A year ago

A year ago today my stepmother Phyllis, Dad’s wife, died. Obituary here. She pretty much gave up on living after Dad died a month before her in 2022. Her passing marked the end of a long, hard period that started in late 2019 as my brothers and I moved them out of their “independent” home and into long term care. Then came COVID, isolation, and illness, particularly for Dad. It all came to an end in 2022.

At every step along the way I think we did the right things for them, but it’s hard not to look back and second guess. Could we have done more? Should we have intervened earlier? Should we have moved them to Louisville where more family could have been with them? They both said they didn’t want to leave eastern KY. I hate it that their last three years on this planet were dominated by COVID and the resultant isolation.

I miss them both, but I don’t miss the complex, gut-wrenching decisions and actions of the 2020-2022 period.

Maybe that’s why we call it Fall

Welp. It happens every year in the Fall, but it still makes me jittery. I’m a buy-and-hold kind of stock guy – a long term investor. I’m interested in 10-year returns, not monthly. Having said that, the stock market has dropped 2000 points in the last month, about 6% (maybe that’s why we call it Fall). It’s hard to stay on the sidelines and watch that kind of sustained carnage in one’s retirement accounts.

And with all the recent chatter – not all of it from wingnuts – about the US dollar losing traction as the world’s index currency, this is doubly alarming. The wingnuts say buy precious metals and short the dollar. Buy options on foreign currencies that will benefit from the dollar’s decline. None of those actions are in my comfort zone.

I will say IF (and it’s a large if) the USD loses its position as the world’s default trading currency, then the US economy is in for a world of economic shit. Great Depression part two. Ten to fifteen years of shit, no quick fix, just in time for my final days around these parts. Figures.

I need to think long and hard about what to do in case that scenario becomes more probable. Move to real estate? Follow the wingnuts? Go all-in on infrastructure/utilities (no matter how awful the economy, we’re gonna keep the lights and water on until we can’t)?

Serious research and thought required, when all I really want to do is play golf, read, and have a bourbon.

The mess at the border

A few political thoughts this morning.

First, Trump is even more deranged than ever. He wants to execute Gen. Mark Milley for revealing that he (Trump) doesn’t like being around wounded veterans. I truly, truly don’t understand his appeal to 30-40% of Americans. The man is a walking dumpster fire.


Next, if the government shutdown happens next week, I sure hope people are smart enough to realize that it’s 100% a Republican hostage-taking situation. The far right is holding the US hostage to their demands. A shutdown helps no one, and hurts many. Blame your Republican representative when things go to shit.


But the big thought this morning is on border security. Even the “librul mass media” like CNN and NBC are reporting that approximately 300,000 undocumented people entered the country in August 2023. In one month. This might be the only thing I agree with the far right on – the southern border is an urgent problem and must be fixed, somehow. Fast.

300K people in a month. That’s horrific. Admittedly that’s the all-time peak, but from these same liberal news sources (and government data) we can quickly find that the steady state in 2022 was 230K per month, or 2.76 million that year. This isn’t some made-up issue authored by MAGA-types, this is a huge problem. Do the math.

Think about it. That’s 2.76 million new people every year who:

  • Probably don’t speak English well or at all.
  • Don’t have any insurance, health care or otherwise – they will be dependent on the state.
  • Are not likely to be well-educated. And will become a big problem for our already stressed primary education system.
  • May or may not understand or support US democracy, how it works and what hurts it.
  • Will be desperate to gain shelter, food and safety. Are desperate by definition, having made a tough journey to the border. And desperate people don’t follow the rules.
  • Are typically religious due to the Spanish Catholic influence throughout Latin America. That’s not a plus in my book. Catholicism encourages large families, and in this immigrant-with-no-means-of-support scenario, that’s a bad combination.
  • Are unlikely to have a family support system around them – they left that behind.
  • Have their normal share of good people and evil people among them. Let’s say 2% are hard core criminals, maybe killers (based on NLM research statistics) – that’s 54,000 new hard-core criminals we now have to deal with. In a single year!

It might sound like I’m anti-immigrant, and I’m not. Go back a couple of hundred years, and we’re all immigrants. Among those 2.76 million there are certainly hundreds of thousands of wonderful people, people who ultimately will become good neighbors and citizens (let’s be generous and call it two million of the 2.76). But that will take time – it will require generations of struggle and strife, of chaotic life in poverty for millions, and that future doesn’t help anyone.

The current situation is madness. There’s a way to assimilate people into a culture, and this ain’t it. I get it that conditions are bad in many Latin American countries, that some folks are desperate to get away, but we can’t just label all 2.76 million of these folks as worthy of asylum and then look away. That’s not a solution, it’s a recipe for chaos.

There aren’t any easy solutions. But one that resonates with me is to use the US military to stop illegal immigration at the border, ASAP. Better to use the military on the southern border than to continue fighting pointless wars in Middle East deserts. Send a million soldiers to stand shoulder to shoulder if we have to, and have them stop the crossings immediately, as gently as possible. Use vehicles, use personnel, use temporary boundaries (no razor wire), use technology, and send the unequivocal message that the US border is closed. For now. We don’t have to build a permanent wall across 2000 border miles – we just have to stop the flow, take a breath and figure out what a rational immigration system would look like.

America can’t be the refuge for every person south of the border. It just can’t. We have to manage the influx of people, select those who we will allow to become citizens, and then do our best to improve the lives of those remaining in Latin America via other means, other interventions. Trade. Tourism. Targeted social and economic support. Alliances. Our southern border will only be secure when those millions living south of it aren’t desperate to leave their countries. And that’s the real solution.

Open the pod door, HAL

As an engineer, I think this is amazing. As a science fiction fan, it’s terrifying. Skynet being constructed right before our eyes. Or best case, HAL 9000. Just don’t ask it to lie to the crew.

On a more serious note, I *do* think OpenAI has changed computing and user interfaces forevermore. This combo of text, voice, and video is the UI holy grail – interacting with machines on a whole new level. Having said that, OpenAI’s creations have some weird blind spots that make them less trustworthy than one would assume. An intelligent person (less common than one would hope) knows (infers) that if A=B, then B=A. ChatGPT does *not* know that unless both equations in both forms are part of its rule set – this is known as the “symmetry fail” for neural networks. That’s a shocker to those trying to anthropomorphize ChatGPT, those who assume it “thinks” just like us. It doesn’t. It uses a completely different process to arrive at an output or conclusion. ChatGPT doesn’t understand what it’s been told and use that understanding to produce an answer, it simply generates a result based on its internal neural network. Inference requires understanding and deduction – that’s what we do, via processes that are still not well understood.

The speed with which OpenAI’s software has reached this point is amazing. I hope that they invest time and money in making their software less brittle, more reliable. The symmetry fail isn’t the only blind spot that ChatGPT and its brethren have.

Next five years, hold the pandemic

I’m getting a bunch of “Congrats on your work anniversary” messages on LinkedIn, and at first it puzzled me. “What work anniversary?”, he asks. Then I realized that September 2018 was when I left full-time employment and semi-retired. My LinkedIn profile shows a bunch of changes in Sept 2018, so voila. It’s been five years since I stopped working for anyone/anything full time. Much has happened.

  • We had a pandemic.
  • My father and stepmother died. (See pandemic.)
  • I had my first and only major surgery, a knee replacement.
  • I became a board member of 4Liberty Inc.
  • We traveled to a LOT of places over those five years. Hawaii, multiple times. KY, many times. Alaska. Norway. Amsterdam. Brussels. Great Britain. Africa (specifically Zimbabwe, S Africa, and Botswana). Seattle and Victoria BC. Mexico, multiple times. Branson MS and Reno NV a few times. Nashville and Ashville. The Grand Canyon. Sicily. Malta. Napa Valley multiple times. Australia (K only). NOLA and Oakmont (multiple golf trips, just me). Borrego Springs, CA. Pagosa Springs, CO. Panama Canal (K only). With the pandemic in the middle, that’s a lot of travel.
  • Grandson #2 (Jessamine) was born.
  • We bought a second home in Louisville (see Grandsons above).
  • We bought K a new Jeep and travel trailer. Her new hobby.
  • I left the board of 211 San Diego (term limits) and joined the board of San Diego Health Connect.
  • I had my first and only ER and hospital stays – kidney stones and subsequent infections. Definitely a low point of the last five years.

Looking back at all that, it’s been quite a ride since “retirement”. Very Dickensian, the best and worst of times. I’m not sure how I ever had time to work full time.

I can only hope that the next five years are as full. But we’ll skip the pandemic this time.

Black Friday

Well, this is a crummy way to start a day:

  • Congress is more of a dumpster fire than usual. Can’t (won’t) promote military leaders. Can’t agree on a budget. Can’t be decent or polite to a visiting leader, Zelenski. Zero interest shown in actual governing. Southern border in worse shape than usual and all Congress does is yell at each other about it. They’re a complete embarrassment.
  • Some asshole has had my Turo car parked on the side of the freeway all night in Louisville. I can think of several reasons why, and none of them are good. Now trying to find out what’s wrong.
  • My annual SDG&E bill (electricity) is ready and it’s worse than I thought.

With all this shitty news I think I’ll (a) start a good book, and (b) get some exercise. The day has to get better.

Out in the world

Today I have to go out into the world for meetings. No Zoom for you! First, an in-person chat with my nonprofit’s Executive Director, and then a board meeting. Ugh. That means a commute to San Diego, south on the accursed always-under-construction I-15. I don’t mind the meetings; I mind the commute.

You know you’re retired when a single trip to town feels like an ordeal. It’s been five years now since I did this *every day*. Feels like a lifetime ago.

There are other errands I’ll do on my commute south. As long as I’m out in the world, might as well make the trip count. And I can be flexible on the way home if (when) the traffic going north is bad. Maybe a stop at my old favorite wine bar in RB, or maybe a stop at a golf shop. Anything beats fighting Socal traffic at rush hour.

Or even better, this. The Golf Bar just opened in RB. Kinda seems designed for people like me. They want reservations, but I may just walk in and check things out before committing to use one of their simulators.


CA has sure become an expensive place to live. Had to call a plumber yesterday to snake through a clog somewhere downstream of our kitchen sink. A cool $514 later, the drain worked again. ($514!!) Gasoline is now $6 per gallon throughout SD county. Electricity for the house is now $300+ per month, even with a big solar roof. My old employer SDG&E has changed the rules about buying and selling rooftop-generated power so that the benefits of having a solar roof are almost gone.

We have nothing to whine about financially, but I’ll still note that the Socal “good weather tax” is getting pretty high.


Joke of the day: My doctor asked if anyone in my family suffers from mental illness. I said, “No, we all seem to enjoy it.”


This is the week I’ll get the next Covid booster. Given my age and weight, anything I can do to avoid infections (bacterial or viral) is smart. I plan to start traveling again in October, so…shields up, Mr. Sulu.


There was a swotting incident – a fake 911 call about an active shooter and hostages – next to our grandson’s school in Louisville yesterday, forcing the school into lockdown. The kids had to hide/huddle together in closets for about 90 minutes. Grandson is OK, but damn, what a hateful thing for someone to do. I hope whoever made the fake 911 call gets a bad case of kidney stones and spends weeks in a hospital with infections. Then I hope that person has to declare bankruptcy due to medical bills. Then I hope…you get the picture.

Stand up for science

Was reading this today, an interview/discussion between two overachievers, Dr. Eric Topol and Dr. Peter Hotez. The core idea in their discussion is the rise of anti-science and how dangerous it is. The extreme factions of the US Republican party are busy selling the idea that scientists are the common person’s enemy, and the rest of US Republicans are just letting that happen without challenge. So if you watch Faux News or OAN or Newsmax, you are being led to believe that scientists are part of some secret liberal plot to control you (pro tip – they’re not – that’s crazy town), and you shouldn’t believe what they tell you. Hotez has gotten on the radar of extremist/conservative groups and is now in the running to replace Fauci as the most hated scientist. That’s a problem.

The trouble with that is twofold. One, Hotez’s professional story is just short of mythical. His life’s mission is finding treatments (cures!) for parasitic and viral disease. He tackles the problems that big pharma won’t because there’s not enough profit in the cures. He and another MD have created an open-source (no patents) Covid vaccine (Corbevax) now used around the world, all without big pharma baggage or US taxpayer funding. There are now hundreds of millions of people who have gotten his vaccine and get to live their lives without serious disease, all due to this one dude. Not Pfizer, not Glaxo-Kline – just one dedicated and smart person. That’s damn impressive.

The second problem with Hotez or any other serious scientist being demonized by extremists is that we need them more than ever going forward. We *need* serious, accomplished scientists working on global problems of overpopulation, hunger, pollution, species extinction, climate change, and disease. Humanity’s problems are bigger/tougher than ever, and science is our only way to avoid massive loss of life and suffering. More pandemics are coming. Environmental problems (pollution, deforestation, etc.) are only getting worse. The last thing we need is for 50% or more of the world to be taught to distrust the very people who have a chance of solving some of our big problems.

I’ll say this – the demonization of science and scientists by the extreme Right is nothing but evil. It is pure nihilism, intended to hasten the downfall of what little civilization we’ve achieved. I don’t have any problem calling those who promote anti-science as evil. It’s like something out of The Wheel of Time – a dark force aimed at destroying the world, breaking the wheel.

Regular people need to stand up and defend our geeky brethren, the folks who have a chance of changing our course in the face of global problems.