Thursday, February 29, 2024

Sad Denouement

Jose Inez Garcia Zarate
After nine years the Kate Steinle murder case reaches its sad denouement:
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement plans to deport a Mexican national who was acquitted in the high-profile 2015 murder of Kate Steinle in San Francisco, the New York Times reported.

Jose Inez Garcia Zarate, who is undocumented, was acquitted by a jury in 2017 of murder and manslaughter charges but convicted of being a felon in possession of a gun. The trial drew national attention and was used by politicians as a talking point in immigration debates.

Steinle, 32, was fatally shot while walking along Pier 14 with her father.

According to Garcia Zarate’s attorneys, he found a gun along the waterfront and accidentally fired it – causing the bullet to ricochet off the pavement, striking Steinle in the back. The gun was stolen from a federal Bureau of Land Management ranger’s car.

Garcia Zarate’s gun conviction was later overturned by a court of appeals in 2019.

Garcia Zarate remained in prison for federal probation violations until February, the New York Times reported. In mid-February, Garcia Zarate was transferred to ICE custody and the agency plans to deport him to central or southern Mexico within the next week, a Department of Homeland Security official told the New York Times under the condition of anonymity.

Before the 2015 shooting, Garcia Zarate had been deported five times. He was in federal prison on a conviction of felony re-entry into the U.S. but instead of deportation, he was brought to San Francisco, where he was wanted for a possession of marijuana charge. That charge was dismissed and Garcia Zarate was released from custody under the city’s sanctuary policy, which limits local law enforcement’s cooperation with federal immigration officials. Federal immigration officials had requested he remain detained until they could pick him up and were not notified of his release.

Former President Donald Trump used the case to criticize sanctuary cities.
Kate Steinle's death did not cause "sanctuary cities" to renounce their policy of non-cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). And so it is that illegal immigrants continue to be arrested and released by local authorities before they can be turned over to ICE, and some go on to kill American citizens.

The murder of Laken Riley in Georgia last week by an alleged Venezuelan illegal threatens to become Kate Steinle 2.0 this political season. The problem was never solved but only grew worse, and it will be surprising if the voters don't exact a price this November.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Mourning Macy's

December, 1972: Union Square glitters (Chron photo)
As alluded to in yesterday's post, the loss of Macy's is the end of a San Francisco cultural icon.
Department stores were already cultural hubs in San Francisco when Macy’s opened in 1947. The working class Emporium on Market Street had been the center of San Francisco holiday celebrations, hosting a Santa Claus parade and placing rides on the building’s roof. Union Square’s City of Paris department store was the upscale king, with its stained glass atrium roof and 70-foot Christmas trees.

But Macy’s San Francisco was the juggernaut that managed to eclipse and outlast all comers. Taking up three-quarters of a city block, it felt like the epicenter of retail in San Francisco, if not the entire state.

With the success of the San Francisco flagship, Macy’s California expansion was swift. By 1978 there were 22 stores in California, with plans for more. Profits were so high that Macy’s California President Ernest Molloy was sent to bail out the struggling New York stores, later becoming CEO of the entire company.

..Tuesday’s announcement will land harder on San Francisco residents than the recent departures of other major retail outlets like Nordstrom and Old Navy. Macy’s is where San Franciscans bought their back-to-school outfits and their first suits and prom dresses. In some cases, it’s where they took the 38 Geary during Christmastime to ogle the store’s elaborate window displays and make their first San Francisco memories, period.

As the city tries to reinvent its downtown core, and perhaps the identity of its entire shopping district, Macy’s San Francisco will be the hardest void to fill.
Retail reached its zenith at the end of the 20th century. Out-of-town shoppers flocked to Macy's and the other stores on Union Square; there was nothing like them in the rest of the Bay Area.

The suburbs grew more affluent, the malls got bigger and glitzier, and San Francisco became grimier and unpleasant. There was no reason to fight the traffic into downtown and pay $20 for parking.

Those of us who were there mourn the City that was, and the wonderment that was lost.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Macy's on Union Square

After Macy's bought the I Magnin store (white building center left)
in 1994 it had the entire south side of Union Square (Chron photo)
Nearly a year ago the belief that San Francisco was in an inescapable doom loop became widespread. In seeming confirmation a month later Nordstrom, the anchor store of the San Francisco Centre, announced that it would close.

But subsequent events bred hope. In the fall the City banished homeless encampments near several major conventions and heavily patrolled the areas so that conventioneers wouldn't be victimized. Last week there were reports that tech employers were hiring again, and that some investors were buying at what they saw as the bottom of this real estate cycle.

However, trend lines never move smoothly in one direction. Today San Francisco received retail news that was worse than Nordstrom's departure.
Macy’s will close its massive flagship store in Union Square, San Francisco officials said Tuesday, a major setback to the city’s premier shopping district and its larger downtown recovery efforts during an election year.

The store will remain open until the company finds a buyer for the property, Mayor London Breed said in a statement Tuesday morning. The Chronicle has learned that the store will remain open until at least 2025...

Macy’s massive, 400,000-square-foot Union Square store — which spans nearly an entire block fronting Geary Street between Powell and Stockton streets — is the company’s last outpost in San Francisco. Macy’s presence in the city dates to 1947 and its store is a landmark on the south side of Union Square. Its loss marks one of the biggest retail closures the city has ever seen, on top of the loss of a nearby Nordstrom that had been open since 1988 and dozens of smaller retailers since the pandemic.
Union Square dates back to San Francisco's founding and is the unofficial heart of the City. Macy's is the dominant retailer of Union Square. If its building goes dark, it will deal a severe blow to Union Square and the revitalization of San Francisco.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Seeing the Light

Poor little lambs who have lost their way with social justice,
diversity, equity, and inclusion, Yale may be returning to
its motto light and truth (lux et veritas)
After a four-year hiatus Yale University is again requiring standardized tests on admission applications. [bold added]
After four years with a test-optional policy that allowed applicants to decide whether or not to submit test scores, Yale will resume requiring scores of all applicants. But it will expand the list of tests that fulfill the requirement to include AP and IB exams in addition to the SAT and ACT.
Dean of undergraduate admissions Jeremiah Quinlan:
we found that test scores have continued to predict academic performance in Yale College. Simply put, students with higher scores have been more likely to have higher Yale GPAs, and test scores are the single greatest predictor of a student’s performance in Yale courses in every model we have constructed.
A similar study by Dartmouth and Brown also showed that test scores were an accurate predictor of college grades, and that applicants who did not submit test scores performed less well.
It found that students who didn’t submit scores earned college grades equivalent to students who earned a 1307 or an ACT of 28. The average scores at highly selective schools generally top 1500 on the SAT and 34 on the ACT.
Dartmouth and Yale are the two Ivies who reinstated standardized testing this month.

When my high-school class sat for the exams a half-century ago, there was a different, undoubtedly naïve, perspective about testing. We were asked to perform the best that we could, but on the other hand we wanted to go to schools that were the right "fit." For example, I knew that my science and math skills weren't sufficient to do well at MIT or Caltech, regardless of my scores.

There was very little advance preparation. Your humble blogger took the SATs, six Achievement tests, and four Advanced Placement exams. Our teachers told us that we couldn't really prepare for the Scholastic Aptitude Tests--and I didn't know anyone who did--but because the ACH and AP tests were presumably based on subject knowledge, I did spend a few hours reviewing textbooks and lecture notes; unlike students today I didn't take practice tests or six-week prep classes or had a tutor.

I did well enough to get into some good schools and ended up going to one where I was in the middle of the pack. The important take-away was that I didn't encounter anyone who didn't have the smarts to do the work, and that I attribute to the testing screens.

It's comforting to know that Yale and Dartmouth have seen the light. Perhaps others will follow.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Notre Dame:: Continuing the Tradition

1966 windows by Jacques le Chevallier
Four years ago Notre Dame Cathedral miraculously survived a devastating fire. Not unexpectedly there has been disagreement surrounding the reconstruction of the over-800-year-old national monument.

The latest controversy is over the replacement of the Chevallier stained-glass windows that were not damaged by the fire. These windows are grisaille (“shades of gray” accented with color). In addition they do not depict scenes from the Bible or saints ("non-figural"), and didn't have defenders when their replacement was authorized by both the Catholic Church and the government.

Now there are petitions to leave the windows intact. Your humble blogger has no dog in this hunt, but I do think that, based on history, if the windows are replaced they will be beautiful.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

It Still Has Heft

Three ways to spot a fake: with a machine, with a pen
or by checking the small banding on the bill. (WSJ)
Something I didn't know: there are more one-hundred-dollar than one-dollar bills in circulation:
The $100 bill is far and away the most common U.S. paper currency, dwarfing even the $1 bill. The number of bills bearing Benjamin Franklin’s mug more than doubled between 2012 and 2022, faster growth than any other denomination, according to the most recent Federal Reserve data

For all its prevalence, the $100 bill is more effective for storing money than spending it. Even when cashiers do accept the bills, they hold up checkout lines to verify they aren’t counterfeits...

One reason they have become so prevalent is that they enter circulation far quicker than they leave. They can last over a decade longer than $1s and $5s, partly because people are more likely to hold than spend them.
One hundred dollar bills are harder to spend because cashiers eye them suspiciously, perform tests to make sure they're not counterfeit (picture), or even refuse them. Fast-food restaurants often post signs that they will not accept bills larger than twenties.

If I have to break a hundred, I walk over to the nearby Lucky Supermarket and use the self-checkout machine, which makes change without any hesitation.

However, the friction of using a Benjamin is more than made up by its (still) psychological heft; upon receiving a C-note as a gift, the recipient usually sends a real thank-you note, not a text or email.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Lake Manly

Death Valley, the hottest and driest place in North America, has a lake. [bold added]
recent rains have submerged the salt flats of Badwater Basin in a foot of water — a temporary lake large enough for park visitors to even go out in kayaks...

While water that falls typically evaporates, Death Valley received a surplus of rain over the past six months — two and half times what it normally tallies in an entire year, [park ranger] Abby Wines said.

The park had its rainiest day on record on Aug. 20, when remnants of Hurricane Hilary dropped 2.2 inches of rain. That brought the reemergence of an ancient lake, dubbed Lake Manly in honor of pioneer William Manly.

By the end of January, the lake had shrunk to half its size from when it formed in August. But an atmospheric-river-fueled storm in early February replenished it to its current dimensions: about 6-miles long, 3-miles wide and 1-foot deep.
Without more rainfall, Lake Manly will not be able to accommodate kayaking and paddle boarding in two weeks and will likely be gone by summer. However, to those of us who have had to listen to the incessant drumbeat of desertification doomsaying by climate alarmists, its unexpected reappearance was pleasure indeed.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Hanging Out at Ala Moana

Sign on the top floor above the stage
I made more visits to the Ala Moana Shopping Center than I usually do.

The first trip was for the purpose of making a tax payment at the City Hall Satellite Office; the second was to have dinner at one of the over-100(!) restaurants; the third was to pick up some knick-knacks to take home.

I get the appeal of hanging out at Ala Moana. I know some retirees whose daily routine is to walk and/or swim at Ala Moana beach park across the street, which has plenty of parking and isn't crowded on weekday mornings, then have lunch and chat with white-haired contemporaries at the shopping center.

Moderate exercise, sunshine, and socializing in person are a pleasant way to spend one's golden years, as well as add years to one's life. By the way, did you know that Hawaii is the state with the highest life expectancy?

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Keep Telling Yourself that Going Paperless is for Your Convenience

17 months ago I joined thousands of others who opened a Treasury Direct account. We bought I-bonds that paid 9.62% interest for the first six months. If the investor didn't withdraw his funds, the amount is reinvested at prevailing rates, currently 5.27%.

Typically savings bond interest is not reported until the bonds are cashed--this means years of deferred interest can be reported in one year--but I wasn't 100% sure that these bonds operated that way. In the old days I relied on the U.S. Postal Service to deliver all forms 1099 by mid-February, after which I could prepare our tax returns. The WSJ reminds us that times have changed, at least with regard to I-bond interest.
“A form 1099 will NOT be mailed to you,” explains an email from the government’s clunky TreasuryDirect site. For I bonds, you have to log in to the site and navigate to the page where you can download the form.

“Because it’s digital, many people forget, and many of them will end up getting IRS notices,” said Miklos Ringbauer, a certified public accountant in Los Angeles.
After making my way through the "clunky" site, I got the good news (screenshot). I had not taken the funds out; consequently there was no reportable interest for 2023. The lesson, however, is that one can't relax if a form doesn't come in the mail; one has to check each financial account to make sure. And woe is you if you can't remember every account and how to log in.

There was reportable interest on my Apple Savings account, which transmits Form 1099-INT only electronically (one can call a phone number to get a paper copy). From Apple Support:
Download a PDF of your Savings tax documents
On your iPhone, open the Wallet app and tap Apple Card.
Tap Savings account.
Tap the More More button, then tap Documents.
Tap Tax Documents. You may also have to tap the year that you want to download.
Tap the Share button to save, print, or share a copy of your tax documents.
Apple said I had $30 of interest. The rate of over 4% is good but for me not worth the administrative hassle. I'm going to close the account.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Working Vacation

Matsumoto's shaved ice is in this town square.
Going to Hawaii is usually a mix of business and pleasure. When I'm traveling by myself I like to take care of essential tasks (banking, taxes) first. I'm not monomaniacal; I do take regular breaks at the beach and restaurants.

When family members are with me, however, I'm obliged to show them a good time. And so it was that we drove to the North Shore last Tuesday, though everyone had been there last year.

We stopped for shaved ice in Haleiwa and a shrimp plate in Kahuku. The drive around the island is slow, because more than half the distance consists of a single-lane road. We got home that evening.

I did enjoy the break more than I had expected and was highly productive the next day. Sometimes it's best to stop and smell the hibiscus.

Monday, February 19, 2024

San Francisco: Signs of Optimism

The San Francisco turnaround that most people think of.
Politicians and other cheerleaders for the City have said that San Francisco's decline is over. They may just be right.

Tech Leaders Fled San Francisco During the Pandemic. Now, They’re Coming Back.
During the pandemic, scores of Silicon Valley investors and executives such as [Keith] Rabois decamped to sunnier American cities, criticizing San Francisco’s government as dysfunctional and the city’s relatively high cost of living. Tech-firm founders touted their success at raising money outside the Bay Area and encouraged their employees to embrace remote work.

Four years later, that bet hasn’t really worked out. San Francisco is once again experiencing a tech revival. Entrepreneurs and investors are flocking back to the city, which is undergoing a boom in artificial intelligence. Silicon Valley leaders are getting involved in local politics, flooding city ballot measures and campaigns with tech money to make the city safer for families and businesses. Investors are also pushing startups to return to the Bay Area and bring their employees back into the office.
Earlier this month Ian Jacobs, scion to the Toronto-based Reichmann real-estate dynasty and who studied under value investor Warren Buffett, sees opportunity in San Francisco office properties.
Jacobs has lined up commitments of $75 million for his first few deals, the people familiar with the matter said. Ultimately, he hopes to buy 3 million square feet of office space for prices about 70% below what it would cost to build the properties...

Jacobs has told investors it might take San Francisco 10 years to recover, according to his marketing materials. The key to the trade will be buying cheap and holding on until technology companies ultimately return.
Personally I hope San Francisco comes back. Much as I disagree with its governance, when the City sneezes everyone in the Bay Area catches a cold.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Whatever It Takes, Including Coloring Books and Crayons

Children are often invited to sit near the altar to
hear the homily (Church of the Brethren photo)
The "baby bust" is a worldwide topic of conversation nowadays, but most American Christians were aware of it two decades ago when the mainline Protestant denominations lamented the dearth of young adults in the pews. The wishful thinking back then was that it wasn't demographics but the lack of appealing messaging; certain denominations, like the Southern Baptists and the Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), appeared to be doing okay.

In 2024 the downturn in church attendance, especially among young people, has become obvious to everyone. Even the Baptists and the Mormons are struggling. Extrapolating from the current trend, Pew Research forecasted that Christians will be in the minority in 2070.

Families with young children are so prized that behaviors that once would have been frowned upon are now embraced for the long-term good.

Headline: If a Parish Isn’t Crying, It’s Dying
[Pope Francis] said, “It really irritates me when I see a child crying in church and someone says they must go out. God’s voice is in a child’s tears.”

If that’s so, then St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Hillsdale, Mich., is full of God’s voice. It is blessed to have many large families attending regularly. I was a member of the parish during college, and my wife became Catholic there. The cooing and shouting—often from newborns—serves as a backing track to each service, and few seem to mind. It’s no surprise: A stack of bookmark-size cards at the end of each pew informs visitors what the parish thinks about its informal children’s choir.
In defense of the shushers, your humble blogger/boomer must point out that, since I was forced to be quiet during service, I learned during the late 1950's to read "grown-up" language by following the service in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. But that regimen isn't for everyone, and if coloring books and crayons are what keep the kids and more importantly their parents coming back, then I'm all for it.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Go for It

Cantonese restaurants have a better chance of surviving in Hawaii than in California, where tastes have moved toward dishes favored by the Mandarin-speaking immigration wave from the Mainland and Taiwan.

Modern palates also look askance at the traditionally heavy use of soy, sugar and cornstarch, but I say go for it when you're on vacation. You won't find noodles like this in the hoity-toity Bay Area.

I took home half the dish for tomorrow's consumption. I'm enthusiastic but not crazy.

Friday, February 16, 2024

On Kalakaua Avenue

A stroll along Waikiki's tony Kalakaua Avenue is helpful in determining what's trendy. Case in point: Hemptuary, a clever portmanteau that combines "hemp" and "sanctuary."

Marijuana cannot yet be sold legally for recreational purposes in Hawaii, but it is permitted for medical use. If a patient has at least one of ten "qualifying debilitating medical condition[s]" (e.g. cancer, ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), MS) he may receive a prescription for cannabis. Hemptuary has doctors at the ready to help a patient get a qualifying "329 card" and issue a prescription to said patient.

In related news Senate Bill 3335 is wending its way through Hawaii's Senate Committees. If it becomes law, recreational use for adults can begin on January 1, 2026, upon which strolls along Kalakaua Avenue will become positively uplifting.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

No Panacea

(Vancouver Sun photo)
In the nether world between jail and release-upon-recognizance, ankle monitors are a tool favored by the justice system. However, one example shows how ineffective they can be:
Over a span of three years, judges had placed [Shaun] Bailey on electronic monitoring four times — and all four times, Bailey violated the conditions of the program, the filing said. On two occasions, he cut off his ankle monitor. In two other instances, he absconded from a treatment program the day he was admitted.

Yet, despite the arguments of prosecutor Rachel Schneider, Superior Court Judge Victor Hwang placed Bailey on electronic monitoring a fifth time. Roughly a week later, Bailey was arrested again on suspicion of robbing someone at an ATM machine on Columbus Avenue. His defense attorneys declined to comment.

To some law enforcement officials, elected leaders and court watchdogs, Bailey’s brushes with the criminal justice system illustrate a larger problem: that in an effort to release people from jail before trial, judges rely too much on electronic monitors as a form of supervision, even though evidence shows that the monitors often don’t work to deter criminal behavior.
The use of ankle bracelets is exploding, though effectiveness is, to say the least, spotty. [bold added]
San Francisco’s use of pretrial electronic monitoring rose more than twentyfold from 2017 to 2021, according to a 2022 report by UC Berkeley’s California Policy Lab.

Before 2018, the city averaged 75 cases a year. By 2021, the number had jumped to 1,650. As of Feb. 11, Sheriff Paul Miyamoto’s office was supervising 408 people on ankle monitors, all but two of them awaiting trial.

But the devices didn’t seem to be working well. People were cutting them off, tampering with them, throwing them in garbage dumps or in the bay, forgetting to charge the batteries or venturing outside their designated boundaries.

In July 2021, Miyamoto said his office was overseeing 328 people on ankle trackers, and more than a third of them — 126 — had an arrest warrant out for failing to comply. One person in the program between 2020 and 2021 was accused of breaching the rules nine times.

The California Policy Lab report found that in 2021, 60% of defendants placed on electronic monitors prior to trial in San Francisco violated their terms, with more than one-fifth arrested for new crimes.
Abolishing the carceral state is a goal of Progressivism. The least Progressives can do is put resources behind improving the monitoring technology to protect both the public and the criminals who they feel such sympathy for.

In related news thousands of illegal aliens have been released and subsequently tracked with ankle bracelets. In an August, 2023 report
Less than 2% of families arrested at the border in recent months have been selected to be put into FERM [Family Expedited Removal Management], but administration officials have said the program is rapidly expanding and they hope to eventually put a majority of families crossing the border illegally through it.
Hope that works out!

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

People Will Do What's Best for Themselves

From January: EVs pile up in China (Globe and Mail)
5½ years ago we bought the Toyota RAV4 hybrid. We're very happy with its reliability and fuel economy, as well as its 400-mile range on a full tank. The car's emissions are not zero as they are with EV's (this is not the time to get into the debate about lifetime pollution, which includes manufacturing and disposal); let's just say that the hybrid trade-offs were optimal for this consumer.

Apparently many other consumers feel the same way. The production of electric vehicles has far outstripped demand. EVs are piling up on dealers' lots.
As recently as a year ago, automakers were struggling to meet the hot demand for electric vehicles. In a span of months, though, the dynamic flipped, leaving them hitting the brakes on what for many had been an all-out push toward an electric transformation.

A confluence of factors had led many auto executives to see the potential for a dramatic societal shift to electric cars: government regulations, corporate climate goals, the rise of Chinese EV makers, and Tesla’s stock valuation, which, at roughly $600 billion, still towers over the legacy car companies.

But the push overlooked an important constituency: the consumer.
The last laugh goes to Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda, who has repeatedly said that hybrids are superior to EVs.
“People are finally seeing reality,” said Toyota Motor Chairman Akio Toyoda. For years, Toyota and other EV-cautious carmakers had been touting hybrids as a consumer-friendly way to reduce carbon emissions.
Fortunately, America is not yet a command economy like the late lamentable Soviet Union, which produced a glut of low-quality shoes and cars. Eventually consumer preferences win out.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

City Hall Satellite Office

19 years ago it was just a small retail space tucked in the basement of Ala Moana Shopping Center. There was so little foot traffic that the City of Honolulu sold T-shirts, coffee mugs, and other tchotchkes to attract passersby.

Yesterday I had to make an in-person tax payment and walked by it, thinking it was a popular restaurant; there was a lady behind a maitre d' stand who appeared to be taking reservations. At the end of the sidewalk was Macy's, so I back-tracked and took another look.

The Honolulu City Hall Satellite Office has grown from its humble confines to a space equal to the major banks. In fact, it looks like a bank with eight (8) teller stations behind bullet proof glass.

After my business concluded efficiently, I asked the appointment lady where I could buy a City of Honolulu cap. Sorry, we don't sell those things any more. That's progress.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Moving the Problem Around

Stadium Park: it's beautiful. Too bad you can't see it.
Thirteen years ago there was a homeless encampment in Stadium Park.

Five years ago the tents had been cleared.

Today they're back, not in the park itself but along the entire length of the South King Street sidewalk.

The homeless can't set up in Waikiki--heaven forbid the tourists get a false impression of our Island paradise--and as long as they don't encamp next to homes and apartments the cops will let them stay a while. However, nearby residences will have to put up with sleepers in their carports, home burglaries, upended trash cans, and the occasional tapping into outdoor power outlets.

Eventually the tents will be forced to move so that one neighborhood doesn't bear the entire burden. By moving the problem around people may think it's being solved.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Till We Meet Again

Administering communion to shut-ins is an
important, often unappreciated, responsibility.
There were many reasons for going to Hawaii this week--to be with older relatives for the Lunar New Year, prepare Mom's tax return, get warm--but none was more important than saying goodbye to Pastor Diane Martinson, who has been rector of my home parish, St. Peter's Episcopal, since 2013.

Being the rector of a church is nearly impossible to do well. One must be an excellent multi-tasker, a "boss" leader when direction is called for, an empathetic listener, an inspirational public speaker to a multi-generational audience, an organizer of volunteers who often can't be relied upon, a regular minister to shut-ins (a duty not widely appreciated), and an upbeat fund-raiser.

One of the few agreed-upon measures of "success" in a religious organization is growth in membership, and while attendance was tentative when she started, growth has accelerated in the past three years. She is leaving us just as she is hitting her stride, but the principal reason is understandable. She is returning to the freezing Midwest to take care of infirm relatives.

I waited in line to talk to her after the service and thanked her for her ministry to my parents and to the church. She said her decision to leave was agonizing but one that she had to make. All one can do at that point in the conversation is to set aside the effect on ourselves and offer her support and best wishes.

Later I spoke to a second cousin who has been on several rector searches. He is not relishing the prospect of trying to replace Pastor Diane. Speaking from experience, I agreed.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Happy Year of the Dragon

(Image from X/Year of the Dragon)
Today is the first day of the Lunar Year. Each year is assigned to one of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac; yesterday the Year of the Rabbit ended and today the Year of the Dragon begins.

In Chinese culture there's a belief that an individual takes on the characteristics of the animal of his or her birth year. Dragon babies--like your humble blogger--have an auspicious future.[bold added]
Arriving fifth in the sequence, the dragon is the most potent—and most desired—zodiac symbol. It “catalyzes all the powers of nine animals and is therefore considered very supreme,” says Richard E. Strassberg, an expert on Chinese culture and the author of A Chinese Bestiary: Strange Creatures From the Guideways Through Mountains and Seas. “There [is] an overwhelming mixture of respect and hope in invoking the dragon’s powers.”

When the Year of the Dragon arrives, birth rates in China tend to boom. Many parents believe that a child born during this year, a lucky dragon baby, will be destined for success. Though this perception is often a self-fulfilling prophecy, with parents investing greater resources in their dragon child, the extraordinary expectations surrounding the zodiac creature speak to its deep associations with intelligence, authority and good fortune.
Sharing our good fortune this year
Like everyone else, your humble blogger has had a life of ups and downs, but in all the important ways a life filled with good fortune.

Maybe there was something to this zodiac thing.

Happy Year of the Dragon!

Friday, February 09, 2024

I'm Outta Here

We live in the supposedly temperate San Francisco Bay Area, but this cold snap is quite uncomfortable.

I could tolerate the close-to-freezing temperatures years ago, but aging has slowed metabolism, and a little weight loss, which is normally beneficial, has reduced the body's insulation.

Tomorrow I'll be headed back to the Islands, where the most layering I'll need is the occasional light jacket.

The furnace here will be turned off. The natural gas savings alone will subsidize a third of the airfare.


Thursday, February 08, 2024

Short-Term Good News About California's Water Supply

1/30/24: Oroville Reservoir is at 76% capacity
The recent storms have had a salutary effect on California's water picture:
Nearly all of California’s major reservoirs are holding more than 100% of their historic average water levels for this time of year after recent storms across the state gave several a boost.

Average total water storage across the state’s 48 biggest reservoirs has also been climbing upward since the beginning of the year, topping an 70% of capacity as of Thursday, according to state data. California’s reservoirs overall are holding 118% of their average levels of water for this time of year.
Reservoir levels are 118% of average, which is basically good news, but being at 70% of capacity is slightly worrisome at this point in the rainy season. [bold added]
Officials are carefully managing reservoirs, planning releases to ensure they do not overflow and cause floods while also maintaining enough water in case of another drought, according to the state water department.
The science of weather forecasting hasn't reached the stage where officials can predict confidently how much rain and snow will fall during the remainder of the wet season. Consequently the upcoming release of water from the reservoirs is educated guesswork.

The good news is that we won't have to let our gardens shrivel this summer. The bad news is that, because of the failure to build more storage capacity, we can't be confident about the following summer.

Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Mickey Mouse Plan

We continue to pay for an old-fashioned telephone landline despite its escalating cost (currently $90 per month). From 2010:
[Our Mickey Mouse telephone] survives because it's our one phone that can operate if the power goes off say, during an earthquake. As long as our landline has tone, we can dial out ("dial" for once may be interpreted literally).
Suffering from escalating maintenance costs on copper-wire technology and from a shrinking customer base, AT&T wants to exit the landline business: [bold added]
A proposal by telecommunications giant AT&T to withdraw landline service from most of the Bay Area has sparked widespread fear among residents, many of whom live where cell service is spotty, power outages are frequent and losing connectivity is “very scary.”

...Thanks to its earlier monopoly status and state law requiring voice communications for all who want them, AT&T is for large areas of California the “carrier of last resort” — the utility required to provide phone service to anyone wanting it in its service area. In its proposal to the utilities commission to escape that obligation, the company said it is seeking to stop landline service only in areas “where there is a demonstrated voice alternative.”

Nearly all those commenting said they opposed the plan, citing a host of concerns, from medical crises to loss of communications during earthquakes, fires, floods and storms because cell phone infrastructure is damaged or power outages cut off internet service.
We are not as exposed to power outages and cellphone interruptions as residents who live in the mountains, but earthquake risk is enough to make us landline subscribers. We plan to keep Mickey Mouse useful as long as possible.

Tuesday, February 06, 2024

An Amusing Interchange

A radio host interviews an NBA head coach about a young player.
Coach: He's more athletic than people give him credit for.

Radio host: You mean he's white.

Coach: I was waiting for you to say it.
Everyone tiptoes around race, even when they're speaking about white guys.

Monday, February 05, 2024

Paper is Safer

Our paper pile in 2016. A cost we're willing to accept.
We have always filed paper income tax returns. It's a procedure that has worked for us for over 50 years, and it's much easier to prove something to the IRS with a physical document, for example a post office receipt, than with an image that can be easily doctored. From 2012:
I'm old-fashioned: I prefer mailing a paper version of our tax return. There's a solidity to the accomplishment, and its heft conveys a sense of the work involved. (I also confess to a streak of rebelliousness: electronic filing is for the IRS' convenience, not ours, no matter what they say about getting our refund a few days sooner..)
I always feel disquieted when sending sensitive information electronically. E-mailed documents or those transmitted via "secure portals" are much easier for a crook to intercept than a mailed envelope. From 2023:
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.
(Most taxpayers who use professional help don't have the option of filing on paper. Paid preparers of 11 or more tax returns must file their clients' returns electronically. We prepare our own taxes and still do 4 or 5 paper returns for friends and family.)

It turns out that there were good reasons for our feelings of distrust. E-filing has resulted in some taxpayers getting screwed (a technical tax term): [bold added]
The problems with e-filing aren’t widely known, even by tax professionals. Paper is more secure, as demonstrated by recent malware attacks on e-filing tax software and preparation companies such as Wolters Kluwer, and by data breaches involving taxpayers’ personal information such as with the company TaxSlayer. E-filing income-tax returns can also lead to unfair treatment by the IRS.

The IRS accepts returns that are e-filed or paper returns deposited in the mail by the filing deadline. If a return has enough information for the IRS to calculate the proper tax, it is considered valid. But such protections don’t fully apply to electronic returns. Authorizing your preparer to e-file on your behalf doesn’t protect you as a taxpayer, because the IRS doesn’t consider an electronic return until it acknowledges receipt.

In recent years, courts have upheld harsh financial penalties for taxpayers who thought they had properly e-filed. Christopher Haynes’s certified public accountant e-filed his 2010 return before the deadline in 2011. The IRS rejected the return on a triviality: A Social Security number was entered on a line designated for an employer identification number. Mr. Haynes didn’t know this until he received a penalty notice from the IRS in August 2012. A district court upheld the penalty, ruling in a summary judgment in the government’s favor that Mr. Haynes’s reliance on his CPA to e-file didn’t constitute reasonable cause to abate the penalty. An appellate court later vacated the decision, and the final outcome isn’t yet clear. (Mr. Haynes didn’t respond to requests for comment.)

Wayne Lee’s CPA failed to e-file his client’s returns for 2014, 2015 and 2016. The accountant told the IRS that the software he used couldn’t handle Mr. Lee’s complex returns. But Mr. Lee said the accountant never told him about this problem. In 2019 the IRS assessed Mr. Lee more than $70,000 in penalties and barred him from applying his six-figure 2014 overpayment to taxes owed in 2015 and 2016. An appellate court ruled that reliance on his CPA wasn’t an excuse for making errors. The court noted that taxpayers can confirm timely filing with the IRS by phone or on the IRS website. Alternatively, instead of e-filing, the preparer can attach Form 8948 (Explanation for Not E-filing) to Form 1040 and file a paper return instead.

When a dispute can’t be resolved within the IRS, a taxpayer can petition the Tax Court—either by mail or by e-filing—seeking a favorable outcome. E-filing a petition with the Tax Court, however, also is risky. Antawn Sanders said he encountered technical problems while trying to e-file a Tax Court petition and spent almost an hour trying to submit it before the midnight filing deadline. The document ultimately uploaded 11 seconds into the next day. The court rejected it as late.

Roy Nutt e-filed his Tax Court petition on the day it was due at 11:05 p.m. Central Time. That meant it arrived at 12:05 a.m., the next day, in Washington, where the Tax Court is located. The court rejected the filing because it was five minutes late. An appeal is pending. Had Mr. Nutt mailed a hard copy to the Tax Court postmarked before midnight, it would have been accepted.

The security risks posed by e-filing are equally serious. The IRS works with a third-party vendor,, to verify taxpayers’ identities. Registering with is a prerequisite to obtaining an IRS online account or using the new IRS Direct File tax program. Taxpayers must submit copies of their Social Security cards or employer identification numbers and other documents to as proof of identity. I advise my clients not to use because it is a private database of personal information. My clients have no control over it and must trust that it won’t be hacked.

E-filing is widely used and isn’t always voluntary. The IRS mandates e-filing of certain forms for every tax-exempt organization, preparers who file 11 or more returns, and for any business filing 10 or more returns; each W-2, 1099, and payroll return counts toward the 10.

E-filing has also spurred tax forms to proliferate, making it more complex and costly for taxpayers to file returns. For example, Form 1040, which before 2018 was two pages long, now runs as long as eight pages.

Considering that e-filing isn’t as forgiving as paper filing and raises other risks, paper returns seem the safest bet. Unlike e-filed returns, paper ones won’t get rejected for failure to click on a box. You might even get away with missing a deadline by mailing a day late—though I wouldn’t 'recommend cutting it close.
We operate under a general rule regarding government agencies and large companies: if they want you to change your ways and you don't see what you get out of it, you can be assured that the benefit to them is great and that there are risks that they are keeping hidden from you.

We'll file on paper until they force us to do otherwise.

Sunday, February 04, 2024

St. Ambrose

To the left as one faces the altar there is a side-chapel in which parishioners often stop to say a prayer after communion. The prayers can be about anything--gratitude, repentance, a plea for help--but most often they are to remember loved ones.

Votive candles have been placed next to the kneeler and are lit one at a time by each supplicant. The light can symbolize Jesus, who is the Light who entered the world, or the soul of a loved one.

At eye level is a portrait of Ambrose, the 4th-century saint for whom our church is named. St. Ambrose was the bishop of Milan and his speeches influenced the thinking of St. Augustine, who was 25 years his junior. Ambrose is credited with the saying, "When in Rome do as the Romans do."

Ambrose is not as famous as the saints mentioned in the Bible, nor is he in the top tier of post-Biblical saints (Francis, Augustine). But he did lead a virtuous life and forsook personal riches to help the poor. The founders of our church chose its name wisely.

Saturday, February 03, 2024

Say Goodnight: The Kids Are All Right

Image from Sawdust City
Finally, a youthful trend that geezers not only understand but can support: 20-somethings are sleeping longer and going to bed earlier. [bold added]
Today’s 18-to-35-year-olds say they understand the link between sleep and health better than people once did, with many seeing the long- and short-term benefits of more shut-eye. Younger people also say they take comfort in seizing control over their bedtime routines, finding solace in saying no to even a late-night dinner.

Businesses have adjusted in turn, with bars adding matinee dance parties and other daytime events.

In 2022, those in their 20s reported getting an average of nine hours and 28 minutes of sleep, according to an analysis of American Time Use Survey data by RentCafe. That is an 8% increase from the eight hours and 47 minutes they said they slept in 2010. Those in their 30s and 40s saw smaller increases.

Bedtimes are also creeping earlier. An analysis of more than two million total Sleep Number smart-bed customers found that those between 18 and 34 went to bed at 10:06 p.m. on average in January, compared with 10:18 p.m. last January.
Your humble blogger is lucky to still be around after 40 years of sleep deprivation and consumption of at least 3 cups of coffee every day to stay awake. It's good to see that newer generations are not repeating our mistakes and have made sleep a priority.

Young people going to bed earlier can also lead to reversing the decline in population, but that's a study for another day.

Friday, February 02, 2024

Phil Makes His Prediction

Punxsutawney Phil today in Gobler's Knob (AP/WSJ)
Periodically we muse about the movie, like we did last year, but on this year's Groundhog Day we're banishing the deep thoughts. A minor holiday is just a minor holiday.

The groundhog didn't see his shadow today, which foretells an early spring. The warmth will be welcome; EV batteries will retain their charge longer, people will not use their coal, oil, and gas furnaces as much, and the grid is less likely to go down.

In 21st century America the warm weather produced by global warming helps to fight global warming. If all these anti-carbon moves are successful, we'll have freezing cold in the future.

Happy Groundhog Day!

Thursday, February 01, 2024

The Lazy Explanation is Wrong

Same-sex couples are denied mortgages more frequently than different-sex couples, and, when they do get approved, are charged a higher rate. The lazy explanation is that discrimination must be the reason. This study looked deeper. [bold added]
We identify same-sex and different-sex couples according to the gender of the mortgage applicant and co-applicant. Then, controlling for a rich set of lender, borrower, and loan characteristics, some of which are important in mortgage decisions but were not available in previous research like credit scores, we find that same-sex couples are 8.8 percent more likely to be denied a home mortgage than similar opposite-sex couples and conditional on being approved, are quoted an interest rate that is 0.8 percent higher. We explore heterogeneity by regions, by acceptance of same-sex marriage, and pre- and post-COVID. Interestingly, we also find that same-sex couples default significantly more (53.9%) than similar different-sex couples, which suggests an unobserved characteristic that causes same-sex couples to default more, and could explain a part of observed disparities in mortgage approval, undermining results in previous research.
It's an undisputed principle of lending markets that higher-risk borrowers are charged higher rates and are turned down for loans more frequently. To this humble observer, the fact that same-sex couples are riskier is a more likely explanation for mortgage disparity than bias. (H/T Marginal Revolution)