Four tidbits for Wednesday

OK, this would be one of the worst jobs in America. Trying to translate Trump’s stilted, self-interrupted, nonsensical word salad speech into sign language. I can only imagine the grimaces as a sign interpreter tries to make sense of POTUS’s verbal noise.

But here’s some good great news. Turns out coffee’s antioxidants makes it a superfood, reducing risk of many diseases including cancer. As I drink my Nth cup of coffee this morning, I feel better already.

More great news. It’s OK to read this, but if you do knock on wood, find a four-leaf clover, walk the maze widdershins, nail up a horsehoe or a crucifix…whatever apotropaic gesture you choose to ward off bad luck and evil. The guy who’s predicted every presidential race since 1984 correctly is all-in on Biden. Let’s hope his luck (and ours) hasn’t run out.

Some fun news. SpaceX has launched a giant grain silo called Starship and moved it 150 meters from pad to pad. It’s weird, but it’s a pretty amazing rocketry achievement.

 

 

Hell freezes over

This might be the first thing that Trump has ever done that I agree with. He’s fired the head of the TVA and directed them to hire US workers rather than outsource technology jobs to other countries.

This is extraordinary in a few ways. First, it’s taken three and a half years for him to do something I think is useful and patriotic. And he’s done it in a time when he seems hell bent to do the most damage he can before leaving.

A second way this is extraordinary is that it’s an intelligent, insightful move (I wonder who pushed him to do this?). IT outsourcing has long been the lazy executive’s way to save money, or appear to save it. In my experience – and I’ve seen a lot of them – most outsourcing contracts are damaging and disruptive to the company’s workers and save little or no money. They look good in theory (if your sole focus is reducing cost), but in practice they’re a hot mess. It’s much better to focus on refining your work process, retaining your employees and creating a high-productivity culture than it is to just move work to a country that pays half or less of US wages.

And in this time of record unemployment, it’s just wrong to axe jobs of US residents and send that work elsewhere. Morally wrong, ethically wrong and common-sense wrong. So for whatever reason Trump has taken this stand, I’m grateful. From the article: “TVA’s action could cause more than 200 highly skilled American tech workers in Tennessee to lose their jobs to foreign workers hired on temporary work visas, according to the White House.”

Oh yeah, and the CEO of the TVA – a large energy utility with socialist origins in the previous Great Depression – is making $8M per year. The TVA board’s defense of that salary is that it is in line with the salaries of other large company CEOs. There’s some deep irony here – an organization created by the Federal government to create jobs, originally funded by taxpayers, is now a profit-before-everything organization led by a CEO “earning” 100-200 times what their typical employee makes. Again, it’s extraordinary that Trump, of all people, has taken this action.

The sound you just heard is hell freezing over.

 

 

A little good news now and then

Lots of little things happening right now that make me want to believe that the 2020 shitshow is winding down a bit.

On the personal front, a tech company that I advise just won a large contract we’ve been working toward and hoping for since April. It’s great news for the 30+ people we’ve kept employed through the pandemic.

On the political front, Trump seems completely unable to stop his self-destruction act. And Biden seems wisely content to not distract him from that.

On the pandemic front, Russia has announced that they’ll release and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine in August. I count that as good news because it will ramp up the pressure to move faster on US-sponsored vaccines. While I have great respect for CDC and US health professionals’ guidelines for releasing safe and effective vaccines, if there were ever a time to be aggressive on the timelines it is now. A working vaccine frees up the economy by making it safe(r) for people to travel, work, play, etc. So good for Russia.

And finally, little Jessamine (pictured above) is enjoying his first family vacation, a socially-distanced visit to the shores of Lake Michigan.

It definitely helps to step back from the abyss that has swallowed most of 2020 and consider the good things in life still happening and possible. We’ll call it a good day – that’s one in a row.

Retirement-versary

Photo above is from our Malta trip, 2019, wherein our friend Tanya and some pelicans pose in the Maltese evening.

I just realized it’s been two years today since my last day in the office! July 27, 2018 was the last day I had to get up, get dressed up, commute an hour (if lucky), spend eight or nine hours managing people and technology in person (in meetings, mostly), then drive home through stressful traffic. Do some” homework” to follow up on the day’s events or get ready for the next day, and then do it all over again.

Two years. Twenty-four months. Seven hundred thirty one days (2020 is a leap year. As the worst year in modern history, of course it is.). Three point one percent of my entire life. So it’s been a while now that I think of it.

I don’t miss the traffic, the meetings, the deadlines and the endlessness of it all. The things I enjoyed – talking with interesting people, learning, reading and writing – I’ve found ways to continue on my own terms.

On July 28 2018, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Whatever I was thinking, I would have been very wrong. 2019 was pretty much what I expected. Some home improvement projects and LOTS of travel:

  • KY (seven times!)
  • Hawaii
  • NOLA
  • Borrego Springs
  • Pebble Beach
  • Big Bear Lake
  • Alaska!
  • Lake Hemet
  • Oakmont PA golf
  • Sicily
  • Malta
  • Guadaloupe Valle, MX

Wow. I’m tired just looking at that list. We did have some dog tragedies early in 2019 and I’m thankful to be many months away from those.

2020 of course, started out fine with some travel and then two successive shitshows. First was Jan-Feb where we moved my folks from independent living to an assisted living facility, and then in March COVID-19 said “hold my beer” and proceeded to rain down trouble like never seen before. And still doing it.

Retirement has been many things, but it hasn’t been dull. I can’t imagine going back to the office every day. I think I’ll take the remainder of 2020 and rest up so we can have a 2021 more like 2019, if you can follow that logic. We only have a pandemic and an election to get through, so we may very well make it. Fingers crossed…

Happy Birthday, Dad!

You made it to 85 – who would’ve thought? The last of your siblings, the last branch of the family tree above me. Pretty amazing, but glad to have you still here and safe/sound in your new home.

The picture above is from Emily’s college graduation in 2008. The one below is much more contemporary, taken in early 2019. Dad has shrunk a bit.

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Friday morning, 7/24/20

I got some bad news a couple of days ago. I listened closely to comments at my writers’ group and got the feeling that I’m in trouble with my novel. I thought I was almost finished, but it turns out I’ll need to delete about 80 pages of false beginning and start again. I checked with Dave, the alpha writer of the group, and he confirmed what K had already told me. So it’s back to the drawing board.

Problem is I’m so goal-oriented, and this goal just keeps receding into the distance. I think I’m close and it scampers away. Maddening.

The COVID numbers game is pretty depressing this week. The US is exceptional once again, leading the world in new cases and deaths. Around 70K new cases and 1100 deaths every day. And just over 4M US official cases, which means about 40M US citizens have been infected. And that’s *still* only about 12% of the population, so you can see how much further this thing has to run. Without a vaccine we’re pretty much doomed to stay in COVID limbo until late 2021, maybe into 2022. There won’t be much of an economy to come back to by then.

But my blogger friend Robert over at Blue Heron found something that puts a better spin on things. Go pig, indeed! COVID lockdown can be very productive if we let it. I’m working on it.

Five years ago this week K and I were in Scotland, visiting our friend Annette in Glasgow and then attending The Open. Headline picture above is me and Annette’s then-boyfriend playing a round at the Kittocks course in St. Andrews. That was a rough round – very windy, hilly and I didn’t strike the ball well that day. Enjoyed it nonetheless. Picture below is our view from The Road Hole at St. Andrews Old Course.

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And next I’m posing mid-round at Carnoustie (!), one of the world’s toughest courses. Great times.

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On that trip, from Scotland we went to Kentucky to see family and have an 80th birthday celebration for my Dad. Picture below is from our gathering at Armco Park, eating the worst barbeque ever. Those were the days, only five short years ago.

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And ten years ago this month Emily and her cousin Eric were in San Diego and we visited a lavender farm not far from the house. Beautiful spot.

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Uh oh, politics again

It’s hard to maintain your balance these days, both literally and figuratively. Literally because one of my knees has decided not to work any more (I’ve registered a complaint with the manufacturer, but so far no response). Figuratively because there are powerful forces buffeting your sanity, your sense of outrage and triggering a lot of fear. For me those forces are:

  • A disease burning through America with because of a weak, even destructive, response by the federal government.
  • Trump and those around him deciding to create a secret police force to beat up and arrest protesters in cities with Democratic mayors/governors.
  • The same gang deciding to start a serious conflict (war?) with China in this same moment.
  • Because of the ineffective disease management, a US economy that is being damaged beyond repair. It didn’t have to be this bad, but…we’re in a bad place.

There’s a lot more, but those are the big four for me right now. It’s enough to keep one off balance, completely unsure of what the future might bring. I suppose a lot of the world feels that way all the time, but it’s a new feeling for us sheep here in America. Insecurity.

I use the word sheep because…where’s the outrage? People should be united in their outrage that the federal government has decided to occupy cities and start arresting citizens in the style of a third world dictatorship. Or a drug cartel. But we’re not united against it, and there’s very little outrage.

The pandemic, the economy and Trump’s desperate and despotic responses are combining to make this feel like a history-changing moment. With all this pressure on democracy, something has to give. According to the AreWeThereYet Clock, we have 103 more days until a (hopefully) peaceful election and transition of power. Will the pressure break us in unforeseen ways before that? Or will we be able to run out the clock, limp across the finish line and begin to repair a badly-damaged country? Stay tuned…

A good walk unspoiled

One constant in my adult life is that I love to play golf. I’ve never been good at it, but I love it nonetheless. For some folks it’s a waste of time and money, but I say if you love an activity, do it. I get joy from being outside, with friends, and the pure feel of the occasional perfect strike of the ball.

Here are some of the great courses I’ve had the privilege to play. Having made the list for the first time, I’m kinda impressed. Some great memories here.

  • Torrey Pines
  • Pebble Beach
  • Aviara
  • Maderas CC
  • Spanish Bay
  • Poppy Hills
  • Bajamar, MX
  • Nairn (Scotland)
  • Killin (9 hole course, Scotland)
  • Carrbridge (9 hole course, Scotland)
  • Oakmont CC
  • Banff Springs CC
  • Carnoustie (Scotland)
  • Kiawah Island, Ocean Course
  • St. Andrews, Kittocks Course (Scotland)
  • Shadow Creek, Las Vegas
  • Redlands Mesa, Grand Junction CO
  • Tchefuncta CC, NOLA
  • Rancho Santa Fe CC
  • Del Mar CC
  • Santa Luz CC
  • Bandon Dunes, Old Macdonald
  • Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes
  • Bandon Dunes, Bandon Trails (pictured above, from the tee)
  • Bandon Dunes, Bandon

Great courses still on the bucket list:

  • St. Andrews, The Old Course (Scotland, doh!)
  • Royal Dornoch (Scotland)
  • Castle Stewart (Scotland)
  • Pine Valley
  • Erin Hills
  • Valhalla
  • Any seaside course in Ireland
  • Too many others to list…

Like everything else, golf is getting a little tougher in my sixties. But it’s still a highlight of my week to get out there and compete.

 

Saturday musings

The things going on in Portland this past week are frightening and illegal. Federal police, US Border Patrol agents actually, (WTF?) are snatching up people off the streets, arresting them with no stated charges and taking them to unknown locations – that’s straight out of the dictator’s playbook. When the government can “disappear” a citizen like this, democracy is over. This has to be revealed for what it is and stopped. If conservatives want to get outraged about US citizens’ rights being taken away, stop focusing on mask-wearing rules and get focused on this.

I had an idea yesterday, kind of a daydream, to take a BIG overseas vacation once it’s safe to do so. I called it a “greatest hits” trip, in which K and I would go to 3-4 of our favorite spots in the world. So far my list is Verona Italy, the Highlands in Scotland, the west end of London, Barcelona (with a side trip into the southern France Pyrenees region), and Kauai. The first four could be done in a single trip fairly simply, but Hawaii is of course in the other direction.

We’ve been blessed with classic San Diego weather the last week or so. Low 80s in the day, 60-ish at night, and often a cool breeze blowing west to east in the afternoon. It’s pretty great. That weather (and the ocean that drives it) is pretty much the reason that Socal real estate is 2-3x more expensive than most other places.

If it pans out in tests, this could be some great news in the fight against COVID-19.

7-17-20, assorted thoughts

New grandson Jessamine is flourishing at two months. He’s a 16 pound chunk.

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If you miss travel, here’s a live webcam from Venice with views from all over that unique city. Gorgeous views, and not too crowded (no surprise there). I have great memories of our time in Venice.

140,000 US deaths attributed to COVID so far. And soooo many people still rant on about “you can’t make me wear a mask, I have rights…”. It’s sad. We really are living in an idiocracy.

I spent some time this week debating with folks on NextDoor/Fallbrook about mask wearing and politics. What really stood out was the extreme polarization and the personal attacks on those with different views. I finally gave up – I just don’t see any way to meet in the middle with folks who consider liberals “demons” and “un-American”. Or who think that Trump is our greatest President. The tribal sickness (fear and hatred of “the other”) runs very deep these days, and I have no idea how to change that. We’ve pretty much fractured America into two irreconcilable tribes.

I finally finished the new raised bed herb garden, pictured above. Turned out to be more of a project than I expected. Had to reinstall a new hose riser and connect to the irrigation system. I actually enjoy the PVC work, but it’s all below ground and now very tough on my knees. But now the fun part – go buy some herbs and stick them in the dirt.

There’s a whole lotta talk about having college sports this fall, but I just don’t see it happening. My bet is that there will be nothing to bet on for football or basketball season.

My weekly writers’ group is finally reconvening via Zoom next week. I think the big problem was that our ringleader/mentor Dave Putnam is not a fan of video conferencing. But he’s coming around. I’ll be grateful for some opportunity to learn again and share some work.

Well hell. Turns out that according to the government, most of us are worth more dead than alive. Go figure.

I love Scientific American, always have. I love understanding how things work and why. They just published a fascinating interactive bit on what we now know about SARS-CoV-2. Beautiful (scary) illustrations and clear explanations. And the complexity of the molecular and cellular-level interactions (adaptive warfare, really) is astonishing. It makes me wonder again about life itself – was it created, evolved or engineered? There’s so much complexity at every level.

 

 

Future shock

OK, this is potentially some very, very bad news. I realize this is anecdotal evidence, not statistical study-based evidence, but…the source seems credible. But if it turns out that COVID-19 is a lot like dengue fever, getting the disease a second time yields more severe symptoms and a higher mortality rate. This would also mean that COVID-19 would be with us forever – no herd immunity and no consistent individual immunity. That would be a game world-changer.

Let’s do a little brainstorming on what happens to the world if COVID-19 stays with us for years or decades:

  • Makers of effective N-95 masks will have a new (though shrinking) market of eight billion people.
  • Masks and possible respirators will become the norm in all society settings.
  • Public spaces will have to be redesigned to provide compartmented filtered airflow. Restaurants are a prime example of this.
  • Universal health care becomes a societal must-have, just like clean water and safe food. (This would be an unfortunate way to get a good thing.)
  • Populations disperse from dense cities into less-dense suburbs and small towns.
  • Telework becomes the norm. In-person meetings become rare, expensive and small.
  • Tele-education becomes the norm. The school experience at all levels is transformed. (Or, campuses are restructured to offer individually air-filtered pods instead of desks and tables. Sounds expensive.)
  • Commercial real estate gets crushed. There will be no need for big office buildings.
  • Air travel will become very expensive – let’s say airfares will be 3-5 times what they are today. Planes will have to carry 3-5 times fewer people.
  • Privacy will suffer because phone and/or vehicle location-based contact tracing will be deemed essential for society.
  • Life expectancy will probably decrease, as the odds of getting COVID-19 once or twice simply increase the longer you’re walking around in a world where it’s a constant.
  • Cross-county road trips will become the preferred way of getting anywhere within a continent. Autonomous driving will make that less difficult, perhaps even easy. An autonomous-drive RV starts to look like the most popular vehicle for the 2030s and beyond. Imagine driving your vehicle to the nearest freeway then letting it drive itself for hours at a time between cities while you sleep, watch TV, work, etc. That’s the COVID-accelerated future for transportation.
  • Charging infrastructure and vehicle batteries for that same road trip boom will become its own boom industry. Hundreds of thousands of gas stations will have to become electric charging stations.

Wow, that’s quite a list, based on two simple assumptions – (1) that you get no immunity from COVID-19 after catching it once, and (2) that there’s no effective vaccine. It’s possible that the world has changed or is about to change much more than we realized.

Finally, to offset all the angst the above essay might cause, here’s some good news about the Republican stance on vote-by-mail.