Thursday, September 30, 2021

The Xi Jinping Put: Still Operational

It appears that President Xi has allowed
Evergrande to live a while longer (WSJ).
A good part of the stock market swoon in September has been due to the possible insolvency of China Evergrande Group, one of the world's largest real estate companies.
How big is Evergrande?
Evergrande had nearly $78 billion in revenue last year and hundreds of projects in more than 200 Chinese cities. For years it used borrowed money and presold apartments to aggressively amass land and develop projects. Along the way the company paid out billions of dollars in dividends to shareholders, including the equivalent of more than $5 billion over the past three years to founder, top shareholder and Chairman Hui Ka Yan.

Why is Evergrande facing a crisis?
Problems started to emerge last year when pandemic lockdowns hurt property sales for months, and they snowballed into concerns about a cash crunch last fall. Meanwhile, China’s efforts to crack down on borrowing by real-estate developers via limits known as the “three red lines” kept the company from taking on new debt. Cash is so short the company this summer started paying some suppliers with unfinished apartments instead of money. Its struggles sparked protests at its headquarters in Shenzhen.

How much does Evergrande owe?
The company had the equivalent of around $88 billion in outstanding debt at the end of June, about 42% coming due in less than a year. Its total debt burden is the most of any publicly traded real-estate management or development company globally, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. Research firm Capital Economics estimates Evergrande also has sold an estimated 1.4 million apartments, worth $200 billion, that it hasn’t yet completed.
In past years investors outside China wouldn't have been too worried about the collapse of an Evergrande because of the belief that the Chinese government would back the debt obligations of large Chinese companies. (This is the Chinese version of the Fed put, a market understanding based on past Fed behavior, that the U.S. government would stop losses from becoming too deep and widespread and possibly jeopardize the entire financial system.)

In the latter half of the month there have been signs that the "Xi put" is operational, with some steps being taken to shore up Evergrande which nevertheless did miss debt payments in September.

The U.S. stock markets continued to drop in late September because of higher interest rates (the cause of the drop in late 2018), supply shortages, and inflation. The Chinese economic slowdown is part of the reason for pessimism, but at least for now a financial crisis is off the table.

Some investors have seized on these government signals as an opportunity to bargain-hunt Chinese bonds and stocks. Too soon and too rich for my blood.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Depression and Dementia

(Image from
As if life wasn't difficult enough for teens and young adults with depression, UCSF researchers say that this condition is highly correlated with dementia. [bold added]
Depression in young adulthood might increase risk for cognitive impairment in old age, a new UCSF study has found.

The study — which used predictive models to determine depressive symptoms over a lifetime — found that the chances of cognitive impairment were 73% higher for those estimated to have elevated depressive symptoms in early adulthood, and 43% higher for those estimated to have elevated depressive symptoms in later life.
The conclusions find a receptive audience because they play into our belief that brain disorders are related. However,....

1) There are a great many years between youth and old age. Youthful disease is not destiny.

2) Depression is better understood today than in the past. Therapy and changes in attitudes and behavior (gratitude, social interaction, self care, hobbies, and "cognitive restructuring") can help, and for severe cases medications are available.

3) By social interaction we mean the in-person kind, not social media, which can be mentally toxic to teenagers.

4) The UCSF study is based on "predictive models" that have not been verified by observation:
The study pulled data from 15,000 people in different age cohorts, ranging from 20-89 — divided into older, midlife and young adulthood — and used predictive methods to estimate the average trajectory of depressive symptoms. That trajectory is used to make a “best guess” of how older adults with dementia might have been in early adulthood.

While this methodology isn’t as good as studying someone over a lifetime,[ Dr. Willa] Brenowitz said, it’s the best researchers have now — and should spotlight the need to start observation for dementia risk factors earlier in life.
Predictive models are works-in-progress, as we have seen from much more elaborate climate, epidemiological, and econometric models that have made predictions that proved to be wildly inaccurate.

It's useful that the connection between depression and dementia is being explored. It's also true that the models can be wrong, and even, if true, there is time to take the steps that can break the connection.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Turn Off, (Don't) Tune In, Drop Out, and Live Longer

For the past five years I've achieved a measure of peace by not tuning in to television news, which--only a slight exaggeration--pushes outrage 24/7. (I also include late night comedy, which has substituted putdowns of half the country for lighthearted laughs about the human condition.)

Internet news is toxic in a different way. Researchers have established that popular sites like Tik Tok and Facebook quickly figure out the subjects and opinions that individual users like to read about and feed them more of the same. Anger is often the by-product.

Within our cocoons it's easy to become outraged at the injustices done to "our" side by the ignorant and evil people on the other.

Do yourself a favor. Use the off switch and add years to your life.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Can You Handle the Uncertainty?

Accountants make a "maybe" complicated
When a person asks if I would like to attend an event, or donate money or time, or make any other kind of commitment, maybe does no one any favors in lieu of a yes or no. My interlocutor will make a note of the answer and come back to me at a future point; all I'm usually doing is putting off a "no" answer so as not to hurt the person's feelings. It does sometimes happen that more facts need to come in (e.g.,"my boss might need me to go out of town") before I can commit, but that's rarely the case.

However, a "maybe" can increase the likelihood of a "yes", and that's when it's offered by the requestor. [bold added]
You might consider asking people for a “maybe favor.” A maybe favor is a request for a commitment that might not actually have to be carried out. In your case, you could call for volunteers while making clear the possibility that the clean-up will be cancelled in the event of rain.

Recent research suggests that adding a “maybe” to a request for a favor increases people’s willingness to help. When subjects were asked if they would be willing to donate their earnings from participating in the study, 53% agreed. A different group was asked the same question but told that 5% of those who agreed would have their donations randomly cancelled. Under this condition, 66% chose to donate, which increased the total value of the donations even after eliminating the 5%.

One possible explanation for the increased willingness to donate is that we value the “warm glow” we get from agreeing to help. If we think that there is some probability that we will not be asked to do the favor, the warm glow remains, while the cost of doing the good deed is potentially mitigated.
Asking for volunteers is difficult, but through personal experience I've found that there's less resistance if a person is asked to be a backup. ("I've got the five we need but just in case one doesn't show, can you substitute?")

Make sure it's really a "maybe", however. If the contingency never occurs and the possible always becomes a real obligation, then you've lost personal trustworthiness, which is more valuable to you than any ephemeral cause you may be supporting.

Sunday, September 26, 2021


When Tyler Cowen posted this painting on his economics blog with no comments other than "National Gallery, London" and "15th through the 17th centuries", I blew past it. It was just a depiction of Jesus from the period, paling before well-known works by Michelangelo, Da Vinci, and El Greco.

I went back an hour later. Obviously the theme is Jesus being baptized, the figure to the right pouring water is John the Baptist, and the white bird directly above Jesus is the Holy Spirit.

To the right a second baptismal candidate is prepping himself, and to the left are three angels, the wings a clue to their identity. All parties are barefoot--even the bottom of the tree resembles a human foot. And how come so big a tree didn't have roots that bulged the ground, and why did the Jordan River look like a man-made ditch?

Well, enough wondering, ruminating, and teasing out the artist's intentions. The Internet is the death of figuring things out for oneself; it's too easy to just look up the answer.

In less than a minute the painting was identified as as the 15th century Baptism of Christ by Piero della Francesca. I had discerned the basics but certainly didn't know the following:
The original triptych frame may have included a roundel above the dove showing God the Father, which with Christ and the dove representing the Holy Spirit would complete the Holy Trinity. The figure of Christ, John's hand and the bowl, and the bird, form an axis which divides the painting in two symmetrical parts.

A second division is created by the walnut tree on the left, with white bark that echoes the white skin of Christ, which divides the painting according to the golden ratio.

Balancing the figure of John to the right, but separated from Jesus by the tree's trunk, are three angels on the left who are wearing different clothing. In a break from traditional iconography, the angels are not supporting Christ's garments, but are holding each other's hands. This could be an allusion to the contemporary Council of Florence (1431–45), whose goal was the unification of the Western and Eastern Churches. The Camaldolese monk and theologian, Saint Ambrose Traversari (+1439), who had been Prior General of the Camaladolese congregation, had been a strong supporter of the union. Such symbolism is also suggested by the presence, behind the neophyte on the right, of figures dressed in an oriental fashion, usually interpreted as Byzantine dignitaries. Alternatively, the three angels could also represent the three aspects of the Holy Trinity.

Piero della Francesca was renowned in his times as an authority on perspective and geometry: his attention to the theme is shown by John's arm and leg, which form two angles of the same size.
The backdrop of the entire painting is not the surroundings of the real Jordan River but Piero della Francesca's native Tuscany.

The Renaissance artist had embraced the period's fascination with geometry, and how perspective and symmetry enhance the beauty of the piece.

The weird white walnut tree frames Jesus on the left and balances John the Baptist to the right. I still don't know why the artist chose a tree to make his painting symmetrical nor why it is featured so prominently. In my dotage I've accepted that there are some questions I'll never know the answer to.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Age is Not Just a Number When Benefits Are at Stake

The Kobayashis--Yuichi (retired), 67, and Sachiko, 64,
-- work part-time and full-time, respectively. (WSJ photo)
"Japan is by far the world’s oldest nation, with more than 29% of the population 65 or older" but has figured out a way to solve the problem of too many old people: [bold added]
Japan is at the forefront of change. Millions of people have learned they no longer are old, but merely “pre-old.”

That is the terminology suggested by both the Japan Gerontological Society and the Japan Geriatrics Society, which say the 65-to-74 range now should be called “pre-old age.” The government says the idea is worth looking at and has modified its annual White Paper on the Elderly to make clear it isn’t necessarily calling people in their 60s elderly.
While being called "pre-old" is complimentary to 65-74 year olds who practice good health habits, Japanese are suspicious of the motivations behind the word change.
Among the pre-old set, fear remains that the redefinition, even if advocated only by independent bodies, simply encourages the austerity-minded Ministry of Finance to slash benefits.

Meiko Yamamoto, 74, who works at a medical-clothing factory, said she agreed that many people remained active at a more advanced age these days, but she said wider recognition of that might lead to an unhappy result. “I suspect the government is likely to delay offering pensions,” she said.
Americans would be immediately on their guard if the Federal Government initiated a "pre-old" demographic classification. Because of a long history of instituting vocabulary changes to prepare people for real policy changes, most elderly will gladly accept the tradeoff: continue to call us "old" but don't you dare touch our Social Security and Medicare benefits.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Giant Over-Achievers

Buster Posey, 34 is the only likely HOF
on the Giants roster. (Chron photo)
The San Francisco Giants (99-54) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (98-55) have the two best records in Major League baseball, but unfortunately for both they are in the same division, the National League West. This means that the one who finishes second will be a wild-card team which will play in a one-game elimination for the right to advance in the playoffs. If either of them were in another division, they would have already won, or be cruising to its title and could be resting their starters for the playoffs.

Last year's World Series champion Dodgers were expected to contend again, but no one expected the Giants to be in this position. The Dodgers are loaded with All-Stars and future Hall-of-Famers while the Giants have a few aging, formerly great players, cast-offs from other teams, and rookies.

With 94% of the season gone, the experts still have a hard time explaining the Giants' success.. From an ESPN article written two days ago:
The San Francisco Giants have been the best team in baseball for nearly six months now, through 151 games, 227 home runs, and at least a million roster moves. And every day of those nearly six months, and each one of the 137 days that they woke up in first place, they have been described, collectively, with endless derivatives of the word surprise.

...despite the durability and repetition of the Giants' achievements -- 97 games don't just win themselves -- they continue to be regarded as something of a fluke.
Your humble blogger freely admits to being a fan who jumps on the bandwagon, i.e., follows the local teams a lot more when they are winning. However, I must admit to really enjoying the way the Giants are going about doing it, not by creating a Murderer's Row but by playing smart and maximizing their (average) physical talents.

Example: below are the two key plays in the 9th inning when the visiting Giants broke a 5-5 tie with the Padres to win the game.

Top of the 9th: a single brings Brandon Belt home with the winning run.

The first thing to notice is what didn't happen. Manager Gabe Kapler did not put in a fast pinch-runner for Brandon Belt, 33, stating that what the first baseman lacked in speed he made up for in base-running savvy, and besides, he might (and did) need his defense later in the game.

Concerning the scoring play itself, Brandon Belt immediately took off for home plate, judging that Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. would fail to make the catch, which he missed by inches. (Tatis would have easily doubled off Belt at second base.) When catcher Austin Nola made what would have been a successful tag, Belt punched the ball out of Nola's glove and was safe at home plate.

Bottom of the 9th: Giants close out the Padres with a double play.

All-Star Padres 3rd baseman Manny Machado hit a sharp groundball to 1st baseman Brandon Belt, who was positioned perfectly between 1st and 2nd. With no one to hold him at first base, the Padres 1B runner was nearly halfway to 2nd when the play started.

Belt had to hurry his throw to shortstop Brandon Crawford, who stepped on 2nd and threw to first to pitcher Tyler Rogers covering. Crawford had to make a 95 MPH throw to Rogers to catch the speedy Machado, and Rogers had to run to first at the crack of the bat (baseball cliche) to beat him. (Note how Rogers flinched; pitchers throw fast balls and are not used to receiving them.) It was a play that took place in four seconds and required perfect execution by three players.

Note: Brandon Belt proclaimed himself team captain two weeks ago, and a teammate taped a "C" to his uniform with black electrical tape. He then wore it in a game. The Giants are riding the joke for all its worth:

Thursday, September 23, 2021

It Doesn't Read Your Mind.....Yet

(Images from Frontiers in Psychology)
Apple is pouring billions of dollars into developing medical applications for its devices. Although the emphasis continues to be on wearables, the iPhone is at the center of the push into mental health.
Apple Inc. is working on technology to help diagnose depression and cognitive decline, aiming for tools that could expand the scope of its burgeoning health portfolio...

Using an array of sensor data that includes mobility, physical activity, sleep patterns, typing behavior and more, researchers hope they can tease out digital signals associated with the target conditions so that algorithms can be created to detect them reliably....

The research projects are still at early stages, and may never lead to new device features...While prior academic studies have shown some evidence that people with certain mental-health conditions use their digital devices differently than others, it remains to be seen if reliable algorithms can be created to detect the conditions...

If they are successful, Apple and its partners could improve the detection of the conditions, which affect tens of millions of people world-wide. But the extent of user tracking that may be required could spark privacy concerns. To address them, Apple aims for algorithms that work on users’ devices and don’t send the data to Apple servers...

The pandemic drove an increase in mental-health-related complaints. The percentage of adults reporting anxiety or depression-related symptoms reached 41% in January, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly quadruple the early-2019 figure. Mild cognitive impairment, which can develop into dementia, affects around 5 million Americans over 60 years old, estimates the Alzheimer’s Association...

UCLA has said its research studying signs of stress, anxiety and depression began with a pilot phase last fall tracking Apple Watch and iPhone data from 150 people and will continue with a main phase tracking similar data for 3,000 people starting this year.

UCLA researchers will track data from the iPhone’s video camera, keyboard and audio sensors, and data from the watch related to movement, vital signs and sleep, according to the documents and people familiar with the study. The data that may be used includes analysis of participants’ facial expressions, how they speak, the pace and frequency of their walks, sleep patterns, and heart and respiration rates. They may also measure the speed of their typing, frequency of their typos and content of what they type, among other data points, according to the people familiar with the research and the documents...

Biogen and Apple said in January they are collaborating on a study to use the iPhone and Apple Watch to track cognitive function over time and identify mild cognitive impairment, a condition that can develop into Alzheimer’s. The two-year study aims to follow about 20,000 participants—half of them at high risk of cognitive impairment—and will use device data in a way similar to the UCLA mental-health research, according to the documents and people familiar with the matter. The work follows a 2019 feasibility study that showed that 31 adults with cognitive impairment exhibited different behavior on their Apple devices than healthy older adults.

Biogen is collaborating on the study because it hopes it can help Apple develop an iPhone feature to detect mild cognitive impairment early and encourage relevant users to seek care earlier, according to a person familiar with the matter. The company will compare the data against standard tests of brain health including traditional cognitive assessments and scans that track plaque buildup in the brain, according to the documents and the person familiar with the work.

Biogen’s drug Aduhelm, which costs about $56,000 a year, was approved earlier this year by the FDA for people with early-stage Alzheimer’s.
Diagnosing mental health conditions is difficult even for trained clinicians who are able to interact with patients in person. An iPhone algorithm that matches facial expressions, eye movements, etc. with depression or early-stage dementia can be beneficial. If a mental health app is able to screen millions of people quickly, and users are made aware that a positive reading is private, should be checked out and does not necessarily denote illness, that should lessen user concerns.

Note: it would be ironic if the same smartphone whose use triggers depression in teen-age girls is the device that warns that the user may be depressed.

Facebook Knows Instagram Is Toxic for Teen Girls, Company Documents Show
Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” the researchers said in a March 2020 slide presentation posted to Facebook’s internal message board, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. “Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves”....

“Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression,” said another slide. “This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”

Among teens who reported suicidal thoughts, 13% of British users and 6% of American users traced the desire to kill themselves to Instagram, one presentation showed.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Aloha and Mahalo, Mr. Harrington

(NY Post photo)
Al Harrington took his place behind the lectern. The year was 1966.

He had played football in high school and had returned as a football coach. My expectations were low; all coaches were expected to teach a course. I assumed that freshman European History was not his primary focus.

(Teaching wasn't the priority for my 8th-grade Biology teacher who was also a world-class surfer.)

I was wrong about Mr Harrington. He was fully prepared for his lectures, speaking authoritatively in a voice that seemed almost theatrically trained. He assigned homework from the text every night and got it back to us promptly, marked with bold flourishes.

But what I remember most clearly from those days was the passion with which he spoke, and how he emphasized the points that were important. His wasn't the cheap and easy kind of history teaching, where the students are inundated with dates and genealogical charts, but the one that explicated the forces behind the Renaissance and Reformation, and showed how Napoleon arose from the French Revolution.

As a senior I signed up for AP European History. It was a breeze, and so was the exam, thanks to the preparation from Mr. Harrington three years earlier

In 1972 Al Harrington's talent was recognized by the producers of the original Hawaii Five-O when he was signed to the role of Ben Kokua. His entertainment career took off, and we lost a great teacher.

He died yesterday of a stroke. RIP.

Below is Al Harrington speaking at Punahou School at the groundbreaking for a new sports facility in 1979

Below is the Star-Advertiser's obituary:

Tuesday, September 21, 2021


A member of our household reported for his flu shot today at the fancy new Stanford Neuroscience Health Center. When he asked to use the restroom, he was directed to the outdoor portable toilets (right of picture). When he returned to the Health Center, I was told I could not join him inside for health reasons.

While waiting, I used the facilities myself.

The weather was hot and humid. The condition of the port-a-potty ranked (!) right up there with those found at construction sites and outdoor concerts. Stanford is in the midst of medical-center capital projects exceeding $1 billion, and the reliance on outdoor toilets was incongruous...and amusing.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Eviction Moratoriums: No Reason to Continue

Sign from August, 2020 (KQED)
The eviction moratoriums that began in March, 2020, were supposed to last three months. At the time we knew that this extraordinary benefit--worth many millions of dollars to many thousands of people at the expense of landlords--would be very difficult to discontinue. The press ran story after story about families who were directly affected by the coronavirus through illness and indirectly affected through layoffs and business shutdowns. The moratoriums were extended another three months, then into the spring of 2021.

Congress extended the national moratorium to July 31st, and the Biden Administration and the CDC unilaterally kept it going until the Supreme Court ruled that it had to stop on August 31st. (In California, by the way, the moratorium continues until September 30 and an eviction may be forestalled until 2022 if the tenant pays 25% of the back rent.)

Now that 18 months have elapsed since the start of the lockdowns, the data has come in on how renters as a group fared economically: [bold added]
The CFPB [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau] issued a report on Friday examining the financial conditions of renters before and during the pandemic. It shows that renters’ credit scores increased by 16 points during the pandemic compared to 10 points for homeowners with mortgages. Credit scores increased even more for renters with children (25 points) and those earning less than $40,000 (18 points).

Survey measures of renters’ “Financial Well-Being” also improved between June 2019 and June 2020 even as unemployment spiked. Meantime, fewer renters fell behind on non-rent payments and bills. The share of renters with a credit delinquency fell to 28% in April 2021 from 33.3% in December 2019. “As of spring 2021, renters’ finances appear to have been in a stronger position than they were before the pandemic,” the CFPB writes.

Thank the trillions of dollars in pandemic transfer payments from Congress, which helped lower-income Americans, who are more likely to rent. As the CFPB explains, “Before the pandemic, renters were more likely to be financially vulnerable, partly because they were younger on average and had lower incomes. These factors made them both more likely to receive a larger stimulus payment and more likely to receive student loan forbearance” as well as enhanced and extended unemployment benefits. Parents also received $3,000 to $3,600 tax credits per child.

The Census Bureau reported last week that the poverty rate fell in 2020 to 9.1% from 11.7% in 2019 thanks to stimulus checks and enhanced unemployment benefits. Many used the transfer payments, eviction moratorium and student loan forbearance to pay off higher-interest debt, which improved credit scores.

The claim that the eviction moratorium was necessary to prevent hard-up renters from being thrown onto the streets was always dubious, and now it appears even more so. It was another income transfer, and thank the High Court for finally striking it down.
The public may well be treated to more stories of good people who have fallen on hard times and don't deserve to be kicked out of their apartments. However, such individuals existed long before the pandemic and are no longer representative of renters as a group.

It's debatable whether the eviction moratoriums were worth the overriding of contracts and the unprecedented burden that a particular group (landlords) was forced to bear for the sake of mitigating harm to another group (tenants). Now that the CFPB has shown that tenants on average improved their economic position, what's important now is that the moratoriums end so that the damage caused by this policy stops getting worse.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Charity: It's Not Only Business that Government Gets in the Way Of

Asylum seekers arrive at the Catholic Charities
Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, TX (WSJ)
It is a 2,000-year-old conundrum: how to be a Christian in a secular world.

Not only must individuals wrestle with their own demons (or angels) they must also comply with both the laws of society and of God, which are sometimes in conflict.

One contemporary American example is rendering certain kinds of assistance to illegal immigrants (I prefer that term to "undocumented" because most people, citizens or not, don't lug around documents in the digital age) when it is forbidden by law.

Catholic Bishop Daniel Flores cites problems with a new Texas executive order:
We can’t provide long-term shelter, but we do offer hot showers, clean clothes, fresh food and water, baby supplies, urgent care from doctors and nurses, and volunteer legal help. These families—already processed and released into the U.S. by federal agents—stay with us for about 24 hours. Then they continue on their journeys. That usually means a bus or plane trip to family members in other parts of the country. Later, an immigration judge will consider their asylum claim.

But our work has been threatened by the Texas state government. Gov. Greg Abbott recently issued an executive order that would prohibit us from transporting those we serve beyond our walls. We filed a friend-of-the-court brief Aug. 12 explaining our ministry’s needs, and a federal court in El Paso temporarily blocked the order from going into effect.

If the order goes into effect, it would forbid our organization to drive a pregnant woman to a doctor’s office or take a child to a hospital for care. It would forbid us to drive a migrant family to a bus station or airport so they could continue their journey to waiting family members. Unable to help move migrant families, we would quickly run out of room to receive new ones in desperate need of help. We would have to tell federal agents that we have no more room. Where would they then leave these families? On the streets of local towns?

We have a religious obligation to serve the poor who are suffering in front of us.
Bishop Flores has an answer to a major concern of Governor Abbott's:
Mr. Abbott says that this is about reducing the transmission of Covid-19, and keeping our staff, volunteers, migrants and the surrounding community safe is critical to our mission. While the U.S. Border Patrol does not test those we serve for Covid, we do. Anyone who tests positive is required to quarantine—sometimes at a site organized with the help of local city and county governments, sometimes at a modest local motel.

The governor’s order would even forbid us to transport families who have tested positive for Covid-19 to the quarantine spaces. Under the order, if someone from our center attempts to drive a migrant anywhere, the Department of Public Safety could stop them and force them to return to the Center—possibly impounding the vehicle. How does that protect Texans from the virus?
I understand and even share Governor Abbott's concern about spreading COVID-19. Another reason for his executive order, perhaps, is that Governor Abbott's party also believes that many migrant families don't show up for immigration court hearings and simply disappear into American society, often aided by people who provide them transportation (note: the no-show claim is disputed).

Solving the problems at the border is way above my pay grade, but so far I have had no trouble differentiating what to render to Ceasar and God.

I work at several charities that supply basic needs (food, clothing, shelter, etc.); I never inquire about recipients' backgrounds or ask what they are doing now or where they are going next. Providing legal aid is ok, but I draw the line at political advocacy, which IMHO weakens the purity of charity and rives the organizations that supply it.

Lately we have seen ideologues who, once placed in power, prefer to destroy businesses and charities for reasons having nothing to do with health and safety. It is my hope and expectation that Gov. Abbott, a Christian, will modify his executive order so that Catholic Charities can continue its good works.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Good, Albeit Biased News

L to R: Anthony Robinson, Derje Blanks, Cameron Moody (KRON4)
The hate-crime articles usually start with the history of racism against Asians.

First is the mention of the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882-1943), and next the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. After these two indisputable and shameful examples, writers often add the 1982 murder of Vincent Chin, who was killed by Detroit auto workers who thought he was Japanese, or the difficulty of the Vietnamese "boat people" in being accepted in America.

The history always ends with President Donald Trump and his accusations that the COVID-19 virus originated in China and the alleged scapegoating of Chinese people by President Trump and/or Republicans.

From these articles one would have thought that the violent attacks against Asian-Americans were perpetrated by MAGA-hat wearing, white supremacist trogolydtes, but one would be wrong.

Asians, at least in the Bay Area, have learned to ignore these politicized narratives because they're useless in ascertaining who is originating the current attacks (let's just say that only a minority are white, and the most violent are not).

The police finally caught a group of men who have been targeting Asians (photo at the top of this post): [bold added]
Two men have been charged with robbery in connection to dozens of purse snatchings targeting Asian women throughout the Bay Area, the Santa Clara County district attorney said Saturday.

The men — Derje Blanks, 23, and Anthony Robinson, 24 — were also charged with hate crime enhancements. The office for District Attorney Jeff Rosen said the suspects “used ethnic slurs to refer to their victims,” who were almost all of Asian descent.

“We will hold these defendants and anyone who worked with them fully accountable for their ignorant and destructive behavior,” Rosen said in a press release.

Blanks and Robinson were arrested by San Jose and Hayward police on September 8. Robinson fled in a vehicle and ran a red light, colliding with another car and injuring a two-year-old and her father, according to police.

A third suspect was arrested on Thursday, ending what SJPD called “yearlong, multi-jurisdictional investigation” into the “prolific robbery crew.”

The crime spree began in late 2020, according to the district attorney’s office. The pattern was nearly always the same: The men would follow women in parking lots to their cars, wait until the victim was inside her car and either smash a window or quickly open the door to steal a purse off the passenger seat.

Sometimes, the incidents became violent. There were “numerous incidents where victims were pulled or wrestled to the ground,” and some were injured, according to the district attorney.

Evidence shows that the defendants targeted the victims because they “believed that Asian women don’t use banks.”

“We are sensitive to the hate aspect targeting Asian females,” San Jose police chief Anthony Mata said in a release. “I commend District Attorney Jeff Rosen for pursuing hate crime enhancements.”
The Chronicle has published numerous articles and opinion pieces of the sort discussed at the top, that is, they strongly imply that Donald Trump and his followers are responsible for the recent spate of attacks on Asians.

This article, reprinted in its entirety, never discloses the race of the men arrested. (The photo of the suspects, not a MAGA hat among them, was pulled from the KRON4 website.) For many of the people in the media, if the facts contradict their politics, don't disclose the facts.

Friday, September 17, 2021

The Opponents Aren't Melting

Ben & Jerry's Israel factory (JTA)
The BDS (boycott, divest, sanctions) movement began 15-20 years ago in order to show support for Palestinians and punish companies that did business with Israel. BDS was embraced by left-wing activists as a non-violent method of harming Israel economically and perhaps inducing it to change its policies.

When Ben & Jerry's, the popular ice cream company now owned by Unilever, announced that it will no longer sell its products in the West Bank, it was not a surprise. BDS was just another chapter in Ben & Jerry's' 30+-year history of left-wing activism. BDS, like climate change, Black Lives Matter, and vaccination mandates, has had an easy ride because companies have judged the cost of resistance to be too high.

However, the opposition to BDS is beginning to employ the same tactics on Unilever that BDS has used on companies like Hewlett-Packard, Puma, and Sodastream: [bold added]
Two months after Ben & Jerry’s said it would stop retailing its products in Jewish settlements located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, several state funds are selling or threatening to sell their investments in Unilever PLC, the ice cream brand’s parent company.

The New Jersey Division of Investment, which manages several state pension funds, said this week it planned to sell $182 million of stocks, bonds and other securities linked to Unilever, accusing the company of breaking state laws that prohibit the boycott of Israel. It didn’t give a time frame for the sale, and Unilever can appeal the decision.

Separately, Arizona said earlier this month that it would sell the last $50 million of its investments in Unilever by Sept. 21 for the same reason. The state said its funds had already sold $93 million worth of investments in Unilever since Ben & Jerry’s announced its decision.

Other states including New York, Florida and Texas have said they are evaluating whether their funds would need to sell their Unilever investments. Unilever declined to comment Friday on the divestments but reiterated its commitment to Israel.
Just as BDS has had little effect on companies with a sizable market cap, the pushback on Unilever will not hurt it directly. However, this episode shows that acquiescing to activism is beginning to carry its own costs.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Another Pleasant Afternoon

We had such a good time at the Giants outing earlier this month that I couldn't pass up the promotion for today's contest against the Padres. The Giants are only 1½ games ahead of the Dodgers for the National League West title, so every game counts.

The view from left field wasn't as good as the one near home plate. On the other hand the tickets were 80% cheaper.

The Giants were losing 4-0, at the end of 5 innings, so I took a stroll around Oracle Park.

The Coke bottle and glove had lost some of their shininess over the years.

Inside the Coke bottle are slides that kids 14 years and younger can ride, ending with a slide into a "home plate."

9/16/21: the view from the LF bleachers
The glove is 501 yards from the batter's box, and no one has ever hit a home run that far at Oracle Park, much less into the glove.

In the sunlit stands fans were partaking of liquid refreshment, chatting pleasantly with their seatmates, and giving the action on the field half their attention. Families wandered around the food kiosks, cogitating about whether to spring for the overpriced comestibles.

2004: at least you could say you watched Barry Bonds
I got away cheap with a $10 hot dog, and a $7 diet Coke.

The view from the left field bleachers is pretty good, especially if one is a fan of Giants outfielder #33 Darin Ruf, who has a .277 batting average, 15 home runs, and 41 runs batted in.

Darin Ruf has a way to go, however, before he makes people forget the player who wore #25 in left field.

The teams traded a few scores, but the Giants weren't making headway. I continued the slow, 3-inning circumnavigation around the stadium.

The kayakers in McCovey Cove were enjoying the afternoon, though there wouldn't be any "splash home runs" hit their way.

The Giants caused a brief flurry of excitement in the 9th inning, but the tying run never got to the plate. San Francisco lost 7-4 and now holds a 1 game lead over the Dodgers, who didn't play today.

The Giants' loss just made the final 15 games more suspenseful, and we will follow them closely....on television. We can handle only so many pleasant afternoons.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Voting Like the Good Old Days

As expected, Governor Newsom survived the recall vote; in fact it was a landslide in his favor.
With more than 8 million votes tallied, the recall campaign was capturing only a third of them. Millions of Californians had already cast their votes ahead of election day, after officials mailed a ballot to every active registered voter in the state last month, allowing county election offices to process their ballots ahead of time and begin releasing results shortly after voting concluded at 8 p.m.
A few notes about voting at the recreation center, which was the only in-person voting place in Foster City yesterday:
  • The line moved very slowly.
  • The staff made us fill out an identification form that contained our name, mailing address, and date of birth.
  • They re-entered the information on a computer screen and checked to see whether it matched County records, after which they handed us a paper ballot.
  • Not once throughout the process did they ask for a photo ID. It was my observation that an average of 5 minutes per person was wasted on filling out the form and re-entering and verifying on the computer. In contrast photo ID's were required for vaccinations, where the lines moved quickly.
  • There were no voting machines. We inscribed our choices in blue or black ink on little ovals on the paper ballots, which were then dropped into the slot of a big orange box. Just like the good old days.

    There were two big orange boxes; the other was off screen to the right.
  • Tuesday, September 14, 2021

    The Recall: Cost and Benefit

    The official materials received on today's recall vote describe all the ways we can cast our ballot.
    Unless I'm out-of-town or sick, I like to vote in person on Election Day (regarding today's recall vote I suppose it's "un-election" day). Going to the polling location is inefficient compared to mailing in the ballot, but many people prefer inefficient activities like attending church services, sporting events, movies, concerts, and shopping. Perhaps we derive meaning from memories of past engagements, and the emotional experience is worth the temporal cost.

    Another reason to vote in person is to allow time for late-breaking data to inform one's decision, especially if one is on the fence. Your humble blogger is ambivalent on the recall: on the one hand I've never liked Gavin Newsom since the stunt he pulled as Mayor of San Francisco in 2004, on the other, I regard California's recall provision as wasteful--the Governor should be allowed four years to implement his policies, and if he does engage in egregiously bad behavior ("misconduct") he can be impeached and removed by the State Assembly and Senate..

    The ballot is simple, consisting of only two boxes to be checked off: 1) Shall Gavin Newsom be recalled (removed) from the office of Governor? (Yes/No); and 2) Candidates to succeed Gavin Newsom as Governor if he is recalled, Vote for One (46 named candidates, plus a box for writing in a candidate).

    As the materials in the above picture may indicate, it's harder to understand the voting process (vote by mail, drop boxes, in-person, made more confusing by the different dates these methods will be set up) than the thing we are voting on.

    I'll go down to the polling place, and decide what I'm going to do there. Not that it will matter--all the polls say that Gavin Newsom is heavily favored to beat the recall. Despite the inefficiency and the unimportance of my vote, the emotional experience is worth the temporal cost.

    Monday, September 13, 2021

    Gout's Silver Lining

    Probenecid has an unexpected benefit
    The first and only gout attack occurred in my 40's when I began drinking a glass of red wine every day for health reasons. After a month of this regimen my left foot hurt so much I couldn't walk. The diagnosis was gout, which my father and brothers all suffer from. I thought I had avoided gout, but alas, I had the gene after all.

    Gout is caused by high concentrations of uric acid that crystallize in joints, resulting in painful inflammation. Known triggers include organ meats, shellfish, and alcohol. Drinking plenty of water to dilute and flush the uric acid out of one's system is the way to avoid gout, and probenecid is often prescribed to aid in uric-acid reduction. Your humble blogger has been on probenecid for over 20 years.

    Researchers have discovered that probenecid may be an effective treatment for COVID-19:
    [Georgia professor of infectious diseases Ralph] Tripp found probenecid blocks the virus from replicating and infecting individual cells, a major discovery.

    “Because it works on the whole cell, not the virus, you can’t get resistance to the drug,” Tripp said.

    Tested on ten individuals in Florida with COVID-19, researchers found after the individuals were given probenecid symptoms eased in three days instead of weeks.

    Funding for large clinical trials must follow, but the outlook is that a drug that has helped with gout for four decades may be what’s needed to stop the suffering from COVID-19.
    I've been upping a daily supplement of Vitamin D to help ward off the coronavirus, and now it just may be that I have been regularly taking a drug that affords additional protection. Maybe I did luck out genetically with gout, just not in the way that I thought.

    Another silver lining: High uric-acid levels of gout sufferers may afford protection against Alzheimer's disease.

    Sunday, September 12, 2021

    Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus

    The words of the Latin Mass are understood by few, but for the dwindling number of Catholics who do prefer the ancient liturgy no modern substitutes will do. [bold added]
    the old Latin Mass, also known as the Tridentine Rite, follows an ancient pattern that was codified in the 16th century. It is celebrated only in Latin, with greater formality and ceremony, and its words and symbolism emphasize Christ’s redemptive sacrifice on the cross as reproduced through the actions of the priest.

    Devotees of the old Mass say that they treasure the beauty of the ritual, its links to the church’s past, and what they say is an atmosphere of greater mystery, solemnity and reverence than they find in the new Mass.
    As an Episcopalian who's visited Catholic churches for 50 years, I remember the "folk masses" that startled church goers in the 1970's. The music was different, the words were different, even the bread and wine were different. Eventually they were accepted.

    Catholics were forced to think about their faith from top to bottom; yet it was clear that other forms of worship were just that--alternatives that one could use from time to time to enhance understanding of the essentials of faith. We're not taking off anything from the menu, just adding a few dishes.

    To this non-Catholic Christian banning the Latin Mass ("In July, Pope Francis issued a decree permitting local bishops to ban the Latin Mass in their dioceses and instructing them to do so in parish churches") seems like a betrayal. Advocates of change were given the opportunity by traditionalists and over decades won over the majority. Now they want to remove one of the former-majority-now-minority's cherished ceremonies. A little fair play, not to mention Christian charity, is called for.

    Besides, why the insistence on removing something so beautiful?

    Saturday, September 11, 2021

    20 Years Later

    On the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I posted the following, now updated with minor edits, using strikethroughs and italics:


    (Reuters photo)
    I saw it on TV, like almost everyone else. I shuffled to the kitchen table with my cup of coffee and pushed the remote. The TV was set to Channel 11, NBC. It was 5:45 a.m. The Today Show was on; strange, normally it doesn't start till 7 a.m. on the West Coast.

    The camera was fixed on the World Trade Center. Black smoke was pouring out of one of the towers. There were no jump cuts or commercials to distract the unblinking eye. Katie Couric's voice seemed dispassionate as she described how an airplane had crashed into the building. Surely it was a small plane and a horrible accident.

    Then the second jet hit, another struck the Pentagon, and the towers fell. Other images are seared into our memories--the Pennsylvania field that became hallowed ground, the throngs who lustily cheered the deaths of thousands, flames and smoke everywhere, the weeping, the exhausted searching and the death of hope.

    The fear gripped us for a long time. Not knowing has that effect. Who did it and why, how powerful were they, what's next, what should we do, what can I do?

    Everyone--even those who were in charge of our government--can list major mistakes in the past ten twenty years. All the criticisms have at least some plausibility: we waged war against the wrong people, maybe we shouldn't have gone to war at all, we mistreated prisoners, we had intelligence that was grossly wrong, we sacrificed too many of our civil liberties, we didn't pay the cost of the wars, and we are no farther only a little further along in being energy independent or securing the safety of Israel.

    But if we are honest with ourselves, we will remember the worst of our fears:

    1) we would be hit again and perhaps lose a major city; this event coupled with our response, could forever change the character of America;

    2) if the attack were biological, we could lose much more than one city;

    3) oil supplies would be disrupted, maybe cut off for a long time, and usher in a new Dark Ages;

    4) Israel, surrounded by powerful enemies, could be destroyed.

    5) A state of war would exist between the West and the Islamic world, which has over a billion people.

    Ten Twenty years and trillions of dollars later none of these fears has been realized, yet victory, which we can't even define, seems as distant as it was in 2001.

    I'll take it. © 2011 Stephen Yuen

    Friday, September 10, 2021

    Acoustic Epidemiology

    (WSJ Illustration)
    Like my pediatrician nearly 70 years ago, the 21st century doctor still places a stethoscope in several spots on the chest and back, asks me to breathe deeply then normally, and pronounces everything to be fine.

    It's familiarly reassuring, yet a little disturbing, that almost everything has changed in medicine except the ritual of interpreting the sounds of respiration through a stethoscope...until now. [bold added]
    Researchers around the world are trying to turn the humble cough into an inexpensive tool to diagnose and stop respiratory-disease killers like tuberculosis and Covid-19. They’re collecting recordings of millions of the explosive sounds from patients and consumers on smartphones and other devices. And they’re training artificial intelligence to find patterns to try to identify the type and severity of disease from the cough itself.

    “We call it acoustic epidemiology,” says Peter Small, a tuberculosis expert and chief medical officer of Hyfe Inc., a Delaware-based company with two free smartphone apps—one for consumers, another for researchers—that use AI to detect and track how often someone coughs.

    The sound and frequency of coughs are rich with medical information, he says. Different diseases have some audible differences: crackling in parts of the lung for pneumonia, a wheezing sound for asthma. Makers of these apps say there are sounds and patterns that AI can detect, but the human ear can’t hear.
    The smartphone revolution has allowed researchers to amass databases of respiratory sounds and correlate them with various medical conditions.
    ResApp Health Ltd. is using an explosion in telehealth services, particularly during the pandemic, to expand use of an app-based test for cough sounds that helps doctors diagnose diseases including COPD, pneumonia, asthma and bronchitis, says Tony Keating, the Brisbane, Australia-based company’s chief executive. A telehealth provider asks a patient to hold a smartphone at arm’s length and record five coughs. The app analyzes the coughs, then sends the results to the doctor.

    Using technology developed by researchers at the University of Queensland, the company built the diagnostic tool by training an algorithm on recordings of 6,000 coughs, along with clinical data from those patients in the U.S. and Australia, Mr. Keating says.
    Acoustic epidemiology is in its early stages. No expert would posit that a smartphone app has risen to the level of a medical-grade diagnostic tool, but its value as an initial screening device seems undisputable.

    Your humble blogger believes that cough-analysis would be a logical next step for Apple's expansion into health care, but at first blush implementation seems tricky: coughing regularly into one's watch or phone is socially dubious, and putting on a sensing device like a smart bra or undershirt every morning seems like too much trouble. Maybe a famous-designer T-shirt? I'm sure they'll think of something.

    Thursday, September 09, 2021

    It's Not Crazy to Wrap Foil Around Your.......House

    A house that survived the Caldor fire. (Chron)
    Wrapping houses in foil has helped them to resist forest fires: [bold added]
    However odd that may sound, wrapping buildings with what are known as fire blankets or aluminized structure wrap can foil the flames of a wildfire.

    The blankets are designed to help protect cabins and other structures in three ways:

    • By preventing firebrands, or large burning embers, from entering buildings through gutters, eaves, vents, broken windows and roofs, or lodging in corners or other angular spot.

    • By keeping homes from making direct contact with flames.

    • By reflecting thermal radiation from a large fire burning nearby over a sustained period, possibly protecting the house from bursting into flames from the intense heat.
    This is not the aluminum foil one can pick up in a supermarket:
    Fumiaki Takahashi, an engineering professor at the Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, has conducted experiments in laboratories and also in a prescribed burn area and concluded that two-layer blankets with an aluminum surface can block up to 92% of the convective heat and 96% of the radiation.

    “It is effective for protecting structures for a short period while the wildfire front passes — five to 10 minutes — but longer protection would be needed to prevent structure-to-structure ignition,” he told The Chronicle.

    The foil, usually applied with thousands of staples, isn’t off-the-shelf Reynolds Wrap, though it is sold in rolls. It’s aluminum on the outside, woven threads of polyester and fiberglass inside, and laminated with a high-temperature adhesive, according to Dan Hirning, founder of Firezat, a San Diego company that sells the foil.
    Foiling a fire was founded out of desperation 33 years ago:
    Foil-wrapped houses may seem like a new technology, Hirning said, but the idea was born in the Yellowstone National Park fires in 1988, when firefighters working to protect a remote historic building had to flee but cut up some of their protective fire shelters and tacked them to the building.

    “They think that’s part of what saved them,” he said.

    Perhaps because of its origin, the U.S. Forest Service often uses his fire wrap, Hirning said, usually to protect historic cabins and other buildings off the beaten track where they can’t be guarded by fire crews with hoses and water, or when firefighters can’t wait for the flames. They’ve also been used by broadcasting and telecommunications companies to protect transmitters and repeaters as well as by homeowners, mainly people who own large remote estates or large family cabins.

    But the popularity of the foil among owners of smaller mountain homes and cabins in high-fire-danger zones has grown in recent years, Hirning said. Government firefighting agencies used to account for about 95% of his business, he said, but that’s gradually shifted, and homeowners now account for about 40% of sales.
    The principal constraint is time, not money:
    But wrapping the family cabin in protective foil isn’t something that can be easily accomplished as the fire nears. Even if a homeowner has rolls of the wrap on hand, the biggest obstacle is time. Covering a typical cabin in foil takes four to five people six to seven hours and thousands of staples.

    Firezat sells 200 foot rolls of 5-foot-wide foil wrap for $687, and there are other products on the market. To install the blanket, a homeowner and helpers place the roll on a shovel or broom handle and spool out the wrap, starting at the bottom of one wall of the house, stapling it into place, then moving up, overlapping the previous layer by a couple of inches. All vents and gaps need to be covered as well as the roof, depending on the type.
    Like medical triage, emergency workers will prioritize those who are likely to survive:
    Aside from historic buildings, firefighters might choose to wrap a remote cabin where property owners have already cut back vegetation, cut down overhanging trees, and cleared roofs and gutters of debris.

    With so many cabins and houses in the forests, the intensity of the fires and the limited number of firefighters, there’s rarely the time or people to wrap more than a single structure, much less a cluster of homes in a rural neighborhood.
    Foil-wrapping is ingenious but it's not a panacea. It doesn't work with fast-spreading fires because of the lead time required. The homeowner needs to be committed to leaving the area, because he won't be able to use the house or garage after they are sealed. And if the house is too close to another structure, or the brush hasn't been cleared, the material cannot protect against prolonged intense heat.

    Nevertheless, it's become an essential part of the firefighter's toolkit.

    Wednesday, September 08, 2021

    Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 Reduced Wealth Inequality

    (Illustration from New Scientist)
    Despite all you may have heard from progressives ("The TCJA overwhelmingly benefited the rich and corporations while overlooking working families"), the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 reduced wealth inequality: [bold added]
    After showing steady rises in wealth inequality for nearly three decades, the data in the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finance showed a decline in 2019, the first year that it was measured after the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act went into effect — suggesting there may be a connection.

    “Every three years, the Federal Reserve releases detailed survey data on household assets and liabilities,” explained Jorge Barro, a fellow in public finance at Rice University’s Baker Institute. “This provides one of the best indications of the state of wealth inequality in the U.S. The data — the Survey of Consumer Finances — showed a persistent rise in wealth inequality between 1992 and 2016. A lot of people expected the TCJA to exacerbate wealth inequality, but the measurement in 2019 showed a contraction.”

    “It’s low-frequency data,” said Barro. “The last observation was in 2016, before the TCJA. A lot of people expected the TCJA to exacerbate wealth inequality, but what happened is that wealth inequality contracted.”

    A deeper look into household assets suggests a relative appreciation of lower-income housing values, according to Barro: “While financial wealth comprises a large share of capital, for many households the home is one of the largest components of wealth. As a result, shifts in relative home values can affect the distribution of wealth.”

    “That’s exactly the shift that occurred between 2016 and 2019, as the share of total U.S. housing wealth declined for higher-income households,” he continued. “In particular, the top income quintile experienced a moderate decline in the share of housing wealth, while the bottom 40% of households, who were not as inclined to benefit from itemized deductions, experienced a relative improvement in the distribution of housing wealth.”

    A number of measures in the TCJA had an effect on relative home values, according to Barro. These included the near doubling of the standard deduction, the reduction in the cap on mortgage interest deduction, and the SALT cap. “Together, these reduced subsidies related to home ownership and home valuation in a way that disproportionately raised the effective costs of homeownership for higher-income households,” he said.

    “The availability and effectiveness of itemized deductions grows with the level of economic activity, and this tends to correlate positively with household income,” explained Barro. “Consequently, the increased standard deduction resulted in reducing the share of households benefiting from itemized deductions, and dampening the corresponding economic incentives. And the $10,000 cap on the deduction of taxes paid to state and local governments similarly affected the value of higher-income households disproportionally, especially given the huge property tax component in the SALT deduction. Likewise, the reduction in the maximum deductibility of interest on a mortgage loan from $1 million to $750,000 raised the effective cost of home ownership for higher-income households.”

    Using IRS Statistics of Income data, Barro calculated the size of housing-related deductions as they changed with adjusted gross income. The results show that “higher AGI groups experienced larger relative declines in their average housing subsidies,” he said.

    The SALT deduction is currently back in play in legislative proposals, Barro noted: “Some members of the Senate have said they wouldn’t favor any legislation unless the SALT cap were relaxed, so we can anticipate negotiations leading to a good chance of implementation in whatever bill gets passed. If it is passed it could once again exacerbate wealth inequality by reinstituting regressive housing subsidies.
  • Wealth is not income, the former being a more accurate measure of economic well-being. Here's one of many examples we could use to illustrate this point: assume a person has $10 million in cash but is ultra-conservative about risk. She invests all of the cash in 3-month Treasury bills, which yield .05% today. If she maintained that investment throughout the year (and the rates stayed the same), she would have annual interest income of slightly over $5,000 (assuming reinvestment), well below the income poverty line. Under no stretch of the imagination would she be considered poor, yet income measures would say she is.
  • The rich did get richer during the Trump years, but the poor, for the first time in three decades, started closing the gap. Isn't this the best way to lower inequality---not taking from Peter to pay Paul, but having poorer Paul catch up to Peter, who is also prospering?
  • The TCJA lowered the value of homes in high-tax coastal states on a relative basis to lower-cost homes in low-tax states. (Note the word "relative": the absolute price of homes in California is not going down, while home prices went up in the "flyover" states. Note also that this phenomenon began before the COVID-19 migration.) Housing is a much more significant component of wealth to lower-wealth households. Mr. Barro attributes the SALT limitation as a primary factor in shrinking the difference in housing wealth and therefore overall wealth.
  • Amidst all the tax increases proposed by a Democratic President and a Democratic Congress, a tax break for higher-income households in the infrastructure legislation is a repeal of the SALT limitation. The Democrats and their Progressive wing speak incessantly against inequality, yet they want to eliminate the SALT limitation, the most effective tax measure to reduce inequality in decades.
  • Full disclosure: the SALT limitation costs your humble blogger thousands of dollars in additional Federal taxes per year, yet I wish all of the politicians would go home for the rest of 2021 and not try to "help" us by spending any more money or tinkering with four-year-old tax changes that we haven't even figured out yet.
  • Tuesday, September 07, 2021

    A Soupçon of Pleasure

    Out with the old (left)
    Sometimes it's useful to take a break from big, complicated projects and work on something that can be completed in a small amount of time, e.g., clearing the paperwork on a desk, weeding a patch of the flowerbed, etc. And so it was that I finally took care of an irritant that consumed a few minutes every week.

    The plastic shoe rack in the garage was old and flimsy. Pulling items out too hastily caused the whole thing to fall over because one of the posts was cracked.

    A light-metal $25 rack was ordered from Amazon and put together in an hour. The old rack was trashed and every item transferred.

    Completing this trifle rewarded me with a shot of dopamine, and it still gives me a soupçon of pleasure every day when I walk past the new rack.

    And after two months it has never tipped over.