Monday, October 31, 2022

Waiting for My Money

My investment in May.
For a company that ranks between #160 and #165 in market capitalization Twitter punches far above its weight. (How many investors are familiar with all of the following: American Electric Power, Amphenol, KLA, Synopsis, Edwards Life Sciences, and Sysco?)

Elon Musk completed his purchase of Twitter on Friday. His plans for the media platform are a mystery, and even his plans to make a plan (Elon Musk Is Forming Circle of Advisers as He Reimagines Twitter) capture headlines.

Today's value: better than most investments
that I've made this year.
Having last composed a tweet in 2021 and checking others' tweets once a week, I wouldn't shed a tear if Twitter disappeared. Nevertheless, I am interested to see if Elon Musk comes up with a new angle.

Meanwhile, I'm waiting for my money for the takeover and promise not to spend it all in one place.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Copacetic Sandwiches on Sunday

The final Sandwiches on Sunday for this year--other churches will handle November and December--was copacetic.

Costco had every item on the checklist, and the shopping cart was filled in one trip.

On Saturday five volunteers showed up early, and we were able to assemble 80 bag lunches, each containing two sandwiches, one apple, trailmix, and candy (it's Halloween tomorrow), in an hour.

Two refrigerators were able to store everything overnight.

Only one volunteer was needed to deliver the food and water to the community center in Redwood City.

It took half an hour to distribute all of it, allowing plenty of time to get home to watch the 49ers thump the Rams, 31-14. It was a beautiful day.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

This October Surprise Wasn't Planned But It Is Extremely Revealing

The Pelosis in 2019 (Chron photo)
When Nancy Pelosi's husband, Paul, was seriously injured by an assailant in their Pacific Heights home on Friday morning, the local news was all over the story. Nancy Pelosi's Democratic colleagues said unequivocally that the attack was politically motivated, brought on by the climate of violence fostered by Republicans.

According to the initial reports the attacker, David DePape, repeatedly shouted "Where's Nancy?" (she was in DC) and had posted QAnon conspiracy theories on a website. David DePape was arrested, and the news stories tried to make him fit the template of the Trumpist true believer who was triggered by hateful rhetoric. In case the viewers didn't make the connection the TV news ran footage of the January 6 riots.

Even then your humble blogger noticed that the facts didn't fit the usual narrative. A conservative extremist would likely have carried a gun (isn't that what MAGA Republicans do?) if he intended to harm Speaker Pelosi; instead he fractured Paul Pelosi's skull with a hammer? (Did DePape bring it with him or was it a weapon of opportunity?) And how could a guy like that get through security, which the extremely wealthy Pelosis must have had?

No, the wisest course was not to prejudge the actions of all the parties but to wait for more facts to come out. However, in the hothouse political and media atmosphere the weekend [correction: week] before Election Day there's a lot of prejudging going on, and not a lot of investigative work.

Cracks are already appearing in the dominant narrative.

Michael Shellenberger:
DePape lived with a notorious local nudist in a Berkeley home, complete with a Black Lives Matter sign in the window and an LGBT rainbow flag, emblazoned with a marijuana symbol, hanging from a tree. A closer look reveals the characteristics of a homeless encampment, or what Europeans call “an open drug scene.” In the driveway, there is a broken-down camper van. On the street is a yellow school bus, which neighbors said DePape occasionally stayed in. Both are filled with garbage typical of such structures in homeless encampments. People come and go from the house and the vehicles, neighbors say, in part to partake in the use of a potent psychedelic drug, ibogaine.

Neighbors described DePape as a homeless addict with politics that was, until recently, left-wing, but of secondary importance to his psychotic and paranoid behavior.

“What I know about the family is that they’re very radical activists,” said one of DePape’s neighbors, a woman who only gave her first name, Trish. “They seem very left. They are all about the Black Lives Matter movement. Gay pride. But they’re very detached from reality. They have called the cops on several of the neighbors, including us, claiming that we are plotting against them. It’s really weird to see that they are willing to be so aggressive toward somebody else who is also a lefty.”
The Santa Monica Observer (to be fair, the Chronicle says it's a rag that promulgates anti-LGBTQ conspiracy theory):
It's been a rumor for years in SF that Paul Pelosi is gay. David Depape is said to be a Castro Nudist. "The lunatic who allegedly assaulted Paul Pelosi is a Berkeley resident and a 'Former Castro Nudist Protester' and hemp 'jewelry maker' ...sounds totally MAGA Republican to me. 🤣🤣" this from Twitter.

Ok, so here's the theory, as related to me by a source: "Castro Nudists are a group of really radical gay male prostitutes that parade around naked with c--k rings. First of all, the Police did not come in response to an alarm. They come in response to a "wellness check". So someone called them to check on Pelosi."

"When he didn't answer the phone, the cops broke the sliding glass door to get in. Pelosi was struggling with the suspect, who was in his underwear.

Pelosi owned the hammer. Not Depape. Or, the male prostitute was doing something Pelosi didn't like."
I don't know what to believe, but this I can state with certainty: the relevant facts won't be revealed in the Chronicle or other mainstream media until after Election Day.

Meanwhile, lest we lose sight of what's important, let's pray for the health and well-being of Paul Pelosi and his family.

Friday, October 28, 2022

I-Bond Deadline

(Forbes image)
Not knowing whether I was going to invest in I-bonds, I nevertheless opened up a Treasury Direct account at the beginning of October. There were more steps to go through than when opening a normal bank account--for example, each user computer must be individually authorized--but otherwise there were no insuperable difficulties. Opening an account did not require an investment.

Last week I quit hesitating and ordered a $10,000 I-bond purchase. The Treasury debited the bank account on the next business day.

Many people are worse ditherers than I and tried to open Treasury Direct accounts and make the investment this week to beat the deadline, today, to capture the 9.62% rate.
a surge in demand for the inflation-adjusted bonds has overwhelmed the TreasuryDirect site and the Treasury Department said it cannot guarantee orders will be completed in time.

Many investors managed to beat the clock and the tech issues. As of 4 p.m. ET, nearly 69,000 accounts had been created and more than $710 million in I Bonds purchased on Friday alone, Treasury said. That brings this week’s I Bond sales to about $3.4 billion so far, Treasury said. Five thousand new accounts were created per hour Friday, Treasury said.
Procrastination is one of my life-long vices, but from sad experience I know better than to count on government systems to function under pressure. You must submit papers or electronic applications a few days before the deadline; you are asking for hours, if not days, of trouble if you don't.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Bay Area Employment: the Gathering Gloom

This guy lost billions but is happy today.
The national labor statistics are strong--the unemployment rate "fell to 3.5% in September" and initial jobless claims are a low 217,000--but in the Bay Area we're unsettled, and not just because of Tuesday's 5.1 earthquake in San Jose.

Two years ago the "real" economy--manufacturing, retail, energy--shrunk due to the pandemic. Now the dominant Silicon Valley tech sector, which prospered during work-from-home, has shown signs of weakness. Once-plentiful job postings are being pulled back, and the market for high-flying stocks that provide the Bay Area with much of its juice has cratered.

Recent news reports display the change in mood.

200 Oracle layoffs add to Bay Area’s job cuts

Biotech and tech job cuts widen in Bay Area as companies chop workers

Seagate to cut 3,000 jobs in restructuring as demand slows

There are 2.5 million jobs in the Bay Area, and the announcement of a few thousand layoffs is just anecdotal. Nevertheless, they add to the gloom.

I also look at the efforts to have companies focus on goals other than profits, market share, growth, and shareholder returns.

The explosion of companies adopting Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI) goals is a 21st century phenomenon. If they help get companies back on their feet, then they have merit. If ESG and DEI are distractions, they will find out to their detriment soon enough.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Makes Sense, Within Limits

In Foster City this intersection next to an
elementary school forbids right on red
at a specific time on weekdays.
At crowded intersections making a right turn on a red light is sometimes prohibited, but at least 50 cities have banned all right-turns-on-red within city limits. From the San Jose Mercury News:
Washington, D.C. just passed its Safer Streets Amendment Act, which will ban all right-hand turns on red by 2025. Part of the Vision Zero initiative, it was adopted by 50 other cities, including Austin, Texas, Lansing, Michigan, Philadelphia, Portland, Oregon, and Savannah, Georgia.

Has there been talk of this in the Bay Area?

A: Right turns are prohibited on red lights at several intersections in San Jose, usually to improve safety for bicyclists in locations where protected bike lanes lead to an intersection, or when poor visibility makes right turns unsafe.

San Jose data do not suggest right turns are a frequent cause of fatal or severe crashes. The top known cause of such tragedies is speeding, which caused 21% of severe crashes between 2017 and 2021. The next most frequent causes of severe injury crashes during this period were red-light running and unsafe turning movements, at 7% each.

...the city is also tightening right turns at many locations by using temporary or permanent “bulb outs” at corners. Bulb outs make drivers slow down when turning and give pedestrians increased visibility and shortened crossing distances.
I've seen drivers turn aggressively on red into oncoming traffic and even when there are pedestrians in the crosswalk, and these drivers should have the book thrown at them.

But even a well-intentioned driver must now deal with bicycles and scooters who come up behind them in the bike lane, then switch to the crosswalk to take advantage of the "walk" sign. The multiplicity of parties who can enter the interesection under different rules makes for confusion. Changing the law at specific locations is reasonable, but marking the whole city as no-right-on-red strikes me as more a product of anti-car ideology than common sense.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

On the Edge

The 3.1 aftershock was reported 5 minutes later.
The preoccupations of the day were set aside on 11:42 a.m. when the house rocked briefly but noticeably. Nothing fell, and the TV stayed on.

The initial jolt is usually the worst, followed by one or two aftershocks, but occasionally the first quake is a precursor to a bigger one. Nerves were calmed when a smaller 3.1 aftershock followed the 5.1 quake five minutes later, and all was quiet thereafter.

The San Jose earthquake (by the way, the Earthquakes are San Jose's soccer team) was produced by the Calaveras fault in the East Bay. Scientists tell us that there's less than a 1% probability of a bigger quake in the coming week.

For about 15 minutes just before noon there was a chance that our lives would be completely upended. The odds were high that the worst wouldn't happen, but the possibility existed.

Over the past several years I have had friends and relatives whose priorities changed instantaneously for health reasons. They were unprepared for such disruption, and today's earthquake reminded us that disruption can come from a direction that's not foremost in our mind.

Monday, October 24, 2022

A Dog Knows

(Image from pet poo skiddoo)
Acting calm before a threatening dog won't fool it if you're fearful inside. A dog knows: [bold added]
Dogs are champion sniffers, equipped with 100 to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses—compared with a mere 6 million in our own—and an olfactory cortex 40 times as large as ours. They can be trained to detect disease in human beings, including cancer cells, a latent epileptic seizure, or a Covid infection, just by sniffing—no blood samples, biopsies, MRIs, antigen or PCR tests required.

In a study published in September in the journal PLoS One, Ms. [Clara] Wilson and colleagues tested whether dogs can read and respond to our emotional states, without the benefit of facial expression, tone of voice, or social context...The results offered overwhelming confirmation that dogs can smell psychological states as well as physical ones. On average, the four dogs picked out the stress sample 94% of the time, with individual dogs ranging between 90% and 97% accuracy.
A barking dog can smell your fear. Acting lessons won't help you, and neither, probably, will psychological self-trickery (e.g., meditation).

As for me, I plan to have liquid courage close at hand.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Saturday Celebration

The wardens affirm to the Bishop that the new minister is "well qualified."
The rite had not been conducted for 25 years in the local Episcopal church. Yesterday the new minister was formally installed in the Celebration of a New Ministry. The Bishop was there, of course, as well as a dozen clergy.

With 70 people present, the service hit a post-pandemic attendance record, and on a Saturday no less.

After the service, there was a reception marked by some poignancy because the Bishop will retire next year, and this was likely his last official visit to our parish.

{Prior to the service, it had been arranged that the plate offering would go to the Bishop's Discretionary Fund, but he announced that it would be re-directed to our new Rector's Discretionary Fund. If he had announced that earlier, maybe "you would have given more," he joked.) A small act of grace that should not go unnoticed.

I thanked Bishop Marc and Sheila for their service. The 16 years had passed in the wink of an eye, like an evening gone.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Simplification Will Have to Wait

$10,000 will earn $481 interest in 6 months. Then $10,481
will be re-invested at a projected 6.47% p.a. for the next six.
Now that we're scratching for yield on our savings accounts, I took another look at I-bonds. The 9.62% rate on a "risk-free" investment outweighed the drawbacks: a $10,000 per year limit on new investment and an interest penalty if the funds are withdrawn before five years.

The excess return over our bank savings and money market accounts was there for the taking. Though limited to several hundred dollars per year, your humble blogger couldn't pass it up. The long-term project to consolidate and simplify our financial picture would have to be delayed yet again.

Note: after the break, WSJ experts explain I-bonds.

Friday, October 21, 2022

The Spam Signal

The Federal Reserve looks at thousands of data points to determine whether inflation has peaked. I need just one.

After 3½ years Costco has resumed its semi-annual Spam sales. While the sale price of $17.99 for eight cans was 28% higher than it was on March, 2019, Hormel's $5 price cut must have indicated a supply-demand return to normalcy. I stocked up, and I'm good through 2025.

Chairman Powell, you can stop raising interest rates. Spam has issued its signal.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

On the Blue Lagoon

Mark Twain reportedly said "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." (He didn't, but it's believable that he could have said it.)

Another recurring out-of-season phenomenon is the "Indian summer" that occurs in the fall. It was 82°F yesterday in Foster City.

The Bay Area Dragons were practicing in the lagoon. Dragon boat racing is distinguished not only by the shape of the vessel but also by the coxswain's incessant beat on the kettle drum. The local club was founded in 1996, and my son was a member before he went off to college.

Dragon boat racing confers fun, exercise, and cameraderie, but the activity is "recommended for people age 13 - 50, with no underlying health conditions/concerns." So I'll leave the paddle in storage and content myself to watching them row on the blue lagoon.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

The Education of San Francisco Leaders

Prohibited states in red (local news matters)
Beginning in 2016 the City of San Francisco refused to do business with--or allow its workers to travel to--states that don't comply with its views on LGBTQ, abortion, and voting rights.

The SF Board of Supervisors now realizes that governance through its idiosyncratic moral stances has only hurt itself. They asked the City Administrator to reconsider. [bold added]
“By prohibiting the City from doing business with half the nation, this policy has resulted in significant administrative costs and potentially far more significant contracting costs by limiting bidder competition,” the Tuesday letter said, adding that it is “also unclear if this policy has been effective in changing the policy-making choices of states subject to” the city’s ban.
Progressivism and wokeness will never be completely extinguished in San Francisco, but it's encouraging that San Francisco is willing to pull the plug on some policies that obviously aren't working.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

The Steak Could Use a Little More Voltage

Half of Japan's adults have high blood pressure, and the culprit is the salt content of Japanese cuisine. Chefs are reformulating recipes, but scientists are also working on a tech solution: [bold added]
Japanese researchers have developed computerised chopsticks that enhance salty tastes, potentially helping those who need to reduce sodium in their diets.

Co-developed by Meiji University professor Homei Miyashita and beverage maker Kirin Holdings Co., the chopsticks enhance tastes using electrical stimulation and a mini-computer worn on a wristband.

The device uses a weak electrical current to transmit sodium ions from food, through the chopsticks, to the mouth where they create a sense of saltiness, said Miyashita.

"As a result, the salty taste enhances 1.5 times," he said.
Personally, I'd rather employ salt substitutes than run a "weak electrical current" through my mouth, but I'm usually late to the party and could be persuaded to use the chopsticks.

(RS logo from Adweek)
However, I'm never going to adopt this technology:
A Japanese professor has developed a prototype lickable TV screen that can imitate food flavours, another step towards creating a multi-sensory viewing experience.

The device, called Taste the TV (TTTV), uses a carousel of 10 flavour canisters that spray in combination to create the taste of a particular food. The flavour sample then rolls on hygienic film over a flat TV screen for the viewer to try.

Monday, October 17, 2022

Action and Reaction

A robot, a billionaire, and a billionaire-robot
hybrid (Euronews image)
CNN, September: New California law could raise fast-food minimum wage to $22 an hour [bold added]
Under the legislation, the council could raise the minimum wage for fast food workers to up to $22 an hour — well above the $15 an hour in the state for employers with more than 26 workers.

The new standards apply to chains with at least 100 locations nationally.
WSJ, October: Robots are spreading at a record pace
A half-million industrial robots were installed globally last year, according to data released Thursday by the trade group International Federation of Robotics—an all-time high exceeding the previous record, set in 2018, by 22%.

The total population of industrial robots in the world has now also reached an all-time high, 3.5 million, which exceeds the population of every U.S. city save New York and Los Angeles, according to the federation.
Thanks, California, for accelerating the adoption of technology!
“We have really built a world meant for humans to navigate, not for robots to,” says Dr. Webster of Ball State University. “In the future, we will have to make a world that is attuned to the needs of the robot.”

Sunday, October 16, 2022

You Only Had Not to do One Thing

(WSJ illustration)
Quiet quitting is a new buzzword for an old workplace pheonomenon: doing just enough to keep one's job.

It's reasonable to suppose that "doing just enough" originated sometime during the 20th century, when bureaucracy made it easy to hide one's lack of productivity, but one would be wrong.

WSJ columnist Callum Borchers believes slacking goes back a bit further than that. He channels the first guy to quiet-quit:
I got the help I requested—her name is Eve—but I didn’t expect The Boss to make her from one of my bones. I don’t want to hear about the “blood, sweat and tears” that you poured into your job. Mine claimed a critical piece of my skeleton. After that, I stopped trying so hard.

Eve had a lot to do with it. She’s Gen A but not type A. Sure, she’d help gather apples or weed the orchids from 9 to 5. But stay a little late to check on the new ocelot litter? Forget it. She was, like, “Sorry, I have plans after work.”

All you quiet quitters out there aren’t as original or provocative as you think.

Really? We were the only two people on the planet. She just wasn’t going to go beyond the position’s minimum requirements.

Yet The Boss loved her just as much as He loved me. I know, I know. That’s His whole brand. Still, it was a harsh realization after all my hard work. I started coasting like Eve.
Even when Adam "started coasting," the Boss wasn't going to fire him. All he had to do was not do one thing, and he couldn't even not do that.

Of course, he blamed it on his teammate, and both were escorted out of the office with no severance and no medical. Some might call it karma, but that's the compensation system from a different company.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Me, Myself, and I

This 1960's film also has insight about getting ahead
Time columnist S. Mitra Kalita states what she thinks are The 3 Pillars of a Good Job:
  • Economic stability: a wage that’s enough to afford food to eat and a place to live, health insurance, transit credits or discounts.
  • Economic mobility: learning new skills, career development, cost-of-living adjustments, a path to advancement or promotion, bonus or commission structures.
  • Equity, respect and voice: regular check-ins, affinity groups, two-way feedback sessions, a willingness to listen and change.
  • Gone are the days when an ambitious person would take a job, any job, with a growing, profitable company and through hard work, smarts, and service to colleagues and bosses work his way from the mailroom to the executive suite.

    The new checklist includes transit credits, cost-of-living adjustments and the employer's "willingness to listen and change."

    In other words, it's all about me, myself, and I.

    Friday, October 14, 2022

    Maybe We Shouldn't Try to Block the Asteroid

    I find this disquieting: the Amphibious Robot Turtle (ART). [bold added]
    The robot features morphing limbs that can adapt their shape, stiffness, and behavior to the environment. The limbs use variable stiffness materials and artificial muscles to transform their shape when transitioning from one environment to another.

    In its legged state, ART can traverse land with a variety of four-legged terrestrial gaits. Upon reaching a body of water, ART can then morph its legs into flippers, enabling it to swim with lift- and drag-based aquatic gaits.

    “You can almost think of [adaptive morphogenesis] as a form of evolution on demand,” wrote Karl Ziemelis, chief physical sciences editor for Nature.
    I saw the Transformer movies, and I know how this ends.

    The rat brain with the human part glowing.
    I'm actually more worried about this: Scientists Grow Human Cells in Rat Brains
    Neuroscientists at Stanford University transplanted tiny blobs of neural tissue known as organoids into the brains of newborn rats. The human cells grew and made functional connections within the rat brain, generating hybrid neural circuits, the researchers said in a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

    ...Such research could probe the molecular underpinnings of hard-to-study psychiatric conditions such as autism and schizophrenia, neuroscientists said.

    That promise will need to be weighed against ethical concerns about animal welfare and how to classify animals with chimeric brains, or brains that have both human and animal cells, some researchers and ethicists said.
    Don't worry about human-rat creatures growing in labs. Scientists would never let anything harmful escape. You're not a science denier, are you?

    Thursday, October 13, 2022

    Angela Lansbury's Jessica Fletcher

    Ancient history: Angela Lansbury's Jessica Fletcher,
    Tom Bosley's Sheriff Amos Tupper, and a pay telephone.
    Last month I began watching Murder, She Wrote reruns on the Hallmark Mysteries Channel. The popular series ran from 1984 to 1996, and I managed to catch many of the episodes the first time around because it followed the Sunday NFL game on CBS.

    I have always been a fan of the whodunit. Angela Lansbury's Jessica Fletcher was squarely in the tradition of the amateur sleuth--Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple--who through keen observation, deductive reasoning, and photographic memory bested the professionals.

    When Murder, She Wrote began, Jessica Fletcher was conceived as an unassuming Miss Marple who was ignored by police and criminals alike. As the series progressed, Jessica grew in fictional stature by writing numerous mystery best sellers and solving cases in cities toured by the increasingly famous author.

    It's not an exaggeration to say that Jessica Fletcher helped to implant in the consciousness of late 20th-century America the idea that an older woman with character and smarts could be successful without being rich or beautiful or riding on her husband's coattails.
    Though Jessica was initially conceived as a somewhat flighty character, Lansbury said she fought to portray her as a strong, successful single woman.

    “In the first place, she was shown as a rather kooky character,” she told Australia’s Studio 10 in 2018. “That’s all right up to a certain point, but I thought, ‘No, let’s make her a smart woman.’ And by the time we were finished she got back her sense of purpose as a woman, she was attractive, she had boyfriends, she had a nice wardrobe. She became much more of an everywoman rather than a kook.”
    After the turn of the century characters like Jessica Fletcher became passé. Detective shows spent more time on forensic science, violent action, and soap-opera-ish season-long character arcs. Those series are entertaining and stored on the videorecorder, too, but lately Murder, She Wrote has been at the top of your humble blogger's list.

    Angela Lansbury, who died this Tuesday at the age of 96, had Tony and Grammy Awards, as well as three Academy Award nominations, but she will be most remembered for her portrayal of a schoolteacher-turned-writer from Cabot Cove, Maine. R.I.P.

    Wednesday, October 12, 2022

    Act and Write Your Age

    To baby boomers who want to avoid offending Gen Z (born 1997-2012), the advice is: don't use the thumbs-up 👍 emoji.
    Sending a thumbs-up can be seen as passive aggressive and even confrontational, according to Gen Z who claim they feel attacked whenever it is used.

    Whether the chat is informal, between friends or at work the icon appears to have a very different, 'rude' meaning for the younger generation.

    A 24-year-old on Reddit summed up the Gen Z argument, saying it is best 'never used in any situation' as it is 'hurtful'.
    The wisdom is age-old: don't try to speak, or text, or employ emojis to make the kids think you're au courant. Leave the pictograms to others, and communicate the way you were taught. The kids will respect you more.

    Tuesday, October 11, 2022

    Extension Day, 2022

    When the extension forms were filed last April, I planned to work on the 2021 taxes for a few hours each week to avoid the October crunch.

    Alas, that was just wishful thinking. The pain lies more in performing the calculations than in paying the bill, and the natural consequence of pain is...procrastination. We're itemizing deductions, which means 2021 will be a "shoebox return," a term that originated from clients throwing their paperwork into a shoebox and depositing same on the accountant's desk.

    Several shoebox's worth of documents were strewn across the dining room table last weekend and summarized in Quicken and Excel. The data were subsequently re-entered onto input sheets (in the picture) which will be dropped off at the tax service on Wednesday.

    So taxes are not quite done yet, but allowing for one re-run, the final returns should go out Friday.

    The shoeboxes are empty and I've gotten into it, so I think that I'll work on 2022 a few hours each week to avoid the April, 2023 crunch....

    Monday, October 10, 2022

    Columbus Day, 2022

    A Columbus statue in Pittsburgh awaits its fate (AP/WSJ)
    In the debate over whether to bury or praise Christopher Columbus people say dumb things, such as
    “This goes way beyond public speech,” Mr. Sague said. “From the time that Columbus met the Taino, my ancestors, his mind was thinking, how can I exploit these people mercilessly.”
    Columbus thought he could find India by sailing West, and he persuaded the powerful Queen Isabella of Spain to finance his voyage. He was probably composing his excuse to the monarch who started the Spanish Inquisition in 1478 and not thinking about how he could "exploit" the "Indians" he encountered.

    By the way, although "exploit" has Latin roots, the modern meaning of "use selfishly" did not come into being until 1838 and was popularized by Karl Marx later that century.

    Poor Christopher, selectively condemned for all the bad that followed his voyages and none of the good, and attributed with modes of thinking that didn't exist until 400 years after his time.

    Sunday, October 09, 2022

    The Forgotten Great Man

    I attended one Catholic service in my childhood. The service was in Latin, the church was somber and dark--it had only a few stained glass windows---and the men wore suits. In those days children had to sit absolutely still throughout. I never complained about Episcopal worship again.

    Fast forward ten years, when a friend in Boston invited me to a Catholic service that was popular with college students. The mass was in English--nearly indistinguishable from an experimental Episcopal liturgy--and the priest played the guitar. The bread was torn from a loaf, and the chalice was ceramic, not metal.

    The changes in the Catholic church, all within the span of a decade, were the result of the Second Vatican Council, and one of the 20th century's "forgotten" great men, Pope John XXIII.
    The Second Vatican Council, which opened 60 years ago on Oct. 11, 1962, was the most important Catholic event in half a millennium. Its achievements were many and notable; it was also followed by ecclesiastical upheavals that continue to roil the Church today.

    After Vatican II, Catholics worshiped in their own languages, rather than in Latin. By urging Catholics to become more biblically literate, the council inspired lay communities of spiritual renewal, some of them robustly charismatic. It also led to greater lay participation in all aspects of Church life: liturgical, educational, managerial, evangelical. The council fully inserted Catholicism into the ecumenical movement’s quest for Christian unity, even as it dramatically reconfigured the Church’s relationship to its religious parent, Judaism.

    Vatican II was also the moment in which Catholicism fully realized its claim to be a global (“catholic”) institution, as churchmen from outside the Church’s historic European core began to take prominent roles in shaping the Catholic future. The extraordinary growth of the Catholic Church in sub-Saharan Africa—where Catholicism now counts hundreds of millions of adherents, many of them first- or second-generation Christians—was accelerated by the council’s promotion of native African clergy and religious orders, its disentanglement of Catholicism from colonialism and its insistence on the Church’s essentially missionary character.

    ....From his historical studies and pastoral experience, John XXIII knew that the defensive Catholicism of the Counter-Reformation, however successful a salvage operation, had run its course. It was time to raze the bastions that Catholicism had erected and turn its robust institutions into platforms for evangelization and mission in order to engage a deeply troubled modern world. The Church, he believed, existed to proclaim and compassionately witness to Christian truth for the world’s healing and sanctification. It could not hide that truth like the frightened servant in Christ’s parable of the talents (Luke 19:12-28).

    ...John XXIII often spoke of his hope that Vatican II would be a “new Pentecost,” recalling the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. The council he imagined was not a business meeting in which the branch officers of a global enterprise discussed ways to increase market share in a stable cultural and social environment. Pope John intended Vatican II to be an event in the realm of the spirit: an experience of the love of God breaking into the world anew
    Jewish and Christian history is replete with great men and women like Pope John XXIII, whose background and training made them seem singularly unequipped to lead people out of the wilderness.

    Saturday, October 08, 2022

    Hot Take on the Hot Chip

    (Mercury News photo)
    Yet another example of social media being harmful to young people: [bold added]
    Sudden nausea, profuse sweating and blue tongues — these are just some of the symptoms associated with the ‘One Chip Challenge,’ the latest social media trend to trigger warnings in Bay Area schools.

    Since 2016, Paqui chip makers have promised to “shock” consumers with their annual “One Chip Challenge.” The directions are simple: Eat one of their pepper-laced chips, sold in individual coffin-shaped packages, and see how long you can last before “short circuiting” and seeking relief...

    The 2022 chip is laced with Reaper and Scorpion peppers, which both contain more than 1 million Scoville units of heat (the average jalapeno pepper contains less than 8,000 Scoville units). The company says the seasonings will turn your tongue bright blue.

    Multiple teenagers have reportedly been taken to the hospital after ingesting the chips, with one TikTok user posting a video of herself in an emergency room that has been watched more than 15.7 million times.
    It's not unusual for people to chase fame by risking life and limb; now they're experiencing gastrointestinal damage and courting near-universal derision from thousands of their peers.

    Youthful misjudgments were once considered embarrassing; now they're celebrated. Worse, they're stored on the permanent record that future employers and spouses can view. Well, at least the Hot Chip Challenge hasn't killed anyone....yet.

    Friday, October 07, 2022

    Adding to the List of Worries: Brain-Eating Amoeba

    The hot springs of Hot Ditch (Chron photo)
    Another reason to limit your swimming to the ocean and chlorinated swimming pools:

    Headline: This popular California hot spring reportedly still has brain-eating amoeba present in the water
    Recent water testing of a popular California hot springs destination called Hot Ditch in Bishop (Inyo County) reportedly found that the same brain-eating amoeba that killed an 8-year-old boy in 2018 remained present in the water.

    Dutch Benjamin Abbott and his parents visited Hot Ditch, a series of man-made water ponds in Bishop in October of 2018. Several days after they returned to Los Angeles, he experienced pain that he described feeling as if a “drill was going through” his head, according to the family’s lawyer, Scott Boyer.

    He died a few days later.

    Health officials confirmed he was infected with Naegleria fowleri , an amoeba that primarily enters through the nose and spurs an infection that’s fatal is 97% of cases, according to the CDC.
    It's tragic enough that a boy died in 2018, but it's worse that nothing has been done by the Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power in the intervening four years, according to a lawsuit:
    The lawsuit claims DWP has failed to properly monitor, regular and chlorinate the water, warn visitors to the danger, and utilize a filtration system capable of protecting them...The lawsuit alleges that Keough’s Hot Springs’ practice of dumping their waste water into what’s called a diversion, which then mixes with the natural water, has created a breeding ground for the amoeba.
    No one will be fired, and any damages will be covered by the ratepayers. It's good to work in the public sector.

    Thursday, October 06, 2022

    "‘Funky’ wines are out. ‘F—ed up’ wines are in."

    Natural wines for beginners (Chronicle)
    When natural wines came on the scene, "funky" was a term of endearment. Now the aficionados say that the word is so overused that it has become meaningless.
    The obvious case against “funky” is that it’s too broad. Does it mean that a wine has a specific microbial flaw, like the spoilage yeast brettanomyces or the mysterious defect known as mouse? Does it mean that it smells earthy, like soil and mushrooms, rather than fruity, like apples and oranges? Does it describe sensations that recall cider or kombucha? Does it just mean a wine that tastes different, new, unlike what you’d find at the grocery store?
    It's easier to describe natural wines by stating what they are not. [bold added]
    “Conventional” winemaking — shorthand for non-natural wine — is defined by technical intervention. In the vineyard, that intervention comes in the form of pesticides and herbicides. In the cellar, intervention generally comes in the form of lab-grown yeast (to control the fermentation process and regulate flavor), acid (to increase the wine’s acidity, which in turn can help the wine age better), and sulfites added at the time of bottling (to preserve flavor). Many winemakers also add sugar, which doesn’t make the wine sweet but instead, through turning into alcohol, creates the perception of “body.” (It’s common practice in Burgundy, Lefcourt notes.)

    On top of that, there are more than 60 approved additives that American winemakers can use to manipulate their wines without listing them on the label.
    Your humble non-oenophile had assumed that natural wines were distinguished by their cloudiness and un-crispness, in other words, funkiness. Obviously, I was wrong.
    Just because a wine was fermented with native yeast, unfiltered or treated with limited additions of sulfur dioxide doesn’t mean it will necessarily taste like a dirty dairy barn.
    As with any niche product that explodes in popularity, definitions must become precise, and standards must be set because....big money is at stake.
    So “funky” is on its way out. Yet it has a likely successor that may inspire even more vitriol: “f—ed up.”

    Nelson, of Habibi Bar, said he hears this term a lot from customers now, as a way of expressing their preference for a natural wine. It seems to go one step beyond “funky,” which could be interpreted as merely describing an unconventional wine. “F—ed up,” instead, implies a desire for an all-out faulty wine, jacked up with bacterial defects.
    "F--ed up", IMHO, is a descriptor that is even more imprecise than "funky," and its vulgar origin won't play in Peoria.

    True, it will be tough for the wordsmiths to come up with a replacement for funky---cloudy, earthy, organic, etc. all have drawbacks.

    But the wine industry is known for its pretentious vocabulary, and it will undoubtedly be up to the challenge. Meanwhile, dear reader, twist the cap off the bottle and enjoy!

    Wednesday, October 05, 2022

    COVID Spending: The Triumph of Hope Over Experience

    There's a jokey description of second marriages--the triumph of hope over experience--that could equally be applied to "emergency" government spending.

    The hope is that the spending will be somewhat effective in meeting whatever the need was this time and that there would be some oversight that would limit the waste, fraud, and abuse.

    What did happen with multi-$billions being spent on COVID relief in a short period of time? The headlines, in chronological order:

    November, 2020: Prisoners’ fake unemployment claims cost state hundreds of millions, California D.A.s say

    October, 2021: California EDD Fraud Payments Total At Least $20 Billion

    September, 2022: Covid Fraud Hits $45.6 Billion [bold added]
    The IG first alerted Labor to the scope of the problem with reports in February and June last year, identifying $16 billion in potentially fraudulent payouts to large and small operators of unemployment scams. A new IG memo last week identifies $30 billion more in fraudulent payments—for a total of $45.6 billion. That’s three times what the U.S. has spent to help Ukraine fend off Russia.

    The various benefit scams are well-known, and the IG revised upward the tallies of each category. Individuals who fraudulently claimed benefits in more than one state got away with $29 billion. Con artists who used suspicious email services designed to hide identities have claimed at least $16 billion. Swindlers using the Social Security numbers of ineligible federal prisoners and dead Americans landed some $400 million more.
    Your humble blogger takes solace in the fact that, while government fiscal controls are a hot mess and the IRS is over a year late in processing returns, our election systems will operate smoothly in less than a month to record our satisfaction with the way things are going.

    Update - 10/6: For those who insist that COVID fraud and the IRS are separable problems the following should be interesting.
    Five current or former Internal Revenue Service employees were charged with schemes to defraud the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program by the U.S. Department of Justice.

    The defendants allegedly obtained funds under the federal stimulus programs, authorized as part of the CAREs Act, by submitting false and fraudulent loan applications that collectively sought over $1 million, according to court documents. They then used those funds for cars, luxury goods, and personal travel, instead of the purposes authorized by the PPP or EIDL Program.

    Tuesday, October 04, 2022

    It's Only the End of the Beginning

    Yesterday Elon Musk threw in the towel on his effort to back out of his agreement to buy Twitter. He will go ahead at the full $54.20 per share ($44 billion):
    Elon Musk has offered to close his acquisition of Twitter Inc. on the terms he originally agreed to, a sudden and unexpected comedown for the billionaire entrepreneur that could end a monthslong battle he waged to get out of the $44 billion deal...

    Twitter confirmed receipt of the letter and said it intends to close the transaction at the original price of $54.20 a share.
    Your humble investor-blogger had bought a few TWTR shares for $51 in May and had given up hope of turning a profit. Although the purchase agreement was supposedly ironclad, Elon Musk was the richest man in the world. At the very minimum his expensive lawyers and bankers could get Twitter to cut the price, but he abruptly conceded.

    Did he finally see value in Twitter that had escaped the notice of everyone else?

    And what exactly is "X"?

    You can love him or hate him, but it's very difficult to ignore Elon Musk.

    Monday, October 03, 2022

    Scratching for Yield

    This happens every time interest rates rise; it's just that the increases have been so sharp that the effect is noticeable to everyone, not just Wall Street and corporate treasurers.

    Interest Rates Are Rising Everywhere—Except Your Savings Account [bold added]
    The interest on my $45,900 money market fund rose
    from .16% to .25% between August and September.
    Sheer laziness was the reason I didn't do better.
    Mortgage rates doubled this year to nearly 7%, and it has become more expensive to get a car loan or carry a credit-card balance. Yet the interest on savings accounts barely budged. In March 2020, the average annual yield on a standard savings account was 0.1%, according to It fell to a pandemic low of 0.06% after Americans’ personal saving rate peaked, and is now up to a wan 0.14%.

    ...[banks] still paying out meager interest can count on customer inertia: We fail to take advantage of better deals, because switching banks seems like a headache.
    One reason savers haven't shopped around is inertia; another is the "headache" of switching. A third reason, IMHO, is that we've gotten used to making $thousands on the stock market, and scratching around for $hundreds in interest doesn't seem to be worth the trouble.

    The great reset isn't just about re-evaluating priorities; it's about recognizing how hard it is to make a buck, working hard for it, and shopping around, both to lower household expenses and to raise the interest on one's savings.

    By the way, I have not yet seized the opportunity to invest in the almost too-good-to-be-true yield (9.62%) on I-bonds. There is a $10,000 limit on an I-bond account, so under the old perspective it wasn't worth the trouble. Now that I'm scratching for yield, it is.

    Sunday, October 02, 2022

    Blessing of the Animals: Safe for Next Year, Too

    After a two-year hiatus we didn't know what to expect. We had posted the flyers and scheduled the announcement to run on the city electronic billboard. The old priest had retired, and the new guy asked twice for directions. We've seen this before at church events. Somehow it was going to work out.

    Today was the Blessing of the Animals at the Foster City Dog Park. For the uninitiated the Blessing of the Animals is how the Catholic and Anglican traditions celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

    St. Francis is the patron saint of animals and the environment. His name is honored throughout the Western World; the city 20 miles to the north is named after him--perhaps you've heard of it?

    30 pets and their owners came by for a prayer. One lady, not a church member, said that she missed this annual event. She even posted a notice on Nextdoor, obviating our need to do so.

    Everyone who came for a blessing stopped to chat, perhaps encouraged by Brenda's home-made biscuits.

    The two hours went by quickly.

    The coronavirus has re-ordered everyone's priorities. With fewer opportunities for in-person contact, pets have become more important to a lot of people. It's safe to say that the Blessing of the Animals will be on the calendar next year.

    Saturday, October 01, 2022

    After I Turned Two, It All Went Downhill

    (Drawing from
    The journal Psychological Science reports on experiments that study status quo bias. [bold added]
    they got people to rate technologies that appeared at different times, from audiotape cassettes and video recorders to email and cell phones. There was a sharp difference between technologies that appeared before or after people were 2 years old, which is around the time we make our first lasting memories. People thought that technologies that appeared later were more harmful.
    One man's status quo bias is another woman's reasonable caution.

    I had no doubts about getting my own color television in 1975; my only problem was being able to afford one.

    After hearing about the risks of microwave radiation, I was one of the slow adapters to microwave ovens in the 1970's.

    I was also suspicious of the hype behind compact fluorescent bulbs that would stop the ice caps from melting, suspicions that were later justified because of potential mercury poisoning.

    So let the risk-seekers try out the new stuff. I love scientific progress. Life is much more advanced technologically than when I was two, but if I have to wait a couple of years for the bugs to be ironed out, fine by me.