Here we go again

Tomorrow is October 1, the informal start of Socal’s most infernal fire season – about six weeks of Oct and Nov. And at the moment I’m sitting at my desk, watching three aircraft drop bright orange fire retardant on a big brush fire about three miles away, in Bonsall. It’s unsettling.

Firefighters here have gotten good, and respond rapidly. But no system is perfect and we all wait in fear of The Next Big One. This isn’t it, the weather conditions are fairly mild. But still…

Hacker news

Whoa. This seems like pretty big news.

Creating an effective, long-lived hemo-filter and bioreactor in an implantable unit is amazing. Living via dialysis is a tough road – our friend Jim Moore suffered through it for years. With this device he could have had a much better quality of life. Good for UCSF and…science!

And this explains a lot. Russian bad actors have determined that deeply religious people are susceptible to believing things without supporting facts, a special kind of religious confirmation bias. So they feed them a Facebook diet of disinformation intended to create divisions among Americans. Brilliant but evil.

Both of these unrelated stories were found at Hacker News, one of my favorite sources for interesting news unlikely to be covered by mass media. Highly recommended.

Could be worse

RB Inn Patio

Enjoying a classic post-retirement Socal day today. Cool morning, a Zoom meeting with my nonprofit’s CEO, then a round of golf with friends in Rancho Santa Fe.

For the afternoon, drinks on the sunny patio of the RB Inn (picture above) and a dinner meeting with the Board of my for-profit company. All-in, a pretty perfect day.

A political essay

Every week I get a thought-provoking question from Storyworth, a service my daughter signed me up for. The idea is that my collection of responses will be captured in a book format so that my descendants can have some idea of what I think and who I was. Pretty cool, actually. So I’ve been good about writing weekly essays in response to the questions.

This week’s essay question was “Jeff, what political issues do you consider the most important?”. I’ve spent more than a little time thinking about that, and my answer is republished here.

My goodness, it’s hard to know where to start. We have soooo many political problems here in 2021, it might take a while to discuss them all.

I’ll start with root causes, and first among them is term limits – or lack thereof. We need term limits on Representatives, Senators and Supreme Court Justices. And maybe all judges. Lifetime appointments are just a bad idea. The Supreme Court has become politicized because of the lifetime appointment – it makes the stakes very high for each appointment.

The second root cause is minority rule, which shows up in two places – the Electoral College and the Senate. It’s a complex subject, but in general both Senate seats and Electors are correlated with land area, not population. So fewer people living in vast empty lands can over-rule many more people living in cities. This is/was a flaw in our original governance and should be changed. North Dakota with a population of 762,000 gets the same two powerful Senators as California with a population of 40,000,000. That’s crazy. Each ND Senator has essentially 40 times as much power/constituent as each CA Senator.

Minority rule is also evident in the Electoral College, which again maps electoral votes to land area (states) instead of people. It’s not as bad as the Senate, but it has led to Presidents taking office with the least popular vote, more than once. The EC may have made sense in the 1800s, but no longer.

After the root causes, there are some other secondary effects (problems) worth listing as political issues.

First is Roe v Wade, and a woman’s right to choose what to do with and within her body. That just shouldn’t be a discussion – a person should have complete agency over his/her body. End of discussion – any other choice is a wrongheaded slippery slope.

Second is the misinterpretation of the Second Amendment. What we have in America is not a “well-regulated militia” – it’s wildly too many guns in the hands of often misguided people. We have more guns than citizens in America, for no good reason. Don’t label me “anti-gun-ownership” – I’m all for interested parties getting to own and use a gun if they wish – but gun owners should be registered, trained, occasionally evaluated, and part of a regulated population (a militia). This is one concept the Founders got right but we’ve perverted over the years.

The third notable secondary political issue is our out of control Defense spending. We hotly debate every dollar spent on the welfare of citizens (healthcare, infrastructure, education), but the trillion dollars per year that we spend on weapons and the military just goes through with no comment. We spend 100 times more on Defense than any other nation, for no good reason. I’m in favor of our having the best technology and military strength, but it doesn’t take a trillion dollars per year to achieve that. Maybe half – but there are very few champions of this idea.

I could go on, but this is plenty. Fix these five political issues and we’d have a more perfect Union.

Gnarly

We have some gnarly decisions to make very soon. We’re scheduled to begin a shit-ton of travel next week: a week in KY, then a long weekend in NOLA (just me), then a week in NC, then a week in Cabo. A short hiatus at home for Christmas, then a month in the Southern hemisphere, then another week in Cabo. (We have house-sitters, so I’m not concerned with publishing the fact that we’re traveling.)

The gnarly part of the decision is that COVID stats are way up again, and traveling is questionable. Pre-vaccines, this would have been a no-brainer. We would stay home. But now it’s all hard to quantify risks and probabilities.

The S America trip is the one that concerns me most. (1) It’s hard to really know the state of infectiousness there. (2) Variants. And (3), the thought of getting seriously ill that far from home is frightening. What’s the health care situation at the tip of Argentina? How long will it take to reach good medical care from a ship near Antarctica? These are gnarly questions (I know, I’ve used that word in each of the three paragraphs, but I like it.)

Traveling post-retirement was the reason I started this blog in 2018, and I’ve done a fair amount of travel posting here since then. Along with a smattering of random commentary and musings about the world. So the next 3-4 months should be a cornucopia of travel stories and pictures. Unless it becomes a cautionary tale about travel during a pandemic.

Trivia and bad bosses

It’s Ryder Cup weekend! The golf event that’s perfectly designed for TV, played this year at Whistling Straights in Wisconsin. Great to see.

Our mini heat wave is over. Two prior days above 100 degrees, but today it’s CA cool. I plan to take advantage of the nice weather and get outside for some long walks. That’ll help offset the golf-watching lazies.

Lots of press lately on Trump’s hold on the GOP and the preparation he and his henchmen are making for the 2024 election. I have to admit, I haven’t given Trump much chance of running again in 2024 due to age and health, but…stranger things have happened. I don’t think our country would survive another four years of Trump’s assault on democracy from the Presidential seat. So until that election gets a lot closer I’ll hold on to my belief that he’ll have to opt out.

This is very cool. There are a lot more undersea communication cables than I thought. We’ve wired the world.

Mother Jones is running a series on Bad Bosses. There are some good stories in there, but I have some Bad Boss stories that are very competitive. For example:

  • My first post-college boss recruited me relentlessly to attend his church. In private chats, he told me he was worried about my soul.
  • My second post-college boss invited me to a bachelor’s party for one of my co-workers. I attended but was horrified when I realized that my boss had hired a hooker and was encouraging attendees to “head upstairs and have some fun”. I declined.
  • At another company, I saw my boss’s boss throw a chair during a meeting. It turned out to be a pretty tense meeting.
  • My last actual big-company boss was an egomaniacal jerk. Early in our relationship he recommended his wife as a coach to help me lose weight (I didn’t ask; he just thought I might need some help on that front). Another time he contacted me at 9pm one night and told me to construct a Spotify playlist for him to use during his entrance to a big company meeting the next morning – it needed to be ready at 7am and be “upbeat” (one of the more irritating/insulting requests in my 35+ year career). And the time (the only time) we played golf together and he played loud music from the golf cart the entire round. I really disliked that guy, but he did me the favor of being such an intolerable asshat that I decided to retire a couple of years ahead of plans. I’m glad I did.

Uggh. Just remembering those guys puts me in a foul mood. Back to golf…

Oops

Another super-hot day is expected in Socal today, with temps here above 100. I can’t wait.

I have to do a mea culpa on recent weather posts. The heat index numbers I’m getting from my weather source just don’t seem right. I did some research, and it looks like the relative humidity measurement of my source is stuck at 100%. This is a problem, because heat index is calculated based on temperature and relative humidity (or dew point). From Wikipedia:

So it’s a little complicated, but if relative humidity measurements are wrong, then the heat index is wrong. Oops.

I started wondering why I was getting such extreme numbers when I was sure the humidity wasn’t extreme. Now I know. I’ve gone back and edited the most recent posts based on this new information. Always happy to learn something and correct myself.

It’s the least, wonderful time, of the year*

*With apologies to Andy Williams (singer), Edward Pola and George Wyle (songwriters).

Aaaaand the Santa Ana winds arrive in Socal. It’s 11am and 98 degrees F, with the hot air flow from the desert (from the east) cancelling out any ocean air flow from the west. Our heat index is 179! This is worst case fire weather. Too hot to do anything outdoors.

Forecasters say this will only last two days, but in my experience once these things grab the local weather pattern, they don’t let go easily. Stay tuned.

Update at 1130am. 99 degrees with a heat index of 190! See the National Weather Service table for heat indices below. 190 is a very dangerous situation for anyone who has to work outdoors (actually, if it were true, it would be a world record).

Update # 2: It’s now 1pm, 102 degrees with a heat index of 207. I think I’ll go dig a ditch.

More seriously, it’s a perfect day to read and write indoors with AC. So that’s my gig. Heat strokes aren’t fun.

The last days of summer

Kind of a weird start to the week.

  • Stock market is down, way down. 800 points. I used to get worked up about this, but…it happens.
  • I have a bunch of home improvement projects I’m trying to get started, but the labor shortage makes everything…difficult. Almost impossible to get anyone to respond or start work.
  • COVID is up, particularly where we’re heading. KY is a hot spot again.
  • Zero energy and motivation. Not sure why, but malaise is the word today.

Aside from all that, I read K’s latest book yesterday. It was really good. YA isn’t my normal genre, but her book reads well, is interesting and has a nice plot. Anyone (everyone) in the market for a fun read should buy it: Puck’s Fairy Glen. Congrats to my talented wife!

Fall

We’re in the final days of summer for north America – the autumnal equinox happens in just a few days (Sep 22). It was a fairly mild summer in Socal, but a hot humid one in KY.

Now comes the Fall, in which the weather across our two homes begins to diverge radically. October and even November can be brutally hot in Socal, with frequent hot Santa Ana winds creating the worst fire hazards of the year. Our all-time worst fires, in 2003 and 2007, were in October. At the same time, KY weather cools down, the leaves begin to turn and the best weather of the year ensues. Go figure.

The grandsons are visiting the Monsma clan in Michigan this week, and one of the pictures from there is just too good to not share. Happy kids!

Happy Boys, Sept 2021

We’ll be in KY to see them soon. And to sample the (hopefully) great Fall weather.

Here’s another CA-KY comparison. USAToday has ranked cities and states by driver rudeness, and here are some results:

5 cities with the rudest drivers

  1. Rancho Cordova, California: 65.37 per 1,000.
  2. Citrus Heights, California: 64.14 per 1,000.
  3. Ventura, California: 64.03 per 1,000.
  4. Hampton, Georgia: 62.35 per 1,000.
  5. Petersburg, Virginia: 53.36 per 1,000.

5 cities with the most polite drivers

  1. Somerset, Kentucky: 1.62 per 1,000.
  2. Corbin, Kentucky: 1.86 per 1,000.
  3. Rio Rancho, New Mexico: 3.8 per 1,000.
  4. Metairie, Louisiana: 17.94 per 1,000.
  5. Southaven, Mississippi: 19.3 per 1,000.

Not surprising that CA has 3/5 worst spots, measured by driving citations per thousand – people drive madly here. I’m pleasantly surprised that KY gets 2/5 top spots for least rude driving. And that the worst (rudest) driving populations generate sixty times more citations than the least rude.

Of course it could just be the amount of policing done in each geography. Statistics and the assumptions behind them are complicated….

Finally, in some nice news for the day, SpaceX’s all-civilian crew returned to Earth after a few days orbiting. They got to live a dream of mine, so good for them. Maybe at some point SpaceX will decide to take a geriatric, overweight, opinionated Caucasian Baby Boomer to orbit. Yeah, right. But I can still dream.

Shopping

We’re in the market for a car for the KY home. Our choices are:

  • Keep renting cars every time we go there
  • Buy a used car
  • Lease a new car
  • Buy a new car

Dedicating a car to just sit around for about half of its life seems an extreme solution, but the economics are clear. I’ve run the numbers several times, and leasing a new car wins by a long way. It all starts with the new normal for car rentals. In years past $50 per day was a good estimate for car rental cost. Now, after COVID’s impact, it’s about $110 per day. If you’re going to be somewhere even one week per month, that’s $770 per month as the break-even point. Turns out that there are a LOT of leases below that threshold.

Leasing has 2-3 other factors going for it:

  • Leases often include free or subsidized maintenance costs – the company wants to get the car back in good shape.
  • A new car is going to have fewer problems than a used car. And have more advanced tech embedded.
  • If/when the economics change, as they have the last two years, you get a chance to reconsider options in three years.

So with all that in mind, what car and what terms? This is what I’ve been communicating to dealers (a somewhat painful process):

  • Not picky about colors
  • 2021 or 2022 model year, don’t care
  • Can work with a low mileage lease, like 10K per year
  • Three year lease term
  • Want to keep monthly cost around $300/month (wayyy under the $770 break-even point)
  • Favor a mid-sized SUV
  • Want the biggest/best engine, options and least up front payment, given everything else

Two things have been surprising. One, the difficulty in dealers/sales people understanding that clear (I think) set of terms. And two, the extreme lack of inventory – COVID has killed the supply chain for many vehicles.

After factoring ALL this in, the vehicle that is my most likely target is a Hyundai Tucson. It’s one of those bland small SUVs that probably doesn’t do anything superbly, but does everything well enough. And Hyundai seems to have the least supply chain problems and excellent lease programs. Their hybrid version gets 38 mpg (!), a seriously good feature.