Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Trappings of Luxury Not Needed

Gone are the snacks and sodas. The car display has been removed. The free shuttle service to the shopping center has been cancelled.

Lexus has pared back the appurtenances at the San Jose service facility.

Coffee and water were the only offerings. The lounge had a few circular tables, along with a dozen comfortable chairs, spaced far apart.

The place seemed half as busy as I remembered. Perhaps the brand is less popular, or perhaps Lexus customers have drastically cut back on their driving. We've only brought in the car twice in 2½ years; the original expectation in 2019 was for four service visits. The shop was done in two hours; if they're going to be this quick I don't need trappings of luxury.

Nothing's changed from last month's rumination about buying out the lease. At 8,000 miles in 28 months we've become the little old lady (not the one from Pasadena) who hardly takes the car out of the garage.

Maybe we'll end up like Bob Costas, who's driven his 14-year-old Lexus LS 460 only 50,000 miles:
Lexus makes good cars—they last a long time and have a classic design. If you spray it with a hose now and then, no one will know the difference between the 2021 and the 2007.
Spraying with a hose now and then---I wish it were as easy with these old bones.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Good Works: Don't Stop Trying

24 of the 40 items were bought at Costco
Charitable organizations have been just as affected, if not more so, by the pandemic as any institution in society. The 30 Peninsula churches and synagogues which comprise Home and Hope can no longer provide temporary family shelter on their premises. Housing is being furnished on a limited basis at hotels, and churches, rather than serving meals, have been asked to fill requests for food and supplies.

Our Episcopal congregation joined with Hope Evangelical Lutheran Church to complete the list for a total of four families, each church taking two.

On Friday we dropped off our purchases at Hope Lutheran, which made the deliveries.

Our friend at Hope Lutheran wrote:
This is the combination of groceries and supplies donated by St. Ambrose and Hope that we brought to 4 homeless families at Home & Hope this morning!

Thank you for your generosity and thoughtfulness for our neighbors. I had the opportunity to meet a couple of the lovely families, and they are so grateful and excited to have your care. The program manager also told me of an incredible single father with 3 small children in the program who relies on the city bus for transportation, so they were delivering his supplies to him later today. These families face substantial and heart-breaking challenges in their lives. With your gifts, you made a big difference for many people today!

It's discouraging: we have to put more money and time into doing good works, and the impact is not as great as it used to be. But that doesn't mean we stop trying.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Sandwiches on Sunday - Happy to Help

On Saturday the sandwich assembly line came indoors. The 92°F-degree heat on a breezeless day and the poor air quality from the wildfires were the deciding factors.

We were four vaccinated, symptomless individuals, and the risk of contracting the virus was slight compared to the certain misery of working outdoors.

Learning from our previous mistake, inventory was taken before the commencement of sandwich-making.

Again we had to buy more bread, but the shortage was remedied before the noon start-time.

In 90 minutes we assembled 90 brown bags, each containing two sandwiches, one trail mix, and one apple.

The brown bags were stored overnight in refrigerators at the church and a parishioner's home.

There were 40 people in line at the Redwood City community center.

Garbage bags were the easiest method of transport.
The recipients don't care about appearances.
Some were so hungry they began devouring the sandwiches as soon as they got them.

Many asked for an extra bag or two for a spouse, kid, or a friend. There were sufficient supplies to satisfy the request immediately instead of waiting to make sure everyone got at least one bag.

After half an hour every potential "customer" had left. Antonio, the county worker who assists us on Sundays, said that no one bothers to show up after that, because everyone assumes that the lunches have been completely distributed.

I took the five remaining bags to the Catholic Worker House. There were three people waiting on the porch hoping that someone would come by with food. I was happy to help.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Still Unsolved

(from Ellen Chung's Facebook page)
Following up on the mysterious death of a young family last week, the Chronicle reports little progress: [bold added]
Investigators said Thursday they have ruled out exposure to chemicals from a mine along the trail and use of a gun or other weapon in the mysterious case of a former San Francisco family who died along with their dog on a remote Mariposa County hiking route.

In its first update on the case in nearly a week, the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office provided more details about the timeline of events, indicating the family was spotted heading to the trailhead on the morning of Aug. 15 by a witness.

Investigators believe the family hiked most of a grueling 8.5-mile loop — including 5 miles of steep southern exposure trail with little to no trees or shade in 103 to 109 degree heat — before succumbing on the return to their truck on a steep switchback.

The cause of death of Jonathan Gerrish, 45, Ellen Chung, 30, their 1-year-old daughter Aurelia Miju Chung-Gerrish and 8-year-old Aussie-Akita mix Oski remains a mystery, as authorities are waiting for toxicology reports and cell phone data. The baffling case has received international attention...

Searchers found Gerrish in a seated position on the trail with his daughter and dog next to him, and Chung was a little bit farther up the path.
Given the temperature, the distance hiked, and the hostile environment, heat stroke is another possibility, but the death of all parties implies a cascading sequence of unfortunate events that cannot be verified without additional evidence that has so far not been undisclosed. This may be a mystery that will not be definitively solved.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Not a Good Sign on a First Date

(WSJ illustration)
I've been guilty of phubbing, and perhaps you, too, dear reader: [bold added]
using one’s smartphone during face-to-face interactions—has been termed phone snubbing or “phubbing.” Most people perceive it to be rude, and it can have serious repercussions for the level of satisfaction in a friendship. But it often has more to do with the phubber’s personality than with lack of interest in the conversation.

In a 2021 study of young adults, the authors found that depressed and socially anxious people are more likely to phub their friends. This is likely explained by the fact that people with social anxiety find online communication less uncomfortable than in-person conversations. On the other hand, phubbing is less common among people who score high on “agreeableness,” which psychologists define as striving to avoid conflict. Agreeable people make an effort to be polite and friendly in order to maintain social harmony.
Throughout the four decades that spanned my teenaged years to the day I got my first smartphone, I was the silent one at group gatherings. Reinforcing this tendency was your humble blogger's introversion (high score on the Meyers-Briggs scale) and agreeableness (see definition above).

But that didn't mean I wasn't engaged. Observing and listening, I was ready to jump into the conversation at a moment's notice.

When smartphones became ubiquitous, it didn't require much of an effort to refrain politely from looking at them in social settings. I will admit, however, that when I'm in odd-number parties, and the conversationalists pair off in animated discussions where I'm little more than a potted plant, I do check e-mails and stock prices.

(By the way, one of the dying arts of conversation is to survey the group and try to involve everyone sitting at the table.)

It's okay to phub if no one cares or notices that you're doing it, and it's still more polite than falling asleep at the dinner table, which I did once long ago when I was the host, but that's a tale for another day.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Fit as a Cello

While everyone was enjoying pastrami sandwiches
at the Refuge this week, I had the low-carb plate.
As expected, the blood test showed an A1C level of 7.8, well over the 7.0 threshold for diabetes. A lifetime of poor eating habits had caught up with me. The doctor repeated his annual instructions to cut the sugar, exercise, lose weight, etc. but added a prescription for Metformin to control blood sugar.

My father, upon being told that he was diabetic nearly 30 years ago, lost 50 pounds over the ensuing decade, walked every day, and was able to get off prescription medications. Living to the age of 94, he showed how it is possible to win the battle against diabetes.

Do I have his discipline? We'll find out soon enough.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Yellow Flakes, and Not Just the Tuna

(Chron photo)
The Swan Oyster Depot is a San Francisco institution. It's over a hundred years old and has changed ownership once, when it was sold from a Danish family to the Sancimino family in 1946.

SOD is small, hard to get into, and has street parking only. My brother and I had a pleasant dining experience in 2012.

Now it's the center of a social-media contretemps because of allegedly racist remarks. [bold added]
In his posts on Instagram on Friday, Tin Dinh said he and his sister, Tu Dinh, who are Vietnamese, were called “dim sum” several times by a Swan Oyster Depot staffer after placing their order at the popular Polk Street restaurant on Aug. 20. His posts spread across social media over the weekend and into Monday.

Tin Dinh also shared Yelp reviews from several years ago that also called out Swan Oyster employees for reportedly racist behavior. He said he hopes the attention brought by his posts will pressure the restaurant to acknowledge its “racist language” and issue a public apology...

Jimmy Sancimino, whose family has run the Polk Street institution for decades, confirmed that he used the phrase “dim sum” in his interactions with the Dinhs last Friday, but denied that doing so was racist. Swan Oyster uses the term, he told The Chronicle, to refer to customers who order from more than one staff member, as is common at a dim sum restaurant.

Tin Dinh said he started ordering food from Sancimino. He said Sancimino walked away during the process, so his sister finished ordering from another employee. When they told Sancimino that when he returned, he walked away, pointed to them and yelled “dim sum.”

“We have a little saying in here when people want more than one person to wait on them at once. We say it’s like a dim sum restaurant (where) you can have 10 different waitresses come by and drop off food at your table. But that’s not the way it works here,” Sancimino said. “Unfortunately this man (and) young lady took it the wrong way. I’m terribly sorry about it. But they obviously were in more of a rush and they wanted better service than I could provide.”
  • The definition of racist language has expanded far beyond the use of obvious pejoratives. Once-innocuous phrases are taken as racist because the listener assumes what is in the speaker's heart. In this vast gray area listeners should do a little investigation before casting aspersions.
  • Double ordering costs the restaurant time and possibly money if expensive product has to be thrown out. "Dim sum" was the restaurant's internal alert, a choice of words that everyone would have ignored back in my day but today's Asian snowflakes (yellow flakes?) take umbrage at.
  • Going further, even if one is called a racial epithet, ignore it. As a boomer Asian-American, I've been called racist names, which indeed were hurtful at first, but after a while I came to realize that the use of such language reflects very poorly on the speaker, and I actually felt sorry for the person.
  • Our parents and grandparents, who fought in wars and experienced much more physical violence than we ever did, would have laughed at what pains the kids today.
  • Tuesday, August 24, 2021

    The Aloha Spirit

    Honolulu Star Advertiser:
    Tourists should stay away from Hawaii, and residents should restrict travel to essential business only at least through the end of October, Gov. David Ige said Monday.

    “Now’s not a good time to visit Hawaii."
    In time-honored political fashion, the Governor leads with blaming outsiders when locals are also at fault:
    “Most” new cases are the result of residents traveling off-island and coming back home to spread COVID-19 in the community, Ige said...[State Sen Glenn] Wakai agreed that Ige’s call to tourists could be designed to placate antitourism unrest as island tourism has come roaring back.

    “Somehow we believe that the tourists are the scoundrels in all this, when it’s not just them,” he said. “Locals are partially to blame. Locals are sometimes bad actors as well. It’s unfortunate that all of our economic and environmental and health issues have been pointed at the tourists.”
  • Governor Ige leaves much of the economic consequences of his decisions to his successor. His second term ends in December, 2022, and he is prohibited from running again for four years.
  • Thank goodness most of my friends and relatives don't work in the travel and leisure industry.
  • Monday, August 23, 2021

    Laundry Inequality

    (WSJ photo)
    When we stretched our finances to buy our first house--it had three bedrooms--over 40 years ago, we had to sit on bare floors in the living room and two of the bedrooms.

    Despite the lack of furniture our first major purchase was a Kenmore washing machine and dryer from Sears. The time wasted driving a half-mile to the nearest laundromat and waiting in line for a machine on the weekends (each of us was working more than 40 hours a week and driving at least a half-hour each way) was at least half a day.

    Compared to the nearby coin-operated machines in college or the apartment complex, the time-sink was intolerable.

    Never had we derived such pleasure from new equipment--and we're talking about a time when we got our first color television and our first microwave oven (both gifts). It's not much of an exaggeration to say that having one's own washer and dryer is a big step to achieving the American dream.

    We were reminded of that distant past when we read about a new problem, a coin shortage, that has afflicted the appliance-deprived: [bold added]
    Now I need quarters only for San Francisco parking
    meters,which currently charge $2.50/hr. minimum
    (and I'd rather not give the new meters a credit card).
    The scarcity of spare change—brought on as people leaned on digital transactions and fewer coins circulated—has pushed the quarter-dependent to extremes. Many have spent hours trekking across their cities in search of coins they used to easily procure from local bank branches. One couple hauled four loads of laundry across several states where they could use a relative’s machines. And in some buildings, the yearning for clean sweatpants has resulted in neighbors forging closer bonds.

    The flow of change first slowed in the spring of 2020. Restaurants and retailers posted signs encouraging digital and credit card payments and even asked people to exchange spare coins. The problem eased toward the end of 2020 but made a comeback in March as businesses were preparing for an influx of cash transactions after vaccination rates ramped up. Around that time, coin requests from banks began to outpace deposits, according to the Federal Reserve, which provides cash to banks through its regional banks.

    Now there isn’t enough coin to go around, and the central bank is limiting orders on pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. Banks and other financial institutions deposited about 15% fewer coins at their local Fed banks through mid-July compared with the same stretch last year, the central bank said. Coin deposits were 45% below 2019 over the same period.

    Some bank branches are saving coveted coin rolls for their customers, according to apartment dwellers who have asked for quarter rolls at banks where they don’t have accounts. Other banks are telling would-be washers that they have no change to spare....

    Digital options, such as reloadable payment cards or smartphone apps are gaining ground, but quarters have long been the default payment option, said Matt Miller, president of Coin-O-Matic, which outfits laundry machines with a variety of payment systems.

    Demand for machines equipped with digital payment capabilities has roughly doubled since the start of the pandemic, Mr. Miller said. The most popular digital payment method is an app that users load money for laundry and connects to laundry machines via Bluetooth. Washers and dryers that accept credit or debit cards are less common because they require real-time Internet connections, which can be difficult to guarantee in the basements where many laundry rooms are located.
    Wealth inequality manifests itself in housing, transportation, health care, and diet, but take it from one who's been there, the washer-dryer gap is more important than everyone thinks.

    Sunday, August 22, 2021

    Pandemic Poster Board

    A member of our congregation caught the virus and died, another took four months to recover, and everyone had a friend or relative who got very sick, or worse. Even the vaccinated rector got ill on a trip back East and had to delay his return.

    Most of us survived the first wave, but our jobs, priorities, relationships, and attitudes toward life have been changed. I would say forever, but 9/11 supposedly did that too, and we need to be reminded that the 20th anniversary is coming up.

    On the poster board have been affixed notes of gratitude, grief, regrets, and things lost and things found.

    Some day we'll take the board down, but the story will never be finished.

    Saturday, August 21, 2021

    A Real-Life Tragedy That is Destined for Hollywood

    Ellen Chung, Oski, Jon Gerrish, and Miju (Chron)
    It's an enigma wrapped inside a tragedy.

    The mysterious death of a young couple, their daughter, and their dog on a day-hiking trail on Tuesday has puzzled investigators:
    “This is a very unusual, unique situation,” said Kristie Mitchell, a spokesperson for the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office. “There were no signs of trauma, no obvious cause of death. There was no suicide note. They were out in the middle of a national forest on a day hike.”
    Ellen Chung and Jonathan Gerrish walked away from their successful professional lives in the City and moved to Mariposa "for this quieter life, focusing on their daughter.”
    Gerrish for years had been an engineer for Google, [family friend Steve] Jeffe said, and had only recently begun working at Snapchat after his paternity leave had ended. Chung was a certified yoga instructor and a graduate student studying counseling psychology.

    Until recently the couple were mainstays in San Francisco’s social scene, with both Gerrish and Chung known to DJ from time to time, Jeffe said. The pair also mixed with the “burner” crowd, people who visit the famous arts and culture festival known as Burning Man in a Nevada desert.

    Gerrish had done well for himself and was extremely generous, Jeffe said, always sharing his good fortune with friends. While the couple took a trip abroad a few years ago, they let Jeffe stay in their San Francisco loft.

    While still maintaining a residence in San Francisco, the pair mostly uprooted their life in March of last year, when the pandemic was beginning to take hold. While Chung was still pregnant, the couple relocated to Mariposa, hoping to integrate their daughter to a life in the outdoors.
    180 miles east of SF, 50 miles west of Yosemite
    The Gerrish family owned multiple properties in California and was independently wealthy. We, who have been reading mysteries since childhood, could not suppress suspicious thoughts. Yet, there are absolutely no signs of foul play.
    “You come on scene and everyone is deceased. There’s no bullet holes, no bottle of medicine, not one clue,” Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Briese said from his office in town on Friday. “It’s a big mystery.”
    The cause of death was likely accidental poisoning, yet there are problems with current theories of toxic gas from old gold mines (they would have had to go deep into a mine with a baby), exposure to toxic algae blooms (all would have to go into the water), and dehydration (they still had water in the container).

    On top of everything else the area has a "dark" history:
    Three years ago when the Ferguson Fire swept through the valley, burning more than 96,000 acres, a firefighter rolled his dozer down a ravine along the Hites Cove Road stretch of the trail and died. The north side of the trail empties out onto Highway 140 and the Yosemite Cedar Lodge, a notorious landmark.

    In 1999, serial killer Cary Stayner was working as a handyman at the motel when he murdered 42-year-old Carole Sund; her daughter, 15-year-old Juli Sund; Juli's friend, 16-year-old Argentine exchange student Silvina Pelosso; and Yosemite Institute employee Joie Ruth Armstrong. Sund and the teens had been staying at the motel.
    Let's hope the mystery will be solved soon by the toxicology reports. We can then focus on where the story belongs: the sorrow over the tragic death of a young family who had all the makings of a happy, fulfilling life ahead of them.

    1949 Redux: Who Lost China?

    Chiang Kai-Shek And Mao Zedong (NY Books)
    72 years ago the United States suffered a "geopolitical disaster" that makes Afghanistan look like a stubbed toe.

    The current parallels to "Who Lost China?" are obvious: in 1949 the intelligence and diplomatic agencies showed that they had totally misjudged the situation on the ground, and the widespread corruption of the U.S.-supported Nationalist government made the success of "our side" impossible.

    Wikipedia: [bold added]
    During World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt had assumed that China, under Chiang Kai-shek's leadership, would become a great power after the war, along with the U.S., the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union.

    John Paton Davies Jr. was among the "China Hands" who were blamed for the loss of China. While they predicted a Communist victory, they did not advocate one. Davies later wrote that he and the Foreign Service officers in China reported to Washington that material support to Chiang Kai-shek during the war against Japan would not transform the inefficient and corrupt Nationalist government, adding that Roosevelt's poor choice of personal emissaries to China contributed to the failure of his policy. Historian Arthur Waldron argues that the president mistakenly thought of China as a great power securely held by Chiang Kai-shek, whose hold on power was actually tenuous. Davies predicted that after the war China would become a power vacuum, tempting to Moscow, which the Nationalists could not deal with. In that sense, says Waldron, "the collapse of China into communism was aided by the incompetence of Roosevelt's policy."

    In August 1949, Secretary of State Dean Acheson issued the China White Paper, a compilation of official documents to defend the administration's record and argue that there was little that the United States could have done to prevent Communist victory.

    In 1949, the fall of the Kuomintang government was widely viewed within the United States as a catastrophe...At the time, Acheson's China White Paper with its catalog of $2 billion worth of American aid provided to China since 1946 was widely mocked as a lame excuse for allowing what was widely seen as a geopolitical disaster which allowed the formation of a Sino-Soviet bloc with the potential to dominate Eurasia.
    One '50's parallel that I hope doesn't repeat: the subsequent "witch hunt" by Congress, particularly Sen. Joseph McCarthy, searching for those "who lost China." The accusations went far beyond incompetence to treason and ruined some individuals who were only marginally involved.

    In my humble opinion, the backlash against the Afghan debacle won't abate, the reckoning will come, and the establishment should pray the investigation is as finely targeted as the American rules of engagement in Afghanistan.

    Friday, August 20, 2021

    Capitalizing on Demand for a Worthy Cause

    Last week we wrote about San Francisco's Lily Restaurant, which pulled its popular $72 fried rice from the menu in June.

    It was too expensive to produce and threatened to change the retaurant's identity.

    Now the fried rice is coming back at $500, with the price bump going to charity.
    The first organization to receive donations via crab fried rice will be SF New Deal, a nonprofit that has provided support to small businesses and food-insecure residents during the pandemic. Future proceeds will go to the Rose Pak Memorial Scholarship, which provides college financial aid to Asian American high schoolers in San Francisco, and climate control. [Chef Rob Lam] plans to rotate them out every few months and wants to keep the whole thing going for at least nine months.
    I think the reintroduction will be a success. The foodies will be even more excited to post photos that:
    1) Show they're able to afford $500 for an exclusive dish;
    2) Allow them to signal their virtue as a supporter of worthy causes.

    San Francisco's returning to normal.

    Thursday, August 19, 2021

    Unlike Other Experts, Bond Traders Know What They're Doing 😉

    Bond traders: the guy is just there to keep the
    algorithms' screens clean (joke). (Reuter's image)
    We started worrying about inflation in February.

    In May the recovering economy combined with stimulative fiscal ($trillions) and monetary policy--looked like we were headed for a reprise of the inflationary 1970's.

    However, one group of very smart people is keeping us from making an unequivocal declaration about future inflation: the bond traders. WSJ columnist James Mackintosh: [bold added]
    The core of the problem is that as inflation soared, bond yields fell, creating an instant contradiction: Inflation is poison to bond investors, so they would normally be expected to sell. I have an explanation, but it isn’t perfect.

    My take: Investors came to the realization that the huge post-pandemic debt burden will keep rates lower than in the past, while they kept faith that inflation will be manageable. There is little to indicate investors fear a recession-inducing mistake by the Federal Reserve, and they aren’t expecting runaway inflation either.
    More conundra:
    it is deeply strange that stocks should reach new highs both when bond yields were falling (and stocks were driven by Big Tech) and when bond yields were rising (and stocks were led by cyclicals).

    And there is one more oddity that is far harder to understand: By Aug. 3, yields on 10-year Treasury inflation-protected securities, or TIPS, reached minus 1.2%, the lowest point for inflation-adjusted yields in history. It could only make sense if investors were expecting stagflation, or weak economic growth combined with higher inflation. But if the risk of stagflation were rising, investors should be buying gold—which usually rises when TIPS yields fall—and dumping the junkiest corporate bonds, as defaults would be sure to rise. Instead, the relationship between gold and TIPS broke down, while junk bond yields rose only a little from what had been close to record low spreads over Treasurys.
    As for your humble blogger-investor, my fear of losing purchasing power due to inflation outweighs my desire for outsized gains from hot stocks.

    So I'm nibbling just a little on hard assets, and taking some profits off the table (not enough to push us into a higher tax bracket).

    So not much buying or selling this year. Through sad experience I've found that making big moves in confusing times--and I'm not just talking about financial markets--doesn't work out well.

    Wednesday, August 18, 2021

    Sailor Take Warning

    The Caldor Fire in El Dorado County is 160 miles to the East but the smoke and particulate matter are enough to turn the skies orange at 8 a.m.

    The Caldor Fire, which currently covers 54,000 acres according to the Cal Fire map, is tiny compared to the 636,000-acre Dixie Fire burning to the north.

    The air quality is expected to be poor today but thankfully "still not unhealthy enough to trigger a Spare the Air alert."

    Nevertheless as an asthma sufferer I will wear a mask outdoors, even as I would under these conditions if there were no coronavirus.

    Last September the skies were more orange (pictured), but give it time.

    Fire season normally ends in November, so we're just getting started.

    Tuesday, August 17, 2021

    Taking My Medicine

    (APA image)
    On the bright side I didn't get sick last year; the masking, distancing, staying indoors, and constant washing of hands protected against all viruses, not just the corona. On the other hand the gyms were closed (walking didn't burn as many calories), and I snacked overmuch and put on five pounds.

    It's no comfort that I didn't do as poorly as others.
    An APA Stress in America survey conducted in late February 2021 found 42% of U.S. adults reported undesired weight gain since the start of the pandemic, with an average gain of 29 pounds. Weight changes have come with good reason, as people’s diets, activity levels, sleep habits, and daily routines have been turned upside down by the pandemic.
    Outside the lab
    Americans deferred elective visits to the doctor because the medical establishment wanted to preserve beds and other resources for COVID-19 patients. Now that more than half the country is vaccinated, the fear is lessening, despite the recent spike from the delta variant.

    Purely anecdotal, I know, but I've observed a snap-back effect as people try to catch up on treatments unrelated to the coronavirus. Last week there was a waiting line just to get into the hospital and then another line at the lab to register for a blood draw.

    I didn't adopt the healthy eating, exercise, and sleep habits that the doctor recommended last year. I wouldn't be surprised if the test results show that I've crossed the line into Type 2 diabetes.

    Although tempted to avoid hearing bad news, I'm going to see the doctor later this week for the annual check-up. There's still time to right the ship.

    [Update - I spoke too soon about medicine getting back to normal, at least in Hawaii:

    No open ICU beds at Queen’s
    The Queen’s Health Systems has no available intensive care beds, has started canceling elective surgeries and procedures and has had to divert patients with emergency health needs to other hospitals as Hawaii’s surge in COVID-19 cases strains resources and threatens to grow worse.

    “Our ICU beds are completely full,” said Jason Chang, chief operating officer of The Queen’s Health Systems and president of The Queen’s Medical Center...The beds are being occupied by an increasing number of COVID-19 patients, as well as patients who have experienced heart attacks, strokes and other traumas.]

    Monday, August 16, 2021

    Donald Kagan, 1932-2021

    Donald Kagan (Yale Daily News photo)
    We noted his retirement eight years ago. Donald Kagan, 89, passed away earlier this month.
    Kagan, who came to Yale in 1969, was a distinguished scholar of Ancient Greek history. His monumental four-volume history of the Peloponnesian War (1969–1987) was characterized by George Steiner as “the foremost work of history produced in North America in the 20th century”....

    From his first years at Yale, Kagan was heralded as a dynamic and influential teacher, a galvanizing presence whose lectures on Ancient Greek history, delivered with eloquence, dry wit, and deadpan humor, filled classrooms to overflowing, despite his strict grading policies. The Socratic dialogue of his seminars made entry into one of them a winning lottery ticket for aspirants.
    In 1970, without knowing what I was getting into—-how much can one find out from a brochure?—I signed up for Directed Studies, an integrated liberal arts program that immersed freshmen in the Western canon. First year Literature, Art, Philosophy, and European History courses all began with the pre-Socratic Greeks and ended before World War I.

    Having joined the faculty the previous year, Donald Kagan already was one of the rock stars of Directed Studies, and his 90-minute lectures were organized, incisive, and chock full of information. (By the way, he had a slight speech impediment that I only mention because he was the first really smart person that I knew who had one.)

    Though I eventually majored in Finance in graduate school and received a CPA, 1970-71 was the most intense and interesting educational year I ever had, and Professor Kagan had a lot to do with it.

    Sunday, August 15, 2021

    Older Heart, Bigger Heart

    (WSJ illustration)
    Ten years ago we were finishing a church project when Eric, who was 20 years my junior, said that he admired how I was able to volunteer for so many charitable activities. I returned the compliment: when I was his age with two young children I could barely attend Sunday services much less be on the Vestry like him.

    When one nears retirement and the kids are grown, I assured Eric, it would be much easier to find the time. Having more money and a less-busy calendar, as well as having different priorities--for example, less career advancement and more teaching life's lessons--was the simplest explanation, which was confirmed by many personal observations of my and older generations.

    But stage-of-life may not have been the entire explanation. Psychologists designed an experiment that seemed to prove that older people as a group were "intrinsically" more generous than younger people. [bold added]
    the researchers got them to squeeze a “dynamometer,” a machine that measures the strength of your grip. Participants could choose whether to put in effort and squeeze harder to get more points. The points translated into a small monetary reward. In half the trials, the reward would go to the participants themselves; in the other half they would go to another person. There were 150 trials, so people had a lot of chances to decide whether to go for the easier or harder choice, and they had to make the decisions quickly and intuitively, without thinking about it much.

    Researchers tested one group aged 18-35 and another aged 55-85. Everybody rested sometimes and put in effort at other times. But the younger people put in much more effort when they got the reward themselves than when it went to the other person. The older people still worked to get the rewards themselves, but they were much more likely to put in the effort to help the other person than the younger folk were.

    There seems to be something about getting older that just intrinsically makes us more generous. This may fit with another rather surprising discovery, which is that we also seem to get happier as we grow older, despite our increasingly creaky minds and bodies. A variety of studies across many different cultures and countries suggest this; for example, in several studies, when people were randomly “pinged” during the day and asked to report their emotions, older people were more likely to report positive feelings.
    "Things will get better" we say to young people who don't believe us from their Slough of Despond. It may be more accurate to say that the way they feel about things will get better.

    And that's another reason why, I would say to my friend Eric, who got promoted and moved away shortly after we had our conversation, you'll find it easier to be more generous to others.

    Saturday, August 14, 2021

    It's Only A Number

    "One million people" is a significant threshold for a city. In the U.S. one million is enough to get on the leaderboard; San Jose is #10 at 1,036,000.

    The 2020 census confirmed that Honolulu has reached the big time:
    the results of last year’s census — the first to allow households to respond to the decennial survey online — set Honolulu’s population at 1,016,508, up 6.6% from an influx of 63,301 residents since 2010, according to data released Thursday.

    The state as a whole experienced a 7% population increase from the last census, with 1,455,271 people counted, including 94,970 new residents over the 10-year period.
    When Hawaii became a state in 1959, the total population was 633,000. It finally crossed the one-million mark in the 1990 census.

    30 years later the City of Honolulu has hit the magic number. After the residents have come to understand all the costs that entail being a big city, that achievement is not necessarily held in such high esteem.

    Friday, August 13, 2021

    At Least In This Area Germany and the U.K. are Coming Together

    For your safety, please read the instructions.
    The Wall Street Journal wisely closed comments on this article:

    Sex-Toy Makers Lovehoney, WOW Tech Merge in $1.2 Billion Deal as Lockdowns Spur Demand [bold added]
    Germany’s WOW Tech Group is combining with Lovehoney, a U.K.-based online retailer, to offer a range of sex toys, lingerie, and lubricants to retailers and consumers. The companies officially announced the tie-up Thursday...

    The deal comes as homebound consumers during pandemic-induced lockdowns spurred demand for sexual wellness products. Together, WOW Tech and Lovehoney, which will be known as the Lovehoney Group, will be profitable and expect to generate sales of more than $400 million this year. That is about double the combined 2020 level, making it the world’s largest sexual wellness company measured by revenue, they say.

    The merger, which values the combined group at more than €1 billion, equivalent to $1.2 billion, represents a bet that the sector’s growth can continue even as the rollout of vaccines allows more people to leave their homes and socialize in groups.
    A $1.2 billion merger is petty cash to many companies and would hardly rate a sentence, much less a headline, in the WSJ, but it's all about attracting clicks. They "made" me read it, didn't they?

    So it's called "sexual wellness" now. What's the SIC Code?

    Thursday, August 12, 2021

    Rice is Life

    We know couples of Asian descent who had newborns during the pandemic. Normally we would deliver baby gifts in person but have been limited to sending cards and gifts via Amazon.

    But how may the newborn's parents respond, if they want to send more than a thank-you note?

    The insides only come in white (Guardian)
    Headline: Japanese parents send relatives rice to hug in lieu of newborns
    Parents in Japan are sending bags of rice that weigh the same as their newborn babies to relatives who are unable to visit them due to the pandemic.

    The bags come in a wide range of designs, with some shaped like a baby wrapped in a blanket so that relatives can feel as though they are hugging the new arrival while looking at a picture of their face, which is attached to the front.
    Your humble blogger thinks the idea is brilliant, but not surprising since it came from the land that made Tamagotchi a world-wide craze nearly 30 years ago. (h/t Tyler Cowen)

    Wednesday, August 11, 2021

    Cards on the Table

    The golden ticket
    Last month we noted the arrest of a Bay Area homeopathic doctor for counterfeiting vaccination cards and were surprised that the crime was not more widespread.
    The vaccination card is a piece of light cardboard to which is affixed some stickers, date stamps, and a nurse's handwriting ...the government ought to make it as hard to counterfeit as a driver's license.
    Vaccination mandates by governments and employers, not to mention the retail sector (e.g., restaurants, cruise lines, sporting events), unsurprisingly has led to a proliferation of fake cards.
    In recent weeks, schemes to sell illegal proof of vaccination have multiplied on social-media sites, messaging apps such as Telegram and on the dark web, according to government investigators and cybersecurity experts...

    In the U.S., fake vaccination cards purportedly issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have appeared for sale on sites such as Amazon, eBay and Etsy. In May, officers arrested a bar owner in California for allegedly selling fake vaccination cards costing $20 each. The alleged perpetrator was charged with identity theft, forging government documents and falsifying medical records.
    Europeans take counterfeiting seriously: "The EU has
    a digital vaccination certificate with a dedicated QR
    code for each person. (Wall Street Journal photo)
    9/11 not only resulted in a requirement for a photo ID to be presented at airports, office buildings, government facilities, etc., it forced the identification card itself to be upgraded to a "Real ID".

    Most Americans accepted the stricter measures against terrorism because they believed lives were at stake. If the governments really believed that the coronavirus was a serious threat to lives, and that vaccinations really protected against infections and death, they would impose much more controls on vaccination cards.

    If they do not, then we will know what they really believe.

    Tuesday, August 10, 2021

    No Savings for a Sunny Day

    "Lake" Oroville on July 22, 2021 (Chronicle photo)
    The Lake Oroville hydroelectric plant has been shut down due to the drought:
    It was the first time the Hyatt Powerplant at Lake Oroville has been shut down because of low lake levels since it was constructed....Hyatt is the fourth-largest hydroelectric energy producer in California, authorities said.
    It was only four years ago that there was so much rain and snow during the winter that the water pouring over the Oroville Dam threatened the collapse of the spillway.

    Oroville in 2017
    The failure to add water storage capacity to save for a sunny day--and to upgrade existing dams and reservoirs--is another consequence of a Progressive governance that wasted multi-$billions on a high-speed rail system and decommissioned reliable, carbon-free nuclear power plants.

    The inability to provide adequate water, not to mention electrical power, is a feature of a developed society, and it's a reasonable question whether California fulfills even that basic definition.

    Monday, August 09, 2021

    A Product That Was Too Successful

    Fried rice was one of the first recipes I learned after college.

    It appealed to my sense of frugality. Rather than throw out leftovers or quantities of raw ingredients too small to make a meal, I could transform them into a tasty dish that could stand on its own.

    Here's my recipe from 2009 (pictured).

    Wagyu, uni, caviar, black truffle XO sauce and
    more are in this crab fried rice, which Lily
    has taken off the menu. (Chron photo)
    While fried rice still can be a free or inexpensive option to white rice in Chinese take-out, Asian chefs have been experimenting with the dish by adding costly ingredients and spice combinations. "Seafood fried rice", for example, is a $15-$20 offering on menus, right up there with other entrées.

    Noting the trend, the owner of a small Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco decided to offer $72 fried rice over the Christmas holidays. It was intended to be a "stunt" similar to the $295 Le Burger Extravagant in New York.

    Chef Rob Lam of Lily Restaurant didn't count on the status-seeking foodie culture of San Francisco.[bold added]
    Lily started serving the crab fried rice around Christmas of 2020, two months after it opened, and it was supposed to be a two-week item, Lam admitted — a gimmick for the holidays. “The premise was, let’s do something so over-the-top and bougie,” he said. “We called it the #1 douchebag fried rice.” (On the menu, it was the much more politically correct #1 Dac Biet Fried Rice, with “dac biet” meaning “the works” in Vietnamese.) He expected that most people would see it and chuckle at the gall, then order the pho. They’d probably only sell three a night, if that...

    To really land a joke, you have to commit to it, so Lam did. He sourced premium red king crab claws from a Japanese supplier; caviar from the California Caviar company and Tsar Nicoulai. His beef was from a high-end ranch that fed its cattle on olives, granting their meat more umami flavor and healthier fatty acids. He studied the art of fried rice with friend and colleague James Yu, who produces ideally fluffy and crisp wok-seared fried rice at his restaurant, Great China, in Berkeley. Lam’s team picked the meat from king crabs, snow crabs and Dungeness crabs and used the shells to make a stock, which they turned into a concentrated, multispecies crab essence that was folded into butter. Taking all of this trouble was one way to keep his cooks interested in the work during a soul-sucking time when all they were doing was takeout. Plus, the bottom line was that Lam didn’t want to put out crappy food, even if it was just for laughs.

    The weird thing was, after all that effort, no one was laughing. Not the influencers, who immediately embraced the dish as the next hot thing to eat in San Francisco. Not the wok cook in the kitchen, deep in the weeds with 20 fried rice orders a night. And not Lam and the restaurant owners, Lily and Lucy Lieu, who suddenly found themselves in an existential crisis, trapped in a joke that kept stretching on and on without a punchline.

    It didn’t help that they didn’t make any money on the fried rice with all of its premium, market-rate ingredients, or that customers would only order that and nothing else on the menu. The Lily team started sensing that their biggest draw was taking the business somewhere they didn’t want to go. They worried that doing more dishes in that price range would irrevocably change the public’s perception of who was welcome in the restaurant. “This wasn’t us,” Lam said. “It wasn’t who we wanted to be.”
    After several reversed-by-customer-demand attempts to kill the dish, it was finally removed from the menu in June. I like Lily's dedication to its quality and mission. When the Delta variant subsides, we'll put the restaurant on the list of places to check out.

    Meanwhile, I've got to do something with last night's rice, and the Spam has been sitting in the fridge for a couple of weeks....

    Sunday, August 08, 2021

    Gene, Looking Keen

    Gene has been a member of our congregation for over 20 years. His guide dogs are a fixture in the pews, lying still and quietly throughout the entire service and setting a good example for the children (and many of us adults).

    Gene reads the lessons once a month and doesn't skip a beat using the electronic refreshable braille display.

    He has a favorite thing he likes to do. On Palm Sunday he announces to everyone that they should bring bells to ring on Easter Sunday, especially when "Hallelujah" is spoken or sung. On Easter Sunday his bell rings the loudest.

    St. Paul long suffered from an affliction ("thorn in the flesh"), yet nevertheless insisted on giving praise and thanks to God. "Hallelujah," proclaims Gene, and we can say no less.

    Saturday, August 07, 2021

    The Indefatigable Cathie Wood

    (WSJ photo)
    Cathie Wood came to my attention about a year ago due to her frequent appearances on the cable business channels. Her ARK Innovation ETF was being buzzed about, and the normally conservative TV analysts were nodding their heads while she made bold, some would call them outrageous, predictions about the you-ain't-seen-nothing-yet futures of bitcoin or Tesla.

    Cathie Wood's principal approach is to invest in potentially disruptive businesses that don't worry much about generating profits today. This high-risk high-return philosophy, which sometimes produces steep short-term losses, had its zeitgeist moment during the coronavirus, when trends that took years to ripen manifested in a matter of months. [bold added]
    Ms. Wood’s Innovation ETF was up 149% last year, her best year ever, thanks to big bets on Tesla, Zoom Video Communications Inc., Teladoc Health Inc. and Roku Inc. ARK has amassed about $45 billion across eight exchange-traded funds, up from just $3.3 billion at the start of 2020...

    Ms. Wood has responded [to her funds' lackluster 2021 performance] by putting more money into some of her riskiest investments. Her latest predictions call for Tesla shares to quadruple to $3,000 by 2025, and bitcoin to eventually hit $500,000. The electric-car maker’s shares, which remain the biggest single position across Ms. Wood’s ETFs, are flat this year.
    After laboring most of her Wall Street career in relative obscurity
    At age 57, she left AllianceBernstein and founded ARK. Ms. Wood has said the name is both an acronym for active research knowledge and a reference to the ark of the covenant in the Bible.
    She has embraced new media with a vengeance:
    Ms. Wood said that her use of social media, videos, podcasts and other mediums give her a competitive edge. “There’s a great hunger out there for information from professional investors,” she said.

    Ms. Wood has been mentioned on Twitter more than a quarter-million times this year, quadruple the count for all of last year, according to social-media analytics firm Sprout Social. Since the start of 2020, she has appeared more than two dozen times on CNBC and Bloomberg. Monthly videos featuring Ms. Wood’s musings on the economy and markets regularly garner hundreds of thousands of views.
    Adding to her unique narrative is that she is a devout divorced Catholic who reads the Bible every day and openly supported Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

    I haven't decided whether she is a late-blooming genius, a self-promoter who got lucky, a true believer who bets billions while breaking all rules of portfolio diversification, or some combination thereof.

    Meanwhile, she gives hope to all us over-60's that we can adapt to the seismic changes in our society to such an extent that our best years can still lie ahead.

    Friday, August 06, 2021

    Jury Duty - the Odds (Against) Were in My Favor

    Jail people who don't show up for jury duty
    but let the smash-and-grabbers go. An
    idle threat, so don't make it. It's irritating.
    Playing the odds, I've never deferred jury duty. Sure, there's a slight risk of work or personal-calendar juggling if I had to serve (never had to, btw), but it's better to get it over with now than to be called again in six months when a real crisis may have erupted.

    With the delta variant striking fear and re-masking in the Bay Area, I felt even more confident that the criminal-justice community wouldn't ask us--or more importantly, themselves--to report to the Redwood City courthouse for Justice kabuki. Besides, they're hardly jailing anyone unless somebody's been killed (ok, I know am exaggerating).

    On Wednesday night, the voice message said, as expected, that I didn't have to report on Thursday morning.

    However, I had to call in on Thursday after 11:15 a.m. just in case we had to report on short notice, which meant in 1½ hours. After calling dutifully, again as expected, the message was
    Jurors in group number 1005 on Thursday August 5, 2021 is [sic] not required to report for jury services as summoned. You are now excused and will be eligible to serve again in 12 months.
    From 2017: bonding with fellow citizens in the waiting room.
    Though they could call again next year, lately the summons has been mailed every two years. If and when I make it to age 70, I can be excused for a medical condition without a doctor's note:
    There is no age exemption for jury service. If you are 70 years of age or older, the California Rules of Court allow you to be excused due to a medical condition without a doctor’s note. You must inform the court that you are not able to serve.
    Sorry, your Honor, I'm hard of hearing and can barely hear what's going on, and even if I did, I can't remember what was said, just ask my wife....I can't sit still, my lumbago's acting up all the time, and I have to go to the bathroom a lot...what was your question again?

    Thursday, August 05, 2021

    Procrastination Ends Now! OK, Maybe Tomorrow

    Re working from home: we've heard accounts from people who extol WFH virtues--they're no longer wasting hours commuting--but a significant number, maybe a majority, are less productive: [bold added]
    The pandemic has brought us to peak procrastination. Turns out your office—in addition to being in plain sight of your boss—came with environmental cues that reminded you that you had to, you know, work. Without the hum of the industrial printer and the sight of colleagues marching off to the conference room, we all tend toward aimlessness....

    Our [home] workspace was thrown together haphazardly in March and never rectified. Kids, pets and neighbors distract us. Our homes are filled with things we like to do. More than a third of telecommuters in a survey of 10,332 adults by Pew Research Center in October said it’s been difficult for them to feel motivated to do their work.
    (Image from procrastination.com)
    At the office people watch each other (not) working and are compelled by their boss and social pressure to limit their time goofing off. It's like group exercise, where potential embarrassment makes the recalcitrant continue past the point where they would have quit on their own.

    Your humble blogger, who left the office environment over 10 years ago, has had to battle tempting distractions ever since. I'm far less efficient than I imagined I would be. If I don't feel like pulling weeds, clearing the office clutter, or repainting that scratched door, so what? I can't fire myself.

    Three years ago I dispensed with the dreaded to-do list since almost all of the tasks assigned to "today" were being rolled forward to tomorrow.

    In January I brought the to-do list back. An open calendar was wonderful to experience, but like sheltering-in-place, the real danger is I'll get used to it.

    Wednesday, August 04, 2021

    Free "Temporarily", It's Hard to Start Paying for It Again

    (Image from Fullerton Observer)
    Government interference in the marketplace--no matter how justified due to an emergency (World War II, natural disasters, COVID-19)--always produces winners and losers. The policy creates a noisy constituency who clamor for its continuation after the crisis passes.

    Case in point: a "temporary" measure like the eviction moratorium has been very difficult to reverse. From January:
    As we predicted when it was first enacted almost one year ago, the moratorium against evictions for non-payment of rent has been impossible to terminate. It was supposed to end in June, then September, then December, and now under a deal that's sure to be rubber-stamped by the legislature it's been extended to June, 2021.
    Over much wailing and gnashing of teeth the national eviction ban was not renewed by Congress after it expired on July 31st.

    As we have remarked, few cared about the small landlords who were not granted any of the debt relief that homeowners were, while state governments still insisted on receiving property taxes after cutting off the rents that landlords use to pay them.
    Too often ignored are the costs on the other side of the evictions ledger. Renters are facing hardships, but so are landlords. There are about 48 million rental housing units in the U.S., according to a 2018 federal survey. For 42% of them, day-to-day management of the property was performed by either the owner or an unpaid agent. Another 25% had a paid manager who was still “directly employed” by the owner.

    There are millions of mom-and-pop landlords who own a house here, a duplex there, a small apartment building two streets down. Some of them are going on a year, or more, without rental income, yet they’re responsible for paying the taxes and the upkeep. A few nightmare stories are trickling out, say, of a woman living in a house with a basement apartment, occupied by abusive tenants who apparently saw the moratorium as impunity.

    A group of New York landlords is asking the Supreme Court to take a look at that state’s eviction moratorium. One of the petitioners is a retiree who rents out a co-op as a supplement to her Social Security income. Without $24,720 in unpaid rent, she “has been forced to ask friends for donations to help make ends meet.” Another is a “single mom who was living with her fiancĂ©, broke up with him, and is now effectively homeless.” She would like to move into a rental property that she owns, but it “remains occupied by non-paying holdover tenants.”
    In progressive California the eviction moratorium has been extended through September, but many tenants can forestall eviction through March, 2022. [bold added]
    It continues the pause on evictions for nonpayment of rent due to a financial hardship related to the pandemic, such as lost income or increase medical expenses. Tenants who pay at least 25% of what they owe by Sept. 30 cannot be evicted over that back rent, which is converted into civil debt.

    Starting in October, tenants will owe their full rent again. But for six additional months, through March 2022, they cannot be evicted if they qualify for the state rental aid program.

    That program is available to lower-income tenants who earn 80% or less of the median income in their county — up to $114,480 for a family of four in San Francisco — and were financially affected by COVID-19.
    Nice condo: it won't be rented till July October
    Some unfortunate landlords will not have collected most of the rent due for two full years.

    Despite this sad record of government effectively taking property from one group and giving it to another, my landlord friend will be putting her rental unit, deliberately left vacant for a year, back on the market.

    She has more faith and optimism than I do.