Posted by: twotrees | March 3, 2016

Ahwahnee Forever

image image

Yesterday, March 1, marked the changing of the name of Yosemite’s historic Ahwahnee  Hotel to the Majestic  Yosemite Hotel.   The move was done by the National Park Service to avoid a lawsuit with Delaware North, a former concessionaire at the park who claims rights to the name as well as the word Yosemite and other lesser names.   The hotel, which opened in 1927 is a masterpiece of big timber and stone architecture.   You know there’s  something wrong when corporate America threatens to destroy the heritage of such storied landmarks.    The national park and hotel  names, while not original Miwok, keeps  alive the now extinct spoken word of this Sierra based tribe of native Americans.   Their loss is a loss for everyone and we can only hope that the courts agree and allow the poetic original names to be used again in the future.   Until then…

Posted by: twotrees | February 25, 2016

FBI v Apple

Over the past week there has been much discussion about the dispute between the FBI and Apple regarding the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino terrorists. A friend of mine is a G man. He forwarded me this letter written by FBI Director Jim Comey on the subject:

“The San Bernardino litigation isn’t about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message. It is about the victims and justice. Fourteen people were slaughtered and many more had their lives and bodies ruined. We owe them a thorough and professional investigation under law. That’s what this is. The American people should expect nothing less from the FBI.

“The particular legal issue is actually quite narrow. The relief we seek is limited and its value increasingly obsolete because the technology continues to evolve. We simply want the chance, with a search warrant, to try to guess the terrorist’s passcode without the phone essentially self-destructing and without it taking a decade to guess correctly. That’s it. We don’t want to break anyone’s encryption or set a master key loose on the land. I hope thoughtful people will take the time to understand that. Maybe the phone holds the clue to finding more terrorists. Maybe it doesn’t. But we can’t look the survivors in the eye, or ourselves in the mirror, if we don’t follow this lead.

“Reflecting the context of this heart-breaking case, I hope folks will take a deep breath and stop saying the world is ending, but instead use that breath to talk to each other. Although this case is about the innocents attacked in San Bernardino, it does highlight that we have awesome new technology that creates a serious tension between two values we all treasure – privacy and safety. That tension should not be resolved by corporations that sell stuff for a living. It also should not be resolved by the FBI, which investigates for a living. It should be resolved by the American people deciding how we want to govern ourselves in a world we have never seen before. We shouldn’t drift to a place – or be pushed to a place by the loudest voices – because finding the right place, the right balance, will matter to every American for a very long time.

“So I hope folks will remember what terrorists did to innocent Americans at a San Bernardino office gathering and why the FBI simply must do all we can under the law to investigate that. And in that sober spirit, I also hope all Americans will participate in the long conversation we must have about how to both embrace the technology we love and get the safety we need.”

My friend adds is this for consideration:

“With respect to privacy, when a federal law enforcement agency is conducting an investigation its agents can issue a federal grand jury subpoena to obtain virtually any kind of record (bank, telephone, etc.). If the investigating agents can establish probable cause to a judge, they can obtain a warrant to search your office, your house, your safety deposit box, your computer – anything.”

The question here is why it is the request to open a phone any different?

Posted by: twotrees | April 22, 2015

We’re different but we’re the same

Every now and again I wonder why the world is so messy, at least from a human interaction perspective.
In large part it’s because people are not use to certain things, not exposed to other people, religions, customs, etc…

Today at lunch I mentioned to a friend that wonderful scene from Elmer Gantry where Burt Lancaster walks into a gospel church while the flock is singing On My Way to Canaan’s Land. Many in the pews pause, stop singing and look at the interloper.  He’s white, they’re black and may feel that he doesn’t fit in. That’s a normal response – we all fear the unknown, in this case, he’s unknown to them.

But once he starts to sing, everything changes and without a hitch, all get back into the groove and he is accepted.  It’s a great analog for what the world could be – all different but ultimately, all more the same that we know.

Posted by: twotrees | January 13, 2015

When 1/2% is bigger than 10%

National Public Radio percentagethis morning discussed a recent study  by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that shows that 75% of new home buyers only fill out one loan application when buying a home.  In other words, they don’t shop around.  That’s odd because most people will make a buying decision or change a habit for as little as $5 but when it comes to savings hundreds or thousands of dollars over time, they are less motivated.

This has something to do with the Weber-Fechner Law of Psychophysics says that the ‘just-noticable difference between two stimuli is proportional to the magnitude of the stimuli.’  In other words saving 10% on a pair of shoes might stimulate people whereby saving a half percent on your home or car loan may not.

Over time, most people would agree that a half point on a $200,000 loan amounts to thousands of dollars saved.  But because it’s over a long period of time, it’s less perceptible.

This is a great opportunity for lenders to educate consumers that small things can really add up.

This theory is not limited to buying things – it also applies to saving money – the difference between a 5% and 8%  rate of return on your investments could mean the difference of when and if you can afford to retire.  Financial literacy is generally not taught in our schools, which is why so many Americans run into money problems sometime during their adult lives.  If we were to change that, our whole society would benefit.  It’s that the best idea?


Posted by: twotrees | October 29, 2014

Epoch, man

Many students have learned about geologic history and the terms used to describe certain timelines;  epoch, which is a subdivision of a period, which is a division of an era, etc…  In most instances, eras are very, very long periods of time:

Era[2] Beginning (millions of years BP) End (millions of years BP)
Cenozoic 65 0
Mesozoic 250 65
Paleozoic 542 250

When we think of these references, we usually think of the age of dinosaurs, the dawn of man, and so forth.  Now comes something new:  The potential for a new epoch to be classified:  the age of Anthropocene – the age of man.

The current epoch, known as Hologene, started about 12,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age.  Since that time, human influence on the planet has been slowly increasing, with the last 300 years making the greatest impact.  With the Industrial Revolution, man brought factories belching out pollution.  with the growth of our population to 7 billion + man’s influence on  the plant is taking on greater significance.  No one can deny that animals, people and the planet are all being affected.

In her recent book The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert speaks to the facts about mass extinctions through  earth’s history.  Among them are the asteroid impact near Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula that destroyed the dinosaurs.  She also mentions that after much study and discussion, the idea of a new epoch has merit.  Humanity has changed the planet in these significant ways:

– Humans have changed between a third and half of the land surface of the planet.

– Most of the planet’s major rivers have been damned.

– Fertilizer manufacturers produce more nitrogen than is fixed naturally by Earth’s ecosystems.

– Fisheries remove more than a third of the primary production fo the oceans’ coastal waters.

– Humans use more than 50% of the world’s readily accessible fresh water runoff.

We are changing the planet in such a way that many thousands of years from now, a geologic chapter will be evident in the sediments and stone that is produced from our current age.  For that reason and more, the International Commission on Stratigraphy, the group responsible for maintaining the official timetable of earth’s history, will be considering this topic at t  heir 2016 meeting.  At no other time in the past billion years has an Epoche occured as quickly as this new one has…

“There is more to life than simply increasing its speed.”  Mahatma Gandhi



Posted by: twotrees | June 6, 2014

The Longest Day, again

Today, June 6, is infamous as D-Day, representing the 70th anniversary of the invasion of German occupied France – landing on the beach in Normandy. War is hell in all forms but few battles compare to the one where American soldiers crossed the English Channel, landed on a heavily fortified beach and fought against well prepared German soldiers entrenched in the hills above.

Nothing captures this scene quite like the opening of Steven Spielberg’s film Saving Private Ryan. These men, who suffered heavy casualties both physical and emotional, deserve our thanks. If not for them, and the millions of others who have fought for this country deserve our thanks. Today is another example of Memorial Day.

Posted by: twotrees | January 31, 2014

Tip my hat to Pete

Pete Seeger

Although I didn’t know much about Pete Seeger most of my life, I became a big fan over the past ten years as my knowledge of American folk music grew. Seeger, died at age 94 Sunday night at his home in Fishkill, New York. The NY Times had a nice obit which gives much history about Pete and where he came from.

Pete was a man who knew his place in America and did everything he could to help his fellow-man and the environment.  His buddy Woodie Guthrie and him toured the country singing songs and encouraging common folk to organize and fight for their rights against unfair employers.  Back in the day, people weren’t much more than chattel and were mistreated and worked nearly to death.  Both Woodie and Pete sacrificed much to help such people believe in themselves and that was a better future ahead.  Seeger was one f the most optimistic people I’ve ever seen – even though he had sadness in his life, like us all.  But he thought he could help make the world a better place and by golly, he was right.

If you want a sample of what Pete Seeger was like, watch this  video of his Rainbow Quest television show featuring June and Johnny Cash.  All have cast away their showbiz shoes and settled down to a living room session that is true Americana.  Thank you Pete for being a good man, musician, music historian, role model and one hell of an American.

Posted by: twotrees | January 3, 2014

Living the Aloha

Over the holiday I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Big Island of Hawaii. Having been to other islands in the chain, I had heard that Hawaii was more local, less touristic, mellow.   I had also heard that it was a variety of things one doesn’t expect in the tropics: Moon like, freezing, barren. All these things were true and more. One side was dry and windy, the other was calm and rainy (ala 5x per day).  It really is true – no rain no rainbows…

My take away from the trip was that the Aloha Spirit still lives in this part of the world and was a pleasant experience.  Everalohayone to a fault was nice, calm, decidedly slower than what we’re use to and are intentionally so.   

The image here is a small icon buried in the street in downtown Hilo, which I took a quick picture of while walking one day. A young man noticed this and suggested I take all the time I needed to take the image.

I live a relatively busy life but try every so often to remember the words of Mohandas Gandhi who said “There is more to live than increasing its speed.” Perhaps never more so than during and after this vacation…

Posted by: twotrees | October 2, 2013

Closed for Business?


Today represents a failure of our political system.  it’s the first day of a partial government shutdown brought on exclusively because of political infighting.  Roughly 800,000 gov’t employees are officially in limbo, with no knowledge when or if their job’s or pay will be reinstated.

But how does the stock market react to such perils?  I asked Matthew Jones, a financial consultant in downtown Ventura., who shared with me a number of facts:

There have been 17 governmental shut downs since 1977

They have ranged from one to 21 days in length, with an average of six days.

During the shutdown, the Standard & Poors index has declined an average loss of value of .9%

During the three months after the shutdown, the S&P gained and average of 2.5%.

After twelve months, that increased to a 12% gain.

So it appears that while many on the government payroll feel the financial bite of politicians playing chicken amongst themselves, those who invest in the stock market seem to benefit if they are patient.  Let’s hope this brief interlude ends soon, dammed the S&P.

Posted by: twotrees | August 5, 2013

The Great Divide

99% v 1%Two interesting pieces in the local daily papers Sunday:

The first was in the Ventura County Star, which on page A1 discusses the current (and ongoing) debate about the minimum wage and how it affects job creation and employment.  The second in the LA Times entitled Middle-Class Mayday, discusses trickle-down economics and what it has done for the middle class in America.  To the first point, the analysis of whether raising the min. wage would affect job creation appears clear.  From today’s Star (available online only to subscribers):

There have been many studies, lots of data, different methodologies — but not much variation in their conclusions.   A 2009 “meta-study” by two Australian economists of 64 separate minimum-wage studies found that estimates on employment effects were heavily clustered very close to zero.  It appears, says economist Sylvia Allegretto of the UC Berkeley Institute for Research on Labor and Employment,  that something close to a consensus has emerged.   “The range of answers has become so narrow that the debate has effectively been settled,” she said. “At this point, we’re arguing over whether it results in no negative employment effects or very small negative effects.”

So, to arrive at a conclusion, there seems to be no affect on hiring when the minimum wage is increased.  Still, some lawmakers (mostly on the right side of the isle), don’t let the facts get in the say of a good fight to keep the minimum wage at its current $8 per hour.  Fifteen years ago, the minimum wage in California was $575, making the present $8 per hour twenty nine percent higher than in 1998.  That sounds decent: a 1.93% annual increase over that period.  But looking at the reality of living in the Golden State, one has to factor in the increased costs of living:  housing, food, energy, etc…

Nationwide, home prices are 75% higher than they were in 1998 but in California, they are well over 125% higher.  The stats for rental units are similar.  Food prices have doubled and in some categories tripled in that time.  And gas prices were right around $2 per gallon fifteen years ago (reflecting a nearly 100% increase since 1998).  A movie ticket cost $4.69 on average (and has doubles since), etc…

The point is – LIFE costs a lot more now, yet those on the lowest end of the pay scale have not kept up, not by a long shot.  And when millions of Americans don’t have enough money for necessities, they are no longer consumers.  Which means, retailers (wth the exception of WalMart, KMark and similar discounters), suffer.

In Middle Class Mayday, written by Hedrick Smith in the LA Times (read it here), the argument that ‘trickle down economics has worked out terribly for most Americans’ is made.  Simply put by President Obama, ‘the average CEO has gotten a raise of nearly 40% since 2009.  The average American earns less than he or she did in 1999.

Was a time when workers, as well as their employers, benefited financially when productivity increased.  That’s no longer the case.  According to Smith’s piece ‘productivity has increase by 80% since 1973, yet employee income has risen only 10%.  “Our growth problem is weak demand’, which ties directly into how Americans should be but can’t afford to be the consumers of the past.

So as Congress takes a long and not particularly deserved summer vacation, Americans should consider why we must continue to battle over lower taxes for the 1% who’s income has accelerated over the past two decades, when it’s become very clear that very, very little trickle-down to those who need it most.

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