Doomed

Oh shit. I’m doomed.

Pizza, hot dogs, sausages, burgers, french fries, sodas, cookies, cakes, candy, doughnuts and ice cream…all on the list of Foods That Lead to Dementia. (They didn’t list potato chips or Tater Tots, but I’m sure that was just an oversight.) I can give up all the sweet stuff, no problem. But pizza, burgers and fries? Just start digging the hole now, and make it a big one.

***

We had a real shitshow at the house yesterday. Power outage, trespassers, neighborly conflict…quite the drama.

It all started with a series of planned outage notices we got from my old employer, SDGE. The utility had notified us, several times, of a planned 8 hour outage on 12/5 for neighborhood repairs. My plan was to get to a local coffee shop for meetings and wifi.

SDGE then notified us at 8am, by email, that there would be no outage. Outage cancelled, so I changed my plans accordingly.

Then at 9am our power went off. I went outside and saw about 15 SDGE and contractor trucks, parked on our road and in our extended driveway. At about that same time, a small unrelated fleet of plumbing and irrigation trucks showed up and set up to begin digging trenches, ON OUR PROPERTY.

Turns out a neighbor up the hill is/was installing new water service to his property, and took it upon himself to authorize the contractor to dig on our property. Without ever discussing it with us. Or with no thought that scheduling a major infrastructure upgrade on the same day, in the exact same place, as a big utility project might be a problem. That didn’t go over well, once I realized what was going on.

It was quite a morning. Our power was restored ahead of schedule. The negotiations with the clueless neighbor are ongoing.

***

Today is stand up and be counted day for Georgia voters. Let’s hope they’re not all crazy.

Monday musings

Today we get the pleasure of dealing with an eight hour power outage, courtesy of my old employer SDG&E. I know, the grid needs maintenance, but a planned eight hour outage is a big one. Causes all kinds of problems, like what’s in the refrigerator. Couldn’t the work have been done in two four hour sessions on different days? I’ll drag the generator out and see if it starts, but that’s not how I wanted to spend my day.

Having said that, it’s probably a good day to take the laptop somewhere for a long brunch. Power, wifi, food…not a bad deal.

***

One day before the election, Herschel Walker outdoes himself in showing he’s not qualified to serve. In an NBC interview, he talks about serving in “The House”. Someone should tell him that he’s running for the Senate. I agree with Digby, Republicans should be embarrassed for running this guy.

***

Kentucky men’s hoops finally got a quality win this past weekend, though we had to go to London for it. For all I care, they can play the whole season in Europe if we get good wins. Next up is Yale, back in the USA.

***

I was really sorry to read this article about the imminent demise of Appharvest. Eastern KY needs a break, and the Appharvest concept is a good one. But someone forgot that making a profit is important to staying in business.

***

There’s a lot of stuff I’d like to read in the NY Times, Forbes, The Economist, and the Washington Post, but I get blocked by paywalls. I suppose I should go ahead and pay the subscriptions. Most of the ad-supported sites I can get to are horrendous to read. The pages jerk around as ads try to render themselves.

Thoughts on Covid, three years into the pandemic

I find myself thinking a lot about Covid this morning. It started with the news that an insider has come out with a book that states unequivocally that the SARS-CoV-2 release into the world was a lab accident, and that the virus is an engineered product. If that’s true, it’s mind-blowing. We did it to ourselves.

I’ve always thought that was a possibility, even likely. The virus first showed up in a city that hosts one of the world’s few BSL-4 virology labs. That lab is in China, but there are American ties to it too – we fund research there. So don’t bame China, it could have been Atlanta or Ft. Detrick or Boston. Occam’s Razor would point toward that lab as the source – the simplest explanation is almost always true. I tend to believe that the Wuhan BSL-4 lab was the source.

I wonder why the US government and media would push so hard for other explanations of the virus’ origin. Did they fear WW3 if US citizen’s were told that Covid was definitely a Chinese lab product? We’ll probably never know.

Then I think about my Dad, and wonder if he would still be here without Covid as a factor. Covid was the straw that broke the camel’s back in his case. Plus, Covid protocols and complications made the treatment of his base disease, congestive heart failure, problematic and certainly less effective than it would have been pre-Covid. On top of that, Covid made his last 2.5 years in the world much more lonely than they would have been. Fewer family visits, less human contact. Less time with his great grandkids. A real tragedy, one that I could never have imagined.

Then I think about how Covid changed the world, changed history. It broke the US economy. And it enabled a mentally ill, childish, venal US President to confuse the population about treatments and cause the US death rate to be the worst by far among all first-world nations. Yay for us, we’re #1.

Finally, I read today’s Eric Topol essay, The New Covid Wave, and I realize the nightmare isn’t over. Topol is one of the clearest, most informed voices out there on the subject, and he’s a little pessimistic about what’s happening right now. From his essay:

The main point is that we’re not doing what we can do to reduce the toll of the virus. That means for everyone (especially age 50+) getting a booster and using mitigation measures appropriately. It also means we’re poorly equipped to ever keep up with the virus, no less get ahead of it, having lost the power of monoclonal antibodies as a backstop and for the immunocompromised. This represents a do nothing posture and extends to not aggressively going after nasal vaccines and pan-β-coronavirus vaccines. The idea that current boosters could be used and effective on an annual basis is balderdash, given their durability is less than 6 months.

Topol points out, with a lot of supporting data, that the US’s abysmal performance in keeping citizens safe from the disease is continuing. We’re not very smart as a country these days. Perhaps this is just Darwin’s Law writ large – OK, you’re not going to step back from the precipice, so here’s a little push from yet another variant.

Of all the world-changing events that could have happened in my lifetime – first contact with aliens, invention of anti-gravity, colonizing Mars, rapid weight-loss that actually works – we get a pandemic. Go figure.

The Golden State

Ahhhhh, California. The Golden State. The state where you need a helluva lot of gold to live.

I dug into the notice we recently received about our homeowner’s insurance premium increases, and what I found isn’t pretty.

The last couple of years we’ve paid $6700/year for homeowner’s insurance with a $1000 deductible. That’s a lot, given that the national average is about $1400/year. That price is/was way up from five years ago, when we had to go shopping for insurance after being dropped by our carrier because of wildfire risk. At that time we found that Traveler’s would insure us if (a) we paid their big price increase, and (b) we consolidated all our insurance (homeowner’s, auto, umbrella, etc.) with them. We did that, as being able to get homeowner’s insurance is one of the things that keeps your property valuable. And of course, the hedge against catastrophic events.

That was five years ago. Fast forward to today, and insurers are taking a much harder line on wildfire risk. After years of big fires, almost all in northern CA, they’re moving to a computer-modeled risk scale that depends on satellite photos of your property. The software analyzes photos and assigns a risk rating to your property, and that’s used to decide if the company will insure your property and/or for how much. You cross their computer-generated risk score threshold, they’re not going to insure you. No discussion.

What I’m finding is that (a) most companies will now not even give us a quote, and (b) Traveler’s is doing us a favor with a quote refactored with the industry’s new models. Our $6700 premium / $1000 deductible policy is now renewable as a $23,000 premium / $10,000 deductible. A 400% cost increase.

What the insurance industry is saying is that they’re getting out of CA homeowners policy business, or if they stay, you’re going to have to be wealthy to afford their coverage. That may be a rational business decision, but it creates an irrational situation. Without insurance, your property value is essentially zero – you can’t sell it. And of course if it burns down and you have no other savings, you’re homeless. There are hundreds of thousands of homes and homeowners in this situation, maybe millions if you include Oregon and Washington.

I predict there will be some kind of regulatory relief for those in our situation. You just can’t let hundreds of thousands of homeowners’ equity drop to zero. But that will take time, probably years. So in the meantime I’m either (a) going to pay the usurious premiums for a few years, and/or (b) try to find another insurer who will write a true catastrophic coverage policy, something like a $5-10K premium with a $100K deductible, or even $200K. I would be OK with that. We don’t use our homeowner’s insurance for any small claims – in 18 years here, we’ve never actually made a homeowner’s insurance claim. We’re the perfect customer, other than the fact that we live in a semi-rural area with trees. In the Golden State.

Happy Friday

It’s a slow day today. Just hanging around reading and doing minor chores. Feeling very retired…here are a few observations about the world today.

  • Kanye West has lost his mind. I know it’s a story, but media needs to just ignore him. And someone needs to commit him for treatment.
  • Georgians need to prove to the rest of the US that they’re sane by NOT electing Herschel Walker to the Senate.
  • Trump continues to lose legal decisions, one after another. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
  • Alex Jones declares bankruptcy to avoid paying legal fines. Shocker.
  • An official CA committee is recommending that CA pay $223K per person in slave reparations, to each of about 2.5 million people who identify as black or African American in CA. I don’t think that’s going to go over well in either political party.
  • I have my final board meeting as a 211 San Diego board member next week. Not happy to be leaving the board, but those are the rules. Term limits.
  • The FCC has released a national broadband map, showing what options are available for any US address. Pretty cool.
  • The rain forecast for today in Socal is not happening. Another shocker.
  • Our 2023 homeowner’s insurance quote is 4x higher than last year. We haven’t made any claims, so I’m not sure why. Gotta love the insurance business; it’s basically the Mafia with a lot of paperwork.

Like I said, a slow day. Happy Friday.

Best idea I’ve heard all year

Casey Handmer, big thinker, strikes again. He and I arrived at the same solution to the western US’s existential water problem (desal plus large scale PV), but Handmer has put some high-level numbers on the idea and added the refill the rivers twist. Back of the envelope, it all pans out. This should be the future.

The number that sticks with me is that we could solve the water problems of southern CO, AZ and CA with less capital than Elon Musk spent for fucking Twitter. That’s…amazing. And sad. Our national priorities are so screwed up.

Spend capital on gigascale PV and desal. Pump fresh water upstream and use the natural river systems and gravity to distribute the newly-created fresh water to all the places it needs to go; to the places it used to go. And mine the waste brine for badly-needed elements like lithium and rare earth elements. Genius. Think of the jobs these investments would produce. A generation’s worth of construction jobs, project management jobs, engineering jobs, safety and inspection jobs, legal and accounting jobs….on and on. And it doesn’t have to be a government program, for you let’s-drown-government-in-a-bathtub types – all this could be done by the private sector, with guaranteed rates of return on capital spent, just like we provide utilities.

I would join this project. I might even commute to the office to be a part of this.

Goodbye November

Lotta good news lately.

  • Trump’s tax returns are finally in the public record.
  • Marriage equality took a few steps forward.
  • Herschel Walker is his own worst enemy in the GA Senate runoff. Georgians seem to have noticed.
  • The DJIA is on the rebound, leading several gurus to proclaim that the bear market is over. I may be able to stay retired.
  • Madison Cawthorn is exiting the House of Representatives. One less shallow, hollow, wanna-be-celebrity in Congress.
  • Crypto investment gambling is collapsing, as any greater fool scheme should.
  • The Oath Keepers “leaders” were convicted of serious crimes. They’ll be in jail for a while.
  • The US beat Iran and moved forward in the FIFA World Cup.

All in all, a pretty good month, I’d say.

Commuting

I tried to go to a workplace close to downtown San Diego this morning, and gave up after a half hour or so. All the roads, freeways and surface streets, were clogged and crawling. I just don’t have the patience to do that commute any longer, so I’m not. I turned back and told my company friends that I would be remote today. It now seems that Wednesday is the worst traffic day every week.

Ironically, the meeting I was trying to get to was a discussion of bringing everyone back into the office at least three days/week. The management of this company (I’m an advisor) is hell-bent to re-establish an in-office culture. My situation is a bit unique, but there’s almost no scenario in which I would do a daily long commute again. Too stressful, too wasteful, too dangerous, too expensive. I think anyone who *can* say no financially *will* say no.

These days the only commute I have patience with is the flight from Socal to Kentucky. One of several good reasons pictured below.

The answer is no

Is an evening enjoying a bottle of wine worth the pain, the absolute misery, of a scheduled workout with a trainer the next morning?

This is not a hypothetical. And the answer is no, it is not. In my youth I could drink the night before strenuous exercise, but no more. This getting old shit is getting old.

The Interregnum

Today in the US we start The Interregnum – my name for that short three week period between the end of Thanksgiving weekend and the start of zero productivity as Christmas spins up. In corporations, this is the last chance to get anything done before everyone checks out for the year. At home, preparations are made for holiday celebrations and travel. Gifts are purchased, the house is decorated and everyone is in a high state of anticipation for the two weeks at the end of the year. At least that’s how it is in the middle class US.

I’m sad but thankful that The West Wing TV marathon is over. I spent every waking minute not otherwise occupied glued to the TV, reliving how that show always entertained and inspired me. It’s like a drug, I can’t not watch it if it’s playing. Those characters, that dialogue…it’s a masterpiece. But now I can get back to wasting time in other ways.

Big news from Hawaii – Mauna Loa erupted, first time in 40 years. The last time we stood close to the massive rim of Mauna Loa, we were busy buying a house in KY, sight unseen, doing the deal via iPhone atop the volcano. I still think that’s a cool story.

Speaking of cool stories, on Saturday I witnessed Chris Rodriguez breaking the all-time UK record for 100-yard games, passing Bennie Snell and Alfred (Sonny) Collins. That’s quite an accomplishment for Rodriguez, but the story revolves around Collins. I played against Sonny Collins when I was a sophomore. Boyd County played Madisonville in the Recreation Bowl to start the season, and Collins was a nationally-recognized talent – the best running back in the country.

I found an obscure article on the KY High School Athletic Association website, chronicling that game

— In 1971, UK Coach John Ray attended the Rec Bowl for the second year in a row to watch Madisonville running back Alfred “Sonny” Collins. In 1970, Collins rushed for 106 yards and a TD, but he also fumbled four times in a 28-14 loss to Highlands. He didn’t fumble in ’71, however, and rushed for 170 yards and three TDs in a 27-7 victory over Boyd County.

https://khsaa.org/granddaddy-rec-bowl-has-unmatched-history/

My part of the story is that I was starting my first varsity game as a sophomore – I played defensive back and on special teams. So I saw a lot of Collins – mostly as he ran past me. But one time in particular, early in the game, I got a clean shot at him. He was coming at me impossibly fast, but I kept him in my sights and ran at him, anxious to take him down. He hit me so hard I couldn’t believe it. I had never felt anyone with the power he delivered – he ran right through me. I was lucky I didn’t get knocked out. For the first time I realized that there was a whole different level of athlete, a level that turned good, strong players like me into also-rans. Collins went on to become an All-American college player at UK and had a good pro career.

Collins and Madisonville beat us handily, and I tackled Collins several times, but I’ll never forget that first one-on-one collision. It was an education.

Big questions

Woke up feeling philosophical today. Spending the morning exploring two big, interesting questions:

  1. What is memory, and how does it actually work?
  2. Is there any validity to the idea of quantum consciousness?

Consciousness and memory – what are they exactly, how do they work? The more I read, the more questions I have.

A TV show that made a difference

One of our cable channels (HLN, whatever that is) is running nonstop episodes of The West Wing, my #2 all-time favorite show. #1 is The Expanse, then The West Wing, and it’s a little murky after that. Maybe Yellowstone, maybe Breaking Bad, maybe the original Star Trek. Requires more thought than it’s worth.

But back to The West Wing. I hadn’t realized it until yesterday, but TWW is the thing that turned me from somewhat conservative, somewhat apolitical, into a card-carrying liberal. Watching just a couple of episodes, it was so obvious – all the thoughts and feelings I originally had came rushing back, and I remembered those times when I heard or saw something on the show and realized “yes, that’s the way it should be”.

The West Wing was wholly the product of Aaron Sorkin, and all the ideas and dialogue that came out of the characters’ mouths was his. So I guess Aaron Sorkin turned me into a liberal. This would have been in the late 90s and early 2000s, a period when I was doing a lot of soul-searching (longer story, not for the blog). Sorkin’s dialogue was smart, witty, fast and interesting. Watching it now, it still is captivating. And his vision for the role of government was, and still is, inspiring for me. Watching that show, for the first time I thought logically about the role of government, what it should and shouldn’t be. And it’s so simple. For a wealthy country like us, a country with massive resources, here are the simple instructions:

  • If people are hungry, get them some food. Don’t debate, don’t delay, get some food to them.
  • If people are sick, get them some health care. Don’t argue about whether they deserve it or can afford it, just get them access to care.
  • If people are scared, do your best to reassure them. Give them facts, be straight with them.
  • Do everything in your power to educate the country’s citizens.
  • If people are at risk because their air or water or food or drugs are dangerous, fix that. Don’t let stupid/greedy/evil decisions by individuals or corporations put citizens at risk.
  • If people are homeless, get them housed. Give them shelter.
  • If the nation is under attack, defend it. And that includes borders – manage and control your national boundaries firmly but with compassion.

We don’t need government to stir us up, to pit us against one another. We don’t need government to define our culture for us. We don’t need government to build empires on other continents.

The West Wing was a fictional government with fictional politicians, but it’s still my ideal of how things could work. I know it’s a silly, somewhat naive dream, but I’m holding on to it.