Sunday, October 31, 2021


What happens when Halloween and Sunday Night Football intersect?

The AI transcriber glitches.

(Announcer Al Michaels said "forced fumble".)

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Anthropomorphizing the Waterfowl

The ducks have been more active since the heavy rain of last Sunday. They swim more quickly, and their heads turn back and forth instead of gazing in one direction.

The temperatures have dropped to the '50's. On Monday, the day after Halloween, the forecasters are predicting rain. Could we have a normal fall and normal waterfowl migration?

The ducks seem happier, and so are the people who watch them.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Death Makes Life Complicated

(From USA Today)
In almost every year for the past ten years, there has been a death of a relative or a friend or a friend's close relative, and I've helped sort out the finances. It's not easy, even for those who have some accounting, financial, and/or tax training like myself.

For the spouse of the deceased, the tax decisions can be complicated and must be made at the worst possible time. The broad checklist of issues is:
Filing an estate-tax return [to claim the $11.7 million exemption]
Tax-bracket shifts [from joint status to single or head of household]
The step-up [of tax basis in inherited assets]
The home-sellers’ exemption [drops from $500K to $250K two years after spouse's death]
Retirement accounts [change beneficiaries, accelerate or defer withdrawals because of tax-bracket shifts]
Withholding and estimated taxes [may need to be increased by survivor, if deceased paid most of them]
The obvious recommendation is to get professional help, which is preferably lined up long before death. But there's still the problem of finding people who are both knowledgable and honest.

In Hawaii we have a big ohana, which includes a lawyer, CPA, and others who are familiar with elder-care issues. When my father passed away, all of us looked after Mom's best interest though even in our case there were some disagreements.

In the absence of having family who can help, there are other groups, such as churches, Kiwanis, Elks, Freemasons, alumni organizations, etc. where one might find trustworthy advisers.

Still there are no absolute guarantees, even with families, so it's best to be kind to everyone throughout your life so that some of the thoughtful and honest ones will help you and your spouse after one of you is gone.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Destination Wedding (2018)

Misleading: there's little smiling.
Sometimes tiring of too much saccharine, I switch off the Hallmark Channel and go to Netflix and Amazon Prime for romantic comedies, where the visuals are PG-13 but the language is R-rated.

Expectations were middling for 2018's Destination Wedding, currently streaming on Netflix, but with leads Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder there was a good chance the production wouldn't disappoint.

The movie begins as many Hallmark scripts do, with two strangers clashing at the airport. Making things worse, they find that they're both going to the same wedding at a winery in Central California.

Unlike a Hallmark plot, there's no guarantee that Frank and Lindsay will end up together. The dialogue is spirited, and the topics often dark and misanthropic. The only subject on which they agree is their loathing for the groom, Keith, who is Frank's brother and Lindsay's ex-fiancé.

  • I liked the movie.
  • The repartee was sharp and Neal Simonesque; Keanu Reeves, not famous for his erudition, got off words like "avoirdupois" as if they were natural to his vocabulary.
  • Distracted by the cinematography that showed off Paso Robles and the hubbub of people at the airport, hotel, and wedding, it took me 20 minutes to notice that it was a two-person play; Frank and Lindsay had the only speaking parts.
  • The music and transition from various pre-wedding activities to the wedding itself helped to lighten the atmosphere and give the audience a break from the intense dialogue. I don't mean emotionally intense, but pay-attention-to-every-word intense to catch all the humor and cultural references.
  • The question that loomed from halfway to the end was whether the conclusion would be heavy (Pygmalion) or Hollywood (My Fair Lady). Which way do you think it went, dear reader?
  • The script made funny, subtle references to some of Keanu Reeves' famous action-hero characters. In the clip below, he can't tear open an airplane snack because "there is no notch."

  • Wednesday, October 27, 2021

    Emily and Amy Didn't Write About This

    As a follow-on to yesterday's post about punctuation in the modern age, the WSJ publishes a guide to digital etiquette.  (Your humble blogger's comments are in green.)
    Faux pas: pasting URL link
    Don’t: Paste a long URL link into an email
    Do: Hyperlink the text instead

    Nothing uglies up an email exchange or reveals that you’re behind the times quite like a 10-line URL link with more symbols than letters (See our poor dinosaur’s faux pas). In most email servers, however, you can hide a hideous URL by hyperlinking it to related text in the body of your note. I prefer pasting "hideous" URL's, then converting the link to text; some servers consider links to be spam.

    Not appetizing to me
    Don’t: Ask for a menu
    Do: Learn to scan QR Codes

    People’s unwillingness to touch potentially germy surfaces and devices during the pandemic has greatly accelerated the adoption of unique QR codes. At most restaurants, only the out-of-it still ask for the opportunity to squint at a sticky menu; instead use your smartphone’s camera to scan the QR code (typically found on a placard at your table) to easily access the eatery’s offerings online. I like looking at printed menus; some restaurants spend a lot of time designing them. As for online menus, seen one, seen 'em all.

    Don’t: Squirrel away your microwave manual
    Do: Watch how-to videos on YouTube

    You can finally clear out that drawer of old appliance manuals you keep “just in case.” The tech-savvy know that, should they need to troubleshoot a device, jump-start a car, learn how to hyperlink a URL (see above), or even change a setting on a Gmail inbox, they can simply type a query into YouTube’s search bar and watch the video with the most views. When I can't find the manual, I do watch YouTube videos, which have too many ads before, during, and inside the videos. Yes, I'm too cheap to pay Google for an ad-free subscription.

    Don’t: Listen to music on Pandora
    Do: Download Spotify

    Beyond unearthing new artists, the best reason to download a music app is to share your taste with friends (and romantic partners). While more than 10 million people have hopped off Pandora since it was bought two years ago, according to Music Business Worldwide, dropping its active user base to around 55 million, Spotify—with its impressive algorithm for discovering new music—now boasts more than 165 million users.  Apple Music, which is part of an Apple One subscription, is good enough for me.

    Don’t: Get cash from an ATM to reimburse a friend
    Do: Use Venmo

    Dragging a cohort along to an ATM so you can hand her a bundle of sticky bills is like insisting on communicating with her by snail mail. Venmo and CashApp help you automatically find friends in your contacts list or, if you’re sitting together, you can scan each other’s unique QR codes. Plus: No line ups.   I'll put up with mild convenience so as not to let another company into my financial affairs.

    Don’t: Write down all your passwords
    Do: Utilize a password manager

    If you still keep passwords stored in an email draft in hopes of eluding hackers, assume your passwords have already been compromised and come up with new ones. Better yet, download a password manager like LastPass, Keeper or Dashlane. Each can securely create and store unique codes for every platform you visit, allowing you to keep dodgy types from accessing all your personal emails and information. I've got an admittedly inefficient paper system that is, as far as I know, unhackable and won't be until mind-reading devices come along, and even then, why would they bother with me?

    Don’t: Store files on a thumb drive
    Do: Use the Cloud or Dropbox

    New computer models are quickly phasing out USB ports, so if you have all your most secret and important files stashed on a USB thumb drive, you are a bit of a dinosaur and you need to move fast. Your best option is to use a secure cloud server like Apple iCloud, Dropbox or Google Drive, which provides anyone with a gmail account 15 gigabytes of free and safe storage. "Secure cloud servers"?  If they can hack Microsoft cloud, I'm gonna keep my thumb drives for sensitive files that I can't afford to lose.

    Tuesday, October 26, 2021

    Watch Your .'s and !'s

    (Image from cbc)
    Your humble blogger is a language dinosaur. I've only recently become aware that ending text messages with a period (".") is a sign of insincerity or worse, though the young 'uns knew this in 2015. [bold added]
    When that reply was followed by a period, subjects rated the response as less sincere than when no punctuation was used. The effect wasn't present in handwritten notes.

    According to [psycholinguistics professor Celia M.] Klin and her fellow researchers, that's an indication that the text message period has taken on a life of its own. It is no longer just the correct way to end a sentence. It's an act of psychological warfare against your friends. In follow-up research that hasn't yet been published, they saw signs that exclamation points — once a rather uncouth punctuation mark — may make your messages seem more sincere than no punctuation at all.
    It's bad enough that you can lose your job over using what you thought were the proper pronouns. But bad punctuation? Good thing I'm retired!!!!

    Monday, October 25, 2021

    Yesterday's Rain was Da Bomb

    The lagoon is filled with yesterday's rainwater from the mountains
    Facing dire drought conditions, Northern California received heavy rain yesterday: [bold added]
    The train of storms was largely triggered by a “bomb cyclone,” an area of rapidly decreasing low pressure, that pushed the systems ashore, including a Category 5 atmospheric river over the weekend.

    An atmospheric river is a giant plume of moisture that generally wrings out when it makes landfall. Similar to hurricanes, the intensity of the systems is measured on a 1 to 5 scale...

    Downtown San Francisco received 4.02 inches of rain on Sunday, the highest daily total ever for October, according to the National Weather Service. Sacramento reported 5.44 inches, the most ever recorded in a 24-hour period there.

    Also over the weekend, the city of Napa recorded a 24-hour rainfall total of 5.35 inches and Santa Rosa recorded a 7.83-inch 24-hour period. Both totals were more than half the amount of rain that fell during the past water year, from Oct. 1, 2020, to Sept. 30, 2021, according to the weather service.
    We've weathered heavy rains and drought before, but the language has become more colorful, even overheated. "Bomb cyclone" and "Category 5 atmospheric river" indeed. I wonder what they'll say if, God forbid, we should ever get hit by a hurricane.

    Below is the same lagoon a mere three months ago.

    Sunday, October 24, 2021

    Have Faith, Churches: Just Be There

    Zaina Qureshi, 16, says gender
    equity, immigration rights and
    racial justice are important. (WSJ)
    Not exactly a shocking conclusion from a report on the views of teens and young adults: "Young People Say Disconnect Keeps Them From Church". So what are the issues that young people do care about? [bold added]
    Half of young people ages 13 to 25 surveyed said they don’t think that religious institutions care as much as they do about issues that matter deeply to them, according to a report released Monday by the Springtide Research Institute, a nonpartisan nonprofit. Those issues include racial justice, gender equity, immigration rights, income inequality and gun control. Springtide tracks the views of American teens and young adults. It has done research work in conjunction with the Princeton Theological Seminary and the Mennonite Church, among others.

    The biggest disconnect involves LGBT rights. About 71% of youths said they care about gay rights, but feel that 44% of religious communities care about the same issue, according to the survey of 10,274 people across the country representing various faiths.
    ‘I was afraid to live my life,’ says
    dancer Amethyst Rose. (WSJ)
    If you asked me and my peers what we cared about as college freshmen, we would have said: the war in Vietnam, race discrimination, sex discrimination, the military/industrial complex, the Bomb, police brutality, and freedom of speech. 50 years later those issues have either gone away or have shifted leftward--I don't mean the latter in a pejorative sense--equality of opportunity has mostly been replaced with equality of result.

    The main point is that, as a young person, I was too busy making plans pursuing worldly goals, though I never completely disengaged from organized religion. I only started drifting back due to: 1) more frequent reminders of my own mortality; 2) attainment of some objectives did not achieve fulfillment and raised the is-that-all-there-is question; 3) the Christian perspective really did prove insightful at crucial turning points.

    Because I am not a priest or have a personal stake in keeping every religious institution alive--let's face it, there is overcapacity given the demand--I am not worried about the decline in membership. This is a temporal trend that will reverse; just study the history of American great awakenings,

    The goal of churches should be just to stay alive, to be available to individuals for when the inevitable personal crisis arises and they find that the answers do not lie with politics or their racial or gender identity.

    Have faith: they'll come back, they'll need you, so just be there.

    Saturday, October 23, 2021

    Unsatisfying Explanation

    Ellen Chung and Jonathan Gerrish (Chron photo)
    Two months ago we noted how the death of a young family on a hiking trail had captured "international attention" because the cause of death could not be ascertained. The bodies of the parents, 1-year-old daughter, and dog were all found two days after they went missing. They had no visible marks, and toxicology reports were negative.

    The investigators have rendered their conclusion: [bold added]
    Investigators said Thursday that a young family and their dog found on a remote hiking trail in August in a mysterious mass death perished as a result of hyperthermia and probable dehydration.

    Mariposa Sheriff Jeremy Briese detailed the final hours of the former San Francisco clan that started a hike with a temperature of 74 degrees in the morning only to see the thermostat rocket up to 109 by the afternoon. They succumbed to the heat and lack of water on a steep stretch of switchbacks with no shade, he said.
    Why does this explanation feel unsatisfying? Probably because it's a conclusion arrived at through a process of elimination.
    There were few clues at the scene and no indications of foul play. Investigators sent samples of water from the river, creek and the couple’s bladder-lined backpack to a lab. During the probe, investigators eliminated illegal drugs, lightning strikes, mine fumes, weapons, suicide and other causes of death, as they waited for test results to come back.
    The head doesn't always give what the heart wants.

    “When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” ~ Arthur Conan Doyle

    Friday, October 22, 2021

    Those Who Can, Do

    A block from a couple of old shopping centers in Burlingame are the headquarters of the California Teachers Association.

    The gray concrete, the paucity of windows, and the darkened entrance had an unwelcoming feel, but architecture is a matter of personal taste. One should not draw conclusions about an organization based on its building.

    We are permitted, however, to make inferences from the CTA's website (snapshot below), which lists the organiation's priorities:

    There was not one word about teaching Johnny or Susie to read, but many words on Progressive causes, like those against Charter Schools and standardized tests and for Black Lives Matter and Immigration Reform ("we support safe-haven schools and sanctuary cities"),

    Shocking, I know: A big, costly building on expensive Peninsula land houses an organization that demands ever more taxes and dues to pay for its political advocacy, not helping children acquire the useful skills that will help them succeed in a rapidly advancing technological society.

    There wasn't much visible activity going on in the building, as there isn't in the schools I pass by every day. But I'm sure they'll need more money to do the same next year.

    Thursday, October 21, 2021

    Closer to the Funny Bone

    (Deadline image)
    Further proving the Streisand effect (when Barbra Streisand tried to suppress a photo of her Malibu mansion, her action just called more attention to it), the protests surrounding Dave Chappelle's comedy special on Netflix caused me to check it out.

    Comedy is very subjective--what one person finds uproarious can elicit alarm, disdain, or indifference in another.

    To your humble blogger standup comedy is about the only free-speech zone left in America; people are free to laugh at thoughts that could not be expressed anywhere else. And yes, I do find some humor offensive, especially when targeted at my race, faith, or sex (but not when it's clever, another subjective measure), but that's the price we pay so that we can listen to humor that offends others, a kind of mutually assured suspension of civility.

    So I watched The Closer and found most of it humorous. Let me caution at the outset that many black comedians pepper their monologues with the "n" word, the "b" word, and sexual and scatological references that most people have automatically suppressed from their speech.

    David Chappelle is no exception, and it took a minute or two for this listener to become desensitized. He was playing to a mainly black live audience, who didn't mind that a black speaker was using the "n" word. After a while I realized that he was calling every guy in his stories, regardless of race, a n*****, and every woman was a b****.

    In the best comedic tradition he brought up patterns and contradictions in the way we think. Because liberal and progressive values are dominant, he had riches to choose from.

    Just one example: people are angered, or at least bemused, by blackfaced whites pretending to be black, but why aren't people allowed to have a similar negative reaction to men pretending to be women? They aren't real women, a declaration received to much applause.

    Of course, we know that one can have a serious discussion about the differences between the two situations, but comedy is built upon often-unfair juxtapositions. Once the thought is expressed, the laugh is generated, and it's off to the next quick take. Yes, it's unfair, just like linking anti-vaxxers with anti-abortionists (so now you want to control your own body?). Tough, conservatives have had to sit there and listen to these quick takes for 20 years on at least five nightly shows, and the oft-heard response is they shouldn't be offended because it's just comedy.

    Comedians often close their act on a serious note. Dave Chappelle spoke of a transgender comedian whom he befriended. She rose to his defense when he provoked "T" activists, who turned on her. She committed suicide shortly thereafter, though Dave Chappelle was careful not to attribute the death to the braying Twitter mob.

    My standup favorites are old-timers Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy, Seinfeld, and Dana Carvey. In terms of funniness I place David Chappelle below that group but above the majority of standup comedians currently on Netflix. But IMHO the Closer is worth watching also to see where the ever-moving lines of our culture are drawn today.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2021

    Giving and Receiving

    Shelley served up pie....charts
    On Sunday the church began its 2022 stewardship campaign. After the service we were served a brunch of salad, lox and bagels. It was the first time in over eighteen (18) months that we had had so large a gathering. The two hours in the school courtyard went by quickly.

    Alison and Shelley made a plea for pledges. Alison had organized the brunch, and Shelley showed up faithfully every Sunday for over a year as part of a small group who ran the church's streaming-only services. Of course, we listened politely out of respect for two volunteers who put our own efforts to shame.

    The church has run a deficit this year and will do so the next, but reserves built up from bequests and the pre-COVID pre-school should see us through.

    As we said our goodbyes one church member offered me a vegetable from his backyard garden in Redwood City. I did not know what it was.

    Do you, dear reader?

    Tuesday, October 19, 2021

    Quotas, Even at the Top

    Merck has a diverse corporate board.
    The WSJ reports on one of the ESG (environmental, social, governance) movement's principal initiatives: racial and sexual diversity of corporate boards of directors. [bold added]
    U.S. public companies added the most diverse slate of new directors on record to their boards over the past year, with a surge of Black nominees and elevated numbers of women and first-time directors, according to two new studies.

    The gains were uneven, with about half of public-company boards adding no new members and smaller companies lagging behind their bigger counterparts, according to one of the studies, from the Conference Board and data analytics firm ESGauge. In addition, more companies of all sizes have started disclosing the racial and ethnic makeup of their boards.

    The second study, by executive and board recruiting firm Spencer Stuart, found that a third of new independent board members for S&P 500 companies identifying director demographics were Black, up from 11% the year before, and 7% were Latino, up from 3%.
  • To this cynical boomer, diversity "gains" defined by how many boxes are checked are redolent of unwritten affirmative action quotas that did little to advance group welfare--which the AA advocates (unwittingly) admit because they proclaim that the income/wealth/health gaps have only gotten worse in the decades since AA was implemented.
  • No one is looking at whether diversity is improving corporate decision-making---if researchers are, it's not mentioned in the article. A clearer picture will emerge when stock-price and other financial indicators measure the performance of companies that have diverse boards and those that do not.
  • In any event change will be slow because attrition of board members is gradual:
    The rapid addition of minority directors has been slow to diversify overall board demographics in part because of low turnover. Nearly 40% of S&P 500 companies didn’t change their boards over the past year, and about half of the companies in the S&P MidCap and Russell 3000 indexes didn’t, the Conference Board found.
  • A good thing about diversity that may really be a bad thing:
    First-time directors are less likely to be retired and more than twice as likely to be under 50 years old, Spencer Stuart found. About two-thirds of these younger directors are from historically underrepresented racial or ethnic groups.

    [Blogger's comment: personally, I'd rather have qualified under-50 women and minorities running a dynamic company than overseeing three or four.]
  • Monday, October 18, 2021

    Annoyances Ahead

    A 43-year-old house, 54-year-old car, and 7-year-old laptop computer have something in common: they all have parts that are breaking down.

    Last week the faucet was dripping (I couldn't let it go with water rationing on the horizon), the VW Bug wouldn't run because of a fuel-line and electrical issue, and the MacBook battery was totally kaput (it would shut down immediately if the power cord were disconnected).

    Fixing these annoyances doesn't require a SpaceX scientist, but it doesn't help matters that the repair guy himself has parts that are giving him problems.

    It should be a challenging week.

    Sunday, October 17, 2021

    We are Marching

    (WSJ photo)
    Christian processions are commonplace....inside the walls of Catholic and Anglican churches; rarely are they seen on the streets of secular America. When Catholics marched down Sixth Avenue on Columbus Day
    Confusion filled the faces of virtually everyone we passed. Phones came out to record us. More than one person stopped to ask questions.

    Thanks to a police escort, we constantly kept moving. As people saw us coming, they crowded on corners. Some stayed there after we passed, wondering what they’d just seen.
    Far from being a novelty, the Catholics' walk in the heart of Manhattan was in America's time-honored tradition of processions, parades, and marches to celebrate events, individuals, and groups.
    the Democratic Republic was embodied in countless civic ceremonies during which frequent parades of various types were undertaken—marches by local militias, firefighters and trade bodies, election parades, funeral marches upon the death of a significant person or a president, parties at events considered worthy of celebration such as the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, regional or local anniversaries such as Admission Day in San Francisco or St. Patrick's Day in New York, national holidays such as July 4, the anniversary of the birth of George Washington or the parade for the Centennial of the Revolution, and so on.

    So what functions did these parades fulfill? In the early decades of the nineteenth century, cities were inhabited by a heterogeneous population of newcomers largely of foreign origin—English, Irish, and German—who were in constant movement and whose social status was often uncertain. Marches, which proliferated in the period 1830–1840, enabled people to show and represent their diversity but also to publicly assign a place to each group. Residents marked their membership of particular trades, social, political or ethnic groups...
    Today marches favoring or opposing political movements are much more common than religious processions, but perhaps the rarity of the latter will appeal to a younger generation looking for something new, then finding it something very old.

    Related: in his homily today the priest said some of his younger acquaintances would ask if they could borrow his vestments for a Halloween costume. His too-kind response was that they were "sanctified," that is, set apart for God and were not to be used for profane purposes. But the interesting point to this story is that a younger person, despite his ignorance, might find the formal trappings of Christianity to be cool.

    Maybe one or two people will stop to inquire what we're doing the next time we march around the block on Palm Sunday.

    Saturday, October 16, 2021

    Inflation: Making Do With Less

    At Costco Peanut M&M's crept to $12,50
    over the past year, then Boom! $19.99 but
    "marked down" to $15.99. C'mon, man!
    Eighteen (18) months ago this humble chronicler saw the warning signs of inflation:
    Now the Fed is buying corporate debt--even some risky pieces that pension funds won't touch--and the debt of state and local governments. It has crossed a line and can't go back. ("Why are you letting [State name] go bankrupt?")

    Eventually the tidal wave of government debt and paper money will cause an inflation that will dwarf that of the 1970's. Thankfully, with a life expectancy of perhaps 20 years, I won't have to suffer through much of it.
    Five (5) months ago a repeat of the 1970's seemed inevitable, though the experts resisted that conclusion:
    The economy is warm if not hot, the Administration is proposing $trillions in additional spending, and the Federal Reserve is promising to keep rates low.
    Now everyone sees it.

    One bright spot: liquor prices are about the same,
    and there is plentiful supply.
    WSJ, 10/13: Accelerating Inflation Spreads Through the Economy
    U.S. inflation accelerated last month and remained at its highest rate in over a decade, with price increases from pandemic-related labor and materials shortages rippling through the economy.

    The Labor Department said last month’s consumer-price index, which measures what consumers pay for goods and services, rose by 5.4% from a year earlier, in unadjusted terms.
    WaPo, 10/15: Uncomfortable inflation is here, and it’s changing the economy
    News this week that U.S. inflation is running at a 13-year high of 5.4 percent confirmed what many Americans already know as they juggle their budgets: Food, energy and shelter costs are all rising rapidly, adding to the strain Americans were already dealing with from the higher costs of hard-to-find goods such as cars, dishwashers and washing machines...

    Workers are demanding pay increases because they can see their wages aren’t buying as much with so many everyday necessities costing more, including rent. That leads companies to hike prices more, then workers turn around and demand another pay raise. Economists call this phenomenon a “wage-price spiral.”
    The evidence is especially noticeable in the items we buy weekly. Where I shop, prices for beef and gasoline are more than 50% higher than in 2019.

    I don't drive much these days, and I've learned more chicken and pork recipes. Like the 1970's, we're making do with less.

    Friday, October 15, 2021

    Giants vs. Dodgers Game 5: Good But Not Great

    A checked swing ends the season (USAToday)
    Everyone knew that the Giants-Dodgers season-long rivalry had to come down to the deciding game of the 5-game series.

    As contests go, it was good, but not great, and not because the result let down this home town fan: the Dodgers won 2-1. They will go on to face the Atlanta Braves for the National League Championship, the winner going to the World Series.

    IMHO, a "good" game is close throughout, thereby heightening the suspense of each pitch. Moreover, both teams should play well and not lose the game because of a fielding mistake, e.g., a dropped fly ball with the bases loaded. (Actually this time the lone error by the Dodger's third baseman in the bottom of the 9th inning raised the excitement because it increased the Giants' chances of winning or tying the game.)

    A great game should have a number of spectacular fielding or base-running plays. Home runs can aid the enjoyment, but not for me are the 9-8 bashfests where the pitchers can't do anything right. The game ended, not with a spectacular play at home plate, but just the opposite of excitement: a checked swing that was ruled strike three by the first-base umpire.

    It was a desultory end to an unexpectedly glorious season.

    We are spoiled by a culture that bombards us with narratives every day; life is often not that exciting, and the results often disappoint.

    Thursday, October 14, 2021

    Nobel Economists: They Opened Their Eyes

    Economics has been nicknamed the "dismal science", but this year's Nobel Prize winners have not only published insightful studies with real-world policy implications but also have injected creativity into a profession which seemed to have been destined to a future of endless number-crunching. [bold added]
    The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences was awarded Monday to David Card of the University of California, Berkeley, Joshua Angrist of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Guido Imbens of Stanford University.

    The prize committee cited Mr. Card’s “empirical contributions to labor economics” and praised Messrs. Angrist and Imbens for “their methodological contributions to the analysis of causal relationships.” Messrs. Card and Angrist have contributed by running “natural experiments” in economics, and Messrs. Angrist and Imbens have contributed to the theoretical basis for these experiments.

    Natural experiments have led economists to conclude that an additional year of education substantially raises one’s lifetime income, that small increases in the minimum wage don’t have much effect on employment, and that Medicaid has little effect on people’s physical health.

    Why do natural experiments matter? One of the toughest problems in economic research is figuring out whether a relationship between two variables is causal or coincidental. So, for example, economists find that the lifetime earnings of people who go to school for 12 years are higher than those of people who go to school for 11 years. But what if those who stay in school longer are more motivated or smarter than those who are in for only 11 years? Then the earnings of the more-schooled would be higher even if schooling per se doesn’t add much to earnings. What one would ideally like is to compare the earnings of people whose motivations and intelligence don’t differ.

    Enter compulsory schooling. In 1991, Mr. Angrist and the late Alan Krueger noted that under compulsory-schooling laws, students born in the first quarter of the calendar year would be able to leave school earlier than students born in the fourth quarter. Sure enough, they found, those born in the fourth quarter had an average of 0.15 year more in school. And the earnings of those in the fourth quarter were 1.4% higher than the earnings of those born in the first quarter. Extrapolate that to a full-year difference in schooling, and you can conclude that one extra year of schooling raises earnings by about 9%.

    Messrs. Card and Krueger conducted a famous natural experiment by studying employment at fast-food restaurants in New Jersey and Pennsylvania before and after New Jersey raised the minimum wage while Pennsylvania didn’t. Contrary to what one might expect, employment in New Jersey’s fast-food restaurants rose slightly relative to employment in Pennsylvania’s.
    Economist Alex Tabarrok discusses why the approach used to answer the minimum-wage question was so brilliant:
    The obvious way to estimate the effect of the minimum wage is to look at the difference in employment in fast food restaurants before and after the law went into effect. But other things are changing through time so circa 1992 the standard approach was to “control for” other variables by also including in the statistical analysis factors such as the state of the economy. Include enough control variables, so the reasoning went, and you would uncover the true effect of the minimum wage. Card and Krueger did something different, they turned to a control group.

    Pennsylvania didn’t pass a minimum wage law in 1992 but it’s close to New Jersey so Card and Kruger reasoned that whatever other factors were affecting New Jersey fast food restaurants would very likely also influence Pennsylvania fast food restaurants. The state of the economy, for example, would likely have a similar effect on demand for fast food in NJ as in PA as would say the weather. In fact, the argument extends to just about any other factor that one might imagine including demographics, changes in tastes and changes in supply costs. The standard approach circa 1992 of “controlling for” other variables requires, at the very least, that we know what other variables are important. But by using a control group, we don’t need to know what the other variables are only that whatever they are they are likely to influence NJ and PA fast food restaurants similarly. Put differently NJ and PA are similar so what happened in PA is a good estimate of what would have happened in NJ had NJ not passed the minimum wage.

    Thus Card and Kruger estimated the effect of the minimum wage in New Jersey by calculating the difference in employment in NJ before and after the law and then subtracting the difference in employment in PA before and after the law. Hence the term difference in differences. By subtracting the PA difference (i.e. what would have happened in NJ if the law had not been passed) from the NJ difference (what actually happened) we are left with the effect of the minimum wage. Brilliant!
    Indentifying control variables is tricky, as Prof. Tabarrok points out, and the more control variables one has the more statistical noise is created, and the less powerful the results. With a control group, researchers need not be concerned with control variables.

    The Nobel winners aren't superhuman, however. The minimum-wage study likely wasn't error-free:
    Unfortunately, Messrs. Card and Krueger’s data weren’t so great—they gathered it by phoning restaurants.
    Nevertheless, once the idea was originated, the data could be obtained and analyzed.

    At the dawn of the age of artificial intelligence, Professors Card, Angrist, and Imbens, and the late Alan Krueger, have given us hope that human ingenuity is not dead:
    Card and Krueger revealed to economists that there were natural experiments with plausible treatment and control groups all around us, if only we had the creativity to see them. The last thirty years of empirical economics has been the result of economists opening their eyes to the natural experiments all around them.

    Wednesday, October 13, 2021

    When We Said It, Some of Us Really Meant It

    Over the decades the subject matter has changed. Initially we talked about our companies, spouses, and travels.

    Later, as certain members of our class achieved lift-off (allusion to William Shatner, who showed that frontiers are not the province of the young), the conversation shifted away from worldly success to children, aging parents, and those who were not present this weekend, or sadly, forever.

    I've only gone to a few reunions of my high-school or university classes--the big ones ending in "0" and the 25th--but the passage of time, catalyzed by the coronavirus, brought a change in perspective.

    The average age of our graduating class is in the mid-70's, so despite its being a "minor" reunion year, I signed up for the Saturday night dinner. Who knows when, or if, I might see any of them again?

    Psychologists say that a normal human response to our mortality is laughter. There was a lot of laughter this evening, and when we parted with a "let's have dinner (or lunch) again," some of us really meant it.

    Tuesday, October 12, 2021

    Flu and Covid: We Can Handle the Truth

    AP, October 6, 2020:
    President Donald Trump is back to making false comparisons between COVID-19 and the flu, contradicting science and even himself.

    TRUMP: “Flu season is coming up! Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu. Are we going to close down our Country? No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!” — tweet Tuesday.
    October 11, 2021, Honolulu Star-Advertiser:
    As COVID-19 continues to dictate public life and government policy in Hawaii, influenza and pneumonia have quietly killed at least 859 people over the past 12 months, exceeding the coronavirus death toll for the entire pandemic.
    Former President Trump was in the habit of making sweeping declarative statements that weren't true at all times and places. However, politicians, tech gatekeepers, and the media frequently took an extreme opposite tack: there was absolutely no truth in what he said.

    Give us the nuance, people, you're supposedly the smart ones. We can handle the truth!

    Monday, October 11, 2021

    Happy Columbus Day

    In 2020 Columbus, OH took down
    its Columbus statue (npr)
    In 2021 the controversy over Columbus Day has died down; apparently people who like to argue about such things have turned their attention to other matters. But I have no doubt that they'll be back to rile everyone.

    ICYMI, even the notion that Columbus "discovered America" has been attacked as one of the sources of the Doctrine of Discovery, which was used by Christian nations to justify the colonization of the world.

    I'm not an ardent defender of Columbus Day. He was not a brilliant man--he mistook the New World for India after all--but his actions did affect the course of human history. Much of the good and evil that occurred after 1492 has been laid at Columbus' feet, though he was just a guy trying to make a real to pay back Queen Isabella.

    Columbus and the Europeans who followed him were no saints, but the Indigenous Peoples whom they conquered were not noble savages, which ironically is also a Western concept.

    From 2019's post:
    Following the modern tendency of viewing the deeds of historical figures and cultures through the prism of today's morality, we eagerly await critical academic analysis of Indigenous People's practices, such as human sacrifice, cannibalism, and polygyny (one man, two or more wives).
    And it's not well-publicized that the Indians of the 19th century embraced the Southern States' practice of owning African slaves:
    “The Five Civilized Tribes [Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole] were deeply committed to slavery, established their own racialized black codes, immediately reestablished slavery when they arrived in Indian territory, rebuilt their nations with slave labor, crushed slave rebellions, and enthusiastically sided with the Confederacy in the Civil War.”
    Take Christopher Columbus down from his pedestal if you insist, but don't replace him with others who committed reprehensible deeds.

    Sunday, October 10, 2021

    Fleet Week, 2021

    Fleet Week, 2006: Coit Tower, the Blue Angels and Alcatraz

    When the Blue Angels flew by in the 2000's, all work stopped in the office and we would rush to look out the big windows in the 22nd-floor conference room. Towards the end of my tenure the anti-carbon, anti-military voices were growing louder, and it was a reasonable prediction that Fleet Week's days in San Francisco were numbered.

    A Navy parachutist, the U.S. flag, and applause.
    This is San Francisco, too. (Chron photo)
    Last year's coronavirus-induced cancellation had a silver lining: San Franciscans discovered that Fleet Week is one activity that they really missed when it was gone.
    Lewis Loeven, executive director of the San Francisco Fleet Week Association, which organizes the celebration, said he was pleasantly surprised that this year’s throngs appeared similar in size to pre-pandemic years, with tickets for premium viewing of the air show close to selling out each day.

    Before the pandemic-driven suspension last year, Loeven said, Fleet Week would draw upward of 1 million people to stroll along the Marina and Embarcadero, watch the Blue Angels from the Marina Green, and tour Navy and Coast Guard ships in the bay. The wildly popular ship tours this year drew steady streams of visitors, he said, indicating numbers could match those of pre-pandemic years. By 10 a.m. Sunday, dozens of people were lined up at Pier 35 waiting to tour the missile destroyer Michael Monsoor.

    Saturday, October 09, 2021

    The Beleagured Service

    Your humble blogger is appalled by the size and scope of government. Originally this reaction was based on venerable philosophical arguments, i.e., people grow dependent and passive, they cannot think or do anything for themselves, they rely on someone to come to their rescue, etc. But now that we live in a society where there are more safety nets than our grandparents ever dreamed of, the bigger problem is obvious: government simply cannot deliver the functions that it has been tasked to perform.

    Case in point: the Internal Revenue Service.

    Fun fact: the top half of the IRS logo is the "IRS Eagle",
    which I initially thought was an image of a forlorn
    taxpayer dropping a return into a mailbox.
    This past March, although it was at the time twelve months since it had been filed, we decided not to panic over the IRS' delay in processing Mom's 2019 tax return. The coronavirus had shuttered the IRS' processing centers, and weekly checking of the app showed that the Service had received the paperwork.

    In a letter dated September 15, 2021, the IRS stated that it had received the 2019 4th-quarter estimated tax payment on February 3, 2020. The check cleared Mom's bank on February 5, 2020, and it took the IRS 19 months to post it to her account. (Private companies get written up by auditors if receipts aren't posted immediately; standards are different for government agencies.)

    Mom will be getting her 2019 refund sometime in November, 2021. According to the letter
    If you don't owe other taxes, penalties, interest, or legal obligations we're required to collect, we'll send you a refund of your overpayment within six to eight weeks.
    We are so grateful!

    I had held off as long as I could but finally mailed Mom's 2020 return because the October 15, 2021 extension deadline was imminent.

    Millions of taxpayers were affected by 2019 processing delays, and the backup has affected 2020. The IRS had its worst-performing season last year.
    “Paper returns have piled up — there are 5.5 million Form 1040s and over 4 million business returns that have been opened but not processed. The goal is that by year-end, the paper returns will be processed. However, there are an additional 4 million returns anticipated by mid-October,” he said...

    And it’s more than just having the money to hire additional personnel, he suggested: “Even if they had the money and had the people willing to work, they couldn’t just snap their fingers and put 50, 100 or 500 people to work manning the phone lines. It takes at least 12 to 18 weeks to train someone to answer and assist callers. They have to understand the systems, and be able to understand and interpret what’s going on.

    In some cases they need to have people with better knowledge or information to help on practitioner lines, [tax chair of CPA Practitioners Stephen] Mankowski observed. “But in a lot of cases, it’s easier to explain the issues to a practitioner than it is to taxpayers,” he said. “There’s a lot of training that is necessary to have someone able to assist all levels of taxpayers."
    The IRS cannot perform its basic functions correctly, yet every year Congress keeps loading new laws and new requirements on the beleagured Service. It makes one wonder if those who advocate that government provide more goods and services have actually managed any organizations--public or private--that do so.

    Friday, October 08, 2021

    Tesla Departs

    The exodus of talented people and first-class companies from California continues.

    Headline: Tesla to Move Headquarters From California to Texas, Elon Musk Says
    Tesla is following in the footsteps of companies including Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. —a descendant of what Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard started in a Palo Alto, Calif., garage—and Oracle Corp. , which moved their corporate headquarters to Texas earlier in the Covid-19 pandemic.

    Tech companies were among the earliest to send employees home at the start of the pandemic, and a number of prominent players in the industry have allowed their employees to work remotely on a permanent basis. That shift has prompted many Silicon Valley employees and startup CEOs to relocate to other parts of the country for cheaper housing, less traffic and a better quality of living.

    Mr. Musk nodded to some of those challenges, saying of the Bay Area, “It’s tough for people to afford houses, and a lot of people have to come in from far away.”

    1) Moving the corporate headquarters of a large public company is expensive because of the legal and financial complexity and goes beyond the obvious cost of relocating highly-paid staff and acquiring real estate. That Oracle, HP, and Tesla have chosen to bite the bullet, IMHO, says more about the undesirability of California than the appeal of Texas.

    2) Losing an innovative company is an especially severe blow, because its new ventures usually originate close to the headquarters and stay there during the startup phase. Furthermore, because of its roadblocks to business, California is very unlikely to be considered as a location for expansion.

    3) The future economic effects of losing a corporate headquarters are huge. Legal, accounting, banking, consulting, human resources, electronic data processing, and other services will all be purchased in Texas instead of California. Taxable "intangible" income (interest, dividends, royalties, licenses) attributable to the corporation will no longer be taxed by California.

    4) Silicon Valley may still be the place to start a business because of the cross-fertilization of tech and venture capital know-how, but the examples of Tesla, HP, and Oracle show that the business should move out of California as soon as practicable.

    5) Despite the devastation of its dining, travel, agriculture, retail and other high-touch industries, California has weathered the coronavirus' storm well, IMHO, because of the presence of high-market-cap companies in the Bay Area. The loss of Tesla alone is not fatal, but cracks have appeared in the foundation, I fear the collapse will be sudden, and I hope I'm wrong.

    Thursday, October 07, 2021

    Elitism in the Defense of the Giants is No Vice

    Grammar needs work--elitist, much? (pinterest image)
    We take a break from debt-ceiling histrionics--apparently there's an agreement to postpone the reckoning day for almost two months--to talk about news that's equally important--The Giants will meet the Dodgers in playoff baseball: [bold added]
    The Dodgers beat the Cardinals 3-1 on Wednesday night to earn the right to fly to San Francisco and face the winningest team in the majors. Game 1 of this rivalry revelry is Friday night, and history’s in the making at Oracle Park...

    It’ll be the first Giants-Dodgers postseason series since 1889 when the Giants played in New York and the Dodgers were in Brooklyn and known as the Bridegrooms, a best-of-11 series in which the Giants’ John Ward was that century’s Mr. October. You can look it up.

    Fast forward 132 years, and baseball’s two premier teams will meet in a best-of-five Division Series to determine bragging rights not only in 2021 but in the latest chapter of the game’s greatest rivalry, with apologies to Yankees-Red Sox.
    "Brooklyn Bridegrooms"--be careful, autofill assumes you're typing "Brooklyn Bridge"--is not the most ridiculous name that preceded the Dodgers monicker. In fact the entire history of the club's names, much like Elizabeth Taylor's, is a subject for hilarity.
    The Dodgers were originally founded in 1883 as the Brooklyn Atlantics, taking the name of a defunct team that had played in Brooklyn before them. The team joined the American Association in 1884 and won the AA championship in 1889 before joining the National League in 1890. They promptly won the NL Championship their first year in the League. The team was known alternatively as the Bridegrooms, Grooms, Superbas, Robins, and Trolley Dodgers before officially becoming the Dodgers in the 1930s.
    The New York Giants were first known as the Gothams, a centuries-old respectable name for the Big Apple, and unlike the Dodgers, had no past or trolleys to run away from. (People run towards San Francisco cable cars.)

    The Dodgers, with their huge Southern California fan base showering the team with riches, are loaded with All-Stars and future Hall-of-Famers, but we know where you came from, Grooms, Superbas, and Trolley Dodgers.

    Los Angeles is not in the same ballpark as San Francisco, and we're not just talking baseball.

    Wednesday, October 06, 2021

    The Ultimate Example

    I still believe that eventually President Biden, Speaker
    Pelosi, and Majority Leader Schumer will do the right thing.
    The Wall Street Journal opinion page sheds a little more light on the process of budget reconciliation . [bold added]
    The parliamentarian has already said that Democrats can use reconciliation to raise the debt limit, so why won’t they do it? As it happens, Mr. Biden gave that game away when he was asked Monday why Democrats aren’t using reconciliation.

    “There is a process” that “would require literally up to hundreds of votes,” Mr. Biden explained. “It’s unlimited number of votes having nothing directly to do with the debt limit; it could be everything from Ethiopia to anything else that has nothing to do with the debt limit. And it’s fraught with all kinds of potential danger for a miscalculation, and it would have to happen twice.”

    In other words, Mr. Biden admits that Democrats could raise the limit via reconciliation, but then they’d also have to take difficult votes on many issues on the Senate floor. Some of those votes might be unpopular. Mr. Biden is admitting that the reason is political—that Democrats want Republicans to spare them from having to take those tough votes.
    Republicans have been hinting (actually some have been shouting) that President Biden is out-of-touch and even senile. From the above quote he doesn't sound senile to me. His handlers should let him speak more--I like this truthful Joe.

    But back to the issue at hand: the editorial does communicate more information about Democrats and Republicans' respective motivations and the what of budget reconciliation ("difficult votes on many issues"). Just why these votes have to be taken through this still-mystifying procedure is not something that has been explained clearly to John or Jane Q. Public.

    It's often been lamented that nothing works in Washington, and if these inside-the-Beltway rules crash the U.S. dollar and the world's financial system, the American people will view this as the ultimate example of dysfunctional government.

    If you thought Donald Trump was bad, wait till you see what comes next.

    Tuesday, October 05, 2021

    Washington Works in Mysterious Ways

    I freely admit my bias against having more Federal spending increases and changes to the tax code:
    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.
    However, these preferences are nothing compared to the importance of not defaulting on national debt payments.

    (From Peter G Peterson Fdn)
    If Republican votes are necessary to raise the debt ceiling, they should vote to do it, then get on with the usual politics over taxes and spending.

    But Republican votes are unnecessary: according to a procedure known as budget reconciliation, the Democrats by themselves can authorize an increase to the national debt.
    [Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.)] emphasized that Democrats could raise the debt ceiling on their own by reopening the reconciliation process, which would allow them to move a bill through the 50-50 Senate with just a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes required of most legislation. “This is the path they will need to take,” Mr. McConnell said.

    Mr. Biden, in remarks at the White House, said the U.S. “is a nation that pays its bills and always has.” He called on Republicans to “get out of the way” and let Democrats quickly raise the debt limit. Asked whether he could guarantee that the U.S. would be able to raise the debt ceiling before the deadline, he put the onus on Republicans: “No, I can’t. That’s up to Mitch McConnell.”

    Democratic leaders have said trying to address the debt limit through a process tied to the budget known as reconciliation would be risky and time-consuming.
    This is why politics is so mystifying to us plebeians. The House webpage states that reconciliation is "a fast-track process" that requires a simple majority in the Senate and does not allow Senators to filibuster. That sounds much less risky and time-consuming.

    It's also hard to see why the President called on Republicans to "get out of the way" when Democrats can push them aside with impunity in budget reconciliation.

    Raising the debt ceiling is the right thing to do, the vast majority of Americans including most Republicans, would agree. Just do it, Democrats, quit wasting time over a non-issue. Your supporters in the media will see that you get the credit, and the public will follow along.

    Monday, October 04, 2021

    A Win, A Loss, and A Controversy Ended

    Yesterday the San Francisco professional sports teams dominated the local headlines with a win, a loss, and a controversy ended.

    Giant architects: President of Baseball Operations
    Farhan Zaidi and Manager Gabe Kapler (Chron photo)
    The Win: Giants outlast Dodgers in historic NL West race, fitting finish to stunning season
    The Giants got their franchise-record 107th win and wildly celebrated the clinching of their first division title in nine years, and the Dodgers — the defending World Series champs and winners of a mere 106 games — got nothing but a participation trophy as the team with the most wins ever not to finish in first place.
    The Giants were expected to finish third in the division, perhaps a "tad" above .500 (an 81-81 record). Instead, they posted the best record in the history of the New York/San Francisco Giants franchise, and the fourth-most wins in the post-War era, behind the 2001 Mariners (116), the 1998 Yankees (114), and the 1954 Indians (111).

    Trey Lance (SJ Mercury photo)
    The Loss: 49ers' Lance shaky in relief after Garoppolo injured in loss to Seahawks
    this was the most pressing question after the 49ers’ 28-21 loss to the Seahawks on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium: When can Jimmy Garoppolo get back on the field?

    Garoppolo was sidelined for the second half with a calf injury he sustained early in the first quarter and [Trey] Lance’s work off the bench didn’t suggest he’d steal the starting job while Garoppolo rehabs.
    Injuries to running backs and key defensive players had already eroded expectations for the Niners as a Super Bowl contender. The injury to starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo made fans even gloomier.

    The excitement over #3 draft pick Trey Lance had been over his raw talent and long-term future, not about his ability to be a starter in the NFL today. With a 2-2 record and rookie Lance at the helm, the 49ers outlook isn't pretty, but there's still a chance for a miracle; look at the Giants.

    Andrew Wiggins (USA Today phoo)
    Controversy Ended: Warriors' Andrew Wiggins reverses course, gets vaccinated to play home games
    In an unexpected reversal, Warriors starting small forward Andrew Wiggins got vaccinated against the coronavirus and will be allowed to play home games at Chase Center...

    Under San Francisco’s indoor vaccination policy, which goes into effect Oct. 13, Wiggins could not play home games if he remained unvaccinated. The Warriors’ home opener is Oct. 21 against the Clippers, and Golden State plays nine of its first 12 games at Chase Center.

    Wiggins would have forfeited more than $350,000 per game he missed.
    Compelling individuals to be jabbed is an issue far beyond basketball, but the celebrity status of NBA unvaccinated players made the topic highly visible. It came to a head over the weekend when Warriors (vaccinated) teammate Draymond Green stood up for Wiggins' right to make his own vaccination decision. None of the societal issues has gone away because of Andrew Wiggins' change of heart, but for the Warriors at least, it's one less worry.