Sunday, April 30, 2023

Sandwiches on Children's Day

Every 5-6 years Children's Day falls on April 30th. The community center's parking lot is filled with booths and activities, and we have to hold Sandwiches on Sunday at the back entrance.

Antonio from the community center directed our regular customers to the temporary location. We passed out lunches to a number of new faces--festival-goers who heard that there was free food out back--and within 20 minutes all 80 bags and bottles of water were distributed.

The volunteers took a few minutes to check out the Children's Day festivities. It seemed more subdued than previous years, with less music, dancing, costumes, and food.

The funk that everyone seems to be in for the past three years still lingers.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Making Sandwiches and Biting One's Tongue

On Saturday I got to the church an hour early to set up the assembly line. The sandwich ingredients were laid out next to the plastic baggies, and the brown paper bags were pre-filled with fruit, napkins, and trail mix packages.

The four people who showed up offered suggestions about how to prepare sandwiches more efficiently. The foreman (yours truly) accepted all their suggestions because it's important to keep workers happy, especially if all parties know the laborers are severely underpaid.

We finished the eighty (80) bags in 2½ hours, a half an hour longer than normal, but the foreman bit his tongue about the purported efficiency improvements. He wants the workers to come back next time.

Friday, April 28, 2023

"A Catastrophic Act of Cultural Destruction"

Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021): my last DVD rental?
Spider-Man: No Way Home is the current DVD I'm renting through Netflix. It may be my last, because Netflix announced it will terminate its DVD business on September 29th (discs can still be returned after that date).

Paying $9.99 per month, I haven't been an efficient user of the rental service. Sometimes the disc sits in the player for a month before viewing, or worse, it's returned because I just didn't care to watch it after all.

But I still maintain the DVD plan, because it's convenient to pay one provider instead of hunting for which streaming service is carrying the movie I want to watch. Also, many older movies cannot be found on any streaming plan:
Netflix’s recent announcement that it will discontinue its physical DVD distribution business later this year is a catastrophic act of cultural destruction...

In 2018 the film-data researcher Stephen Follows tracked the availability of the 100 top-grossing films from 1970 to 2017. Those released in the most recent decade were available via streaming, digital renting or purchase. As Mr. Follows worked back in time, however, movies became hard to find commercially. Just half of top-grossing films from the early 1970s could be streamed. Older, less profitable, experimental and independent works hardly streamed at all.

If it’s worth seeing, you may think, the magic of the marketplace will bring it to Hulu or Amazon Prime. This month the Washington Post’s Ty Burr reminds us of some movies we can’t stream: “Cocoon” (1985), directed by Ron Howard, “Short Cuts” (1993) by Robert Altman, “New York, New York” (1977) by Martin Scorsese, “Henry & June” (1990) by Philip Kaufman and “Silkwood” (1983) by Mike Nichols.

Of the 23,000-plus movies released in the U.S. since 1899, streaming services offer only 7,300—and that includes foreign titles. If a film happens to be streaming somewhere, odds are it’s on a platform you don’t pay for. The average American household subscribes to four streaming services out of the many available.
Another point in favor of DVD's: they are impervious to sneak-editing of their content. Steven Spielberg inveighed against the recent tendency to edit books and movies to make them conform to today's morality:
Spielberg acknowledged that the digital modifications [turning police guns into walkie-talkies] he made to the 20th anniversary edition of E.T. were "a mistake. I never should have done that. E.T. is a product of its era. No film should be revised based on the lenses we now are, either voluntarily, or being forced to peer through."

The director insisted that "All our movies are a kind of a signpost of where we were when we made them, what the world was like, and what the world was receiving when we got those stories out there."
If there arises a business that rents a fairly complete library of un-bowdlerized DVD's, I would be a customer.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Tunnel Vision

The Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge are Northern California's most famous monuments to America's golden century of engineering (bookended roughly from the Civil War to the Apollo missions).

For my money, however, the most important is the Hetch Hetchy system, which furnishes water to the Bay Area. [bold added]
The regional water system provides water to 2.4 million people in San Francisco, Santa Clara, Alameda and San Mateo counties. Eighty-five percent of the water comes from Sierra Nevada snowmelt stored in the Hetch Hetchy reservoir situated on the Tuolumne River in Yosemite National Park. Hetch Hetchy water travels 160 miles via gravity from Yosemite to the San Francisco Bay Area.
The system uses gravity until the water reaches its destinations, where pumping stations are required. With its three hydroelectric power plants Hetch Hetchy produces electricity sufficient to power 300,000 households per year.
Groveland access point to Mountain Tunnel (Chron)
Essential to the entire system is the 19-mile Mountain Tunnel, which is undergoing repairs:
Today, the 19-mile-long Mountain Tunnel is critical to San Francisco: It is the only pathway for Hetch Hetchy Reservoir water to travel from one of the powerhouses that generate hydroelectricity to another reservoir downstream.

For two consecutive winters, Mountain Tunnel has been under renovation after it was first red-flagged for major repairs 30 years ago. SFPUC has completed about 40% of the total construction and plans to close the tunnel for five more winters, ending in 2027...

Through pipes above and below ground, water from Hetch Hetchy Reservoir flows 150 miles through a series of tunnels, powerhouses and reservoirs before reaching the Bay Area’s local water system 32 hours later. Taking advantage of grade changes from the Sierra Nevada to the Bay Area, the original engineers were able to construct a probable pathway for water to travel entirely via one of the most climate-friendly sources of power available: gravity.
I am glad that we still have enough engineering knowhow to repair the Mountain Tunnel at a cost of $238 million instead of replacing it for $500 million to $1 billion.

Also, the SFPUC is betting that local reservoirs will be sufficient to satisfy the lower seasonal demand when the Tunnel is closed for repairs for the next four winters.

So pray for rain.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Worn Out

While shopping in San Bruno, I was ticketed for an unreadable license plate (picture, right). The plate is perfectly decipherable to human eyes, but traffic scanners have trouble discerning it.

I wrote a letter contesting the $50 fine. Not only did I point out that I didn't see(!) the problem, I also noted that the Camry had been parked outdoors for 16 years.

Any degradation in the license plate had to be due to wear and tear from exposure to the elements, and surely the law didn't mean to fine us folks who couldn't afford a garage or car port. The pity-me social-justice-y argument didn't work, and a harshly worded notice for $50 arrived four months later.

So I paid up.
1) Saving $50 wasn't worth pursuing the matter.
2) I did feel sorry for San Bruno. The plague of homelessness, drug use, and property crime has spread south from San Francisco, and SB is feeling financial pressure.

Later a Foster City cop pulled me over with a warning that the license plate was unreadable. At the DMV the cost of replacement plates was $22, under the condition that I give the old ones back.

The only advice I have after all this is to pick your fights with City Hall, because most of them aren't worth the price.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Putting the Boycott Out of its Misery

Prohibited states in red (local news matters)
We posted in February and October about how San Francisco's boycott of other States backfired in a tangle of red tape and higher costs. After seven years the Board of Supervisors repealed the law.
The boycott law was originally passed by supervisors in 2016 and first applied only to states that had restricted LGBTQ rights after the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage across the country. Supervisors amended the law in subsequent years to apply also to states that placed new limits on abortion access and voting rights.

A central goal of the boycott was to put pressure on other states, but a recent report by City Administrator Carmen Chu’s office found that only one state had been removed from the list and none ever said they changed their laws because of San Francisco’s. Additionally, the report found that the law made city contracting a more cumbersome and expensivere process.

An earlier report from the board’s Budget and Legislative Analyst found that implementing the boycott had cost the city nearly $475,000 in staffing expenses. And the city was approving a large number of exemptions to the boycott anyway: Departments granted 538 waivers for contracts worth $791 million between mid-2021 and mid-2022, the report found.
If San Francisco had given any thought to how people change their thoughts and minds, San Francisco would have tried to engage in discussions and allay opponents' fears. Instead it resorted immediately to the bully-and-boycott approach. The latter failed, and I'm glad it did even though I agree with some of the principles that San Francisco espouses.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Apple Savings

Despite the year-long rise in interest rates, our major-bank savings account rate has not budged from 0.03%(!) On our average balance of $10,000 we earn a handsome (sarc) $3 per year. Meanwhile, last week Apple launched its Savings Account that pays 4.15%. (Accounts under $250,000 are managed by Goldman Sachs and are insured by the FDIC.} Your humble blogger is not so wealthy that he sneezes at the difference between $3 and $415.

Establishing the Apple Savings account took a couple of minutes on the iPhone. I opened the Wallet app, tapped the Apple Card and the three dots (...) in the upper corner and selected Daily Cash. Setting up the Savings Account required entering my Social Security Number for tax reporting and checking a withholding option.

The bank account that pays the monthly Apple Card charges is the same account that is used for savings deposits and withdrawals. I immediately transferred $1,000 into Apple Savings.

I feel myself getting richer already.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Outward and Visible Signs

2011: At Sandwiches on Sunday children help to feed the hungry.
We've posted before about our hunch--perhaps it's wishful thinking--that church attendance has bottomed out.

But the feeling is based on more than self-absorbed Baby Boomers becoming conscious of their own mortality.

I've seen people coming back--or coming for the first time--because churches, independent of theology,
  • introduce their children to moral perspectives not found at school;
  • have already built a structure for helping the poor in the local community;
  • don't twist their arms for donations of money and time (some places do, but twistees can leave);
  • provide near-instantaneous feedback about volunteer efforts;
  • furnish a place where they can see beautiful art and architecture and listen to beautiful music once a week.

    Speaking of the latter, composers are writing Christian classical music again:
    Early Christian worship, following Jewish practice, emphasized the chanting of psalms by the priest or the choir. Protestant Reformers likewise emphasized the chanting of psalms and congregational singing. For several reasons, by the middle of the 20th century the practice had dwindled in the American church. But a renewed interest in liturgical worship is spurring new compositions. The Theopolis Institute is producing a Psalter with new chant settings of all 150 psalms. Expressly written for untrained singers—i.e., most of us—this new psalter is intended to renew the chanting of psalms as a central element of Reformed worship.

    Another fascinating example emerges in recent works of composer Frank La Rocca of the Benedict XVI Institute. Mr. La Rocca’s “Mass of the Americas” draws on distinctly American Catholic religious themes. The work is a tribute to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, patroness of the U.S., and Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of all the Americas. Musically, the “Mass of the Americas” incorporates Mexican folk hymns into the fabric of contemporary high-church sacred music, while showing due respect for its sources. It also includes possibly the first Ave Maria ever set in Nahuatl, the Aztec language in which Our Lady of Guadalupe spoke to San Juan Diego.
    Below is an excerpt from the Mass of the Americas:

    Related: The Surprising Surge of Faith Among Young People
  • Saturday, April 22, 2023

    "Be the House"

    (NY Post image)
    One common characteristic of getting older is that people become more conservative--politically, culturally, and financially. As life's expiration date approaches, this perspective makes sense.

    Older people, including your humble blogger, are less willing to take chances because they have more to protect. If a risky bet turns out wrong, recovery--physical and financial--is difficult and sometimes impossible.

    That's why Elon Musk is unique. At 51, his enterprises and his wealth are an order of magnitude bigger than they were ten years ago, yet he's still willing to bet the farm to fulfill his vision(s):
    In the span of 24 hours this past week, Elon Musk made three very big bets with three very different companies, together showing his penchant to plow ahead despite sizable risks.

    Between Wednesday and Thursday evenings, he stripped celebrities, journalists and other high-profile users of their free, legacy verification on Twitter, risking a VIP revolt on the social-media platform. He promised that the electric-car maker Tesla Inc. increase; green up pointing triangle would chase sales volume at the expense of profitability. And he launched SpaceX’s first of its kind giant space rocket, which exploded on the way to the heavens.
    Making big bets doesn't mean that Elon Musk isn't aware of the risks:
    “If the odds are probably in your favor, you should make as many decisions as possible within the bounds of what is executable,” Mr. Musk said a few years ago. “This is like being the house in Vegas. Probability is the most powerful force in the universe, which is why the house always wins. Be the house.”
    Although he's one of the richest people in the world, amassing wealth was not the goal, just a means to get to his destination. Elon Musk's aspirations are grand indeed: interplanetary space travel, efficient autonomous transportation, and a platform for the free-wheeling exchange of ideas.

    Along the way Elon Musk doesn't care how foolish he looks to others. Blowing up a rocketship to find out whether it functions (without hurting anybody) is a necessary step on the way to Mars, and crashing cars is the price for making millions of authomobiles self-driving.

    Wealth often induces billionaires to become philanthropists and lift individuals out of poverty. Elon Musk's way of using his wealth, IMHO, will enrich humanity's future.

    Friday, April 21, 2023

    And So It Goes.....Maybe

    Having encountered a malfunctioning electrical system, I hadn't run the VW Bug since last fall. Big mistake. Some problems go away if you ignore them, but not if they have to do with cars.

    The battery had fully discharged in the interim, and I tried to jump-start the engine to no avail. The gas had completely evaporated.

    I poured three gallons into the tank and, using a plastic syringe, injected fuel into the line to the carburetor. The engine caught briefly, but the gas wasn't getting through.

    The poor man's "fuel injection" failed, but I'll keep futzing with the lines, fuel pump, and carburetor to get it running.

    Eventually I'll take the car to a repair shop, but pride won't let me have it towed. In the meantime, I replaced the battery, and we'll see how it goes.

    Thursday, April 20, 2023

    The Men's Shed

    Dale Nugent and Jim Tuten at the Ruston, LA Shed
    Three decades ago John Gray wrote Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. It described the different methods by which men and women communicate, their different perspectives of the world, and, importantly, how men and women could communicate more effectively with each other. It sold 15 million copies.

    The book has been criticized as making over-broad generalizations, but it still resonates with the millions of Americans who subscribe to traditional views of the sexes.

    The Men's Shed movement, while open to women, has filled a need for men who like to work in groups to construct something tangible.
    The Hopkins [Minnesota] shed is one of 27 Men’s Sheds in the U.S., where men, and sometimes women, gather to build park benches, desks, and bird feeders, or learn to cook and sew. At David’s Memorial Men’s Shed in Girard, Pa., a 5,000-square-foot pole barn, members work on cars or learn to weld. Shedders, as they are called in Ruston, La., construct bunk beds for shelters in a former warehouse. Elsewhere, shedders repair bikes for police youth leagues and clean parks....

    The Men’s Shed movement started in Australia in the 1990s, to combat loneliness among retired men, and has grown to more than 2,500 sheds in a dozen countries, each with projects based on local interests. Estonia has two sheds, whose members help each other with chores, such as stacking logs and transporting stones.
    A mere half-century ago every community had non-sectarian organizations where men could gather together outside of work and home, for example, the Freemasons and Elks and Rotary Clubs. (All now are open to women, or have affiliated groups for women, but they're still predominantly male.) These groups have a general philanthropic bent, but they have not been able to arrest the decline in membership.

    Men's Sheds seem to have struck the right chord with guys who want to work with their hands, strive toward a concrete, limited goal, and be around other guys doing the same. More like this, please.

    Wednesday, April 19, 2023

    Small Town Mess

    Kylie Clark (LinkedIn photo)
    Two months ago we noted how the Los Gatos City Council censured planning commissioner Kylie Clark for writing to the State that "rich, white, anti-housing men” controlled housing policy in Los Gatos. The ACLU threatened to sue the town for violating Ms. Clark's free-speech rights, and the City Council removed the censure.

    Los Gatos caved to the ACLU because its planning commissioner purportedly was speaking as a private citizen.
    [Los Gatos Town Attorney Gabrielle] Whelan said the lawsuit would potentially have cost the town upwards of $400,000.

    Since Clark identified herself as a planning commissioner in her email to the state but said she was speaking as a private citizen, she is protected from being disciplined by current case law, the ACLU argued.
    To this non-attorney it seems disingenuous to claim that she was speaking as a private citizen on a subject (housing) that fell under her purview as a planning commissioner. Where does this stop? Whenever a politician makes a controversial statement, he or she could walk it back by claiming it was a personal opinion as a private citizen.

    But there are further complexities. In real life Ms. Clark has a conflict of interest.
    Councilmember Matthew Hudes voiced concerns about Clark’s role as assistant manager of advocacy and public policy at West Valley Community Services (WVCS) overlapping with her role on the planning commission. WVCS provides food, housing and support services to low-income and homeless people in South Bay communities including Los Gatos.
    Paid advocacy for a social service organization would seem to color (in a manner of speaking) Ms. Clark's opinion.

    But here's the best part:
    Clark is in a relationship with Councilmember Rob Moore, who chairs the policy committee, and Hudes said it’s not appropriate for Moore to provide feedback.
    Los Gatos, home to Netflix, is very wealthy, but it's still a small town of 33,000, and this is a small-town mess of its own making. Whether Los Gatos continues to chew on this problem or not should not make a difference to the rest of the Bay Area.

    Tuesday, April 18, 2023

    Tax Day: Don't Get Too Comfortable With the Delays

    (Image from Biz New Orleans)
    Tax Day, April 15th, the day when most individuals file their taxes, was once immutable. Everyone did get a one- or two-day break when April 15 fell on a weekend and the tax deadline date was postponed to the following business day, usually Monday but sometimes Tuesday like this year, i.e. today.

    As the IRS always says, an extension of time to file one's tax return is not an extension of time to pay the liability, so one has to do most of the work anyway by April 15th and cut a check, if necessary, with the extension form.

    People who live in San Mateo County are "fortunate": we don't have to pay the liability or file the 2022 tax returns, both Federal and State, until Monday, October 16th, because we live in a county that suffered flood damage. We also don't have to make the 2023 Estimated Tax Payments due in April, June, or September until October 16th. With much higher interest rates than 2022, the Estimated Tax delay could be a significant benefit because taxpayers can hold onto their money longer.

    With two years of COVID and one year of floods, I'm getting accustomed to postponement of the tax deadline. But like my fellow citizens who got used to receiving government benefits and not paying rent, mortgages, or student loans during the pandemic, I can't get too comfortable.

    Going back to normal is hard.

    Monday, April 17, 2023

    Eleemosynary Experience

    Kaiser, Santa Clara, is not busy today.
    An excellent eleemosynary experience is chauffering elderly people to the doctor. Today I transported C. and her husband to the Kaiser Hospital and Medical Center in Santa Clara for a scheduled appointment.

    C. only drives locally now, and the sole Kaiser facility that treats her condition, a form of strabismus, is 27 miles away. She insisted that we use her Honda Civic, which was peppy and easy to handle.

    C. wrote a check to the church, as she always does when I drive her.

    We stopped for lunch in Redwood City, and the couple split a reuben sandwich. There are no delis in Foster City and it had been a long time since either of them had had a reuben. I ordered a cobb salad, my first since the pandemic began.

    What was originally an obligation had turned into a pleasant day outing with good company and good food. That's the usual result of an eleemosynary experience.

    Sunday, April 16, 2023

    No Natural Bottom....Maybe

    The decline since 2019 (WSJ graph)
    The decline in the number of Americans who felt religion was personally important declined precipitously during COVID-19. Church attendance also dropped off, which was expected due to public-health prohibitions against gatherings. However, attendance has not returned to pre-pandemic levels.
    A Wall Street Journal-NORC poll published last month found that only 39% of Americans described religion as “very important” to them, down from 48% in 2019, before the pandemic. That represented an accelerated drop in a longer decline, from 62% in 1998.

    A study by Pew Research Center, also released last month, found that the share of U.S. adult Christians who attended worship at least once a month in 2022 was 43%, down from 49% in 2019. Twenty-two percent of Christians say they now watch online or televised services more than they did before the pandemic, though 6% say they watch less.
    Unlike economic recessions or bear markets, where prices fall low enough so that people start buying again, there doesn't seem to be a natural bottom that will cause attendance decline to reverse.

    However, I'm sanguine about the prospects of organized religion. The baby boomers as a group have enjoyed unprecedented longevity and secular prosperity. However, they have only delayed confronting their own mortality and its concomitant concerns.
    as a young person, I was too busy making plans pursuing worldly goals, though I never completely disengaged from organized religion. I only started drifting back due to: 1) more frequent reminders of my own mortality; 2) attainment of some objectives did not achieve fulfillment and raised the is-that-all-there-is question; 3) the Christian perspective really did prove insightful at crucial turning points.
    The old rules-to-live-by that were dismissed as obsolete may not be irrelevant after all.

    Saturday, April 15, 2023

    They All Got Together

    It's nice to know that the Justices of the Supreme Court still have enough principles in common to agree unanimously on a case, the most recent one having to do with restraining the bureaucracy.
    The Supreme Court on Friday dealt the administrative state another blow with a 9-0 decision holding that individuals and businesses harpooned by an independent agency don’t have to suffer a torturous government adjudication to challenge its constitutionality in federal court (Axon Enterprise v. FTC and SEC v. Cochran).
    Certain agency rules--in this case the FTC and the SEC--may be unconstitutional, but according to the agencies the plaintiffs must first ask administrative judges to rule on constitutionality before the plaintiffs can appeal to the judicial branch.

    In these situations and others the additional delay can be fatal to what the plaintiffs are trying to accomplish. The agencies do not say that they're running out the clock to get their way, of course, and Justice Kagan called them out in her controlling opinion:
    “This Court has made clear that it is ‘a here-and-now injury,’” she writes, citing its Seila Law (2020) precedent. “And—here is the rub—it is impossible to remedy once the proceeding is over, which is when appellate review kicks in.”
    Let's see if the agencies abide by the rule of law when the decisions go against them. They should, if they expect an increasingly testy population to comply with the volumes of rules and regulations they produce.

    Friday, April 14, 2023

    Narrative Fail

    Suspect Nima Momeni (left) and victim Bob Lee (right)
    I've read too many crime novels and seen too many murder-mystery movies to believe that Bob Lee's murder last week was unquestionably just random street violence. (That's why my post was about how it played into the narrative of San Francisco's crime-and-decline and the media's opposition to the narrative, not the actual crime itself.)

    The victim and his alleged killer knew each other. Tech entrepreneur Nima Momeni has been arrested:
    The killing of Cash App founder Bob Lee, stabbed three times in a secluded corner of one of the most affluent neighborhoods in San Francisco, stunned a city and raised an outcry from critics who blamed it on an environment of lawlessness and social disorder here.

    But after an investigation that led to an arrest, police and prosecutors say the shocking slaying was instead a personal attack, and that it followed a series of tense exchanges between Lee and tech entrepreneur Nima Momeni, possibly over Lee’s relationship with Momeni’s sister.
    The tragic incident may actually be a variation of an old story: a man, a woman, and a family member who thought he was defending the woman. We will see.

    There have been dozens of instances where activists have leapt to conclusions about well-publicized acts of violence; they settle instantaneously upon a narrative that fits their political predilections (racism, white nationalism, homophobia, etc.) and rarely apologize when the narrative is proved false.

    This appears to be one of the rare instances when the false narrative did not come from the left. Now that all sides have been burned, I hope that everyone will hesitate before rushing to judgment. I'm not holding my breath.

    Thursday, April 13, 2023

    Power Crazy

    Repairing downed power lines in March (Merc photo)
    Pacific Gas & Electric has been criticized, principally for power outages and high rates, throughout the 50 years I've lived in California.

    Since the year 2000 the utility has declared bankruptcy twice, because of rising fuel costs in 2001 and wildfire liabilities in 2019. However, the over-riding reason, IMHO, is that it's impossible to meet all the goals that the regulators have set for it; any unforeseen major problem was bound to put the company under.

    Exhausted from listening to their criticisms, your humble blogger advocated a takeover of PG&E in 2019 by the Progressives so that they could show how to accomplish their conflicting goals:
  • force the complete conversion to alternative energy from fossil-fuel sources
  • keep rates at current levels (or lower);
  • repair its aging infrastructure to prevent more San Bruno pipeline explosions
  • pay their unionized workers a fair wage;
  • bury more power lines both to prevent forest fires and to protect the public from downed lines.
  • The latest requirement is that PG&E has been tasked with a billing adjustment that affects millions of ratepayers in the name of "equity."
    The changes would affect only those customers who receive electricity services from PG&E and its sibling power companies.

    Here’s how the fixed charges would work in the PG&E service territory. The numbers are based on a four-person household:

  • Households earning less than $28,000 a year would pay a fixed charge of $15 a month on their electric bills.
  • Households with annual income from $28,000 to $69,000 would pay $30 a month.
  • Households earning from $69,000 to $180,000 would pay $51 a month.
  • Those with incomes above $180,000 would pay $92 a month.
  • Just how will PG&E determine its customers' income? Will it have access to and security for Franchise Tax Board data?

    It's hard enough for businesses to determine pricing strategies for their products; will they now have to price differentially according to customers' income?

    The Progressives who run the State government surely have the answers.

    Wednesday, April 12, 2023


    Beef tendon, used in dishes like pho, is a good source
    I've been adding collagen to my diet and a collagen supplement to the array of morning vitamins. Lately there seems to be slightly less pain in the knee and shoulder, the reason I started taking the supplement in the first place.

    The current science about collagen is slightly positive:
    Some research has suggested there are benefits to supplements. A 2021 meta-analysis, or a review of existing research, on collagen supplements and skin aging published in the International Journal of Dermatology concluded that collagen supplements can improve skin hydration, elasticity and wrinkles. The analysis looked at 19 studies involving 1,125 participants between 20 and 70 years old.
    Health publications recommend that seniors eat more protein and fewer carbohydrates, so I've been eating fish, poultry, meat, and eggs, which also have collagen. Like with coffee, modern science seems to say that many of the things I already enjoy consuming have health benefits.

    They should stop further research before science changes its mind.

    Tuesday, April 11, 2023

    The Problem Cascade

    The remote control on the garage door opener needed a new battery. I had picked up a dozen of the wafer-like 2032's on sale last year and, applauding myself for foresight, slipped one in.

    Its green light signalled that it was working, but the remote control wouldn't open the door. Following instructions on the Internet for a similar garage door opener, I futzed with the "learn" feature to restore the pairing.

    Not only did the remote still not work, but the built-in remotes on two cars stopped working, too, because I had erased all the pairings.

    A three-minute battery replacement has resulted in a cascade of problems that will require several hours to research and execute the exact instructions for each remote.

    If you live long enough you'll encounter problem cascades: erasing important files when performing computer maintenance, collapsing a bathroom sink while replacing a faucet, replacing a faucet (on a different occasion) and causing a leak that required shutting down the water to the house and calling in professional help.

    In the scheme of things the current problems are minor ones. There was no swearing, just some sighing, and I know what I'll be doing Wednesday morning.

    Monday, April 10, 2023

    A Price I Have to Pay

    Your smartphone can't do everything. Its map programs can still point users to the wrong location. Service in the mountains can be non-existent, as hikers in extremis have found to their detriment.

    Left: Phone ID No.   Right: Physical ID Yes. (Chron photo)
    And smartphones with photo IDs won't get young adults into nightclubs. [bold added]
    Bars across the Bay Area are reporting an uptick in these attempted entries during the last three years, and it’s left their owners scratching their heads in disbelief. “It’s a ridiculous concept,” said Michael Valladares, co-owner of the Hotsy Totsy Club in Albany.

    People attempting to show a photo of their ID, he said, might as well “just draw a picture of your face and write your name next to it.”

    Valladares’ theory is that the early-pandemic practice of showing vaccination cards on phones instilled bad habits in bargoers — especially younger people who may have turned 21 during the pandemic and never knew differently. It has “definitely been happening more, and quite honestly it’s really annoying,” said Alicia Walton, co-owner of the Sea Star in Dogpatch.
    We're not at the point where the cellphone can completely eliminate the need for identification documents, cash, and old-fashioned credit cards.

    This boomer still treats the smartphone as a device that enhances but is not essential to the ability to perform tasks. The too-thick wallet that I always carry in the pants pocket ruins my sleek silhouette, but that is a price I have to pay.

    Sunday, April 09, 2023

    Easter Vigil

    The Easter Vigil began outside with the lighting of the fire.
    Sanctify this new fire, and grant that in this Paschal feast we may so burn with heavenly desires, that with pure minds we may attain to the festival of everlasting light; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
    The assemblage moved indoors, where the fire was transferred to the Paschal Candle.

    Illuminated only by the Candle, the church's sanctuary darkened as the sun set. The congregation prayed and meditated upon the Bible readings.

    Then the priest chanted: Alleluia, the Lord is risen! The congregation responded: The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

    Bells were rung, and the lights came on. There was singing and communion and fellowship

    On their way rejoicing the congregation went into the night.

    Saturday, April 08, 2023

    Planting Lilies

    A month of rain has washed the drought away.

    The downside: weeds have sprung up in all the bare patches and flower beds.

    The rain stopped from Sunday to Wednesday. It was a window that enabled this homeowner to start the refurbishment.

    They're not Easter lilies, but calla lilies are a nice-looking substitute.

    Friday, April 07, 2023

    Good Friday, 2023

    At 7:30 p.m. the lighting and mood are subdued.
    The altar was bare, and the vestments were black. In fact everyone in the congregation wore black.

    The lady priest spoke about the necessity of Good Friday, without which there would be no Resurrection Sunday.

    We know how the inevitability of death prompts an appreciation of life. As we enter the winter of our lives that insight becomes more meaningful...and urgent.

    Thursday, April 06, 2023

    Putting Out the Fire on the Bob Lee Murder

    Bob Lee (Chron photo)
    Bob Lee, Google alumnus and inventor of Square's Cash App, was stabbed to death on the streets of San Francisco on Tuesday night.
    San Francisco’s tech community mourned the violent death of one of their own Wednesday, calling Cash App founder Bob Lee a standout among Silicon Valley geniuses, someone idolized as a brilliant thinker, talented hacker and idealist who turned dreams into reality...

    Lee, 43, who was visiting from his home in Miami, died at a hospital following the 2:35 a.m. Tuesday attack on the 300 block of Main Street, where police responded to a report of a stabbing and found Lee unconscious on the ground with two stab wounds to his chest. They called medics to the scene and started aid before rushing him to San Francisco General Hospital, where he died.
    Bob Lee's death, for now, is a local cause célèbre because it symbolizes all that has gone wrong in San Francisco:
    the tech community has been raising alarm about the state of San Francisco, arguing that crime and fear about public safety are factors deterring companies and employees from returning to the city’s hollowed-out downtown.

    With the city’s core already facing down a potential “doom loop” scenario in which increasingly empty offices and streets lead to economic decay, some in tech, including Twitter CEO Elon Musk, immediately seized on the killing...

    “Violent crime in SF is horrific and even if attackers are caught, they are often released immediately,” Musk wrote on Twitter, tagging District Attorney Brooke Jenkins and demanding to know what her office is doing to jail violent repeat offenders.
    Your humble observer finds the media response interesting. In the Chronicle articles on this tragedy there are repeated mentions that violent crime is down in San Francisco and that homicides are rare.

    Its reporting is in sharp contrast to the 2020 George Floyd murder, in which one death became emblematic of widespread police brutality and systematic racism. In the Floyd case sweeping derogatory generalizations were made about wide swaths of society, while in the Lee murder the media is trying to prevent those generalizations from being applied to San Francisco and possibly other urban centers.

    In 2020 it was easy to light the flame. In 2023 we will see how easy it is to put it out.

    Note: if Bob Lee was shot, gun violence would have likely been the story...and a diversion from confronting crime and fear in San Francisco.

    Wednesday, April 05, 2023

    Slimming Down

    Cash is being used on fewer transactions, and payment-by-phone is increasing. The ineluctable result: the wallet is shrinking, and doughty individuals are leaving home without it altogether.

    Given these trends, here's what the experts say you should carry in your wallet:
    Cash: $30. Chelsea Ransom-Cooper, director of financial planning at Zenith Wealth Partners...recommends $30 just to cover small transactions, like buying from a food cart.

    Credit cards: 2-3. The average American has about four credit cards, but financial advisers say you should leave home with no more than two or three. Having one or two credit cards and a debit card may be ideal.
    My thicker wallet undoubtedly reflects personal insecurities. I carry at least $100, 1 debit and 3 credit cards, a driver's license, a gym membership, a health insurance card, and an auto club card. The latter two hardly ever see the light of day.

    But hey, I'm getting better. I ditched the COVID vaccination card about a year ago.

    Tuesday, April 04, 2023

    San Francisco Gloom and Doom

    (Chronicle illustration)
    The reversal of fortune happened quickly.

    San Francisco boomed before COVID, despite persistent homelessness and property-crime problems. It was the cultural center of the tech universe and a top-five American tourist destination. Commercial and residential properties commanded the highest rents and/or prices in the nation; trains, buses, and roads were packed during the week.

    During COVID commuters realized that they didn't have to endure a grueling two hours of daily travel to get work done, while residents found more spacious and cheaper lodgings outside the Bay Area.

    San Francisco could be in a doom loop.
    Interconnected forces trap the city in economic free fall: Workers remain primarily remote; office space sits empty; businesses shutter; mass transit is sharply reduced or even bankrupt, making it even harder for low- and middle-wage workers who enable restaurants and small businesses to operate, causing major budget shortfalls from declining tax revenue that imperil numerous city services, trigger mass layoffs of city workers and shred the social safety net, all of which causes more people to leave.
    Cheerleaders for the City argue that San Francisco hasn't lost its fundamental charm; commuters and tourists will return, and the city will spring to life.

    IMHO, the downward spiral will be very difficult to reverse. The surpluses have evaporated, and with budget cuts to police, homelessness, and transportation programs, those who departed will have little reason to come back.

    I hope that I'm wrong

    Monday, April 03, 2023

    Too Much Too Soon

    (WSJ illustration)
    Polls have consistently shown that the principal subjects that married couples fight about are money, chores/responsibilities, sex/infidelity, and power/control.

    Often money is listed as problem area number one, because the lack of money can be the source of enormous stress. It now turns out that large gains in wealth can also foment discord, especially if the gains occur over a short period of time,
    Both gaining and losing money upends partners’ understanding of shared values, beliefs or assigned roles within the relationship. When couples cannot adjust to their new financial standing and fail to communicate their concerns or desires, the marriage may be in trouble, said researchers and relationships counselors...

    Researchers [David] Cesarini and Anastasia Terskaya tracked lottery winners in Sweden for 10 years after they hit the jackpot. In a working paper published in March, their team found something surprising: who held the winning ticket significantly changed what happened to the marriage.

    In the long-run, male winners saw reduced divorce risk and higher fertility, leading to stable marriages and family formation. When a woman held the winning ticket, the windfall of around $100,000 and $500,000 increased the likelihood of divorce, especially for low-income women and those who earned far less than their husbands.
    There are additional strains because the sudden acquisition of wealth (e.g., lottery winnings, professional sports contracts) is often accompanied by fame. It's exceedingly difficult to work through relationship problems under the glare of publicity.

    All things being equal, building one's wealth slowly allows the partners time to adjust their relationship, as well as avoid the risks of having friends, relatives, and even the general public know their business.

    Sunday, April 02, 2023

    Palm Sunday, 2023

    Palm Sunday services began like other pre-COVID Palm Sundays. The congregation assembled outside, and the priest read the passage from Matthew 21 that described Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem.

    (Modern Bibles say Jesus rode on a donkey, but the King James version refers to an "ass." Language changes aren't always for the better.)

    After the reading we walked back into the church, instead of marching around the block as in previous years.

    Many of us didn't mind the abbreviated journey; knees, hips, and ankles aren't as strong and flexible as they were four years ago.

    Saturday, April 01, 2023

    California Housing: Price Declines Were Easily Foreseen

    Redfin graph confirms the price decline from 2022.
    Nine months ago your humble blogger demonstrated how an increase in the mortgage rate of two percentage points, e.g., from 3% to 5%, would produce a 20% decline in the selling price of a house, e.g., from $1 million to $800,000. No advanced analytic skills were required, just the basic math taught in Finance 101.

    Today's Mercury-News: Median price of single-family home in California is 18% off May 2022's high
    As the pandemic throttled the nation’s economy in early 2020, the Fed did what it often does in dicey times: helped to prop up the business climate with lowered interest rates.

    However, the Fed gave housing an additional nudge by doubling its ownership of mortgage bonds to $2.8 trillion – as it clearly feared another housing crash.

    These actions pushed mortgage rates to a historic low of 2.6% by early 2021 – and the Fed kept rates below 3% for roughly a year. That stimulus, plus federal aid for the broad economy, was too much good stuff. Home prices, for example, jumped 53% in two years.

    Meanwhile, all this stimulus ballooned to inflation rates to highs not seen in four decades. You know, back in the early 1980s when the S&Ls sunk.

    This bubble’s pop came in early 2022 when the Fed’s pump ended. The central bank sharply reversed its interest rate policies hoping to chill an overheated economy. Mortgage rates swiftly doubled, icing homebuying.
    We're close to the end of the Fed rate hikes, because the weakness in the banking system won't tolerate more increases.

    (Image from Tax Foundation)
    Does this mean that California real estate has hit bottom and prices will turn upward? IMHO, no. The exodus of people, business, and capital from California is a trend that will last for years and should put a damper on prices.

    This isn't rocket science: interest rates, though powerful, aren't the only factor driving real estate. Buy properties in states experiencing population growth, and avoid those that are declining.