Thursday, March 31, 2022

Taxes: Old Fashioned is the Way to Go

Despite trying to go paperless, the IRS is
buried in paperwork. (WSJ image)
More than ever, I'm glad I've retired from the tax-return business. I help a few friends and relatives, but that's it. To render proper service to a paying client I would have to spend many hours on the phone with the overwhelmed IRS trying to ascertain the status of returns filed a year ago or longer. [bold added]
Tax Day 2022 is nearly here. But just when many Americans most need answers, communicating with the Internal Revenue Service can be harder than ever.

Need to send the IRS a letter? The extra workload from the pandemic has left the agency with a paper backlog of more than 20 million tax returns, amended returns and correspondence. On March 17, Commissioner Chuck Rettig told members of Congress that even though the IRS is using extraordinary measures, the backlog won’t be cleared before year-end. The agency, he said, is tackling the pileup on a first-in, first-out basis.

Calling the IRS is nearly impossible as well, unless you have a specific number for an audit or notice. For the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2021, only about one in 10 calls to the agency’s customer-service line reached a representative after call volume nearly tripled during the year, according to National Taxpayer Advocate Erin Collins. The lines are still clogged.

A third barrier to communication involves taxpayers’ access to key records. The IRS’s legacy system for retrieving such information had such rigorous sign-up requirements to prevent fraud that it rejected more than half of applicants.
No tracking for returns filed with States,
who are much more reliable than the IRS.
Mom signed her paper tax returns two weeks ago, and I mailed them at the post office last Saturday, with tracking and return receipt added. No Luddite I, but there's zero trust in the IRS to process the return timely and accurately. Moreover,if there's money owed, I pay with a check in order to have evidence of the remittance.

Filing our own 2020 return through the U.S. mail was the right move, because, as noted in January, the post office tracker proved that the return was delivered by April 15, 2021, while the IRS claimed it hadn't received it as of January, 2022.

Electronic payments and electronic filings are near instantaneous, but when it comes to proving that one fulfilled one's responsibilities, old fashioned paper is the way to go.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Smoke for the Goose

Chris bongs, Iris breathes it in (Chron photo)
Not unexpectedly, a study has shown that marijuana bong smoke is dangerous. The revelation is that bong hits are much more harmful than tobacco smoke.
The results showed that cannabis smoke from the bong produced four times the particulate matter as the smoke produced by tobacco.
From the history of laws against tobacco, we should immediately expect California to enact legislation to protect its residents against bonging: [bold added]
California and its cities and counties have led the way in protecting residents and visitors from these harms through an array of smoking bans that include cigarettes, little cigars (or cigarillos), e-cigarettes, marijuana and hookah. The vast majority of California’s indoor spaces are protected from secondhand smoke, ensuring people breathe clean air while they are at work, school or play. Smoking is prohibited in most indoor places including public and private office buildings, public and private schools and universities, factories, warehouses, restaurants, bars, pool halls, movie theaters, hotel and motel lobbies and meeting rooms and even covered parking lots, among many, many other spaces. There are only a small number of exceptions to these state laws. Because American Indian tribes are sovereign entitities, their lands are not covered by state laws that prohibit smoking in indoor spaces. Many tribal casinos have adopted some policies restricting smoking in tribal gaming casinos and a few have adopted 100% smokefree policies.

Many of California’s outdoor spaces are also protected through local laws as well. To start, many of our parks and beaches have banned smoking to make visiting them more enjoyable to everyone. More than 100 cities and counties have passed comprehensive outdoor secondhand smoke ordinances that prohibit smoking in outdoor dining areas, public events, such as concerts and fairs, recreation areas, worksites and sidewalks. Hundreds more cities and counties have restricted smoking in the entryways of buildings, as well as service areas, which include places such as ATM lines, public transit stops, taxi stands and ticket lines.
Your humble blogger tried smoking cigarettes 50 years ago, didn't like it, and has never smoked since. As one whose allergies are triggered by tobacco smoke, I appreciate the widespread bans, but I think prohibiting smoke outdoors is going too far. I suspect that some of the animus is directed against people who smoke as well as the act itself.

The crowd who uses marijuana is not the same as the one that uses tobacco. If laws to protect bystanders against marijuana smoking are passed quickly, I will be wrong that there are elements of get-the-other-tribe in anti-tobacco ordinances.

But I'm not holding my breath.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Cutting the Fat

At $3.99 / lb. it called to me.
Before the pandemic beef brisket cost $2.49 per pound at Costco. A few months ago the price hit $5.49(!). A large percentage of brisket is fat; steak at $12 a pound is a better value.

Last week brisket had dropped to $3.99 per pound, so I seized the opportunity to buy a nine-pound slab.

This morning was spent slicing and dicing. After cutting away swaths of fat, I coated the beef in flour and browned the pieces.

Into the pressure cooker went carrots, onions, and potatoes, as well as spices, broth, tomato paste, and red wine.

Almost as good as dining out, and a lot cheaper.
Et voilĂ ! Dinner for the next three days.

Like many Americans, we're adjusting our spending habits to cope with widespread inflation.
Many people say the escalations are just now hitting home in their everyday lives. For some, it’s sticker shock while filling up at the pump. For others, it’s the higher price of their morning joe at Starbucks, or the cost of strawberries at the local grocery store...

Plenty are having that experience while filling their gas tanks, opening a utility bill or looking for a place to live. The national average price for gasoline recently climbed above $4, hitting its highest point since July 2008. Electricity bills climbed more than 4% in 2021 and are up again this year, sparking complaints on social networks such as Nextdoor. The average cost of a one-bedroom apartment is up nearly 25% year over year, according to Rent.com’s latest report. Home-lending costs are also rising; the average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage topped 4% for the first time since May 2019, Freddie Mac said Thursday.
Nearly a year ago your humble blogger feared the return of '70's-style inflation. It's not that bad yet, and our leadership doesn't seem worried. That's what worries me.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Well, That Was a Letdown

Not the deluge we needed.
Saturday's hope for a storm melted away like this year's snowpack. The dryness will resume.
The system that brought heavy widespread rain across the Bay Area Sunday night was moving south, where it was expected to bring scattered showers and isolated thunderstorms south of San Jose in Monterey and San Luis Obispo County counties Monday evening, weather officials said...In the Bay Area, temperatures will start to warm up Tuesday into the week, with highs ranging in the 60s for most areas.
The drought will be added incentive to get out of town, thereby reducing household water usage, and to turn down the sprinklers so that the plants (barely) stay alive.

By the way, why is it that California has dry winters with Democrats as President and wet winters with Republicans? Just trying to figure out the science...

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Prodigal Wisdom

The Return of the Prodigal Son, Rembrandt
c. 1661, Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia
The parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32, see below the jump break) is a favorite in Sunday School. The younger of two sons demands his inheritance, "squanders his wealth in wild living," endures hard times, then sorrowfully returns to his father and asks to work as a hired hand. ("I am no longer worthy to be called your son.")

The father rejoices and throws a party. The lesson for kids of all ages is that no matter how much we mess up, God will forgive us and welcome us back.

Sermons for grownup listeners focus on the elder son. He was obedient to his father all his life and resented the attention paid to the wastrel brother upon the latter's return.
"I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends."
The older brother must put aside pride, envy, and anger. Compared to the saving of his younger brother, on a cosmic scale his feelings are unimportant. The Prodigal Son can be a lesson for Christians who identify with the "good" son.

The above are the normal interpretations of the Parable, ones that I have listened to for decades.

In a novel suggestion the priest asked the congregation not to look at the parable from the point of view of either brother but from God's.

God does not act as we would act; God rewards each son despite one being far better behaved than the other. Earlier in Luke 15 a shepherd leaves his 99 sheep to retrieve one lost sheep, and a woman celebrates the finding of a silver coin when she has nine others. In his sermon the priest speculated that the woman may even have thrown a party that cost at least as much as the coin that was found.

Though we think we know God's thinking in many cases we do not.

The more we know, the more we realize we don't know.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Praying for Rain

We had been resigned to another dry summer, so dry that water cutbacks could be imposed and we'd have to let our lawn die again. Until... Here's hoping that March goes out like a lion.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Buying a Used Car: the Joy Was Absent

At 9,000 miles the 2019 model still looks like this.
Yesterday I went to the dealer to buy the 2019 SUV at the end of its three-year lease.

In 2015 we had switched from the buy-and-hold-till-the-wheels-come-off strategy to one of leasing a new car every three years: 1) technology was changing rapidly; 2) we could afford the monthly hit; 3) slowing reflexes and poor vision argued against purchasing a long-term asset.

6½ years into the plan circumstances changed. Runaway inflation in both new and used cars, plus the ultra-low mileage during the lockdown, made the case for buying the leased car overwhelming.

And so we did, though writing a check put a dent into the cash cushion we had built up in retirement.

Not having to make a car payment going forward should have made me happy, like the last house payment in 2016, but the feeling was different. The joy was absent.

On the way out, I saw our same model, one year older and looking like it had been driven a lot more, going for $12,000 above our price. OK, I feel better now.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Crowing Over a Victory

A problem that bothered some people in San Francisco was solved permanently and didn't cost any money.

"King Henry IV" has lost his Tenderloin perch. (Chron)
The rooster disturbing the Tenderloin has been surrendered to the city [bold added]
The Tenderloin rooster, who had been waking up residents for months with his early morning crowing, no longer lives in the neighborhood after its owner surrendered him Tuesday to Animal Care and Control...

The rooster first started crowing in January, frustrating those living in the nearby apartment buildings. Often times, the crowing was followed by shouts and death threats directed at the rooster. Many cities, like Oakland, have no-rooster rules, but that is not the case in San Francisco.
Put aside San Francisco's homelessness, crime wave, prosecutor recall, school-board controversy, high taxes, labyrinthine regulations, and out-migration.

Take a moment to celebrate a small victory. There, don't you feel better?

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Catching Up With Kerouac

Despite my ambition of only a year ago, Jack Kerouac's compact prose wasn't enough of a motivator to make it over the finish line; I'm only halfway done with the relatively short 305-page Penguin paperback of his most famous work, On the Road (1957).

In my defense there's no burning mystery to be solved, and little desire to see how the main characters turn out. I do enjoy the colorful, free-flowing prose as the first person narrator, Sal Paradise, parties with his friend Dean Moriarty through the towns of postwar America.

However, I've come across a new reason to finish the book. I want to read his next novel, The Dharma Bums, that arguably has more relevance to the world of today.
But when “On the Road” was published in 1957, the road trips it chronicled were already 10 years in the past. By then Kerouac had already emerged as a different kind of writer, one who found rapture off the road, prowling in thick forests “to hear the voice crying in the wilderness, to find the ecstasy of the stars.” As we celebrate his centenary on March 12, it’s Kerouac the nature writer who glows most brightly...

Gary Snyder (1930- ) in 1975
(Frank Beacham's Journal)
Kerouac’s feeling for nature took a religious turn after he met the poet Gary Snyder in 1955. A first-rate mountaineer, Snyder was a practicing Buddhist who wrote haiku-inspired verse about the Pacific Northwest’s flora and fauna. Influenced by Native American cultures, Snyder envisioned preserving the entire Pacific Coast as a zone where people could live in harmony with nature. As “Japhy Ryder,” he became a main character in Kerouac’s ecstatic 1958 novel “The Dharma Bums,” whose early pages detail their meeting in San Francisco...

The novel helped launch the “rucksack revolution” predicted in its pages, inspiring legions of young Americans to abandon materialism and seek revelation in nature...These day hikers dressed in North Face and Patagonia gear climb Desolation Peak to stand where Kerouac once dreamed of satori while scoping for wildfires.
The latter sentence refers to Jack Kerouac's experience in the mountains of Washington state. [bold added]
The next summer, he headed to Washington’s ethereal North Cascades to begin a two-month stint as a U.S. Forest Service firewatcher, a job that Snyder had once held. At Marblemount on the fast-flowing Skagit River he received a week of fire training before beginning the three-day trek to his station atop 6,102-foot Desolation Peak. While Kerouac’s job was to scan the horizon for wildfires, his goal was to write and meditate, take botanical hikes, gaze at the Northern Lights and cleanse himself of anxiety and alcohol.
"the twin-peaked Hozomeen was his mystical muse," and the result was The Dharma Bums.

Note: firewatching is a lonely job, but its enforced isolation is a boon to writers and other introspectives.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

A Fundamental Principle of Their Own Profession

Starting to get holes, literally and figuratively.
Two years ago the college bookstore sent me the wrong T-shirt, but I decided not to return it. For $20 I got a comfortable cotton shirt, plus people might think I went to a prestigious law school as long as no one asked me any questions about the law.

The institution's star has fallen, so I'm not going to wear the shirt any more.

Progressivism and woke-ism have made inroads ("taken over" would be too strong) into Yale Law School.

David Lat (YLS '99) writes:
in an academic community based on free expression, there are limits to how much [Progressives] can act on the view that their opponents are Bad People. Progressives can’t shut down duly organized events because they disagree with the speakers. They can’t weaponize anti-discrimination policies to punish the protected speech of their opponents. They can’t make up and spread lies about professors with unpopular views (or the students who dare to associate with those professors).
Freedom of speech is not only a bedrock right embedded in the Constitution, it's fundamental to the operation of the legal system. The arguments for opposing sides are accorded a respectful hearing despite the raging emotions that may surround an issue, and one's notion of justice doesn't prevail because of feelings. It's very disappointing that elite law students don't understand a fundamental principle of their own profession.

And I didn't have to go to law school to figure that out.

Monday, March 21, 2022

There's Always a Dark Side

Get to the iPhone Control Center by
swiping down from top right corner,
then tap the QR Code scan button.
Late to the party, I discovered the iPhone's Quick-Response (QR) Code scanner (image right) a few months ago. I scanned codes indiscriminately from menus, TV programs, magazines, and websites.

But wasting time is far from the worst thing that can happen.

Beware of QR Code Scams
in December, a much darker scenario involving QR codes unfolded when malicious actors placed QR-code stickers on parking meters in major Texas cities, directing drivers to a fraudulent website where they supposedly could pay for parking.

“People were tricked into putting in their credit-card information,” says Eric Chien, security threat researcher at Symantec...

The best way to thwart would-be scams is to manually input the desired website when a QR code seems fishy or untrustworthy....

Baiting-the-hook graphic by WSJ
Use a password manager, which won’t autofill your credentials on a suspicious site; make sure your credit cards have functions to protect against theft and fraud; don’t input personally identifiable information on an unknown website.
New, exciting tech breaches our cautious nature.

In the Brave New World we can never let down our guard.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Visitation

One of the principal responsibilities of priests in all Christian denominations is the visitation of the sick. In the Episcopal Church
It may include one or more of the following: ministry of the word, laying on of hands and anointing, and Holy Communion. These parts are used in the order indicated if two or more are used together. The Lord's Prayer is always included.
When she visited Mom at the assisted living facility, the lady minister asked if I wanted to join the Communion service. Sure. During the service the People have formal responses, and Mom needed a backup voice. More importantly we would receive wine, which had been absent from Holy Communion for two years because of COVID protocols. It still is omitted from church services, by the way.

Communion took only twenty minutes, but the lady minister spent two hours chatting with Mom about goings-on in the church and the extended-family members who attend. My maternal grandparents each had over ten siblings, some of whom were church members. There are numerous second cousins whose branch of the family tree is often unclear to me, but Mom loves talking about them, and the minister kept up. When she left, Mom was tired and happy.

Much of the work that priests do is out of the sight of the congregation at large. And it is undoubtedly true that some priests take advantage of the fact that no person is watching when they are out of the office 3-4 days a week. Nevertheless they are accountable to a strict taskmaster.
That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.----Matthew 6:4

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Still Got It

Processing 2019 was important not only for
the refund but for the carryovers to 2020.
The Hawaii trip began with a pleasant surprise: Mom's 2019 Federal tax refund was waiting in the mailbox, after a delay of almost two years.

The last contact with the Internal Revenue Service had been in September, when the Service wrote that the refund should be received sometime in November, 2021.

The subsequent four-month delay was disappointing but not unexpected given the agency's ongoing troubles. Well, at least the IRS paid Mom 3% interest--taxable in 2022, of course--which is much higher than the interest paid on her bank account. The receipt of the refund holds out hope that the IRS will get around to processing her 2020 return soon, just in time to accept her 2021 return which I will file in the coming week.

The eight-day trip had two main objectives: 1) visit Mom, 92, every day in her assisted-living facility; 2) complete her 2021 income tax returns and have her sign them. (The returns are not that easy because she has a business that my brothers run for her, and the records have multiple sources.)

To everyone's surprise, including mine, I accomplished both objectives. Hah! Still got it.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Tend to the Bush

2014- Covering the House
2015- After Trimming


2017- Coming Back
2022: Watch out for the "little" bush




















It had been a while since we'd checked out the status of the neighbor's monkey pod tree.

In 2014 it had covered his house.

In 2015 a drastic pruning let the sunshine in.

In 2017, only two years later, it was coming back.

Five years later it had grown more, but it was clear that he had engaged trimming services to keep it under control.

But his next door neighbor better tend to the little bush out front that is not so little any more.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Looking But Not Buying

The toniest part of Kalakaua Avenue is a place to look and touch, but rarely to buy. The main boulevard of Waikiki is rife with upscale stores, and none are ritzier than those in the International Market Place.

The location used to be an open-air bazaar (photo on right), filled with merchants hawking wares of questionable origins. Haggling was permitted, and cash was highly preferred as the medium of exchange.

At the new International Market Place haggling is gauche, and one needs a wheelbarrow to haul around the cash necessary to make some purchases.

For prudent's sake I brought only two credit cards. Maturity is not giving in to temptation, and wisdom is removing its opportunities.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Often Wrong, Never in Doubt

Speaking of sandy beaches [yesterday's post below], scientists say an unexpected consequence of climate change has been the widening of California beaches along the Central Coast: [bold added]
One expanse of sandy shore pushed out 140 feet over the past few years, according to research published Wednesday by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The beach widening is the result of back-to-back punches of extreme wildfire and rain, the study suggests, which caused hillsides to slip and sediment to carry to the coast.

After the 2016 Soberanes Fire and the wet winter that followed, 60,000 dump trucks worth of sand poured out of the mouth of the Big Sur River and collected on the shore, the paper reports...

The growth of the beaches runs counter to the typical climate narrative of shorelines being submerged with water from rising seas. The contrasting phenomenon complicates the task of knowing what the future holds with climate change but understanding it is necessary to seeing the full picture.
Kudos to the USGS for reporting that runs counter to the dominant narrative.

If you are going to claim that global warming results in drought which leads to wildfires, then perhaps you should have foreseen the beach-expanding effect of floods that, like snow, have not totally disappeared. These are not unknown phenomena.

What is annoying is the absolute certainty that warmists place in the output of their imperfect models, and the imperiousness with which they order a remaking of society based on these models' results.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Plenty of Room

Source: State of Hawaii visitor statistics
On a warm Saturday afternoon at Ala Moana there's plenty of room on the beach.

No one's wearing a mask. On the beach, where there's natural Vitamin D that's being generated, the coronavirus seems a distant worry.

Tourism has rebounded, higher than 2020 and 2021, but still not to 2019 levels. The nighttime streets of Waikiki are less crowded, and it's more of a pleasure to stroll around.

I bought my ticket before the recent surge in fuel costs. Timing is everything.

Monday, March 14, 2022

A Foreseeable Mess

Eighteen (18) months ago your humble blogger, viewing how the eviction moratorium was playing out, predicted:
Whether by means of Federal law, State law, or executive order, long-term eviction moratoriums will have far-reaching consequences on housing markets.

Some landlords will lose their properties, many rent liabilities will be too large for small claims court, more tenants will declare bankruptcy, housing supply will be withdrawn because of higher owner risk, tenant credit requirements will rise, and there will definitely be more paperwork.
The last of the extensions will supposedly expire this month. The Chronicle profiled both tenants and small landlords who have been affected by the moratorium: [bold added]
Now, as landlord and tenant groups battle over the future of renter protections, both sides warn that housing could get harder to find as property owners — fed up with California’s piecemeal approach to rent relief and evictions — take rentals off the market or raise income requirements in a bid to insulate themselves from future tenant disputes.
Susan Marchionna: with no job, a non-paying tenant, and
a mortgage to pay, selling is her only option (Chron photo)
All this was easily foreseeable as the government made landlords bear the burden of COVID relief, instead of disbursing funds to tenants and anyone else whom the government wanted to help.

One final twist of the knife to landlords who want to get out of the business:
Real estate listing sites estimate that [Berkeley single-rental Susan] Marchionna’s home could be worth some $1.3 million.

She said agents have advised that the sale price could be significantly reduced if a tenant is still living in the home. It’s a stalemate that has left her regretting ever getting into the rental business, and especially trying to be flexible with would-be tenants.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Vivid Memories

The congregationl held onto the wafers and consumed them when
the minister said, "The Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven"
As I did in November and June, I visited my home parish. It was the only Sunday that I would be in Honolulu.

The lady minister said that masking will be voluntary by month's end, but I suspect that many who are in the vulnerable over-65 cohort will continue to cover up.

I greeted the senior warden and her older sister. We talked about Mom, how long I was going to stay, how her tax returns were coming along....the usual pleasantries.

The newsletter said that Chucky had joined the church. I hadn't seen him for 60 years, when I transferred out of his grade school. Chucky, the senior warden, and I all graduated from different high schools in the same year.

It's often remarked because it's true: the memories from our first ten years are more vivid than the most recent 10 or 20 or 50.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Back to Bareface

For the caffeine fix this morning I walked to the Honolulu Coffee Co a quarter mile away. Every table was taken, but not every seat; the facility was at about one-third of its 187-person capacity.

No one followed the protocol of raising one's mask "between sips" though the Hawaii indoor mask mandate won't be lifted until March 26th. I have a couple of co-morbidities--late onset asthma and diabetes--plus I'm over 65 (is old age a co-morbidity?), so I complied with the current rules though no one else was doing so.

Lessons we've learned from the past two years: 1) hypochondriacs sometimes have a point; 2) hypochondriacs shouldn't be in charge of anything that lets them tell people what to do.

After consuming a cuppa joe (black), I walked home, feeling the glucose being reduced with every step.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Making Time

There were more joggers, bicyclists, dog walkers, and pedestrians of all shapes and sizes walking around the Ala Wai Canal.

The temperature was in the high 70's; that's cool for Honolulu and conducive to exercising with none of the sweaty stickiness of the mid-summer.

The to-do list for the coming week has ballooned to a dozen items involving visits to Mom(s), food, income taxes, iPhones and iPads, and organizing a year's worth of paperwork.

But I'm still making time to walking around the Ala Wai.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Landing Ritual

My brother and I resumed our habit of stopping at the Mini Garden restaurant on the way home from the Honolulu airport. Except for the masked waitress, there were no signs of the reason that we had not been able to visit for nearly three years.

My brother usually orders a tendon dish
The three other parties--one a table of ten--all were engaged in animated conversations with nary a face covering in sight.

The menu prices were significantly higher; it cost $41 for two lunches plus one take-out to bring to Mom later.

I gave the waitress $50, and she asked if I wanted change. I had been thinking about leaving her all of it, but that presumptuous question quelled my generosity. Two dollars were removed from the nine on general principle.

The ingredients were fresh, the food was hot, and the ambience was good. Mini Garden after the airport is one ritual we'll keep intact.

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

A Pleasant, Normal Evening

It's hard to see the live action from on high, but
the gigantic screen keeps everyone informed.
I had never been to the Chase Center, but when the alumni group bought a block of seats for Tuesday's Warriors game and threw in a commemorative T-shirt, it would have required an iron will to pass up the opportunity. (I don't have an iron will.)

Before the start of the game we saw a pale-skinned guy in shorts--clearly not a professional basketball player--running around the floor with the Warriors during their warm-up.

From the nosebleed seats I couldn't tell what was going on, but my seatmate immediately advised that it was Will Ferrell acting the part of Jackie Moon in his 2008 movie, Semi-Pro.

After the Warriors defeated the Clippers, players and coaches credited the actor-comedian for the victory.
"Jackie" and Steph (Chron photo)
When Warriors head coach Steve Kerr received an email from someone claiming to be Will Ferrell, he assumed it was a prank.

But no, the emailer assured, he was the real Will Ferrell. And after hearing that his 2008 movie, “Semi-Pro,” had helped guard Klay Thompson weather a 2½-year hiatus from games, Ferrell wanted to do something special for one of his most famous fans.

So there was Ferrell on Tuesday night at Chase Center, fist-bumping Thompson during warmups in the costume his character, Jackie Moon, wore in “Semi-Pro.” Hours later, Thompson would call Ferrell’s cameo “a huge catalyst” in the Warriors’ 112-97 win over the Clippers.
All in all it was a satisfying evening: the Warriors broke their five-game losing streak, I saw Klay and Steph do their thing, and I explored the $1.4 billion arena. I also ate a lobster roll and got a free T-shirt.

For the first time in two years it felt like things were normal, and normal can be pretty good.

Tuesday, March 08, 2022

An Obvious Chick Magnet

Hermès Birkin bag (WSJ photo)
Latest fashion trend: men are buying Hermès handbags that start at $10,000. [bold added]
Kanye West, Travis Scott and Marc Jacobs have also carted boxy Birkins (first introduced in 1984 and named for the French actress Jane Birkin) or its weightier brother, the Haut à Courroies, or HAC. Hermès does not publicize the price of its coveted handbags (and they are not specifically marketed along gender lines), but, according to collectors, Birkins start around $10,000, while the larger HAC can be even more expensive...

StockX, the online resale marketplace that says it has a majority male customer base, has an Hermès handbag section, where you can find a cherry red Birkin priced at $25,288 and a black version of its shoulder-strapped cousin, the Kelly, at $48,000. The bags are a small, but growing facet of StockX’s business. This year, searches for “Birkin” are up 50% on the site, which says it currently sees an even gender split among purchasers of items in its “handbag” section.

That may sum up a Birkin’s appeal generally, but why are men becoming more interested in them than they used to be? For one, some men have progressed past mocking man-bags and now consider them practical, if often extravagant, accessories...

The internet has also turned more men onto the idea that Birkins are worth coveting. On Instagram, you can find accounts like @MenInHermes and @BirkinMen that are filled with images of men posing with these boxy bags.

There is an “I have it and you don’t” appeal to Birkins that, among men, speaks the same, braggadocious language as buying limited NFTs or a pair of vintage Jordans—two markets that have, not coincidentally, also exploded recently. Men often view Birkins as an investment and Hermès bags in good condition do retain their value on the resale market.
Floyd Mayweather with a Diamond Birkin
Why dance around the obvious? Wealth always attracts a lot of women (not all women, to be sure, such as those enlightened enough to read this humble journal). Yet, many traditional ostentatious displays of wealth carry negative, er, baggage: a very expensive car can mean that the driver is compensating for something, and flashy jewelry and designer clothes are still not appropriate in many business settings.

A Hermès announces that the bearer is both a man of means and comfortable with his own sexuality.

And $10,000 is a stiff barrier to keep out the hoi polloi.

I would never buy one in real life, but my metaverse self will buy one and see what happens.

Monday, March 07, 2022

Different, and Not in a Good Way

2020: Acer Chromebook
Two years ago we bought an Acer Chromebook 14 to web-surf and email in public places. For $175 it appeared to be a good deal.

I didn't know that it had less than a 3-year effective life span. Chromebook software expires:
Once a Chrome OS device expires, the device might continue to function as expected, a Google spokesman said, but over time “there could be incompatibilities with some websites, applications or management policies with no ability to fix them.”

Earlier devices receive updates from Google for five years. Devices released in 2020 and later will be supported for up to 8½ years, depending on the model.
Why did I get only 2½ years of software updates? Because when I bought it from Amazon in 2020 it had been sitting in inventory since 2018, according to the sticker on the back.
The problem is that many Chromebooks stay on the market for years, so the lifespan can be much shorter when the buyer takes off the plastic wrap.
Rueful comments: 1) there was a reason the Chromebook was cheap; 2) having gotten used to Apple's free updates for the 8-year-old MacBook Air, and Microsoft's support of Windows XP for 12 years, I thought long-term support for tech products was a given.

This is another example of how Google is different, and not in a good way.

Sunday, March 06, 2022

A Strong Religious Element to the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

Vladimir Putin is a practicing Russian Orthodox Christian
The conventional wisdom is that religious wars between Christians are ancient history. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is not a religious war, but there is a strong religious element to Vladimir Putin's attempt to absorb Ukraine into Russia.

Frederick Kagan, former professor of military history at West Point, delves into this motivation when interviewed by Jordan Peterson on February 27, 2022: [bold added]
Putin has carried on the tradition of the czars of subordinating the Moscow patriarchate to himself. The Moscow patriarchate is fundamentally an arm of the Russian government, and so he controls it de facto.

It [the Russian Orthodox Church] is not an independent religious authority in reality, even though it is ostensibly. Its relations with the Vatican are whatever Putin decides he's willing to have them be at any given moment. I don't understand there to be a particularly contentious relationship [with the Vatican].

If you want to get really nerdly on this, there was a big fight a couple of years ago because the Ukrainian Orthodox Church had been a component, or subordinated to, the Moscow patriarchate. The formal leader of all of the Orthodox communities is in Istanbul. A few years ago, I forgot exactly when [note: January, 2019], the Ukrainian Orthodox Church petitioned the patriarch in Istanbul to grant it autocephaly, to make it independent of the Moscow patriarchate. And that was granted. And so the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has become an independent entity directly under the Istanbul patriarchate.

Putin bitterly resented that, hated it, attacked it. It is one of his grievances that that occurred.
The Eastern Orthodox Church is organized into 16 independent ("autocephalic") patriarchates, which now includes the three-year-old Orthodox Church of Ukraine. While each patriarchate is self-governing, Orthodox Christians can take communion in any other Orthodox church.

Note: Professor Kagan apparently misspoke when he said that Ukraine, which had been part of the Russian church, was now "under" Istanbul; Istanbul recognized Ukraine as independent from the Russian Orthodox Church, which is one of the 15 other hierarchies. Note also that the Istanbul bishop is not "the formal leader" but is first among equals; he has no formal authority over the other patriarchates.

Below is the YouTube recording of the interview. The excerpt above begins at 14:20.

Saturday, March 05, 2022

Makes Sense, But It's Not Enjoyable

Our 2019 Lexus has mainly sat in the garage.
In July we realized that, contrary to the original plan of turning the car back in, there was a distinct possibility that we would exercise the fixed-price purchase option to buy the car at the end of the three-year lease.
A quick check of prices shows that a used car of the same year and model is going for $7,000 more than our option price.

Mostly because of the pandemic, at 8,000 miles in 27 months we are also well under the expected mileage for the model.
Now it's March, when our lease expires.The Wall Street Journal says that the 2021 price of the average used SUV is $31,415, which is $6,124 higher than 2020.
Prices of used SUVs. "Then"=2020. "Now"=2021. 2022 is likely higher.


For the record our Purchase Option (before sales tax and processing expenses) is $33,719.46. Since it's right in the ballpark of the average SUV price, and we've only driven the car 9,000 miles in three years (normal wear and tear assumes 30,000 miles) we are proceeding with the purchase. A comparable new 2022 car, if we can find one, would cost at least $10,000 more than a new Lexus in 2019.

The heart wants to lease new, but the head says to buy used. Well, I've gotten this far following the head, but it's usually not enjoyable.

Friday, March 04, 2022

Inexplicable and Tragic

Stanford University is on everyone's top-10 list of colleges. It has an admit rate of 3.95% (2,190 out of 55,471), comparable to Harvard and Yale. Once a student has been accepted, it's not too difficult to get a Bachelor's credential---at least that's what Stanford degree holders have been telling me for 50 years. (Of course, if a student wants to go to graduate school, she has to keep up her grades.)

Katie Meyer captained the soccer
team to the national championship.
A Stanford degree opens a lot of doors, and the hardest part is getting admitted. There are no guarantees of career success, but there's no question that attending Stanford confers work and life advantages.

That's why it has been inexplicable, and tragic, that there have been a number of undergraduate suicides in the past year.
[Soccer captain Katie] Meyer was at least the fourth Stanford student to unexpectedly die in just over a year, and the third to die by suicide. As the Stanford community reeled, many called on university administrators to do more to change what’s been described as a toxic culture for mental health — one that encourages students to brush aside their personal dilemmas.

Rose Wong
Last February, Stanford said medical student Rose Wong was found dead by suicide in an on-campus residence. Six months later, engineering student Jacob Meisel was killed in Palo Alto after being struck by a train in what the Santa Clara County coroner ruled a suicide. This year, in late January, law student Dylan Simmons was found dead in an on-campus residence...

Just a month ago, university officials recognized a mental health crisis on campus, writing in an email to students and staff following “publicly visible medical emergency” that students “have shared feelings of high levels of stress and disconnect over the past few months.”
Jacob Meisel
The suicide of any young person is tragic. From experience we know that eventually the intense feelings about the worst losses and disappointments will diminish and there will be moments of joy again.

While their lives were not worthier than others on the scales of cosmic justice, Katie, Rose, and Jacob stood an excellent chance of leaving the world a better place and of finding eventual fulfillment, if they had chosen life, and we are all poorer for their decision.

Thursday, March 03, 2022

It Bloomed on Zoom

(WSJ Graphic)
To the surprise of many, working from home has revived the office romance: [bold added]
While you’ve been Zooming and Slacking, more colleagues than you might think have been coupling. A third of workers said they were, or have been, involved with a colleague when the Society for Human Resource Management conducted a survey in January—up from roughly a quarter in early 2020...

Office romance was on the wane when the pandemic struck, rendered obsolete by the popularity of digital matchmaking and cautionary tales from the #MeToo movement. Going remote would finish the job, we assumed.

Instead, two years of relative isolation, the very thing that could have ended dating among co-workers, appears to be reviving it.
The possibility of sexual harassment and the after-effects of a breakup seem less important in the age of COVID:
Many HR departments say relationships among colleagues aren’t top concerns at the moment, given worker safety issues and staffing shortages.

“Does it make the list of things that I’m worried about? No,” says Fran Katsoudas, who heads human resources at Cisco Systems Inc. , where she’s an executive vice president.
COVID-19 has shifted everyone's priorities.

Life goes faster than you used to think, and if you see someone--even on Zoom--who might be the right person, you'd better seize the moment.

Wednesday, March 02, 2022

A Resolve That No One Expected

Georgio Armani and co: you know it's serious because
none of the models are smiling (WSJ photo)
The war in Ukraine has resulted in a falling stock market, the skyrocketing price of oil, and fear of the big one: nuclear annihilation. But there is another catastrophe:

Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Casts a Pall on Milan Fashion Week:
The disconnect between fashion and the “real world,” always a heated topic, felt particularly extreme on Thursday, when the invasion escalated and brands including Prada staged their fashion shows to audiences of editors and celebrities...

In a tweet last week that was later deleted, the European Union’s high representative and vice president, Josep Borrell Fontelles, appeared to refer to the rich Russians such sanctions would hit. He wrote, “No more: Shopping in Milano Partying in Saint Tropez Diamonds in Antwerp.”

For an industry that is mightily bolstered by the support and investment of Russian money, any sanctions are consequential. (Italy sells about $1.34 billion of luxury goods to Russia each year.)
The Russian oligarchs could not have imagined that they'd be locked out of Milan, St. Tropez, and Antwerp.

Europe has shown a resolve that no one expected.

Tuesday, March 01, 2022

Where Are the Adults?

From "How did US markets fare during the Cuban Missile Crisis?"
Kennedy always made sure Khrushchev had a face-saving way out. “Every opportunity was to be given to the Russians to find a peaceful settlement which would not diminish their national security or be a public humiliation,” his brother Robert Kennedy wrote. “I am not going to push the Russians an inch beyond what is necessary,” the president said.
It doesn't require too much imagination to envision nuclear weapons going off when the Russian invasion stalls. Yes, defend Ukraine, but stop with the tweeting, taunting, and beating your chests, and offer the Russians a face-saving way out. Americans supposedly elected adults to run the government in 2020. Now act like adults.

Pancake Tuesday, 2022

Pancake Tuesday 2020: Millbrae Pancake House
Last year we skipped Fat Tuesday, aka Mardi Gras. Pancakes will be on the table tonight. The dinner will be subdued, a far cry from the revelry of years past.

Eating pancakes on the day before Lent is a tradition that goes back to the Middle Ages.
During Lent there are many foods that some Christians - historically and today - would not eat: foods such as meat and fish, fats, eggs, and milky foods.

So that no food was wasted, families would have a feast on the shriving Tuesday, and eat up all the foods that wouldn't last the forty days of Lent without going off.

The need to eat up the fats gave rise to the French name Mardi Gras ('fat Tuesday'). Pancakes became associated with Shrove Tuesday as they were a dish that could use up all the eggs, fats and milk in the house with just the addition of flour.
Get your free Parade COVID tests right here (WSJ)
The most famous celebration, New Orleans' Mardi Gras parade, will make a partial comeback this evening:
Signs this year point to a partial recovery, but not a return to pre-pandemic crowds and tourist spending. Hotel occupancy rates on the weekend days before March 1 are above 80% for the roughly 26,000 rooms in the city’s French Quarter and downtown, still below pre-pandemic levels, according to New Orleans & Company, the group representing the city’s tourist industry. The expected occupancy rate for Saturday was 80%, down from 90% in 2020. The occupancy rate for actual Mardi Gras is expected to be 66%, down from 82% in 2020, according to the group.
War, inflation, and COVID-19 have put a damper on the party.