Tuesday, February 28, 2023

No, I Didn't Need to See It

Tilden Park, Berkeley (Mercury News photo)
Getting out of town during the freeze, I got the timing right.

While the Bay Area experienced "its most famous snow day in close to 50 years" I was chilling in the 70°F weather in Honolulu. And no, I didn't need to see the snow.

Your humble former college student lived through his first snowfall in Connecticut. It was new and exciting for about a week.

Then I slipped on an icy sidewalk and landed ignominiously on a body part that fortunately had a lot of padding. After those college winters I've spent over 99% of my non-business life in California and Hawaii, as God intended.

California needs the water, so I'm glad rain and snow are pummeling the Bay Area...while I'm gone.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Coming This Way Again

The thick clouds mixed with blue skies this morning portended short squalls, and sure enough, I was soaked several times in the morning and afternoon.

The tee shirt and shorts dried quickly in the warmth, and unless I needed to be presentable for work or a date (phenomena in the distant past for your humble blogger), it wasn't necessary to go home to change.

Besides, I didn't want to spend my trip doing laundry every day.

At the International Market Place tourists took pictures in front of the "Aloha" sign.

It looked pretty cool on the wooden floor, yet had a smidgeon of tackiness because of the ubiquity of "Aloha."

I took a picture anyway. One can never be sure about coming this way again.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

If You're Going to Zoom, You May as Well Zoom from Someplace Warm

With St. Ambrose looking over his shoulder,
the rector reviewed the state of the congregation.
Taking a break from the Hawaiian vacation, I tuned in to the livestream worship service back home in the Bay Area.

Today was the new Rector's first Annual Meeting, and he already made one significant change by holding it in the middle, not the end of, the service.

IMHO, the new format was much more efficient. In previous years lunch accompanied the meeting and there was more socializing. Today conversation, including an open questions and answers section, was all business.

The new regime raised my committee's budget without my asking, and it's only coincidental that I like the way things are going so far.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

All the Time in the World

Market City is one of the larger neighborhood shopping centers on Oahu. A mile from the family home, it's your humble blogger's regular destination for supermarket shopping and picking up dinner.

The restaurants are busy, but rarely do the lines go out the door and never do they stretch 50 feet. The lady at the Korean barbecue said the new Kamitoku Hot Pot restaurant was charging $5 for a $15 meal. It was a "soft opening" pre-celebration of the "grand opening" in March.

Yelp reviewers already have cautioned that the wait for a table could be well over an hour. That didn't seem to deter the young-ish crowd that was happily chatting away, texting, and taking pictures.

I ordered take-out, bought a few items at Foodland, and returned to the car. After 30 minutes the line had barely moved. When you're young, you have all the time in the world.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Headline Unique to Hawaii

Headlines can be alarming, but sometimes one just has to read the story (illegal sandbags?) out of curiosity. [bold added]
State officials are once again trying to crack down on the dozens of sandbag barriers, known as burritos, that have come to litter Hawaii’s beaches. This time they are pushing legislation that would require beachfront property owners who have installed the structures illegally or under temporary permits to disclose the structures and any fines or enforcement actions they may be facing to prospective buyers when they seek to sell their homes...

State laws largely forbid private-property owners from erecting shoreline hardening structures, which have caused beach loss throughout the state. As waves push up against the barriers that protect private homes and businesses, they claw away at the sand and prevent beaches from being re-nourished.

But property owners have found various ways to exploit loopholes in state and county laws over the years to harden the shorelines in front of their homes, including installing burritos and mounds of sandbags under temporary emergency permits and then not removing them once they expire.

The burritos, which typically cost tens of thousands of dollars, include long, heavy sandbags, which are often attached to black tarps.
North Shore homes with black tarp (msn photo)
Beach erosion is a serious issue, and given the exorbitant price of land in Hawaii, it's understandable why homeowners want to protect their property. However, it looks like the environmentalists once again have the upper hand in the legislature, and homeowners' net worth will be washed away.

Note: students of newswriting will note that it's obvious where the reporter stands. "Prevent beaches from being re-nourished" could easily be rephrased "slow property erosion" or even "prevent beaches from being replenished with sand". "Re-nourished": another bow to Mother Gaia.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Leave the Parka, Take the Slippers

The low temperature is expected to be 37°F tomorrow morning in Foster City.

It's a good time to leave for the Islands to tend to financial matters and family obligations.

I think I'm really going to enjoy this trip to my home town.

Honolulans have told me to dress warmly because the temperatures have fallen to 68°F.

Noted, but I'll still leave the parka in California.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Making Nice in Palo Alto

(Mercury News photo)
It's not as noteworthy as the lion lying down with the lamb, but the most prominent businessman and one of the most prominent politicians in the U.S. made nice today:
Tesla has decided to base its engineering headquarters in Palo Alto at a former Hewlett-Packard site, the company’s top boss Elon Musk announced on Wednesday.

Musk made the announcement in Palo Alto during an unusual joint appearance with Gov. Gavin Newsom. The pair have sparred in the past over California’s business climate...California and its political establishment...were jolted in 2021 when Tesla decided to decamp its headquarters from the Golden State and move the company’s corporate offices to Texas.
Both men have attracted attention by making public statements that inflame political activists on the left and right. But they didn't get to where they were by passing up opportunities to make a win-win deal.

IMHO, the "real" Gavin Newsom and the "real" Elon Musk are both shrewd, calculating individuals who measure both the short- and long-term consequences of their actions. The next time they issue a provocative tweet that makes you cheer or sputter, that's exactly what they wanted you to do.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Prioritizing Underground Water Storage

Ways of recharging the aquifer (Water Education Fdn)
We've lamented that California has built very little water storage though
State voters have approved eight water bonds since 2000 that authorize some $27 billion in funding for various water projects.
California is now known for being a State that can't get any important project built, whether it be high-speed rail, low-cost housing, or hydroelectric dams.

It's time to prioritize below-ground storage.
Winter storms have filled California’s reservoirs and built up a colossal Sierra snowpack that’s nearly twice its normal size for this time of year. But years of dry conditions have created problems far beneath Earth’s surface that aren’t as easily addressed.

Groundwater — found in underground layers containing sand, soil and rock — is crucial for drinking water and sustaining farms. During drought years, 60% of California’s annual water supply comes from groundwater. This water is not easily replenished, especially as many groundwater basins across the state are critically overdrafted...

Compared with 2004, the amount of water on and below the ground in 2022 has dropped by nearly 55 cubic kilometers.
Recharge site in Selma, CA.
Hydrologist Jay Famiglietti, a professor at Arizona State University, and NASA scientist Pang-Wei Liu used satellite data and surface measurements to determine groundwater depletion. Of the 55 cubic kilometer total diminishment in California's water supply since 2004, approximately 40 cubic kilometers, or 73% came from groundwater.

Time for a little arithmetic. The acre-foot, which is the quantity of a sheet of water one acre in area by one foot deep, is a standard measure of water volume. The average household uses between one-half and one acre-foot per year. There are 810,714 acre-feet in 1 cubic kilometer. The two largest reservoirs in California, Shasta and Oroville, hold 5.6 and 4.3 cubic kilometers of water, respectively.

To create additional above-ground reservoirs the equivalent of Shasta and Oroville would cost many billions of dollars. If water from the snowpack could be directed to underground storage and then withdrawn when needed (we know that California has already taken out 40 cubic kilometers net), that method would be much more cost effective then building dams. Without human intervention six to nine wet years in a row would be required to replenish the aquifer.

Farmers, hydrologists, and agronomists realized one century ago that underground wells could fill faster if the land were managed to absorb flood waters. Today much more is known about Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR), but little has been done since we last wrote about this subject seven years ago.

It makes sense to build more recharge stations on land that's already equipped for them. The financial, environmental, and regulatory obstacles are much less than other water-storage alternatives. If Californians blow it again, we are truly an undeserving people.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Shaking Your Booty from the Inside

Constipation has to be really, really bad before I resort to this:
patients swallow a capsule that vibrates to stimulate the intestines.

The capsule, called Vibrant, was cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration in August and this week became available for doctors.

In the intestines, the vibrations are intended to stimulate specialized nerve cells called mechanosensory cells, which in turn trigger undulating muscle contractions that help squeeze food through the gut.
Suppose the capsule "trigger(s) undulating muscle contractions" that won't stop? Suppose it gets stuck inside and won't come out when it's supposed to? Suppose TSA, which stopped me for a single Kleenex in a shirt pocket, won't let me through until the capsule is removed?

Thanks, but I'll stick with eating enough oatmeal to produce the desired effect.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Aunt Eva (1932 - 2023)

Aunt Eva, Uncle Mel, and Debbie
Aunt Eva, the last of my father's eight siblings, passed away last night.

Eva was always busy working, going to church, and raising her family.

She checked on her brothers and their offspring when we were kids and continued to do so long after she retired. She managed her older sister's estate after the latter's son predeceased his mother.

Thank you, Auntie, for being the glue that held our sprawling family together. R.I.P.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Language Pushback

We're accustomed to hearing accusations of racism, class-ism, and sexism thrown about in any discussion of housing; what's unusual is that this time there was pushback:
Kylie Clark (LinkedIn photo)
Los Gatos Town Council censured a planning commissioner for using “divisive language” in a letter to the state, in which she said “rich, white, anti-housing men” organized the referendum on the town’s plan for future growth.

Council voted unanimously Feb. 15 to censure Commissioner Kylie Clark, an action that serves as a formal disapproval of her comments.
The City of Los Gatos is 72% white, and the median house value is $1.8 million, so Ms. Clark may well be factually correct that leaders of the housing referendum were rich, white men.

But by describing them as such to the exclusion of other attributes, she is strongly implying that their decision-making is due to their race, class, and sex and not to other factors, for example, environmental considerations, traffic, and infrastructure.

If she had evidence to support her claim, she should have presented it. In its absence, the Town Council was right to call her on it.

Friday, February 17, 2023

SF Homelessness: A Three-Decade-Long "Emergency"

Yes, it's another meeting on homelessness,
but this time it will be different.
Watching a 1994 episode of Murder She Wrote set in San Francisco, I was struck by the inclusion of a homeless character who played a major role in the solution of a murder. Even back then it was widely known that San Francisco had a homelessness problem.

Three decades and billions of dollars later, fed-up residents want San Francisco to declare a state of emergency:
Frustrated by the crisis of persistent homelessness in San Francisco, a group of residents wants the city to declare a state of emergency to enable a more urgent response to the problem.

The move would be similar to action taken by newly elected Mayor Karen Bass in Los Angeles, who declared a homelessness emergency on her first day in office in December to fast-track moving thousands of people off the streets. It would also mirror Mayor London Breed’s emergency declaration over COVID-19, which cut through red tape and helped major policy changes happen quickly. At last count, nearly 4,400 people were counted living on San Francisco streets in one night.
The residents were mad and motivated, but there were no new ideas that came out of the discussions. Converting existing vacant buildings, prioritizing women and children, and cutting red tape have all been heard before.

Rechristening the problem an emergency might well get a few hundred more people off the streets in relatively little time, but the improvement will be short-term. The most probable outcome is that San Francisco will have spent even more dollars and homelessness will remain as intractable as ever.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Marin County Leads the Way

(Tripadvisor photo)
Marin County became (in)famous as the land of hot tubs and peacock feathers in the 1978 NBC documentary, I Want It All Now. In the eyes of many in the national TV audience that documentary confirmed Marin County as the home of wealthy, non-traditional sybarites.

That stereotype only applied to a small number of residents, and Marin County in any event continued to be one of the Bay Area's most desirable places to live during the next four decades. That is, until last year.
from July 2021 to 2022, Marin lost more of its population than any other county in the Bay Area over the same time period, according to estimates recently released by the California Department of Finance. The county’s population dwindled by about 6,600 people — a loss of 15 residents for every 1,000 people that lived there in 2021...

(Chronicle graph)
One reason why Marin County lost population, experts said, is that its residents haven’t had a lot of kids lately — nor are they likely to.

The county’s median age of 46.9 years is the highest of any Bay Area county, and more than nine years higher than the state overall...

All of these factors — older population, low number of jobs relative to nearby counties and high rate of move-outs — are connected to Marin’s lack of housing, [Public Policy Institute's Hans] Johnson said.

Marin built just 5,862 homes from 2010 to 2021, or 32 units per 1,000 residents as of its 2010 population. That number is by far the smallest of any Bay Area county.
When I Want It All Now was shown in 1978, California was much more diverse, culturally and politically. It was the home state of conservative governor Ronald Reagan, who would be elected President two years later, and Richard Nixon, who served as President from 1968 to 1974. Marin County was at the left end of the country's political spectrum, and Orange County was on the right. California could accommodate everyone.

In retrospect Marin values won. The county was at the vanguard of the Progressive takeover of California, and today not a single Republican holds a California State office; the last elected Republican U.S. Senator was Pete Wilson (1988).

In 2023 Marin may be leading California again, this time on a different path.
while Marin may be an extreme instance of the Bay Area-wide trend in population loss, it’s still an example, rather than an outlier. California, after all, lost nearly 500,000 people in just two years, from mid-2020 to mid-2022
Demographic trends, especially regarding birth and death rates, are difficult to reverse. Marin, the Bay Area, and California haven't hit bottom yet.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Brain Protection: Not Just for Football Players and Construction Workers

Amazon sells this $79 lead cap hood
People who wear tin-foil hats have been mocked for nearly a century, but they weren't crazy, just ahead of their time.

Headline: When Your Boss is Tracking Your Brain
Over the years, these electroencephalogram, or EEG, devices, along with the software and algorithms that power them, have gotten better at tracking brain-wave signals and decoding people’s emotions and cognitive skills. Some employers use the devices to monitor employees’ fatigue and offer brain-wave tracking as part of wellness programs designed to decrease stress and anxiety.
My mental alacrity has diminished significantly from when I was in high school, and I'm glad that I retired before employers' brain-scanning devices could document the degradation.

If I ever do go back to work, I'm wearing a lead hoodie purportedly to hide my balding pate, but you and I will know the real reason, dear reader.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

The Pity of The Preening

(Image from Brewminate)
Beginning in 2016 the City of San Francisco prohibited travel to and business with states that disagreed with progressive values. (The restrictions applied to the City and its employees.) The list of banned states that had different laws on LGBTQ, abortion, and/or voting rights has mushroomed to 30, and San Francisco has found itself greatly inconvenienced.
a new city report said the law has been ineffective and cumbersome....The report also found the law adds costs and complexity to city contracting...

“It’s an ineffective policy that complicates the business of San Francisco government and makes it very likely that we pay more than we should for goods and services,” [Supervisor Rafael] Mandelman said in an interview Monday...

Supervisors established the boycott in October 2016 when they approved a law that banned city-funded travel to states that had restricted LGBTQ rights in the wake of the 2015 Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. The law also prevented the city from approving contracts with companies based in the banned states.

In subsequent years, supervisors expanded the boycott to include states that passed laws to limit abortion access and voting rights.
Your humble blogger believes that it is perfectly within the City's right to conduct its affairs according to its own moral code. But the City had another objective--to convert other jurisdictions to San Francisco values by withholding business. Accomplishment of the latter has been nil.
[City Administrator Carmet] Chu’s office said in its Friday report that it could not find any concrete evidence that the states targeted by the boycott had changed their laws because of San Francisco’s actions.

The law “has created additional administrative burden for City staff and vendors and unintended consequences for San Francisco citizens, such as limiting enrichment and developmental opportunities,” Chu’s report said. “Few, if any, other jurisdictions implement travel or contracting bans as expansive as the City’s.”
Lectures and threats rarely convert anyone to a cause, though San Francisco may have had a chance if it was excellent in its governance. However, its widely publicized failures in dealing with crime, homelessness, and drug use, plus the exodus of middle-class families and businesses, have put paid to that notion.

The pity of this preening is that it wasted money, squandered moral capital, and made fellow Americans less inclined to help San Francisco when it needs it, and that day will assuredly come.

Monday, February 13, 2023

It's Not Really About Shoes

(WSJ montage)
The Nike Dunk Low Retro White Black (aka "Panda Dunk") was a hot property with aficionados until the shoes became ubiquitous:
The sneakers illustrate the primary conundrum of limited-edition items: Enough have to be available to become a mass-market phenomenon, while remaining rare enough to seem exclusive...

The Panda’s frequent restocks were too much for Miami-based event producer Norma Moreno, who got a pair when the model first came out but decided to give them away after they became too common.

The 32-year-old said the sales represented how streetwear culture has been watered down. “No one is showing that off,” referring to the Panda Dunk, she said.
If the shoes are comfortable, durable, look nice, and are not too expensive (currently over $200 on Amazon), then I would be in the market. Despite the disdain from some quarters, there's still a significant social-status premium embedded in the price of Panda Dunks, so I'm not interested.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

COVID Guidelines for Worship

The Diocese' current COVID guidelines for worship are: [bold added]
1) Masking is strongly encouraged as an individual choice. This protects the individual from catching a virus AND it insures that the individual won’t be the cause of spreading any viruses.
2) Being up-to-date on one’s vaccination status regarding COVID and pneumonia shots is always a prudent health practice, whether in church or elsewhere.
3) Using a hand-sanitizer when entering church is strongly encouraged.
4) Keeping the church as well-ventilated as possible when people are gathered for worship or other indoor activities.
The take-away is that none of these guidelines are mandatory.

Generally speaking, everyone under 60, about half today's congregation of 25 people, were not masked. The choice was the individual's, not the bishop's or priest's.

The Episcopal Church is a strong advocate of free will and claims that it tries to minimize the occasions where beliefs and behaviors are mandatory. It's nice to see it following this principle with regards to COVID.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Apple Visitors Center

The $5 billion mothership: close but out of reach.
The last occasion to visit Apple's headquarters was during a shareholders' meeting ten years ago.

The office buildings on Infinite Loop were well-appointed low-rises, but not noticeably different from other Silicon Valley companies.

The $5 billion circular headquarters building has been open for five years, and, since we were in Cupertino, it was time to check out the Apple Park Visitor Center.

It took less than 15 minutes to stroll through the main sections.

The rooftop terrace provided a view of the mothership. Movie images (Men in Black, ET, Independence Day, the Day the Earth Stood Still, etc.) of flying saucers are familiar, but being in the presence of something large, tangible, and circular does stimulate an emotion akin to awe. Millions of iPhone sales went into the headquarters construction.

Having just picnicked, we didn't spend much time in the café. Nor did we linger in the exhibit room, which had a scale model of the headquarters, visitor center, and the rest of Apple Park. The exhibit was distinguished by virtual reality technology; pointing an iPad at any section of the model called up an audio-visual presentation. It's quite an advancement over the cassette players that we used to rent for museum tours.

What I found most impressive were the lavatories, which were pristine and high-tech throughout. There was minimal touching of the fixtures. Even the corridors (pictured) had a futuristic-but-sterile feel. The $80 million (per Wikipedia) for the Visitor Center had to be spent somewhere.

At the Apple Store we bought T-shirts and an iPhone 14 Pro with specifications that we couldn't find at the Apple Store near our house. After basking in the ambience of Apple Park we were indeed privileged to spend money (using Apple Pay, of course) at the Apple Visitor Center.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Successfully Claiming the Middle Class Tax Refund

The California Middle Class Tax Refund (MCTR) card came three weeks ago. It was time to get the money.

From news reports scammers are able to drain the account after the card is activated, so I delayed that move until I was ready to use the card.

At the local Citibank branch this afternoon, I phoned the 1-800 number on the sticker and dutifully typed in the last six digits of my social security number. A computerized voice instructed me to create a 4-digit PIN, at which point it specified the card value.

The teller asked me to insert the Citibank ATM card, input its 4-digit PIN, then insert the MCTR Visa card and type its 4-digit PIN. I said that I wanted the entire amount transferred to my checking account. The teller said that the maximum daily amount was $600 (unclear if that was a card or Citibank limitation). He transferred that sum immediately and suggested that I come back tomorrow to claim the rest.

Fearful of waiting another day, I drove to the Bank of America branch to deposit the remaining funds. After I inserted the BoA ATM card and PIN, the teller inspected my driver's license, then processed the MCTR card. She took more time with the forms than the Citi teller. In the end all was well; the rest of the money was put into the checking account.

1) Neither bank imposed a transaction fee.

2) The fund-draining scam clearly isn't occurring at the bank branches but at other venues, like online merchants, where Visa cards can be used.

3) Today the IRS finally ruled that the MCTR payments are not taxable by the Federal government (California declared them not to be taxable by the State last year).

4) I don't see why the Franchise Tax Board couldn't issue checks, like it did in the old days. Theft losses will still occur, but the crooks will have a much harder time.

Thursday, February 09, 2023

Know Your Place, Peasant Developer

When bureaucratic channels and conventional protests fail, hunger strikes are used as a last resort. Normally they're a tactic of the poor and powerless; the strikers hope to garner media attention and elicit public sympathy.

The complexity of compliance with government red tape has made a Silicon Valley developer resort to a hunger strike. The circumstance was so unusual that it captured today's Mercury News headline:
Navneet Aron, founder and CEO of Aron Developers, says he hasn’t eaten since last Friday morning. He has spent every weekday since then camped out in City Hall with a sign proclaiming, “On hunger strike until death!”

He’s protesting the city’s decision to stop construction of 18 townhomes on North Fair Oaks Avenue after his team forgot to obtain an approval from Santa Clara County’s Department of Environmental Health. Aron worries that fixing the issue could take months, which could mean the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in delayed construction costs.
His sin is that he didn't get permission from Santa Clara County to install a required vapor barrier before doing it; his paperwork with the City of Sunnyvale is apparently complete.
At issue in Aron’s case is a sheet of plastic, less than an inch thick, installed beneath the foundation of his townhomes. The plastic, called a vapor barrier, is designed to mitigate health risks. It prevents toxins in the soil from rising as vapor through the foundation and into the home, potentially impacting the residents. Aron installed those barriers, but he failed to get the county’s Department of Environmental Health to sign off before he did so.

City spokesperson Jennifer Garnett wrote in an emailed statement that the city has no intention of letting work proceed until the county has given the OK. “Developers are ultimately responsible for having a compliant project. The city had to issue a stop work order because Mr. Aron failed to meet health and safety conditions for his project,” Garnett said.
I used to think that ignorance of the law is no excuse. Now that the law consists of complying with dozens, if not hundreds, of regulations from multiple departments across different jurisdictions, ignorance of the law is assured.

"The city has no intention of letting work proceed until the county has given the OK." Know your place, peasant.

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

I Still Wouldn't Trade My Life for Theirs

Woody Allen: "80% of success is
showing up." Truer than ever.
To those of us who worked long hours for modest pay increases and sometimes just to keep our jobs, getting ahead today seems almost effortless: [bold added]
common-sense moves that might once have been considered standard—meeting people in person, doing small favors for colleagues, hitting deadlines even if it means occasional late nights—are now seen as exceptional in the current work climate...

Consultant Alec Agana, a senior associate at KPMG in Los Angeles, says he knows that long hours in the office were a baseline expectation for many of his predecessors. Now he says he scores points by showing up in person a few times a week, even though he is often required to go in just once.
Every generation thinks that the succeeding one has it easy, and yes, we boomers have become our parents and grandparents.

Tuesday, February 07, 2023

Reaching My Price Point

Oahu home prices have dropped closer to my price point (sarcasm):
The median sale price of previously owned single-family homes on Oahu has fallen below the $1 million mark that was first eclipsed in August 2021 and consistently met or exceeded until January.

January’s median price was $970,000, down 8% from $1,050,000 in the same month in 2022, according to Honolulu Board of Realtors data released Monday.
Everything's relative. The prices in my Bay Area neighborhood are north of $1.5 million, so if we sell our house and pay the income taxes (and in our case there still will be some after the $500,000 Section 121 exclusion), we'll have enough to pay cash for a home on Oahu.

If we want to downsize, as well as add to the nest egg, we could buy a condo:
The number of condo sales in January sank 50% to 275 from 552 in the same month a year earlier. A string of falling year-over-year sale volume began in June with a 14% decline that grew in size over the second half of 2022 to around 40% in November and December.

Condos sold for a median $495,000 in January. That was down 3% from $510,000 a year earlier. The record was $534,000 in June.
Malasadas and plate lunches can be expensive.

Monday, February 06, 2023

Speaking of Holes

Don't call it a manhole, you sexist pig.
This headline puzzled your humble blogger:

Body found in ‘sewage hole’ near Jack London Square in Oakland

My initial reaction was that a "sewage hole" must be a new element of the wastewater system. Is falling into a sewage hole another danger we must avoid? The entire story (below) did not provide clarity.
A body was found “lodged inside of a sewage hole” near Jack London Square, according to the Oakland Police Department.

The person was found unresponsive inside the hole at about 7:40 a.m. Saturday in the 300 block of Broadway, the police department reported. Oakland firefighters helped remove the person, and though paramedics tried to render aid, the person was pronounced dead at the scene.

The circumstances surrounding how the person ended up in the hole, and how long that person had been in there, remain unclear. The person’s name has not been released, pending notification of next of kin.

Anyone with information about the death can contact Oakland police at 510-238-3821 or 510-238-7950.
Understanding came with the realization that the new stylebook tries to eradicate all traces of gender from ordinary language. "Manholes" should be called maintenance, utility, or sewage holes.

IMHO, the replacement of "sewage hole" for "manhole" obfuscates meaning, substitutes a multi-syllabic phrase for a perfectly fine two-syllable one, and makes unnecessary work for a reporter who has to look up which system the hole leads to. And that's why I never understood or did well in the language arts.

Sunday, February 05, 2023

An Unsettled Spirit

Café Terrace at Night
Vincent Van Gogh has been celebrated in film and song for more than half a century.

His paintings command the highest prices in auction, his striking style is commonly recognizable, and his personal story--mental illness, unrequited love, self-mutilation, suicide--is the stuff of drama. Less popularly known are his Christian faith and the Christian themes that run throughout his oeuvre.
Van Gogh’s explicitly Christian works include “The Raising of Lazarus,” “The Good Samaritan” and two versions of “Pietà,” one of which hangs in the Vatican. Others are at least implicitly religious. About 30 versions of “The Sower” show a peasant at work. They also suggest the parable from the Gospels. Renderings of gardens and olive trees invoke Gethsemane. Paintings of irises may simply be paintings of irises—but the flowers tend to bloom around Easter and many believers associate them with the resurrection of Jesus.
Close-up of "Last Supper" section
of Café Terrace at Night
“Café Terrace at Night” is another magnum opus with a possibly hidden meaning. It arguably belongs to the starry-night genre, with its glimpse of the cool heavens above a warmly lit coffeehouse in Arles. Near its center, a man stands before a window with muntins that form a cross and beneath a gas lamp that could be a halo. A dozen seated diners surround him. A shadowy 13th figure darkens a doorway. Independent researcher Jared Baxter has called this Van Gogh’s “Symbolist Last Supper,” representing Jesus, the apostles and Judas.
Great artists try to convey deep truths in their work, and the act of doing so can make for an unsettled spirit.

Saturday, February 04, 2023

Light Me Up Some Loco Weed

(Image from Veriheal)
There's some evidence that cannabis can help late-stage Alzheimer's patients: [bold added]
Approximately 6.5 million Americans, or 1 in 9 people aged 65 and older, are living with Alzheimer’s dementia. Agitation, aggression, wandering, delusions, hallucinations, mood disturbances and repetitive vocalizations are very common symptoms as the disease progresses. There are no FDA-approved pharmaceuticals to treat the condition, so when behavioral techniques fail, doctors use off-label medications such as antidepressants, mood stabilizers or antipsychotics. Antipsychotics become necessary when the patient risks harming themselves or others due to the severity of the agitation, but they are only modestly effective and carry a black box warning for increasing the risk of death in this population.

Recent research suggests that cannabis may help to relieve agitation by regulating neurotransmitters, reducing brain inflammation and improving circadian rhythm disturbances seen in dementia. It is thought that cannabis binds with receptors located in the same regions of the brain implicated in dementia agitation. A study in mice further found that THC (the major psychoactive component in cannabis) may prevent the harmful plaques associated with Alzheimer’s from accumulating between neurons. Further research may yet determine whether cannabis has the potential not only to treat Alzheimer’s symptoms but to halt the disease’s progression.
I never touched the stuff when younger, but trust the science. If I get Alzheimer's agitation, my caregivers are authorized to light me up some loco weed.

Friday, February 03, 2023

Oroville at 65%

Lake Oroville's water level has certainly seen its ups and downs:
Built in the 1960s by former Gov. Edmund “Pat” Brown, Jerry Brown’s father, Oroville reservoir holds 3.5 million acre feet when full — enough water for about 18 million people a year. The massive reservoir in Butte County captures water from the Feather River watershed. Its dam is the tallest in the United States. At 770 feet, it towers more than 200 feet higher than the Washington Monument...

Over the past 20 years, Oroville has filled to the top seven times: 2003, 2005, 2006, 2011, 2012, 2017 and 2019. It is currently holding 2.3 million acre feet of water.
The Mercury News' "juxtapose" illustration shows the change in Oroville's water level between September, 2021 (22% full) and January, 2023 (65% full). Just drag the bar up and down with the cursor.

As noted above Oroville "filled to the top" in 2017 and 2019. In 2017 the snowmelt was so plentiful that the dam almost collapsed. Yet in 2021 the water was so low that "for the first time since it opened in 1967, its power plant had shut down."

Years alternate between extreme drought and heavy rains, as they have throughout California's recorded history. One of these decades I hope that we'll get leaders who will invest in water infrastructure instead of chasing windmill dreams.

Thursday, February 02, 2023

Groundhog Day, 2023

Today is Groundhog Day, when Phil, the groundhog from Punxsutawney, PA, predicts the weather for the next six weeks (cold if he sees his shadow, warm if he does not, and he did see his shadow.)

Today also celebrates the 30th anniversary of the movie, released on February 4, 1993. Groundhog Day was well-received when it came out and has grown in esteem to the extent that it is now considered to be one of the top films of all time. At its center is a vision of the meaning of life, but it is enclosed in a comedic wrapping that can be enjoyed on its own merits. As I wrote seven years ago:

Groundhog Day was a quirky custom in an out-of-the-way town--it didn't rise in the popular consciousness until the 1993 film.

I came across the movie on HBO in 1996. At first glance it was a cleverly written comedy about a jaded, world-weary weatherman who mysteriously must re-live Groundhog Day over and over again.

Bill Murray's character, Phil Connors, is trapped. Even when he despairingly "kills" himself he wakes up the next morning in the same hotel bed to the strains of Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe" on the clock-radio.

Phil-the-human cannot escape, yet in a sense he is totally free. He can commit any number of sins without consequence because he will have a fresh start tomorrow. No one but he remembers what he did.

Repeated viewings struck a chord. The movie plumbed deep waters. And I'm not alone in that realization.
In the years since its release the film has been taken up by Jews, Catholics, Evangelicals, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, and followers of the oppressed Chinese Falun Gong movement. Meanwhile, the Internet brims with weighty philosophical treatises on the deep Platonist, Aristotelian, and existentialist themes providing the skin and bones beneath the film’s clown makeup.

theology professor Michael P. Foley wrote that Groundhog Day is “a stunning allegory of moral, intellectual, and even religious excellence in the face of postmodern decay, a sort of Christian-Aristotelian Pilgrim’s Progress for those lost in the contemporary cosmos.”
The movie ends on a hopeful note. Phil makes positive changes of his own free will, without expectations of a reward. Only then is he released from the prison of endless repetition.

Part of the genius of Groundhog Day, the movie, is that it doesn't pummel you with philosophy. It invites you to think, but if you just want to laugh, that's ok, too. As Jonah Goldberg observes,
We’re talking about the movie in which Bill Murray tells a big rat sitting on his lap, “Don’t drive angry,”
Further musings in 2023 about Phil Connors' journey and our own:
In the film — written by Danny Rubin, a Zen Buddhist, according to Ramis’ DVD commentary of the film — Phil reincarnates each day, but he also transforms his behavior over “time.” He takes self-centered advantage of his unique predicament — robbing bank trucks, stuffing his face with angel food cake, tricking a woman into bed — but eventually perfects the day with creative self-improvement tasks and compassionately helping others. Once he becomes the best possible version of Phil Connors, he is released from his temporal prison, while simultaneously winning the love of his virtuous producer, Rita...

But something does change every day, even if it’s imperceptible. It’s ourselves. And we can choose how this day will unfold, and how we will slowly evolve. There might even be a “Groundhog Day”-inspired resolution: memorizing French poetry, playing the piano, figuring out how to help others more often. Like Phil, we can utilize creativity and compassion to change a glass-is-half-empty paradigm, to half full. The pursuit of meaning is itself meaningful. And today, as well as everyday, can be your first day of spring.
Wow, that's heavy! But putting it in perspective, Groundhog Day is also just about a big rat.

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Cause for Celebration

One month ago your humble non-meteorologist stated that it felt like the drought was over, though no authorities made such a declaration. The Sierra snowpack provides another piece of evidence: [bold added]
The snowpack was 205% of its historical average for this time of year on Wednesday....The last time there was as more snow, 28 years ago, on Feb. 1, 1995, it was 207% of normal.

The huge bounty is the fourth largest statewide since 1950, when consistent statewide records began, according to a Bay Area News Group analysis of historical data. Only 1952 (267% of average) and 1969 (230%), and 1995 (208%) had larger amounts on Feb. 1.

In a few places, like Highland Meadow in Alpine County, the snowpack is the largest in recorded history.

Around Lake Tahoe, stop signs and fire hydrants have been buried in snow. Ski resorts that struggled during three years of drought, wildfire and COVID are seeing a banner year. The snow base Tuesday at Palisades was 11 feet deep. At Kirkwood it was 12 feet. And at Mammoth Mountain, south of Yosemite National Park, it was nearly 20 feet deep.
The good news is that, even if the winter rains stop, the Northern California water supply is in good shape for the current year:
“The storms could shut off,” said Jay Lund, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at UC Davis. “That’s the worst case. But even in the worst case, we’re still going to have a good snowpack. Most of it is in the bank, and will appear as streamflow.”
More heavy rains could cause flooding, however.
But if California receives big, warm, soaking storms that park over the Sierra, much of the snowpack could melt suddenly, causing mayhem.
The ideal water scenario would be the following:
If the rest of the spring plays out well, moderate storms will come in, with dry spells in between, allowing reservoirs to gradually continue filling just as summer is starting and the risk of floods is ending.
It's not enough for Californians that the December and January precipitation has chased away extreme drought. We want the storms to be "moderate" and short-lived so that the reservoirs fill while no floods occur.

There's no harm in hoping for the best, but hope should not turn into disappointment if we don't get a perfect rainy season. The water we've received so far is enough cause for celebration.