Tuesday, January 31, 2023

San Francisco: Pay Taxes and Employ People, Get Strangled by Regulation

Twitter employee catching 140 winks (Econ Times)
In yet another example of strangulation by regulation the City of San Francisco has told Twitter to fix its building permit so that employees can sleep at the office:
Officials found two beds last month in the tech company’s eighth and ninth floor conference rooms after an investigation triggered by a Forbes report about workers sleeping in the office amid long work hours after Elon Musk’s takeover. Multiple people who read the story complained to the city, alleging the rooms were converted illegally.

Twitter could be subject to fines for having an improper permit, but that has not yet been determined. Officials want to conduct a final inspection if the permit is not revised and Twitter must remove the beds.
Speaking as one who used to work around the clock on mergers, audits, and strategic plans, I appreciated employers who made it more comfortable to sleep in the office (as they undoubtedly appreciated our efforts to complete projects on time).

I'm glad I'm no longer working in a City that requires a permit to put a bed in an office but deems it perfectly fine to put a sleeping bag and tent on a sidewalk, and have $75,000 of social services delivered to boot.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Inflation Freak-Out

(Lyceum photo)
A century ago the Wall Street Journal was mostly read in wood-panelled drawing rooms by pipe-smoking men in grey flannel suits.

It was a serious newspaper that covered serious matters in a pedantic style that was far removed from the subject matter and colloquial language of popular newspapers and magazines.

How times have changed. Here's the headline in today's WSJ on the subject of inflation:

(Psychology Today image)
The U.S. Consumer Is Starting to Freak Out

The person-on-the-street examples that the article cites show that working-class people are living on the edge. [bold added]
Recent layoff trends worry Benjamin DeLong, a 32-year-old customer-account manager at an industrial manufacturer in southern Minnesota. His savings rose to $3,700 during the pandemic, thanks in part to government stimulus. He is now down to about 3 cents.
Don't you just love the "about" in front of "3 cents"?
The large stock-market declines over the past year also alarmed consumers, including Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Sara Laor, who is 57 years old. Ms. Laor said the declines depleted the holdings in her 401(k) and IRA accounts by nearly 40%.

Over the past year, her family has had to dip into their savings to pay for essential car and plumbing repairs. They are putting off other expenses, like buying a new car, and have given up ordering in meals.

She’s trying to spend more cautiously, shunning recipes involving pricey eggs and buying more canned food.
Well, at least the writer doesn't report that thousands of Americans are eating dog food, as this 1975 NY Times article said occurred during the Ford and Eisenhower Administrations (but not from the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations where the phenomenon was supposedly absent).
Jazzlyn Millberry, 33, has been looking for big ways to make cuts. One day last fall, her banking app informed her that the cost of one month’s groceries and household goods for her family of four had risen to $900, from about $600 or $700.

“I find myself now going to three or four different grocery stores just to get the best deals on things to save on costs,” said Ms. Millberry, a health-insurance claims analyst in Pickerington, Ohio.
The rosiest economic scenarios show inflation tapering (but not going to zero), and workers being lucky to maintain their pay instead of being laid off. The lower gap between income and expenses will last years, leaving little margin for error.

Now that I think of it, when the inflation squeezed us during the late 1970's and early 1980's I was a little freaked out, too.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Sandwich-Making Improvements: Assembling

On Saturday morning Daniel and I got there a few minutes early and laid out the ingredients and supplies on two tables.

Valerie, David, and Cathy arrived and started cranking out the sandwiches; each bag would get one ham-and-cheese and one PB&J.

My job was final assembly, i.e., putting napkins, trail mix, fruit, and the sandwiches in a brown bag.

Working as fast as I could, I nevertheless fell behind. Two years ago the final assembler twiddled his thumbs waiting for the sandwiches to be prepared and bagged.

Ninety minutes later we were completely done--the sandwiches put away, the tables wiped clean, and the supplies put back in the closet.

On Sunday we will take the lunches to the Redwood City community center at noon, after which we will catch the championship games that will determine the teams who will go to the Super Bowl. Sundays don't get much better than that.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Sandwich-Making Improvements: Purchasing

Before making the brown bag lunches for the community center one has to buy the ingredients. Your humble blogger/purchasing agent often made mistakes when Outreach volunteers started making sandwiches two years ago (we served hot lunches cafeteria-style for 18 years before 2020) and had to run back to the market several times when we neglected to purchase various items.

It now takes an hour to blitz through the aisles and throw everything into one cart (picture). The Costco cashier was impressed when I specified nine bags of apples, 24 loaves of bread, and four packages each of ham, turkey, and cheese, plus assorted condiments and supplies. He asked if I had a sandwich business or if I was hosting a picnic.

No, we're making sandwiches for the homeless.

"How often do you do this?"

Four times a year, and the church has been doing it for a couple of years. The total should be a little over $300. Both the cashier and the bagger were impressed when the bill turned out to be $330.

Dr. Deming would have smiled approvingly at our sandwich-making improvements.

Friday, January 27, 2023

And How Did That Make You Feel?

(Sleepstation image)
To the list of tips for falling asleep (turn off screens, avoid stimulating entertainment, don't exercise before bed, etc.) sleep specialists have added savoring: [bold added]
Savoring is well-studied as a strategy to improve our general well-being. A considerable body of research shows that it can boost mood and help reduce depression and anxiety. Now, psychologists believe it can help us fall asleep and have better sleep quality, and are starting to study its effectiveness.

Many of us ruminate as we’re trying to drift off. This is where savoring can help. “It gives your brain something else to focus on—something emotionally compelling and pleasurable,” says Dana McMakin, a professor of psychology at Florida International University, who studies savoring.

Savoring differs from other strategies you may use before going to sleep. When you savor, you try to re-create the positive emotional state of the experience. It’s not the same as practicing gratitude, which involves thinking about something rather than trying to feel it. And it’s different from meditating or trying to be mindful, in which the goal is to quiet your mind. Savoring aims to fill it up with positive emotion.
One has to be selective in the positive memories one dredges up: memories from childhood with people who are long gone can turn sad; moments of triumph and vindication can be exhilarating...and stimulative; and of course, recalling savoring's original gustatory meaning, reliving pleasant dining experiences can make one hungry, not sleepy.

Come to think of it (or not), to get to sleep I'll just stick with emptying my mind, not filling it with thoughts, however pleasant they may be.

Thursday, January 26, 2023


Asteroid 2023 BU’s trajectory is in red (WSJ illustration)
An asteroid flew by earth today, missing it by a mere 2,200 miles:
An asteroid the size of a big truck will fly by Earth on Thursday just 2,200 miles above the planet’s surface in one of the closest approaches ever recorded, scientists said.

The asteroid, named 2023 BU, will travel over the Pacific Ocean west of southern Chile, Thursday afternoon Pacific time, according to Davide Farnocchia, a navigation engineer at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The near-Earth object poses no danger, and there is no expected impact...

Had it entered Earth’s orbit, the asteroid would have burned upon entry and, at its small size, turned into a fireball. “It’s not going to get close enough for that,” said Dr. Farnocchia.
What's alarming to this non-astronomer is that the object was detected on January 21st, less than a week ago.

I hope that larger asteroids that could possibly cross earth's path are being tracked, but experience tells us that we don't know about all of them.

The late Stephen Hawking's principal worry was that an asteroid strike would end life on earth:
“There are thousands of really large asteroids, some are over ten miles long – the size of Manhattan.

“An asteroid this size hits the Earth [every] 100,000,000 years.

“The last one struck the Earth 65,000,000 years ago, and probably was responsible for wiping out the dinosaurs.

“We don’t know when the next asteroid will strike, but if it’s big enough, it could sterilise our planet.

“That would be the end of the five billion year story of life on Earth.”
Sweet dreams!

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Not as Gaudy, But Content Nonetheless

Having been out of the job market for a while, I view a story like this with astonishment:

Stanford MBAs now make a median $175,000 salary after graduation.
The median compensation amount includes a median $175,000 in base salary for 218 graduates who received full-time job offers and disclosed their compensation. In addition, 65% of those students expect a median of $45,000 in annual performance bonuses and 47% of those students had a median $30,000 signing bonus.
The starting salary is ten times what I made on my first job back in the 1970's. On the other hand, in that decade I was able to buy a new sedan for $4,000 and a 3 BR home in the East Bay for $45,000. That same home goes today for 25x its original price, and no, I didn't hold on to it.

On balance I was lucky to have come up when I did.

At the 40th reunion of the Stanford MBA Class of 1975

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

It's the Content That Keeps Us Wide-Eyed

(Cleveland Clinic photo)
The blue light on our smartphone is a minor factor in keeping us awake at night. The content is a much greater disruptor.
If we come across alarming news, a scary movie or an annoying work email right before bed or in the middle of the night, the stress hormone cortisol can rise. A spike in cortisol provides an energy boost by moving glucose from a stored state in the body to an active state. “It’s like eating a candy bar,” says Jamie Zeitzer, co-director of the Stanford Center for Sleep and Circadian Sciences. Coming down from that energy rush can be difficult.

Positive content can be just as disruptive because it can increase the amount of dopamine or norepinephrine in the brain, two neurotransmitters Dr. Zeitzer says can excite the thalamus—the brain’s information-relay center—and disrupt the brain-wave oscillations needed for sleep.
Turning off the phone completely is an obvious solution. The sleep-tracking app is also effective; it dims the iPhone and Apple Watch 15 minutes before the targeted bedtime.

But if you must surf in bed, dear reader, I've been told this blog is an excellent soporific...

Monday, January 23, 2023

Still Binary After All These Years

(WSJ illustration)
For men's underwear it's still a boxers vs. briefs world, but now there's a multiplicity of colors, materials, and shapes:
Tom Patterson, CEO and co-founder of New York City brand Tommy John, also suggests guys no longer feel the need to stay in traditional underwear lanes. “The ‘boxer or brief’ paradox is no longer as relevant…because there are so many more options to choose from,” said Mr. Patterson, whose brand offers six (six!) above-the-knee cuts, from 8-inch boxer-briefs to skimpy briefs in a breathable pima-cotton blend...

If you feel like mixing things up, which styles should you pull on—and when? Damien Paul, head of menswear at retailer MatchesFashion, recommends men sync their underwear with their trousers silhouette. It’s a like-for-like situation: Neat tailored pants go best with snug briefs, he said, because the high-cut, immune-to-bunching underwear is invisible beneath the trim trousers. Flowier pants, on the other hand, accommodate “a looser fit such as a boxer.”
Of course, there's the option of going commando, which seems to have health benefits. The problem with the latter is that no one wants to associate with boomers (plus-59-year-olds) who do so.

I'm sticking with boxers or briefs in basic cotton.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Kung Hee Fat Choy

Mirroring Foster City's demography, about 20% of the local Episcopal church's membership consists of people with Chinese ancestry.

And so it was that a lunch celebrating Chinese New Year was held after the service.

The liturgical calendar says the seasonal color is green, but for one day the walls were adorned with red posters and signs.

The table groaned with chicken salad, desserts, and six different kinds of dumplings. I managed to limit myself to one plate, knowing that later that day many calories would be ingested watching the NFL playoffs.

Before the games started we made calls to elderly relatives--more important than calling them on Thansgiving or Christmas--and wished them a new year filled with health, happiness, companionship, and love.

By early evening the 49ers had defeated the Dallas Cowboys, 19-12, an auspicious beginning to the Year of the Rabbit.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Another Sign I Should Stay Retired

If I'd known personal branding was important
I would have taken better care (WSJ illuatration)
Here are Five Skills College Students Will Need for Their Future Careers
  • Entrepreneurship in the Metaverse
  • Ethics and AI
  • Networking 101
  • Designing for Natural Disasters
  • Building a Personal Brand
  • Back in my business school days nearly 50 years ago, none of the above subjects would have been deemed worthy of spending more than an hour on. I also would have had no idea what "Metaverse" meant, and "Ethics and AI" would have been a topic in a science fiction course.

    By the way I think it's more important to have a basic knowledge of marketing, finance, MIS (Management Information Systems, how quaint), accounting, business law, production, and human resources to advance one's career. I also place communications and math skills higher than the aforementioned ones, which is why I should stay retired.

    Friday, January 20, 2023

    Nary a Tweet

    Thursday, January 19, 2023

    Prediction: No One Will Lose Their Job Over This

    I'm not activating the card until I'm ready
    to spend the entire amount immediately.
    $20 billion was stolen from California unemployment COVID funds just two years ago, and history is repeating itself. Thieves are draining the funds loaded onto VISA cards mailed to taxpayers under the Middle Class Tax Refund.
    The state began issuing payments ranging from $200 to $1,050 to most California residents in late October. State lawmakers authorized the payments, which are not technically tax refunds, to offset inflation.

    State residents are eligible if they filed a 2020 state tax return and meet income limits. People who filed their 2020 return electronically and had a state tax refund directly deposited into a bank account were the first to get refunds; they were directly deposited into the same bank account.

    Everyone else received prepaid debit cards. As of last week, the state had issued about 7.2 million direct deposits and 9.4 million debit cards totaling almost $9.1 billion. Most people will have received them by the end of January.
    There are anecdotal reports that some cards were drained before they were activated. Others seem to be emptied after. There's nothing to be done in the former instance, but if the crooks need the card to be activated, then I will hold off doing so until a few minutes before I activate it, then spend the entire amount in one fell swoop. Shrinking the exposure window might help.

    It's unclear how much, if any, of the money will be on the card when it comes time to claim it. One thing is, however, certain. No one will lose their job over this debacle.

    Wednesday, January 18, 2023

    Water Storage Funding: Fooled Again for the Umpteenth Time

    Location of the Sites Reservoir, proposed in the 1980's
    We've posted frequently (for example here, here, and here) on California's failure to add more water storage to get it through the drought years. The SF Chronicle notes that it's not the fault of the voters, who approved a $7.5 billion bond measure in 2014:
    Nearly 10 years later, none of the major storage projects, which include new and expanded reservoirs, has gotten off the ground.

    As the state experiences a historic bout of rain and snow this winter, amid another severe water shortage, critics are lamenting the missed opportunity to capture more of the extraordinary runoff that has been swelling rivers, flooding towns and pouring into the sea.

    The seven dedicated storage projects funded by voter-approved Proposition 1 remain in various stages of planning. Many are big ventures, including the proposed Sites Reservoir in the Sacramento Valley that would be California’s eighth-largest reservoir. Such efforts require years of design, permitting and fundraising and are not easy to build. Still, some say progress has been too slow given the dire need for water.
    The WSJ assigns blame for the delay and waste of the allotted funds:
    State voters have approved eight water bonds since 2000 that authorize some $27 billion in funding for various water projects, but little of the money has gone to storage or flood control. That’s because politicians buy off green support for water bonds by promising to spend a large share of their proceeds on ecosystem restoration.

    Only $2.7 billion of a $7.5 billion water bond that voters approved in 2014 was allocated for storage. None of the seven storage projects selected by the state for funding has begun construction. Blame in part a government permitting morass. Most aren’t expected to be completed until the end of this decade, assuming they aren’t marooned by lawsuits.

    Voters support water bond measures because they think the money will be spent on drought preparation. But it never is. Liberals use droughts and floods to campaign for water bonds that end up funding pet environmental causes. Rinse and repeat. Mr. Newsom last week floated another bond measure for water projects and wildfire mitigation
    Your humble blogger confesses that water storage proposals are among the few bond measures that he has voted for in the past three decades.

    Even knowing that much of the monies would be wasted, misdirected, and even stolen, I hoped that some projects would be completed by now.

    But I was mistaken in thinking that California government still retained a minuscule amount of competence and honesty. Fooled again, shame on me.

    Tuesday, January 17, 2023

    Gimme Some of That Goat's Rue

    I take one in the morning and one at night.
    Nearly a year ago I commented on the off-label benefits of metformin:
    Metformin, which I've been taking since August for type II diabetes,
    affects a variety of age-associated cellular functions, including improving metabolism, tamping inflammation and boosting the mitochondria. It also has a long history of use in people, with a good safety profile.
    In other words Metformin may extend my life, and not just because it treats diabetes.
    Word has spread about Metformin's benefits, and it's become a popular new drug with the young, healthy, and diabetes-free crowd.
    Is an ancient compound the new “wonder drug”?

    Metformin, a common medication to control diabetes, has become the controversial darling of tech’s health-conscious digerati who are enticed by preliminary research suggesting it might help promote longevity, reduce risk of dementia and prevent a whole host of other conditions – including, most recently, long COVID.

    With origins that date back to Medieval Europe, metformin has been used for decades as a powerful tool to lower blood sugar in people with diabetes. In those patients, it also offers cardiovascular benefits and weight loss.

    Now, it is increasingly popular for use in conditions that have nothing to do with diabetes. Intrigued by early studies and promotion on TikTok, Instagram and health-focused blogs, Americans are seeking “off-label” prescriptions for metformin, using the drug for a different condition than what is FDA-approved...

    Metformin, or dimethylbiguanide, traces its history back to a traditional herbal medicine in Europe called Galega officinalis, or goat’s rue. While it can cause side effects in people with kidney problems, it improves blood-sugar control by improving insulin sensitivity, reducing the amount of sugar released by the liver into the blood and increasing glucose absorption.

    It is now the fourth most widely prescribed medication in the nation. About 20 million Americans were prescribed the drug in 2020.

    What is tantalizing are preliminary findings — based on animal studies and imperfect clinical trials that have not been reproduced — that hint that the drug may help slow aging and increase life expectancy. While the underlying mechanism remains unclear, it may create cellular changes that improve the body’s responsiveness to insulin and boost blood vessel health.

    Its reputation has grown with a recent barrage of social media attention, including a viral posting by Silicon Valley-based internet entrepreneur and “biohacker” Serge Fague, who described taking two grams of the medication every day.

    “Have you heard about metformin?” asked one Twitter influencer. The New York City-based longevity company NOVOS, which has enlisted Harvard’s Dr. George Church and other highly esteemed scientists to its advisory board, posted on Instagram: “Metformin: The secret to anti-aging?”....

    Off-label prescribing is legal and common. An estimated 20% of all prescriptions in the U.S. are for off-label use, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Beta-blockers, for instance, are approved to reduce risk of high blood pressure and heart problems but are used off-label to treat anxiety. But off-label prescriptions may put people at risk of receiving ineffective or even harmful treatment if there is a lack of scientific evidence, said Chin-Hong.

    “In tech circles, people use a lot of things off-label — for example, for weight loss,” said Chin-Hong. “It’s promoted by celebrities on TikTok. But it’s always a dangerous enterprise to use something off-label.”

    Doctors have long prescribed metformin off-label for these conditions:

    • Menstrual irregularities.

    • Gestational diabetes mellitus.

    • Prevention or delayed diabetes.

    • Weight gain from antipsychotic medicines.

    Other studies looked at the potential of metformin to:

    • Reduce the risk of dementia or stroke.

    • Slow aging.
    Under my current drug plan I pay less than $20 for 180 500-mg tablets. In addition to lowering blood sugar from potentially hazardous levels, Metformin helps me to lose weight and possibly to live longer. Some of the best things in medicine are nearly free.

    Monday, January 16, 2023

    MLK Day, 2023

    Note: August 28, 2023 will be the 60th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

    After re-reading my previous posts on Martin Luther King Day, the great man seems more relevant than ever to this boomer blogger. Unfortunately, his doctrine of non-violent civil disobedience seems increasingly quaint. Today speakers will honor him, all the while willfully ignoring what he called them to do. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.

    From 2010:

    Martin Luther King, Jr. was an American original whose stature has only grown since his assassination in 1968. His I Have a Dream speech and Letter from Birmingham Jail are masterpieces of the rhetorical art, replete with religious themes, historical references, and poetic flourishes. Dr. King pushed, pulled, and forced a preoccupied postwar superpower to confront the difference between its glossy self-image and ugly racist reality.

    He did this by conveying a vision of an America that was full of hope and was consistent with its founding ideals. He delivered that vision in soaring preacherly cadences that called, if not compelled, his audiences to act. On the holiday of his remembrance Dr. King's wisdom has not dulled with time's passage:

    On non-violence:
    In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.
    On the difference between just and unjust laws:
    An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.
    On civil disobedience:
    In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.
    How to effect peaceful change:
    In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action.
    Dr. King asked his followers to “purify” themselves, that is, lead blameless lives in accordance with the very principles that they would demand others follow. Walking the talk remains as difficult as it is noble, and it is as relevant to leadership today as it was 60--and 2,000--years ago. © 2023 Stephen Yuen

    Sunday, January 15, 2023

    Thinking Like a Greek

    We live in an age of specialization and compartmentalization. Science, religion, mathematics, politics, philosophy, and literature are separate fields of study. Each of these has dozens of sub-categories with their own terminologies and modes of thinking.

    However, the ancient Greeks
    didn't make a distinction between philosophy and science, nor did they recognize the range of disciplines such as physics, chemistry, mathematics, astronomy, etc. that we do today. There simply wasn't the depth of knowledge and range of information that later made separate disciplines practical. In the Greek era, one individual could be an expert in several fields.
    The splintering of knowledge makes it difficult to recognize patterns that may cross knowledge silos. More importantly, some believe that there is a deeper underlying reality to the universe that is understood only piecemeal by experts in their respective specialties. No human being has yet fully grasped, much less been able to explain to his fellow creatures, such a reality.

    In a book to be released this Tuesday, Professor of theoretical physics Heinrich Päs ponders the "One."
    his book proposes, rather than a definitive answer, an exploration of both the mind-bending conclusions of modern physics and the long history of the beguiling notion of a unifying, universal fabric. His book proves a heady mix of history, philosophy and cutting-edge theory that is fascinating, provocative and at times infuriating.
    I'm a sucker for these books that explain the nature of the universe, where it came from and where it's going. If the writer presumes to discuss the nature of man, then I must resist the temptation to tell him to stay in his lane, which in this case is theoretical physics. He's thinking like an ancient Greek.

    Saturday, January 14, 2023

    Relationships are More Important Than We Realize

    (WSJ photo)
    Demographic studies have shown that lonely people are less healthy. There is a scientific explanation:
    Human beings have evolved to be social, and the biological processes that encourage social behavior are there to protect us. When we feel isolated, our bodies and brains react in ways that are designed to help us survive that isolation.

    Fifty thousand years ago, being alone was dangerous, and an isolated person’s body and brain would have gone into temporary survival mode. The need to recognize threats would have fallen on her alone, so her stress hormones would have increased and made her more alert. If her family or tribe were away overnight and she had to sleep by herself, her sleep would be shallower. If a predator was approaching, she would want to know, so she would be more easily aroused and experience more awakenings during the night.

    If for some reason she found herself alone for say, a month, rather than a night, these physical processes would continue, morphing into a droning, constant sense of unease, and they would begin to take a toll on her mental and physical health. She would be, as we say today, stressed out. She would be lonely.

    The same effects of loneliness continue today. The feeling of loneliness is a kind of alarm ringing inside the body. At first, its signals may help us; we need them to alert us to a problem. But imagine living in your house with a fire alarm going off all day, every day, and you start to get a sense of what chronic loneliness is doing behind the scenes to our minds and bodies.
    The physiological consequences of loneliness are observable:
    loneliness is associated with greater sensitivity to pain, suppression of the immune system, diminished brain function and less effective sleep. Recent research has shown that for older people, loneliness is twice as unhealthy as obesity, and chronic loneliness increases a person’s odds of death in any given year by 26%.
    The pursuit of worldly goals, such as wealth and social status, or even personal goals such as diet, exercise, and weight loss, may bring some satisfaction, but they are less important to longevity than real, long-lasting personal relationships.

    Friday, January 13, 2023

    The Delta Smelt: Let's Have a Debate

    Delta smelt (Mercury News photo)
    Environmental regulations that protect endangered species, specifically the delta smelt, have drastically reduced the amount of storm water that can be pumped to reservoirs:
    But 94% of the water that has flowed since New Year’s Eve through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, a linchpin of California’s water system, has continued straight to the Pacific Ocean instead of being captured and stored in the state’s reservoirs.

    Environmental regulations aimed at protecting a two-inch-long fish, the endangered Delta smelt, have required the massive state and federal pumps near Tracy to reduce pumping rates by nearly half of their full limit, sharply curbing the amount of water that can be saved for farms and cities to the south...

    In the 1950s, the federal government built huge pumps near Tracy to send water south to farmers and cities through the Central Valley Project. In the 1960s, former California Gov. Pat Brown built even bigger pumps two miles west, near Byron, that pumps Delta water into the State Water Project, which serves 27 million people.

    The pumps are enormous and over time have disrupted fish and wildlife in the Delta, including smelt and salmon, sometimes grinding them up, sometimes making sloughs run backward, and other times removing up to half the Delta’s fresh water. Once plentiful, smelt and salmon numbers crashed. This winter, only five smelt have been found in the Delta by scientists.
    A small fraction of the Delta storm water can be diverted by the pumps to storage, and smelt restrictions reduce even that amount by 40%:
    When the state and federal pumps are fully running, they can move roughly 10,800 cubic feet per second. That means they are unable to catch most of the current deluge even if maxed out. But since Jan. 1, they have averaged just 6,415 cfs per day — far less than their capacity.
    The water districts say that they "do not have much flexibility under the law." The law is a creation of men and can be undone by men. It's time to have a full-throated debate over why preventing the extinction of a small fish is more important than the lives and livelihood of millions of Californians.

    Thursday, January 12, 2023

    My Carbon Emitting Activities are Worthwhile But Not Yours

    At Burning Man there's a lot of carbon emitting going on.
    The Burning Man festival organizers are suing to stop a geothermal exploratory project.
    In a lawsuit filed this week in federal court in Reno, the Burning Man Project and affiliated groups accused the U.S. Bureau of Land Management of flouting environmental laws by approving a five-year “exploration” plan by Ormat Nevada Inc. for a future geothermal project in lands surrounding the festival site...

    According to the suit, Ormat has leased more than 5,700 acres of land around Gerlach, with sites for 19 proposed drilling wells. The wells would be located alongside current hot springs and use the same geothermal fluid that now heats the springs, the suit said.
    There's the usual obligatory statement by the liberal organizers that alternative energy is important:
    “No one I know is against green power,” [advisory board member Andy] Moore said in a statement released by the organizers. “What we are against is a company coming in, disregarding our public input, ignoring our questions, giving false statements, and damaging a community in order to fill their shareholders pockets while destroying our quiet nights, our property values, and our peace.”
    Environmentalists want to ban fossil fuels, but they also don't want alternative energy projects to disrupt their lifestyle. Offshore windmills disturb ocean views. Solar panels harm tortoises. These are all very good project-stopping reasons that would be roundly derided if uttered by opponents.

    Progressives call anthropogenic global warming an "existential threat" but they do not behave as if their lives are really in danger. If they led by example--for instance, not flying private jets to climate change conferences--more people might go along with them.

    Below is a video of last year's Burning Man festival. All those mostly young, mostly white people look like they're having a good time in a beautiful place, and I can understand why they want to keep it going.

    Wednesday, January 11, 2023

    It's Not Too Late

    (Wikihow illustration)
    Retirement is a time for reflection... and regrets. Chief among them is the failure to stay in touch with friends from long ago. The most stark examples are the friends who have passed away, where obviously no renewal of a relationship is possible.

    The fears that hold us back from reconnecting are largely in our imagination. [bold added]
    People also exaggerate the risks of reaching out to old friends, including awkwardness and rejection, and underestimate the pleasures, according to research by Nicholas Epley, director of the Center for Decision Research at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

    “Failure to recognize how interested others are in engaging with us keeps us overly avoidant in ways that harm our well-being,” he said.
    "Make a new friend" is a goal that's too vague and more difficult to achieve.

    "Connect with an old friend" is more concrete and likely to bring you happiness.

    Tuesday, January 10, 2023

    Successful Excursion

    Ho Tai Printing (723 Clay) is across the
    street from Portsmouth Square
    Red envelopes are widely available for Chinese New Year (January 22, 2023)--Amazon has new year lai si--but a relative from Hawaii wanted some with her family surname.

    Ho Tai Printing has red envelopes pre-printed with dozens of common family names, and so it was that we headed to San Francisco's Chinatown to browse its wares.

    Traffic on 101 North was moderate to light in the early afternoon, not yet equal to pre-pandemic levels.

    It had been three years since we had been to Chinatown. Parking at the Portsmouth Square garage, we used to find it difficult to snag a space, but today there were plenty on the lowest level.

    The print shop had an ample supply of envelopes with the name we were looking for. (We didn't see any of ours--the clerk said they had run out.)

    In previous years we might have done some shopping. However, with many boarded-up storefronts San Francisco had lost its appeal.

    It had already been a successful excursion, and unfortunate things usually happen when we press our luck for more.

    Don't go for a home run and be satisfied with a single---sounds like a good motto for 2023.

    Monday, January 09, 2023

    Good at Describing How Terrible We're Feeling

    Used to help kids express their feelings about disasters in Asia,
    this worksheet can be adapted for use by adult Californians.
    Saturday's post concerned the series of natural disasters that struck California in the 1860's. But we shouldn't overlook reporter Carl Nolte's remark on how we use the language to make today's problems seem historically important: [bold added]
    Everything is dramatic. Even the weather comes with a Hollywood touch: Forecasters now use words like atmospheric rivers, bomb cyclones and king tides, all recently coined terms to describe conditions that have happened for thousands of years. You know how it is. A new story every night.

    Meanwhile, just before our own big sets of rain and wind, an immense snowstorm swept the East. Mountains of snow and ice — 52 inches of snow in Buffalo. Thirty-seven people died in Erie County. Now that is real weather.
    Despite its problems in the 19th century California overcame them and grew. It was the land of opportunity, and the population swelled to 40 million. Now people are leaving, and that's before any truly horrible calamity.

    When the 100-year floods and the 9.0 earthquakes eventually come, will we have the strength of character to recover? That's unclear, but I'm sure we'll invent words that will perfectly describe how terrible we're feeling.

    Sunday, January 08, 2023

    The Best and the Worst

    Rabbi Myers and the Rev. Jensen
    The church at its best: [bold added]
    Much has changed since Oct. 27, 2018, when a gunman stormed the Tree of Life synagogue and killed 11 people from three congregations: Tree of Life, New Light and Dor Hadash. The massacre was the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history and left a deep scar in the Jewish community in Pittsburgh...

    [Tree of Life] holds its High Holiday services of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur at [Calvary Episcopal] church and puts on a Purim show there where two priests participate—last year’s theme was the board game Clue.

    The collaboration started shortly after the attack, when the Rev. Jonathon Jensen of Calvary sent a letter to Rabbi Myers to offer support, including providing space to worship. “Our home is your home,” he wrote.
    Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill (Wikimedia)
    The church at its worst:
    President Vladimir Putin thanked the Russian Orthodox Church for backing his war in Ukraine as he marked the first Orthodox Christmas since he launched his armies on a full-scale invasion, a conflict he has cast as a kind of holy war against a decadent West...

    Patriarch Kirill, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, said in an interview aired on state TV Saturday that worshipers should see the war as a holy struggle against the West to preserve “the Russian world” and unite Slavic lands under Moscow’s spiritual and political control.
    Note: see here and here for previous comments on the conflict within the Orthodox Church over the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

    The church often exhibits the frailties and wanton desires of men. But it also reminds us of the means of grace and the hope of glory.

    Saturday, January 07, 2023

    Californians: An Undeserving Lot

    Downtown Sacramento, 1862 (Chron photo)
    We've posted before on the Great Flood of 1862, when 300 miles of the Central Valley, including Sacramento, were submerged. Chronicle reporter Carl Nolte writes how the Great Flood was only one of several natural disasters that struck California in the 1860's:
    [Cabrillo College professor Sandy] Lydon likes to talk about the great winter of 1861-62, the mother of all natural catastrophes in California. “It rained for 43 straight days,” he said. “Imagine a storm like the one we had just now every day for six weeks without letup, without a single sunny day.”

    It had snowed heavily that November and early December, an early winter. But in mid-December, heavy, warm rains came in and melted the snowpack, flooding the entire Central Valley from around Redding to Bakersfield — 300 miles of water, 30 feet deep in some places. Perhaps 4,000 people were killed, and the damage was estimated at $3 billion in today’s money.

    The next season was entirely different: a huge drought. Practically no rain at all. The drought was so severe that thousands of cattle died of starvation or thirst. At that time, Southern California was largely pastoral, a practice left from Spanish and Mexican times. That drought ended those days forever and led to a Southern California search for a reliable water supply and the subsequent growth of Los Angeles.

    The drought led to wildfires that blackened the sky in the summer and fall of 1865. There were major earthquakes in 1865 and in October 1868. The 1868 quake, on the Hayward Fault, did considerable damage in San Francisco. Mark Twain, then a San Francisco newspaper reporter, covered it.

    Later that year there was an outbreak of smallpox in Northern California. So in six years California had a flood, a drought, wildfires, two earthquakes and a plague.
    The Californians of the day didn't blame SUV's, fallen power lines, or laboratory leaks for these calamities. Instead they went about their business supplying gold and materials to the Union war effort and completing the Transcontinental Railroad.

    Today we have vastly more wealth, technology, and know-how to address our problems, yet do much more complaining and vilifying of our fellows. We are truly an undeserving lot.

    Friday, January 06, 2023


    (Image from Stellar House Publishing)
    For the past two years January 6th has been regarded in some quarters as the day when American democracy nearly fell. Future scholars will judge whether the events at the Capitol were historically significant (in my opinion, not very), but it should be noted that January 6th was already an important date in Christendom. (The retreat of religion from public life has not yet come to the point when the newer meaning has supplanted the old.)

    The Feast of the Epiphany was an occasion for Catholic and Anglican services.
    In a more observant time the Feast of Epiphany was celebrated in Church on January 6th, even if the sixth fell on a weekday. The children's Christmas pageant was held on Epiphany, rather than Christmas Eve, because that was when the Magi (three kings) by tradition visited the manger.
    Chalking the door of St. Philip's, Uvalde, TX
    Against the trend, an Epiphany ritual is being rediscovered.
    From the Epiphany and continuing for days to come, more and more Episcopalians are joining other Christians around the world in writing this ancient yet ever-changing formula on their doors: 20+C+M+B+23.

    The numbers, letters and symbols have been called “holy graffiti,” and some people suggest the combination looks like the start of an algebraic equation.

    The letters C, M, B come from the traditional names for the wise men: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, whose arrival at Mary and Joseph’s home is celebrated on the Epiphany. (Tradition also says that three men visited the infant Jesus because the gospel writer Matthew, the only one who describes such a visit but does not number them, says they brought three gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh. Their names appear in a Greek manuscript from 500 AD translated into Latin, which many biblical scholars consider the source of the names.) The letters are also an abbreviation for “Christus Mansionem Benedicat,” which means “May Christ bless this dwelling.” The first and last numbers refer to the current year, and the plus signs in between represent the cross.

    “Chalking the door,” as it is known, is seen as invoking Christ’s blessing not only on the physical house but on the people who live there and those who visit.
    Maybe secularism is bottoming out, and we're on the verge of a fourth Great Awakening? Crazier things have come true.

    Thursday, January 05, 2023

    "Did We Win?"

    Three days after he suffered a cardiac arrest on national television Damar Hamlin regained consciousness:
    “Did we win?” he asked his bedside nurse.

    Hamlin is now awake and appears to be neurologically intact, his physicians said, as they detailed his condition at a news conference for the first time after Hamlin collapsed and suffered cardiac arrest during Monday’s game. The doctors from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center spoke cautiously, noting that he remains critically ill, and is on a ventilator as his lungs continue to heal...

    Hamlin continues to undergo intensive care and receive assistance for breathing. “We would like to see him continue to improve, to be completely breathing on his own, and then to be ready to be discharged from the hospital,” [Dr. Timothy] Pritts said. “We really want to get him home.”
    Players, coaches, the thousands affiliated with NFL teams, and millions of fans had their priorities upended when the Buffalo Bills safety collapsed on the field. Everyone familiar with the game had seen on-field injuries, some severe, but never had anyone witnessed a player on the edge of losing his life.

    The minds of the Bills and Cincinnati Bengals were no longer on playing football Monday night, and the game was suspended. The news, both print and electronic, have since been filled with discussions about the rewards and health risks of football, whether the Bills and Bengals should continue their contest, and the implications for the locations of playoff games leading to the Super Bowl under either scenario.

    Regardless of their position on these topics, all have stated that the most important consideration was the health and well-being of Damar Hamlin and his family.

    His first comment was therefore both amusing and poignant. When someone undergoes a life-altering experience, one usually resets priorities while the rest of society goes on as usual. "Did we win?" reminded us how Damar changed everyone's perspective about football, while the catalyst himself remained in the world that existed the second before he went down.

    Wednesday, January 04, 2023

    One Day to Prepare

    Water exited under the fence.
    Sunday's rain flooded the backyard, and the storm water exited under the fence to the street.

    Yesterday was spent smoothing over the channel, then digging a trench to direct the water elsewhere (we have poor drainage).

    Outside the fence the dirt was covered with a garden cloth to reduce erosion.

    These moves may not be enough to protect against the more intense winds and rain that will begin tonight, but admittedly our problems are minor compared to our fellow citizens.

    Papering over the problem.
    Wednesday night headline: strong winds and heavy rain batter Bay Area
    With many more hours of rain and winds yet to come into Thursday morning, the tempest had already left its mark, with at least one fatality and widespread havoc across the larger Bay Area, including downed power lines, blocked roads, mudslides and more.

    Images of a massive bomb cyclone showed a thick swirling band slamming into the Northern California coast, pushing wind gusts over 40 mph around the Bay and into the 80 mph range at higher elevations by early evening.

    Reports poured in of downed power lines in Marin County, waves pitching over the Embarcadero in San Francisco, fallen trees blocking both lanes of Hwy. 1 in Mendocino County, mudslides near multimillion-dollar homes in San Jose, flooding and washed-out trails in San Mateo County and evacuations in Richmond below a fissure-covered hillside.
    41,000 PG&E customers on the Peninsula are without power. So far, so good. I hope our luck holds up.

    Tuesday, January 03, 2023

    Weathering the Storm

    Apple lost nearly $1 trillion in value. Its 27% loss was bracketed by the S&P (-19%) and NASDAQ (-33%)
    Your humble investor/blogger has seen worse years than 2022 on a percentage basis, but the dollar value of his losses....well, I try not to think about how many hours I'd have to work in my pre-retirement life to make up for them.

    The portfolio was down about 20%. AAPL, which fell 27%, is the largest single holding, and less volatile industrials, utilities, bonds, and consumer staples helped to offset AAPL's decline.

    We've lived to fight another year, and these days that's not too bad.

    Monday, January 02, 2023

    Happy New Year

    New Year's Day dawned clear and cold in Foster City. After the rains the air smelled clean.

    The storms will resume next Wednesday.

    The three-day break in the weather will be a good time to begin an exercise program.

    We don't have great ambitions for 2023. We'd like to accomplish some modest health and financial goals, but if we just avoid the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune it will be a good year.

    Sunday, January 01, 2023

    A Water-ful New Year

    We try not to limit our reading to stories that confirm our biases (or our wishes), but we can't help it if this Mercury-News headline is above the fold. It feels like the drought is over. [bold added]
    As the new year begins, California’s Sierra is closing in on the second-largest snowpack we’ve seen at this time of year in the last two decades, with more snow expected to pummel the mountain range in the coming days.
    To be sure, the writers are cautious about jumping to conclusions (a caution they hardly ever display when they attribute every wild fire, hurricane, and dry spell to global warming):
    On Saturday, the statewide average stood at a whopping 162% of normal compared to historic averages for this time of year, just eclipsing last year’s figure. But a Bay Area News Group analysis found that of the seven times in the last 20 years that California started the new year with an above-average snowpack, only twice — 2005 and 2011 — did it finish the snow season in April still above average.
    We're not so cautious. It looks like a water-ful new year.