Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Ingenious, But He May Not Have Thought It Through

The Florida police took a selfie with the passengers,
a U.K. couple about to be married, at the arrest. (WFLA)
Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to criminal ingenuity. In this case a Florida crook knew that car-rental companies could prevent a car from starting once it had been turned off. [bold added]
A Florida Uber driver is accused of using a stolen rental car to give rides and then leaving the car running for weeks to avoid it being disabled, deputies said.

The 27-year-old Uber driver was renting a Chevy Equinox from a company in Orange County when he stopped making payments, according to an Oct. 26 news release from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office...

The company had installed devices in their rental vehicles that could be remotely activated to stop the car from restarting in the case that someone stopped paying for the vehicle, the sheriff’s office said.

But the driver knew about this feature, so instead of returning the Equinox or making the payments, he chose to leave the vehicle running for “three straight weeks” to prevent it being disabled, according to the release.

During that time, he was using the car to drive for Uber.
Sure, the guy "borrowed" the vehicle, but he did honest work for three weeks.

One has to wonder, though, what his exit strategy was since the car rental company had his information. It notified the police that the car was stolen, which led to the arrest.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Elon Musk is Gloomy

Elon Musk worries about asteroid strikes. Unlike you or
me he can do something about them (Harvard/NASA)
Elon Musk's big ideas to save it have made him the richest man in the world: [bold added]
Musk has framed his business endeavors as striving to prevent calamity, a motivating ideal that helps inspire employees, investors and fans while inducing eye rolls among critics and rivals.

For him, Tesla is about trying to save humanity from global warming while SpaceX is about making humanity a multiplanetary species in case things don’t work out on Earth.

A year ago, with the purchase of Twitter-turned-X, Musk couched the decision as keeping the social-media platform as a bastion for free speech in what he sees as a larger battle against cultural forces trying to squash diverse thought—or, as he calls it, the “woke mind virus.”
Despite his current wealth of $221.9 billion (Forbes) Elon Musk is far from content:
Musk sounds worried—about everything from cyclical business jitters to existential global concerns. He choked with emotion during a recent public conference call with Tesla analysts about the economy. This past week he warned during a forum on X about “civilizational risk” stemming from the Israel-Hamas war cascading into a wider conflict that would pit the U.S. against a united China, Russia and Iran.

“I think we are sleepwalking our way into World War III,” Musk said Monday.
Elon Musk worries that the human race won't survive. He has the wealth and knowledge to affect the future and feels the responsibility. Centi-billionaires are different from you and me.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Sandwiches on Sunday

Today is the quarterly Outreach activity where our church makes 80-90 brown-bag lunches for the community center.

Digression: it has recently come to my attention that the phrase "brown bag lunch" has racist origins in the minds of a few people. I'm sorry that some are offended, but we oldsters can't remember all the things that we're not supposed to say, especially since the list seems to change every week. Besides, we really do serve lunches in brown paper bags.

Speaking of lists, I blitzed (a German war maneuver, I'm sorry that some are offended etc) through Costco on Friday and bought the sandwich ingredients. The cart was less burdened than usual because I had bought two flats of water earlier.

On Saturday five people put together the lunches at the Parish Hall. The assembly took 2½ hours, an hour longer than usual, because two new volunteers insisted on preparing the sandwiches with loving care as opposed to slapping them together quickly, which is how I like to do things.

Warnings that they would be dismissed if they didn't speed up fell on deaf ears.

After we finished, everyone asked the date of the next Sandwiches on Sunday so they could help again. It must be my management style, because what else could explain their motivation?

Update - noon: The brown bags and bottles of water were all distributed in 15 minutes.

The three ladies in the picture said they all liked their sandwiches.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Revival, But Not in the Way Imagined

(CBC news photo)
There are very few indoor, relatively safe, public gathering places--with restroom facilities--that remain open to all. That's why Libraries Are the New Front Line in America’s Mental-Health Crisis
Librarians are helping more patrons in crisis, and many cities are hiring social workers to help them. About two-thirds of nearly 600 library workers surveyed by Urban Librarians Unite in 2022 said they had experienced violent or aggressive behavior from patrons.

One of the few indoor public spaces open to all comers, libraries are now the scene for all that ails a public scarred by the pandemic and an opioid epidemic. For staff, that means reversing overdoses in bathrooms; confronting patrons watching pornography; or defending against people brandishing guns, or a snake in a jar. Some people come to the library to sleep, get warm or use the bathroom. Others are looking for jobs, housing or just somewhere safe to read.
Libraries have been transformed from mere repositories of books to ad hoc community centers. They provide free internet access and a growing array of services, e.g. job placement, mental-health treatment, and housing assistance.

If a person is idle, reading in a comfortable setting is an edifying and even useful way of passing the time.

When we contributed to the construction of the town library in the mid-1990's, we had hoped that it would become a valuable resource in the community.

Little did we imagine the form that it would take.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Sheepishly Assenting

Today, after years of requesting me to switch to paperless banking (primarily to eliminate the cost of printing and mailing statements), Citibank stopped asking nicely.

If I didn't agree to go paperless, Citi would eliminate my online access rights, the ability to send payments to vendors electronically, and the ability to transfer funds online. I could go back to the old way, that is, writing and mailing checks to everyone and making transfers at the Automated Teller Machine.

Yes, I could make them pay! I could make them process dozens of checks every month, just like they used to!

But I didn't. The convenience of electronic banking is too great, so I sheepishly assented to paperless-ness. And yes, if I really wanted a physical bank statement I could download and print one every month.

But I still don't like being forced to do something and calling it a "choice."

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Chickened Out

The Foodland at the Ala Moana Shopping Center has a large selection of chips, sandwiches, and snacks.

Foodland's target customers are tourists who want to downshift from fancy Waikiki restaurants, as well as snowbirds who want to cook occasionally.

There were boxes of fried chicken skins laid out on a table. I imagine they're similar to fried pork rinds, which have become popular for those who want a tasty, low-carb snack.

At $14.99 a pound the chicken skins weren't moving. It's not a good value for the locals, who know that they can buy an individual chicken dinner for that price. And I suspect that chicken skins are far down the list of Mainlanders' snack preferences.

When I return in February, if the product is still on display I'd be surprised if the price is still up there. At $7 or $8 I'd spring for a box.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

It's a Good Thing That Calories Don't Count on Vacation

Loco moco: rice, beef patty, eggs, and brown gravy
Both my brother and I had body clocks that were still on Pacific Daylight Time, and we left the house at 5:30 to walk to Waikiki for an early morning coffee. We sat for a while and talked story.

Let's have breakfast, he said, and after hearing my glowing report about Liliha Bakery at the International Market Place , we waited for the doors to open at 7 a.m.

My brother had the pork belly, eggs, and rice, while I had the loco moco. (I had two loco moco's on the July trip; I'm trying to cut back.)

Adequately fortified, we headed home to pack for the trip back to California.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

We Know It When We See It

The sign on Thursday, October 19th
The owners of Hawaiian Rent-All continue to display their wit at the intersection of McCully and Beretania.

(They rose to attention for their chiding of President Biden's response to the Lahaina fires.)

From the looks of it, they should quit while they're ahead.

Political humor is challenging: one has to be funny without crossing the line into nastiness.

For example, their latest attempt is hardly funny and a little nasty:
We are born ignorant
But taught stupidity.
Explains why politicians
Are so educated.
This joke on the same subject matter, which I just made up, would have been a little funnier:
Those who can, do
Those who can't, teach
Those who can't teach
Go into politics.
Humor is subjective, and, like I said, challenging.

Monday, October 23, 2023

Waiting for the Money

I double-paid the DMV license fees two months ago to prevent late-payment and license-expiration penalties.

On Saturday the refund check from the State of California came in.

On the one hand the elapsed time was really not that long if the State had to verify that the double-payment was not mistakenly made for another one of my vehicles or that I didn't have any other bills outstanding.

On the other hand the check was printed on the 11th and received on the 21st. Large organizations' payables departments often print their checks once or twice a week. Signing them mechanically, stuffing and stamping could take another week before they're actually delivered to the postal service.

Tediously slow, I know, but that's how most of accounting is--checks and signature plates must have physical safeguards--and why an easily bored generation avoids a career in accounting.

The rush to issue COVID relief payments is over (when $billions were stolen) and we're back to normal having to wait for the money.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Helping Without Taking a Side

The hospital's Cancer Diagnostic
Center before it was damaged.
Every year the now-retired rector of our church requested that we make a donation, always approved, to the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. It was his way of acknowledging our debt to the fount of Christianity.

The Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem runs the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital that was damaged in an explosion last week. Hamas and Israel are each claiming that the other was responsible.
Militant group Hamas immediately blamed Israeli airstrikes for the blast at the Al-Ahli Arab hospital and said 500 people had been killed. Israel, the U.S. and independent security experts on Wednesday cast doubt on Hamas’s claims, saying the preliminary evidence pointed to a Palestinian militant group. The amount of damage also appears inconsistent with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry’s assertion on Wednesday that 471 people were killed, experts said. U.S. officials said that the death toll so far is likely between 100 and 300.

Images of the site suggest that a rocket, or fragment of a rocket, landed in the hospital’s parking lot, according to the Israeli assessment of the damage left by the explosion. Those killed by the explosion were likely many Gazans who had been camped out in the parking lot, Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari said.
Many people have been wrestling with how to help the suffering people of Israel and Gaza without "taking a side," or worse, having their donations go to combat forces and advocacy groups. 501(c)3 organizations that assure us that 100% of the donations will be directed to humanitarian aid in the region are Episcopal Relief and Development and American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem.

As individuals and as churches we will be making such donations in November.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Minimal Marketing

When I'm going for food at the mall, I don't want to waste time figuring out the menu. For example, I might be craving sushi or ramen, but a restaurant with a Japanese name often offers one but not the other. At the Lanai food court at Ala Moana Center Kamakura Ramen tells you exactly what it serves.

I like the specificity of the names: Ahi and Vegetable, Musubi Cafe, YYK Dim Sum, and Mahaloha Burger. Yes, just show the dishes in the display along with the prices and don't bother with the florid descriptions.

Minimal marketing is greatly appreciated by those who are pressed for time.

Friday, October 20, 2023

If You Snooze, You Get Frozen Out

Pro tip: don't try to send a copy of the deposit slip via text.
My brothers and I have a rainy-day account with combined checking and savings of $48,000. We haven't used it since 2021, but now we needed to tap those funds.

Yesterday I tried to move everything to the checking account, but, according to the online banking screen, the accounts were not "set up" for transfers.

A call to customer service revealed that the checking account was classified as dormant because there had been no activity for a year. (Posted interest doesn't count.) In dormant accounts funds couldn't be transferred in or out, nor would checks written on them be honored.

How could the checking account be re-activated? I would have to write a letter--email communications wouldn't do the trick--or we could make a deposit of any size. Obviously the latter was the easiest choice.

The last hitch came when I tried to text a copy of the deposit slip to my brothers. Repeated attempts failed. Apple, I'm guessing, blocks pictures of financial documents. I sent the information without an image, and it went through quickly. My brother made a cash deposit of $10 to the dormant account, and 12 hours later it's still "pending" (at least it's in process).

A word to the wise: there's no such thing as a "sleep well" investment. Even FDIC-insured bank accounts need to be monitored and used occasionally to see if they're functioning properly.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

The Best Things in Life are (Almost) Free

Like chicken and pigs' feet and intestines, turkey tails suffer from a "do-you-know-where-it's-been" taint that many people can't get over.

My fathers' family was poor, and his mother mastered the preparation of animal parts that the butcher would throw away.

She had a recipe for turkey tails that I've given up trying to replicate. Her marinade suffused the tails with a delicate salty-and-sour flavor that didn't overpower. Tails have a lot of fat, but she roasted them long enough for much of the fat to drain away. The skin was crispy, and the flesh was tender.

I've never seen turkey tails in California supermarkets, but at the Times market on King Street 20-lb. boxes were on sale for $47.99 ($2 off!). At today's inflated food prices, $2.50 per pound is like they're being given away.

Somebody must have a terrific recipe for turkey tails, and there's still hope in the world.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Progress in Small Steps

The same price as Haleiwa and Kahuku but a lot closer.
After my kid brother (also visiting from California) and I picked up our morning coffee, we walked back home on Kalakaua Ave.

On the mauka (mountain) side of the street were parked a group of food trucks. One was open, and a couple of families were seated on the picnic tables having breakfast.

What was once an empty lot had been put to good use. Now, if I crave a garlic shrimp plate I no longer have to drive to the opposite side of the island. That's progress in small steps.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Safe for the Moment

At Kalakaua and King
The southern half of Kalakaua Avenue runs through the fancy part of Waikiki. The police regularly keep the homeless out of the area, where there's hardly a shopping cart to be seen.

Proceeding north, Kalakaua crosses over the Ala Wai Canal, and the tents start to appear. The cluster in the picture is two blocks from McKinley High and Washington Intermediate schools. Homes, apartments, retail stores, and restaurants are nearby. The main Honolulu police station is one mile west.

I shouldn't complain because my parents' house is one mile southeast and is safe for the moment. But the tents often set up on parks and sidewalks that are much closer.

When I return in February, if not sooner, I'll walk around to scope out the situation.

Monday, October 16, 2023

Tax Day: We Really Mean It This Next Time

Pajaro, CA on March 11th (Axios)
This tax season has been a procrastinator's dream. San Mateo and 54 other California counties were affected by last winter's floods, and all their residents' 2022 tax returns were automatically extended to October 16th by both the IRS and the Franchise Tax Board.

Today the IRS gave notice that the deadline was extended another month to November 16th. The agency wouldn't have done it unless there were substantial numbers of people who needed the time.

California hasn't yet conformed, but it wouldn't be surprising if the Franchise Tax Board announces its own extension in a few hours.

Update: Yup

Back to Normal

The Starbucks on Kuhio Avenue is crowded at 6AM with tourists, hotel workers, and early rising old people (cough). After three days on Oahu it's the first time I've been able to resume my normal routine of walking here before sunrise and ordering the morning cuppa.

Then I'll head over to Kalakaua Ave. for the one mile walk back. Can't get too comfortable because there are some family obligations with immutable deadlines--I know, you're in Hawaii--for goodness' sake.

But for now normal feels good.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Upholding These Two Persons

At Saturday's wedding the reader recited the passage from Matthew 19:
And he answered and said, Have ye not read, that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh? So that they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
The culture that took the above passage to heart has almost completely vanished. In half a century fundamental Christian beliefs--bolded above--about the nature of mankind and the nature of marriage are not widely accepted.

"Made them male and female" has given way to a multitude of genders, not only in the general population but sometimes in the same individual in the course of his/her life.

More fundamentally, human beings were not "made" by a sentient God but are the product of molecules banging together randomly over billions of year.

And while "two shall become one flesh" was never meant to be a physical truth, its spiritual and metaphorical meaning is now highly disputed. In the secular world marriage is not a mysterious fusion of two beings overseen by a Creator; it's a contractual arrangement between individuals that can be terminated like a business partnership.

One's bloodline can be ignored, but it can never be erased, according to the modern view. A man cannot change his race or genetics, so leaving one's mother and father does not occur permanently even through they may be dead. A man cleaving to his wife to form a new entity makes no scientific sense.

"Let not man put asunder" is hardly mentioned in the era of easy, no-fault divorce, which has been embraced by Christians, non-Christians, liberals and conservatives alike. The breakdown of the institution occurred decades before the debates about gay marriage began.

It's a wonder that my niece and her now-husband chose to have a "traditional" wedding, complete with Gospel readings.

The priest asked, "Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your power to uphold these two persons in their marriage?"

We will.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

The Lines Were Quick

Khaled Meshaal (NY Post/Reuters)
Last month there was a moment's trepidation when I booked a flight on Friday the 13th.

Bah! rational guys like me shouldn't let superstition rule their lives. I clicked the pay-and-submit button.

It was more than superstition that paralyzed some people with fear yesterday. Former Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal designated yesterday as the "Day of Jihad":
The former leader of Hamas called on Muslims to stage global demonstrations in support of Palestinians on Friday, and urged Arabs in neighboring countries to take up arms against Israel.
In the Bay Area some schools cancelled classes:
Schools and universities across the Bay Area said they were bolstering security measures — and in some cases canceling classes — amid so-far unsubstantiated threats of pro-Hamas violence.

Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School in Palo Alto, Wornick Jewish Day School in Foster City and South Peninsula Hebrew Day School in Sunnyvale said they would be closed Friday amid concerns that Jewish institutions could be targeted, Jewish Weekly reported.

Stanford Law School announced it would be holding all of its classes Friday on Zoom in the wake of students’ fears around safety on the “Day of Jihad.”
Just in case TSA had installed extra procedures, I showed up 2½ hours before the 8:20 AM flight. The caution was unnecessary as the lines were quick, and I spent an hour nursing a coffee and croissant before boarding.

We disparage law enforcement, the FBI, the CIA, and other alphabet agencies, but a point in their favor is that there has not been a major terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11. Because of that record, there is still hope that the agencies can be fixed.

And yes, the flight went well.

Friday, October 13, 2023

Double-dipping is Never a Compliment

If you don't understand this diagram, don't do double dips.
Some leveraged companies whose low-rate loans are coming due are resorting to "double-dip" loans:
Here’s how a double-dip loan generally works: A company creates a subsidiary that issues new loans and it lends loan proceeds to its parent on a secured basis, meaning the proceeds are backed by collateral. The parent also guarantees the new loans, creating a second claim on the assets. New lenders often get collateral not pledged to existing lenders. Such a transaction is called double-dip because the loan to the parent company, along with the loan guarantee, creates separate claims on company assets.

A double-dip provides additional claims against existing collateral via an intercompany note and guarantee. Double-dips must be allowed by a company’s credit agreements, and they usually are because contractual provisions have weakened over the last several years, [AllianceBernstein director Scott] Macklin said.

Companies drawn to these transactions generally have a significant amount of leverage and few options for refinancing short-term debt. Potential new lenders often are concerned a heightened bankruptcy risk for many of these companies would prevent recovering the par value of debt they provide, so they require additional protections, Macklin said.
If you're still with me, dear reader, here are my comments.

To vet the transaction a lender needs to diagram the cash flows and understand thoroughly what happens when a deal goes south.

On a macro level when money gets tight, structures get more complex. Securitizations and collateralized debt obligations were all the rage because buyers convinced themselves that the collateral was good in case the cash flows did not materialize. We know how that turned out.

Double-dips are simpler to analyze because they only involve one company and look like a way to borrow against assets that are unpledged. Prospective lenders should ask themselves: why doesn't the parent just issue the debt without all this complexity? Instead, they've got to lend to a subsidiary that's got the collateral and a parent guarantee that's worth little when things go south.

They've got to ring-fence the sub with enough protections so they can sleep at night. Frankly, I'd try to get some upside over and above the nominal spread as compensation for the risk.

From the borrower's point of view, these loans may carry a lower coupon than other alternatives, but legal, investment banking, sales-commissions, and compliance costs make them expensive.

Yes, I used to look at complex financial arrangements and didn't particularly enjoy it. But it was a living.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Wishful Thinking

The City not only tickets stolen cars, it painted a curb red
while a car was parked, then issued it a ticket
Yesterday's post was about San Francisco ticketing stolen cars, rather than attempting to reunite them with their owners. Mayor London Breed reacted immediately to the Chronicle article:[bold added]
Mayor London Breed on Wednesday ordered the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to stop ticketing stolen vehicles and to instead notify their owners that their cars had been found...

Breed ordered the SFMTA and the Police Department to work together to implement a system in which stolen cars are identified and recovered. The two departments have a 45-day deadline to respond to the directive.
Just because London Breed is the Mayor doesn't mean that she's in charge:
San Franciscans will have to wait, however, before the directive becomes reality. City laws governing the use of surveillance technology — such as license plate readers — require multiple reviews by the city’s Committee on Information Technology, as well as a signoff by a supervisorial committee and a full vote of the Board of Supervisors.
The problem of bureacratic obstinacy exists in all governments, no matter who's on top, because bureacrats act in their own self interest, not in the interest of the chief executives or the people who elected them. According to public choice theory
There is abundant evidence that governments throughout history and throughout the world do not do what they are supposed to do. In some cases the government employees do not do anything useful. In others they will not do their job unless they are paid specifically to do a task. The English language calls this payment a bribe but this is a misnomer in that the word bribe is also used to designate a payment made to a government employee to do something illegal. The payment that is mentioned above is one made to get the government employee to do something that is not only legal but is also his or her job.
We wish Mayor Breed all the best, but there's no way she'll have her integrated database up and running in 45 days. The Transportation and Law Enforcement bureaucracies will ensure that it will occur at double that length of time, if at all.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

SF: Adding Insult to Injury

Cars are ticketed $63 for not curbing wheels when parked on San Francisco hills.

The goal is safety first:
The purpose, according to the [San Francisco Municipal Transit] Agency, is to keep parked cars from rolling into traffic if they were hit or if their brakes were to fail.
The obvious tip for visitors to our fair City is: before calling the cops because your windows have been smashed and your stuff taken, curb your wheels. Your car shouldn't be rolling into traffic.

Stolen-car owners shouldn't feel neglected by the SFMTA either. [bold added]
Between May 1 and Sept. 17, over 2,000 vehicles were reported stolen to the Police Department. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, or SFMTA, had, as of Sept. 26, ticketed 411 of those while they were still officially considered stolen, issuing fines totaling nearly $70,000, according to a Chronicle analysis of public records. Some vehicles were written up multiple times.

San Francisco parking officers could locate stolen cars, though it would require a technological fix that accounts for the fact that non-police agencies generally don’t have direct access to law enforcement databases.

....Fifteen years ago, SFMTA parking officers used handheld ticketing devices that included auto-theft information from a city crime database, the Chronicle reported at the time. The department no longer has that automated capability, [SFMTA spokesperson Stephen] Chun said.
High-tech San Francisco had better tech 15 years ago. It's just coincidental that parking fines on stolen vehicles due to the lack of cross-referencing have turned out to be a moneymaker.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Tax Day Minus 6

This pile was mailed this morning.
Due to the floods last winter the due date for most of California individual tax returns, both Federal and State, has been extended to October 16, 2023. The automatic extension applies to both the filing of the returns and the payments that are due.

I spent most of the week working on the numbers. Today we got back the final returns from the computer service, signed and dated the documents, filled out the vouchers and checks, and took the envelopes to the post office. They were mailed certified, return-receipt requested.

We are old-school and communicate on paper whenever possible when doing business with the government. Electronic documents, emails, and payments get misdirected often enough that we are comfortable using tried and true, albeit slower methods.

Tonight I will sleep better than I have in months.

Monday, October 09, 2023

Happy Columbus Day

In honor of Columbus Day (or Indigenous Peoples' Day to the enlightened) I had pork sausages for breakfast. The explanation, from 2018:

(Image by Sutori)
The Columbian Exchange is a term coined in 1972:
Christopher Columbus introduced horses, sugar plants, and disease to the New World, while facilitating the introduction of New World commodities like sugar, tobacco, chocolate, and potatoes to the Old World.

The process by which commodities, people, and diseases crossed the Atlantic is known as the Columbian Exchange.
One of the most impactful transplants was "Isabella's Pigs" (Kenneth C. Davis. America's Hidden History):
Isabella is credited as the one who encouraged Columbus to take some pigs aboard ship, along with dogs and horses.

Once introduced to the New World, Isabella’s pigs became one of the staples of Spanish armies and colonists. Able to forage for themselves and remarkably fertile, the pigs provided a valuable source of easily transported and self-perpetuating protein. For the conquistador on the move, the pigs offered many advantages, according to historian Charles Hudson: “Pigs are the most efficient food producers that can be herded…. A pig’s carcass yields 65 percent to 80 percent dressed meat…. A four-ounce serving of pork yields 402 calories…. Pigs are unusually fecund. A female as young as nine months may become pregnant, and she can give birth to as many as twelve in a litter…. Thus a herd of pigs can increase prodigiously within a few years.”

Along with the side benefit of producing fertilizer in the form of manure, these pigs offered one other very estimable advantage to Spanish Christians, as Hudson points out. “They ate pork not only for sustenance but also to remove any suspicion that they were Jews.”

Perhaps the greatest unintended consequence of this mobile mess hall may have been the waves of disease that are credited with wiping out so much of the native American populace the Spanish encountered.....Charles C. Mann fingers the pigs, the “ambulatory meat locker,” as the possible culprit behind the deadly epidemics that swept the New World’s original inhabitants. “Swine, mainstays of European agriculture, transmit anthrax, brucellosis, leptospirosis, trichinosis, and tuberculosis. Pigs breed exuberantly and can pass disease to deer and turkeys, which then can infect people…. Only a few…pigs would have to wander off to contaminate the forest.

Sunday, October 08, 2023


The headlines across the country this morning were all about the same subject: the attack by Hamas on the civilians of Israel.

Whatever sympathy the Palestinians may have garnered over the past decade was blown away in a matter of hours by the deliberate large-scale slaughter of unarmed innocents.
More than 700 Israelis have been confirmed dead, and 2,408 wounded, according to Israel’s Army Radio. At least 413 Palestinians have been killed and around 2,300 injured in Israeli counterstrikes on Gaza, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.
700 dead in an Israeli population of 9.2 million is equivalent to 25,000 killed in the U.S.A., eight times the deaths on 9/11. The Israelis have promised to take the war to Iran if evidence is found that Iran is behind the attacks.

And just like that the Middle East is on the brink of conflagration.

Saturday, October 07, 2023

Nvidia: Grand Slam Origins

Denny’s CEO Kelli Valade and Nvidia’s Jensen Huang
at the Denny’s where Nvidia took shape. (WSJ photo)
In Silicon Valley, when young inventors need to build a prototype, they use their parents' garage.

When developing designs and business plans, a tolerant restaurant or coffee shop is the setting de rigueur.

And so it was that Nvidia, the newest entry in the trillion-dollar-market-value club, commemorated its founding 30 years ago at a Denny's restaurant in San Jose:
Last week, a San Jose Denny’s officially became a part of Silicon Valley lore.

The world’s tech capital is crawling with iconic names like Apple and Hewlett Packard that were founded in someone’s garage. Now the chain diner is officially credited as the birthplace of Nvidia, the chip company at the heart of the artificial intelligence revolution. With local news cameras in tow, Nvidia Chief Executive and co-founder Jensen Huang met Denny’s CEO Kelli Valade to unveil a plaque marking the booth where he and his co-founders sketched out the idea for the company back in 1993.
Denny's was more than the place where Jensen Huang came up with the idea for Nvidia:
As a young man, he worked at Denny's in San Jose.

"Oh, yeah, I was a dishwasher, I was a busboy, I was a waiter,” he said.
While on welfare J,K. Rowling wrote the first several Harry Potter books in Edinburgh cafés.
“It’s no secret that the best place to write, in my opinion, is in a café. You don’t have to make your own coffee, you don’t have to feel like you’re in solitary confinement and if you have writers block, you can get up and walk to the next café while giving your batteries time to recharge and brain time to think. The best writing café is crowded enough to allow you blend in, but not too crowded that you have to share a table with someone else.”
Ever since retirement I've been spending a lot of time at diners and coffee shops, waiting for inspiration to strike. And yet the $millions haven't rolled in....

Friday, October 06, 2023

Hostile Architecture

Two months ago we noted how a San Francisco gallery owner was sentenced to 35 hours of community service because he hosed down a homeless woman to drive her from his entrance.

Collier Gwin apologized but still received death threats and attacks via social media. He also received support from many San Franciscans who had grown frustrated by the inability of the City to make a dent in homeless encampments and open-air drug use.

The unpermitted sprinklers (Chron photo)
Best Western Hotel in San Francisco's Tenderloin district faced a similar problem on a larger scale and tried to employ a similar solution: [bold added]
A hotel in San Francisco’s Tenderloin that installed overhead sprinklers along the building in an alley where homeless people frequently camp will take them down after a city inspection found they were installed without proper notice, the hotel told the Chronicle on Friday.

The inspection Thursday came after the SF Examiner published a story about the sprinklers that prompted public backlash.

Ken Patel, manager of the Best Western Red Coach Inn at 700 Eddy St., said the hotel used the sprinklers not to ward off unhoused people but to clean the sidewalk beside it, which he said is often dirtied by human waste.

He said hotel employees warned anyone camping below the sprinklers to move before they were turned on, and that the hotel used them only if no one was there.

...The clash comes as San Francisco business owners, city officials and homeless advocates struggle over how to handle homeless encampments. Advocates say sprinklers are an example of “hostile architecture” — physical barriers or deterrents like sidewalk planters, boulders or even loud music meant to discourage people from sleeping or camping in an area.
The City cleans the alley once a week, but hotel employees, as confirmed by the Chronicle, must wash the sidewalk every day.

San Francisco made Best Western remove the sprinklers because the hotel didn't give "proper notice." It's too bad that the City doesn't make people give proper notice before pitching their tent on a sidewalk.

Thursday, October 05, 2023

And Just Like That It's Over

Happiness in Philadelphia (USA Today/SI)
After your humble blogger declared a rooting interest in the Miami Marlins, they were swept out of the playoffs by the Phillies:
The Marlins lost to the Phillies on Wednesday, 7-1, at Citizens Bank Park to end their 2023 season getting swept in the best-of-3 series in Philadelphia. Miami lost the series opener 4-1 on Tuesday.
The Phillies dominance in a two-game series left no doubt as to which was the better team. The Marlins greatly exceeded expectations by making the post-season tournament, and the quick end mercifully obviated any obsessing over individual mistakes or umpires' calls.

General Manager Kim Ng deserves a contract extension, and failing to give her one would stoke a needless, foreseeable controversy. Ownership should take care of her contract expeditiously so that everyone could start working on next season.

Wednesday, October 04, 2023

There's a New Villain in Town

Gahan Wilson's character===>Matt Gaetz?
The removal of Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House has caused universal opprobrium to fall upon the head of Matt Gaetz (R-FL). Although his politics are anathema to them, Democrats gleefully went along with Mr. McCarthy's ouster by the eight Gaetz-led Republicans, and most Republicans denounced the action. Republican operative Karl Rove's reaction was typical: [bold added]
The Floridian is an egotistical nihilist. He wants to burn things down, including the party to which he belongs, so that he gets more attention. He has no governing vision. He denies the reality of what’s possible with a bare GOP margin in the House and Democratic control of the Senate and White House. Mr. Gaetz is all about himself, focusing on cable-TV appearances, social-media posts, and urgent email appeals for campaign funds in one of the safest Republican districts.

He and the rest of his gang are parasites. Though some required millions from House GOP coffers to get elected, none have raised much of anything for the party’s effort to keep the majority. Now they’ve helped defenestrate its most effective congressional fundraiser. It’s all about them, not the team. And oh yes, Mr. Gaetz is fundraising off the vote, saying the rest of House Republicans are “RINOs” who “grovel and bend the knee for the lobbyists and special interests.”

It’s evident Mr. Gaetz had no plan except to remove Mr. McCarthy and acted on no discernible principle. He tried to hide his contempt for Mr. McCarthy behind supposedly substantive objections to his speakership, but they don’t hold water. Mr. Gaetz is no spending purist—he didn’t go on a jihad against President Trump when he added $6.7 trillion to the national debt.
Karl Rove has never described any Democrat with such vitriol, which is understandable since Matt Gaetz' actions may well cause Republicans to lose the House in 2024.

I'm reserving judgment on Matt Gaetz, however.
1) Anyone who is so disliked by everyone must have something going for himself.
2) It's highly doubtful that the House is indeed "in chaos" if everyone has been told to go home for the weekend to think about their next move.
3) Is Matt Gaetz, 41, really like a naive teenager who demolishes something without a vision for the aftermath? Is he that stupid? (Could be.)
4) OTOH, the House of Representatives' main focus, regardless of who leads it, since 2017 seems to be the impeachment of the President of the opposite party, when everyone knows with 100% certainty that the impeachments will go nowhere in the Senate.

Let's wait and see.

Tuesday, October 03, 2023

Florida Woman

Every Asian-American knows this expression:
don't mess with me (WSJ photo)
Kim Ng holds a number of firsts: in 2020 she became the first woman and the first person of East Asian descent to be a general manager of a major league baseball team. Her roster moves helped the Miami Marlins, who have a payroll of $105 million (#22 out of 30, the league average is $165 million), to make the playoffs this year.

Digression: both her parents are of Chinese descent, hence the "East Asian" qualifier. Farhan Zahdi, who is Pakistani-Canadian ("South Asian"), became general manager of the Dodgers in 2014.

Kim Ng upends another stereotype: despite her Asian upbringing and going to the famously quantitative University of Chicago, she eschews analytics in favor of a traditional approach:
The Marlins open the wild-card round against Philadelphia on Tuesday night with a team Ng designed by prioritizing old-school principles such as avoiding strikeouts and the pursuit of higher batting average—ideas that are far from cutting edge in today’s data-driven game...

The question for Ng and the Marlins is if this traditional approach still has a foothold in today’s game. Her tenure as general manager thus far has featured a contradiction: She’s a reluctant symbol of social progress in baseball, but her day-to-day work reflects reverence for another era.

Ng asserts that she is not “new school” nor “old school” in her mentality. She just wants to build a balanced roster, a philosophy that has fallen out of fashion as baseball executives increasingly seek to construct teams made up of extreme outliers.
The Giants didn't make the post-season, and I didn't intend to pay attention to the MLB playoffs. Now I have a rooting interest.

Monday, October 02, 2023

Winding Down the Business

Today I returned the last DVD I will ever rent. Netflix terminated its DVD mail service this month, and at this point I'm unlikely to sign up with another company.

We rented our first movie on VHS tape over 40 years ago from a small store in a local shopping center. We opened accounts at the large chains (e.g., Blockbuster, Hollywood Video) and sometimes rented from electronics stores like Best Buy and the defunct Circuit City.

We bought our first DVD player in 1998 and upgraded to Blu-ray in 2007. DVDs shortly made videotape obsolete because of quality and speed--not to mention not having to rewind the tape before returning it--and Netflix' DVD-by-mail soon put the bricks-and-mortar rental stores out of business.

The dwindling demand and the rising costs of shipping and handling physical media made the closure inevitable, freeing Netflix to focus on streaming.

I'm a sentimental person but am not particularly moved by the demise of a business model. DVDs aren't going to disappear. People will still buy them, much like they buy books instead of borrowing them from the library. Nevertheless, the loss of Netflix as a large buyer of DVDs means that some titles won't be profitable to produce, like books that become out of print. And that's something to be sad about.

Sunday, October 01, 2023

Blessing of the Animals 2023

The priest will be going on a two-week leave, but he wasn't going to miss the Blessing of the Animals at the Dog Park. After one year in his new post, he said that this was the community event he liked best. However, as the owner of two English bulldogs, he is somewhat biased.

Thirty (30) dogs and their owners came by for a blessing, a Christian tradition that started centuries ago to honor St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.

We spent a pleasant couple of hours talking with members of the community--none of whom were church members, by the way--about their beloved animals.

One lady opened her purse and asked if she could make a donation. I quickly ran through the possible answers, finally saying "No, thank you, though. Enjoy." (They never put me in charge of fund-raising.)

This just may be my favorite community event, too.