Funk and 18-year-old student Oliver Daemen, respectively. Mark Bezos, 50, the co-founder of private-equity firm HighPost Capital and Jeff Bezos’ brother, also was on the trip.
Virgin Galactic Unity 22 July 11 crew: Pilot Dave Mackay,
Op. Engineer Colin Bennett, Astronaut Instructor Beth
Moses, Richard Branson, VP Gov Affairs & Research
Sirisha Bandla, Pilot Michael Masucci. (
The race by three billionaires to bring space travel to the masses may seem like a "boys and their toys" moment in history, but such dismissiveness belies the seriousness with which each has approached this mission:
Tourism is merely the first rung of the space ladder. Blue Origin has two more manned flights on the schedule for this year, and Mr. Bezos said the company is approaching $100 million in private sales. Virgin Galactic has presold hundreds of tickets for its space plane, which flew its founder, Richard Branson, to weightlessness last week. Elon Musk’s SpaceX has ferried NASA astronauts to orbit, but it has private flights on the calendar, too...

The money paid by wealthy passengers will also help these companies go higher. Blue Origin has other projects in the works, including a New Glenn rocket that will be big enough to put satellites into orbit. Mr. Musk, as everyone knows, is aiming for Mars. The benefits of all this are hard to say precisely, but that’s the nature of exploration and entrepreneurial risk-taking.

Several companies are working on constellations of small satellites that could beam fast internet to remote areas that lack it. Novel uses of technology are harder to predict, but surprises happen when smart people are trying to be the first to achieve some milestone. Nobody working on America’s first satellite missions in the 1950s and ’60s could have ever imagined that the Global Positioning System, or GPS, would one day keep millions of people and Uber drivers from getting lost.
Elon Musk wants to set up colonies on Mars but
will go into space himself on Virgin Galactic.
The resources that the billionaires can bring to space travel are tiny compared to what state actors like the U.S., China, Russia, and India have at their disposal. On the other hand, governments are limited to spending money on traditional functions like military and basic scientific research, functions that will be cut when the political winds shift.

My betting is on the entrepreneurs, not the governments, to figure out how to make space travel economically sustainable, to use a fashionable term.

July 20, 2021 will never be as famous as July 20, 1969, but it will be a milestone date nevertheless.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

TikTok: It's Like Reading Your Mind

TikTok is one of the fastest growing social-media networks in history. Developers post 15-second videos on any subject, and TikTok deduces the types of videos that the users prefer and steers them onto the next. TikTok has close to one billion users and is enormously influential among young people.

The Wall Street Journal determined how TikTok's algorithm works by creating artificial users ("bots") that did not reveal their interests, e.g., yoga, sadness, forestry, to TikTok. To be clear, TikTok did not ask for user data, spy on text messages, etc. The algorithm found out users' preference from just one thing:
How long you linger over a piece of content. Every second you hesitate or rewatch, the app is tracking you...

Tiktok fully learned many of our accounts' interests in less than two hours. Some it figured out in less than 40 minutes.
Your humble blogger enjoyed TikTok last year until President Trump accused the company of spying for China and tried to force its sale to a U.S. entity. I immediately deleted the app because the benefit of laughing at 15-second vignettes wasn't worth the possible risks. The sale fell through, no proof of perfidy emerged, and President Biden reversed the Trump restrictions. TikTok hasn't been cleared, however, and is still under investigation by various U.S. government agencies.

Now I only watch TikTok videos about once a month when someone sends a link. The vast majority of videos that I have seen are mildly enjoyable and some are astonishingly creative. However, they are not necessary to life and happiness.

Below is one of the most popular (2 billion views...really?) TikTok videos:

They rejected my application to Hogwarts but I still found a way to be a wizard. 🧹##illusion ##magic ##harrypotter

♬ Zach Kings Magic Broomstick - Zach King

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

San Francisco: a Utopian Domain

SF's Stonestown Mall is slowly coming back to life.
Wait'll some tenants find they don't have to pay back rent.
Adding to the uncertainty in the real-estate industry the San Francisco Board of Supervisors has excused businesses from paying rent during the shutdown. [bold added]
The legislation is based on a state law excusing a party from a contract because fulfilling it becomes impossible. The ordinance creates a presumption, that could be challenged in court, that the law applies to rent for small San Francisco businesses during the time they were completely shut down during the pandemic.
The government ordered the lockdown, businesses say they can't pay rent because it is "impossible" (though many survived through curbside pick-up, working from home, etc.), and the Supervisors took the tenants' side. At least with residential real estate there was a public-health argument where evictions would supposedly make delinquent tenants homeless and exposed to COVID-19.

By the way, the Supervisors made sure their law doesn't apply to San Francisco, the landlord.
The ordinance doesn’t apply to properties leased from the city or most office spaces.
When tinpot dictatorships take control of private property because the economy collapses due to their own mismanagement, they wonder why other businesses don't invest in their utopian domains.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Leasing a Car: Changing Our Mind Again

Our 2019 Lexus  has mainly sat in the garage.
Six years ago, for the first time in our boomer lifetime, we leased a car. That experience was pleasant, so we returned the vehicle at expiration and leased another one. The original rationale for leasing has not changed.
The century-old automobile industry is undergoing such speedy technological change that it would be imprudent to absorb the capital cost of an asset that could well be obsolete in 3-5 years.
However, COVID-19, like in many other areas of life, has forced the re-examination of premises; used-car price escalation has caused us to consider buying the automobile at its option price in 2022.
Used-car prices, which have soared in recent months, are now defying economic gravity.

Once thought of as the ultimate depreciating asset, some car owners are finding their vehicles are worth as much as—if not more than—they originally paid for them, dealers and analysts say...

The recent jump in used-vehicle pricing is the latest in what has been a topsy-turvy year for the U.S. car business. Consumer demand for cars and trucks is near an all-time high, but car companies are struggling to keep up, slammed by a global computer-chip shortage that is curtailing factory production on the new-car side.
A quick check of prices shows that a used car of the same year and model is going for $7,000 more than our option price. Mostly because of the pandemic, at 8,000 miles in 27 months we are also well under the expected mileage for the model.

We would be leaving money on the table if we just turned it in. Besides, we will need a vehicle anyway and are aghast at the cost of leasing a new one.

It's likely that we'll exercise the option and be owners again, but a lot can happen in a year.

Monday, July 19, 2021

NBA Finals: Unexpected and Interesting

Giannis Antentokounmpo and Chris Paul (
The NBA playoffs have been a war of attrition, with teams trying to survive with their best players being knocked out of the playoffs. If every team was at full strength, we would probably be watching a Lakers-Nets final, but without Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving, or James Harden both favorites lost in the early rounds. Nevertheless I'm watching.

Perennial All-Star and Hall of Fame shoo-in Chris Paul had never played in a conference final, much less in a championship.

He made the Phoenix Suns a sentimental favorite; at 36, the point guard is running out of chances to get a ring. However, I also feel sympathy for two-time MVP Giannis Antentokounmpo, a young, likeable, talented giant who has trouble making free throws (like a pro golfer who can drive the ball 350 yards but can't make a 5-foot putt).

So I like both the Phoenix Suns, who have never won a championship, and the Milwaukee Bucks, whose last title was 50 years ago. Both teams are flawed but seem evenly matched, and the last two games were decided in the final minute.

Now, a small complaint about modern sports commentary. Analysts bombard the audience with statistics, some interesting but many times not. If they're going to occupy our precious attention span, please don't waste it on triteness masquerading as insight.

Going into Saturday's game, reporters kept repeating the fact that in a series tied at 2-2
the team that wins Game 5 has gone on to win the series 72% of the time (21-8).
Note: Milwaukee won and holds a 3-2 lead in the series.

When kids are introduced to algebra and elementary statistics, they are asked to construct a simple coin-flip table and calculate the probability of getting heads twice in a row. There are four possible outcomes to two coin flips, so there's a one-in-four chance (25%) of getting heads twice.

But what's the probability of getting at least one head in the next two flips? Obviously, the answer is 3 out of 4, or 75%.

If the NBA finals has two evenly matched teams (almost by definition, if the games are split 2-2), then a simple statistical model in the absence of data would predict that the team that wins Game 5 goes on to win the championship 75% of the time. The actual result, 72%, is well within the range of expected outcomes in a population of 29 data points.

The surprise would be if the historical record produced a number higher than 80% or lower than 70%. Now that would be interesting.

[Update - 7/20/21: The Milwaukee Bucks won Game 6, making them NBA champions. Their victory adjusts the historical record slightly: teams that win Game 5 become champions 73.3% (22-8) of the time.]

Sunday, July 18, 2021

The Sacred and the Profitable

Ever so slowly Episcopal services are returning to normal. Today we ditched the prerecorded music and sung the hymns, psalms, Gloria, and Sanctus, slightly muffled through our masks.

The congregation still was required to:
  • Pass a "touchless" peace by waving at each other;
  • Partake of the communion bread but not the chalice;
  • Retain a minimum six-foot distance in the pews, except for family members.

    In the homily the priest mused about concepts of "church" that were the subject of today's lessons in 2 Samuel (that's "second Samuel," Donald) and Ephesians. The church consists of its people, but it is also true that physical places of worship have meaning for most Christians, who will make great sacrifices to build them.

    Sacrifice, sanctuary, and sanctified all derive from the same Latin root sanctus ("holy"). Churches are not mere buildings but holy places, sacrosanct.

    Grimbergen Abbey (WSJ photo)
    When financial requirements become onerous, one can't be too sanctimonious . In Belgium a 900-year-old abbey is brewing beer:
    Grimbergen Abbey on Thursday relaunched a brewery inside its walls for the first time in more than 200 years. The resurrection has furnished its sponsor, Carlsberg, with its own kind of holy grail: unique and authentic brews...

    The priests, who rise to pray at 7 a.m. and then breakfast in silence, have blessed the brewery. They have final say over the beers, Carlsberg executives say. In their white habits, the priests stand out as they glide through the glitzy bar and brewery with its modern equipment.

    The royalties from Carlsberg help pay for the upkeep of the abbey’s buildings and the priests’ pastoral and charitable work, says Father Karel.
    That's the spirit.
  • Saturday, July 17, 2021

    The Meanness of an Urban Setting

    The office is a mile from downtown San Jose.
    My opthalmologist whom I liked very much, retired a few years ago, and the doctor who took over his practice seems to be competent.

    However, lacking the personal connection with the new fellow, I find it hard to justify driving 30 miles to San Jose when there are other skilled opthalmologists nearby.

    Our visit yesterday tipped the balance. We asked to use the restroom, and the receptionist told us to go to the Starbucks a mile away. At Starbucks the baristas said that the restrooms were not for customers (we offered to purchase something) but for employees only. They directed us to a Chipotle across the street, where we bought a burrito and used the facilities

    A half an hour later we were back for the eye exam, which went as expected.

    We don't blame the opthalmologist or Starbucks for the unhappy experience. The responsibility rests with COVID-19, public health regulations, and most significantly the homeless population that makes it difficult to find a restroom in an urban setting.

    The businesses in the suburbs are far more relaxed about these things, which is why we will be changing doctors.

    Friday, July 16, 2021

    Not Worth the Paper It's Printed On

    The golden ticket
    The vaccination card is a piece of light cardboard to which is affixed some stickers, date stamps, and a nurse's handwriting.

    When vaccinations began before spring it seemed that everyone reacted with light-hearted exuberance; the cards enabled them to get free Krispy Kreme doughnuts and discounts on items that they would never consider buying.

    But then having a vaccination card became serious. Like an original Social Security card, that fragile square has risen greatly in importance.

    Public spaces, buildings, sporting events, some employers and schools, and even the entire State of Hawaii require its possession.

    Juli Mazi
    Headline: Bay Area doctor arrested for allegedly selling fake COVID-19 vaccination cards
    A Napa homeopathic doctor was arrested Wednesday for allegedly selling what she claimed was a COVID-19 antibody treatment and fake vaccination cards, according to federal authorities.

    Juli A. Mazi, 41, allegedly sold immunization pellets to patients, claiming it would provide “lifelong immunity to COVID-19,” and give customers fake vaccination cards with instructions on how to falsify they received two shots of the Moderna vaccine, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

    Federal authorities said Mazi is the first to face criminal charges related to fake COVID-19 vaccination cards and what are known as homeoprophylaxis immunizations. She’s facing charges of wire fraud and false statements related to health.
    Comments: 1) Because the vaccination card has become so valuable, the government ought to make it as hard to counterfeit as a driver's license; 2) The cards have been out for four months; it's surprising that Juli Mazi is one of the first, if not the first, to be arrested. 3) A story like this damages the legitimization efforts of alternative medicine practitioners.

    Thursday, July 15, 2021

    Don't Go In the Water

    Our little town of 30,000 has the distinction of having three of the top-ten most polluted beaches in California, beating out favorites such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego.

    Signs (right) have begun sprouting along the walkways warning of "algal mats" that produce toxins harmful to human beings, fish, and animals.

    Foster City's lagoons have appealed to potential residents--particularly wealthy Asians from abroad who prize proximity to water--and are undoubtedly a factor in the escalation of home prices. Your humble blogger fervently hopes that the bacteria, toxins, and signs will be swept away by a normal winter's storms. The alternative is too bleak to contemplate.

    Meanwhile, paddleboard, canoe, and water-ski to your hearts' content, just don't fall in.

    Wednesday, July 14, 2021

    Inflation Fears Spreading

    Though Hawaiians are used to high prices, even they're noticing the increases.
    In February I was concerned enough about inflation to shift some of the portfolio into traditional hedges like real estate and precious metals.

    By May the alarm bells were ringing loudly as the Administration's trillion-dollar deficit spending plans took shape, despite signs of recovery, while at the same time the Federal Reserve committed to keeping interest rates low. (The Fed will buy up government debt and release cash into the economy; this combination of actions is what people mean when they say that the government can spend away because it can "print money.")

    Now awareness of inflation is hitting Main Street. Consumers see it everywhere in car, food, gas, and housing prices.
    U.S. inflation continued to accelerate in June at the fastest pace in 13 years as the recovery from the pandemic gained steam and consumer demand drove up prices for autos, airline fares and other items.

    The Labor Department said last month’s consumer-price index increased 5.4% from a year ago, the highest 12-month rate since August 2008. The so-called core price index, which excludes the often volatile categories of food and energy, rose 4.5% from a year before.
    The Fed still holds that the spike is temporary, and to be sure, there are influential voices that hold to the rosy view. As for me, I'm pessimistic but I hope I'm wrong.

    Regardless, millions see their pocketbooks being hurt now, and inflation is going to be a hot topic for the 2022 elections.

    Tuesday, July 13, 2021

    Sometimes the Best Vacations Aren't the Relaxing Ones

    2020 docs filed away
    Returning from the Islands last week, I reflected: "It's been a wonderful trip, quiet at the end with major objectives accomplished."

    First and most importantly, we celebrated Mom's birthday.

    Second, I finished her 2020 tax returns (yes, extensions were filed timely.) They weren't that simple; she's got a small QBI business that her sons take care of.

    The work-ups for the extensions were reasonably close, but there were still a few missing documents that I thankfully found at the house.

    Left: bitter melon with chicken
    Right: deboned oxtail w/ peanuts
    Mom signed the returns, but they won't be mailed until the IRS confirms that it's processed the 2019 return and mailed the refund. We can't have the 2020 documents crossing those of 2019 and confusing the IRS even more.

    The food at the assisted-living facility is healthy and usually tasty, but Mom yearns for Island favorites. Every afternoon I would drop off something that could be added to dinner or the afternoon snack. Not visiting Mom was not an option if one hopes to lead a life of few regrets.

    Besides, while buying food for Mom I got to order dinner for myself.

    I went to the Golden Eagle Restaurant thrice in ten days. It's within walking distance of the house.

    Monday, July 12, 2021

    Heated Discussion

    Lava fire (Chronicle photo)
    We first read the news about the Lava Fire near Mount Shasta two weeks ago when we were in Hawaii. Subsequently
    The Lava Fire exploded over the next few days, burning across 25,000 acres, destroying a dozen homes and menacing thousands of residents in Weed, Lake Shastina, the town of Mount Shasta and other mountain communities.
    The U.S. Forest Service is being blamed by some Californians:
    Some local residents criticized the Forest Service for bungling the opportunity to stop the fire before it grew large, while federal officials said extraordinary dry conditions kept the fire alive...

    The perception is that Cal Fire puts fires out while the Forest Service lets them burn...The difference is baked into the two agencies’ missions. The Forest Service is charged with managing national forests, including huge tracts of time in the Sierra Nevada, to sustain the health and productivity of these lands. Cal Fire isn’t a land manager but is responsible for fighting fire in most of the state’s forested communities — the wildland-urban interface — and its mission is to protect life and property.
    Because the dispute is between State and Federal agencies that are both commanded by Democrats, the terms and tone of the discussion have improved. It was only last year that wildfires were political: Progressives blamed California's devastating fires on President Trump's withdrawal from the Paris climate accords. President Biden had the U.S. rejoin the climate agreement this February. yet we're still having fires, as anyone with an ounce of intelligence knew would occur.

    In 2020 President Trump lost the election partly because he inflamed the body politic. In 2022 let's hope that those who used the most nonsensical reasons to justify their hatred of him will pay a similar price.

    Sunday, July 11, 2021

    Pray for Rain

    The Foster City lagoon, fed from rainwater, shows the effects of drought.
    As if the coronavirus and wildfires aren't enough, California is experiencing a record drought.

    California drought: Bay Area, state hit 126-year lows for rainfall this year
    The Bay Area got only 9.88 inches of rain this season, 39% of its normal amount of 25.28 inches, Golden Gate Weather Services said. That’s the least ever, going back to 1895.

    California got 11.46 inches, or 49% of its normal 23.61 inches. That’s also the least ever...

    The years of low rainfall were similar to what California went through in the mid-1970s, [meteorologist Jan] Null said.

    The dearth of water will have its greatest effect on agriculture, which accounts for 80% of water use in the state. Household use makes up only 10% of water usage, he said.
    One of the wealthiest and most technologically advanced regions in the world cannot provide basic services like water and electricity to its residents.

    The methodology already exists--building hydroelectric dams and desalination plants--to alleviate the shortages. The finances can be mustered, as demonstrated by the $billions that have been raised for homelessness and high-speed rail. Even the usual environmental show-stoppers can be over-ridden, as in the case of building high-rises in dense urban centers.

    The necessity is there; all that's missing is the desire and the will.

    Meanwhile, we do what people have done for thousands of years and pray for rain.

    Saturday, July 10, 2021

    Good Birthday Party

    One purpose of my first trip to Hawaii in 16 months was to celebrate Mom's birthday. She turned 92 last week and had a joy-filled afternoon.

    The assisted-living facility only allowed five visitors at a time; COVID protocols are still active. Concerned that after two hours she would be exhausted, we discovered that those fears were unfounded.

    Visits started at 2 p.m., and at five, when the facility closed, Mom was still going strong.

    Receiving presents, eating cupcakes and long-life noodles, and having "Happy Birthday" being sung to you were just the tonics she needed.

    Kalakaua Bridge over the canal.
    Upon leaving, I promised Mom that I would visit her every afternoon (which I did, except for the day when she was transported to Queen's Medical Center for an appointment).

    On my daily walks around the neighborhood, I noted how the Kalakaua Ave. bridge over the Ala Wai Canal was built the same year that Mom was born.

    The bridge was a little weather-beaten, but its bones are strong. Long may it stand.

    Friday, July 09, 2021

    Inflation: the Transitory Story

    We didn't buy it at $15 a lb. Look at it now.
    We have previously voiced our fear that 1970's-style inflation is back. At the ground level we consumers see the evidence all around us: rising prices at the pump, grocery stores, and the real estate listings in our neighborhood.

    The Treasury and Federal Reserve still insist that the price spike is transitory, and we cannot unequivocally say they're wrong.

    Economists still have some authority with your humble blogger and aren't completely Democratic-Party cheerleaders like the other social sciences. So I'll listen to them though they may take the Administration's side.

    On the side of transitory inflation is Prof. Alan Blinder, former Fed Vice Chair:
    If you’re worried about a return to the double-digit inflation of the 1970s and ’80s, relax. There is a lot of angst these days as a result of the stunning 5% inflation rate (for the year ending May 2021) in the last consumer-price index release. We haven’t seen a reading that high in 13 years, but the huge supply shocks of the double-digit days aren’t present, and the Federal Reserve won’t let inflation soar. It is certainly possible, however, that inflation will linger above the Fed’s 2% target for a while...

    Much of this year’s inflationary surge can be traced to two transitory factors: bounceback from the anomalous negative inflation readings of early 2020 and bottlenecks as the economy reopens unevenly.

    ...there are three counterarguments [to the high-inflation argument].

    First, this worry reflects Phillips curve thinking, which hypothesizes that low unemployment rates make the inflation rate rise. But inflation wasn’t rising before the pandemic despite a 3.5% unemployment rate.

    Second, the bond market isn’t buying the argument. Inflation forecasts embedded in bond yields remain consistent with the Fed’s low target.

    Third, much of the extreme fiscal stimulus that has been driving spending is transitory. Most pandemic relief spending will be ending soon, and I don’t think Congress will approve much more spending this year that isn’t paid for.
    At the heart of the inflation story, like many other important issues of the day, is the battle between our fears (derived from past experience) and hopes (the professionals know what they're doing). Well, once in a while the experts are right.

    Meanwhile, as we said in May, it would be wise to hedge your bets:
    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.
    Good luck.

    Thursday, July 08, 2021

    Lay Your Card on the Table

    The golden ticket
    It's July 8th, malihinis, and do you know what time it is?

    It's time to bring your vaccination card to Hawaii...and forget about having to take a COVID-19 test.
    Safe Travels Special Projects Administrator Sherilyn Kajiwara said Hawaii expects the vaccination exemption will be popular with U.S. travelers as it removes the uncertainty of tests, as well as the challenge to find them and the added costs.

    Testing not needed if you have been vaccinated
    Kajiwara said as of today any traveler who is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in the United States or U.S. territories will be eligible for the quarantine exception.
    Uploading a copy of the vaccination card to the Hawaii government website doesn't work unless the traveler has an actual trip scheduled after July 8th. Hawaii wants the specific airline and flight number, and because your humble blogger wasn't willing to make stuff up he couldn't do the upload.

    Time to book the next one, Danno.

    Wednesday, July 07, 2021

    West End

    The west end of the Ala Wai Canal empties out into the yacht harbor by Magic Island.

    Most of the traffic along Ala Wai Blvd turns on to Kalakaua Ave, while Kapiolani Boulevard goes off to the north. The canal is peaceful in the final leg of the journey to the Pacific, with few cars on Ala Wai Blvd's spur.

    It's been a wonderful trip, quiet at the end with major objectives accomplished.

    Tuesday, July 06, 2021

    Quixotic Endeavor

    From 1964 to the turn of the century the store at 801 Kaheka St. was called Holiday Mart.

    It hawked a variety of items in keeping with its description as a "full-line, one-stop discount department store," but the retail economics that would lead to Costco, Walmart, and Amazon gradually strangled Holiday Mart. A date with the wrecker's ball seemed inevitable; Holiday Mart had a single-story structure in a highly desirable location with commercial and residential multi-story buildings all around.

    Daiei, the Japanese supermarket chain, showed that retail could still survive in the location by appealing to the tastes of Hawaii's Asian population.

    Don Quijote, another Japanese company, acquired the property in 2006 and doubled down on Daiei's approach. Don Quijote seems to be succeeding by embracing the over-the-top colorful displays popular in Japan and Korea.

    It's a pleasure walking down the aisles, and it keeps one from noticing that the prices are well above competitors'. Don't get me wrong---I'd rather have Don Quijote there than another condo highrise. Long may it tilt at windmills.

    Monday, July 05, 2021

    Wet Blanket

    Drying a wet blanket in the hot Hawaiian sun saves money on dryer expenses and is environmentally virtuous. (We noted the benefit of using clotheslines ten years ago and again in 2017.)

    In enlightened California drying clothes in the sun has not been widely accepted. For example a homeowners association in a new development near Sacramento explicitly forbids clotheslines in its bylaws:

    Sure, make people turn off their air conditioners and suffer in the heat, ban cheap, sturdy, moisture-proof plastic bags in favor of unsanitary reusable containers, but clotheslines? They make Californians look lower-class, even Third-Worldish.

    Hawaii is far from perfect, but here appearances matter much less. Hang 'em high.

    Sunday, July 04, 2021

    The Founding: It's Not Just One Thing

    John Trumbull took artistic license in his 1818 painting of the presentation of the Declaration of Independence to the Continental Congress.

    Rabbi Meir Soloveichik muses upon its symbolism: [bold added]
    while Jefferson is prominent, it is Adams, the chief advocate of independence in the Continental Congress, who occupies the center of the canvas. Every other founder’s physique is partially obscured, while Adams can be seen in his entirety. Most great paintings give us one focal point, but this one has two.

    This is appropriate, because Adams and Jefferson can be seen as the two intellectual poles of the Revolution. Jefferson was an ardent admirer of the Enlightenment and believed that the American founding would “show by example the sufficiency of human reason for the care of human affairs.” Adams also appreciated the power of reason, but like Edmund Burke across the Atlantic, he emphasized the importance of religious and moral tradition in preserving society.
    In 1776 John Trumbull thought Jefferson's position on the supremacy of reason was more important than Adams' emphasis on religion, but the murderous excesses of the French Revolution showed everyone what could happen if there were no moral counterweight to an absolutist government.

    We see echoes of that government-religion conflict today in President Biden's support not only for abortion rights but for government funding of abortions. The latter was a bridge too far for the American Catholic church, which is debating whether to deny communion to the Catholic President. Your humble blogger believes that the legalization and public financing of abortion is properly a political issue, while granting or withholding communion is a matter to be worked out between the church and its members.

    What is profoundly disturbing are statements by politicians that the church should be subservient to government, at least in this matter:
    Rep. Jared Huffman of California, an “avowed nontheist,” responded: “If they’re going to politically weaponize religion by ‘rebuking’ Democrats who support women’s reproductive choice, then a ‘rebuke’ of their tax-exempt status may be in order.”
    (Image source here)
    The fact that Rep. Huffman feels free to threaten the Catholic Church with taxation--and potentially its destruction-- (“the power to tax involves the power to destroy") shows how far protection of religion and other First Amendment rights have fallen in importance to those who advocate the accretion of even more power to central government.

    Nevertheless, despite such importunate statements, your humble blogger has, yes, faith that the principles espoused by Jefferson, Adams, and the other founders will prove to be far more resilient than present-day efforts to cast them aside.

    May you and your loved ones, dear reader, have a restorative 4th of July.

    Saturday, July 03, 2021

    Gradual Comeback

    The Moana Surfrider Hotel: hardly any activity on a beautiful morning.
    At 7 a.m. on a weekday morning, Kalakaua Avenue has few cars, pedestrians, and joggers. 6 a.m. in pre-pandemic Waikiki had more activity. Only a few workers were waiting for a bus, and all of them were masked as per current Hawaii regulations for public transportation.

    Hawaii was the last State to be added to the Union--I was there for the parade down King Street--and it's the last State to lift COVID-19 restrictions. On Independence Day weekend, Governor Ige still requires Mainland visitors to test negative for COVID-19 before they get on the plane to Hawaii, even if they have been vaccinated.

    Such testing, beginning July 8th, will not be required for vaccinated travelers. The rationale is that the State's population will be "safe" at a 60% vaccination level, and that the models project that hurdle to be reached on July 8th. Those are two major assumptions, but don't question the science, you uneducated troglodyte!

    Meanwhile, the crowds are starting to come back (it's impossible to get a rental car this month). When my discombobulated personal and business lives--and Hawaii's tourist economy--get back to normal next year, maybe I'll book a stay at the Moana Hotel.

    Ten years' absence is long enough.

    Friday, July 02, 2021

    Now That It's Gone I Want It

    (Esquire photo)
    Your humble blogger has never watched an episode of The Sopranos and was unfamiliar with, much less tasted, "gabagool", which is
    basically a "cross between prosciutto and sausage" ... is seasoned with a variety of flavors like wine, garlic, and paprika, stuffed into a meat-based casing, then smoked, slow-roasted, or in most cases, "hung for up to six months to cure."

    It's red and white, not as spicy as soppressata, but also not as creamy-tasting and mild as, say, mortadella.
    Gabagool is the subject of a legal kerfuffle between San Francisco sausage-maker P.J. Molinari & Sons and brewer Seven Stills Brewery & Distillery.

    Molinari owns trade dress rights to a distinctive look and feel of its gabagool packaging and claims that Seven Stills' new gabagool beer (!) cans had a design too close to Molinari's.

    Gabagool beer (Chron photo)
    The dispute was resolved amicably when the brewer backed down. [bold added]
    Seven Stills owner Tim Obert said they “weren’t trying to blatantly rip them off,” but acknowledged the playful beer design looked very much like the salami packaging...They’re going to stop making the gabagool beer.
    That's too bad. Drinking a meat beer is one thing I didn't know I needed until it was brought to my attention.

    Thursday, July 01, 2021

    The Under-40 Men and the Sea

    (Chronicle photo)
    Their one-month journey to Hawaii puts to shame complaints about my own trip:
    On Wednesday [June 30] afternoon, a four-man crew of rowers pulled their 30-foot boat into Waikiki, setting foot on land for the first time in a month and setting a new world speed record for crossing the Pacific Ocean between San Francisco and Hawaii.

    By completing the journey in 30 days, [Jason] Caldwell’s team smashed the previous race record by nine days and clutched a world record for the fastest all-male crew of four to row the mid-Pacific route east to west in an open class rowboat...

    Caldwell, the only American, has crossed the Atlantic twice. His three teammates, all Brits, are a mixed bag of experience levels.

    Angus Collins is one of a handful of people to have rowed the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans. Duncan Roy had taken down the Atlantic as well. But the fourth crew member, a tattooed mountain of a man named Jordan Shuttleworth who owns a CrossFit gym in the United Kingdom, had no ocean-crossing experience and was added to the team earlier this year.

    Despite the record speed, the men endured punishing challenges at sea. To make time, they paired up and rowed in two-hour shifts.

    The first two weeks, the men battled headwinds through cold and rain, and nearly capsized pushing through massive swells. Shuttleworth suffered debilitating seasickness that kept him all but out of commission for the first week.

    During the back half of the trip, the water flattened out, but subtropical heat kept the men from gaining much-needed rest.

    1) A pace of 80 miles a day two rowers at a time: their conditioning and BMI are in a different universe from mine.

    2) Journalistic quibble: " a world record for the fastest all-male crew of four to row the mid-Pacific route east to west in an open class rowboat." Why the qualifier "all-male"? This is not a gender issue--are there faster times by mixed crews, all female crews, etc.? If it's the fastest time regardless, leave off the "all male." If it's not, how about a sentence explaining who has the record?

    3) Hawaii requires all Mainland visitors to have in hand a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure. Wonder if that requirement was imposed on these gentlemen. Side note: Governor Ige will lift the testing requirements, effective July 8th, if visitors have a vaccination card. Assuming the crew was vaccinated, they should have slowed down to avoid the quarantine (kidding).