Soobleej Kaub Hawj

That’s the name of a 35 year old Hmong man shot and killed by law enforcement in Siskiyou County, far northern CA, on June 28.

The victim, identified as Soobleej Kaub Hawj of Kansas City, Kansas, allegedly pointed a gun at officers on the evening of June 28 when he turned the wrong way at a checkpoint on Highway A-12 near Weed. His family was following behind in a second vehicle.

State game wardens, members of the Etna Police Department and county sheriff deputies were all on the scene when Hawj was killed.

There was a mandatory evacuation order in place at the time due to the Lava wildfire. Hawj was killed at a checkpoint related to that, is my understanding.

Despite this headline, “Shooting of Hmong American man during Lava Fire draws nationwide attention,” in the Siskiyou Daily News, I hadn’t heard about this at all, and probably wouldn’t have had I not driven by a protest at the Siskiyou County courthouse in Yreka, CA on Sunday, July 11.

I probably still wouldn’t have known what the protest was about – it was over 100 degrees in Yreka, I’d had a long day of smoky driving, and I wasn’t energized to turn freelance citizen journalist – if Siskiyou County didn’t have a quality local daily newspaper.

And I probably still wouldn’t have known about it were it not for a hunger strike by Zurg Xiong:

Saturday’s vigil will take place at the Siskiyou County Courthouse, where a local Hmong American resident has been staging a hunger strike for the past 10 days to spotlight Hawj’s death.

“I will continue this hunger strike until talks are made or until I die,” said Zurg Xiong, who lives in the Mt. Shasta Vista Subdivision, has been on a hunger strike since July 6  and has been demonstrating in front of the courthouse in Yreka since Sunday.

In this case, a hunger strike as a tactic to bring attention to an issue has worked.

The bigger context:

Tensions have been escalating between Siskiyou County’s Hmong population and county officials since local authorities in May passed an ordinance limiting where water trucks can drive in an effort to curtail illegal marijuana grows. A second ordinance requires a permit to transport water on certain roads where illegal grows are known to proliferate.

Drought, water, wildfire, climate catastrophe, police violence, immigration, racial tensions, this story seems to exist at an intersection of the biggest, most explosive issues in the USA right now, and yet I don’t think I would’ve heard about it had I not almost literally stumbled across it.

“Hard news” isn’t usually my beat here at Helytimes, but “the California condition” for sure is, and I found it an interesting case of what does or doesn’t become widespread “news.”

Update: looks like the local Republican congressman has chosen to inflame the issue. I can appreciate the anger on both sides, illegal grows are very destructive.


How Quentin Tarantino got into Hollywood

Thought this was interesting, from this Deadline interview with Mike Fleming. Luck + preparation?:

How I eventually got into the industry to some degree was, my friend Scott Spiegel was going to write something for the director, William Lustig, who did Maniac, Maniac Cop. He wanted to bring me in to help him, and Lustig looked at me and said, “Who is this f*cking guy?” And so, he gave them my script for True Romance, just as an audition piece. He read it, and he really, really liked it and couldn’t quite get it out of his head. He had a deal with Cinetel at the time, and so he showed it to the people there and bought it. They were going to make it, with William Lustig. But then the woman who was the head of development at Cinetel, Caitlin Knell — who really helped me out in getting started in my career — she was really good friends with Tony Scott because she used to be his assistant. She knew I was a big fan of his. So she invited me to the set of The Last Boy Scout, and I was able to watch filming for a little bit, and she took me to Tony’s birthday party. I was in heaven. I was only just a year out of the video store. And apparently, I made such a nice impression on Tony that he was like, “Who is this kid?” She said, “The boy’s a really good writer, I’m working with him on this thing at Cinetel.” And he goes, ‘Well, send me a couple of his scripts. Let me read them. He seems like a nice guy. I mean, he really likes me, so he’s obviously got good taste. Send me a couple of his scripts.”

She sent him True Romance and Reservoir Dogs. He read them, and he called Cat in a month and goes, “I want to make it. I want to make Reservoir Dogs. Let’s do it right now.” She was, “Well, OK. That one he won’t give you. That one he looks like he could make himself.” Tony says, “OK, OK, I’ll do the other one.” And then it became a situation where Cinetel was going to make it, but then Tony wanted to make it. I go, “Well, get it away from Cinetel, or pay them off or whatever or make it for them.” He said, “OK,” and that’s how it happened.


Chan Chan

There was a time (1998?) when you’d hear the album Buena Vista Social Club all the time. If you travel along the tourist trail of Central America you will not go far without hearing it again.

The first song on the album is called Chan Chan. Here are the lyrics:

Lyrically, the song is set on the beach and revolves around two central characters called Juanica and Chan Chan.The most complete explanation says: ‘The song relates the story of a man and a woman (Chan Chan and Juanica) who are building a house, and go to the beach to get some sand. Chan Chan collects the sand and puts it on the jibe (a sieve for sand). Juanica shakes it, and to do so she shakes herself, making Chan Chan embarrassed. […] The origin of this tale is a farmer song learnt by Compay Segundo when he was twelve years old.’

The most recognizable part of the song is its chorus, whose lyrics are as follows:

De Alto Cedro voy para MarcanéLlego a Cueto voy para MayaríFrom Alto Cedro I go to MarcanéI get to Cueto, then head for Mayarí

The four mentioned locations (Alto CedroMarcanéCueto and Mayarí) are towns near each other in the Holguín Province on the east side of Cuba

I like that the song is sort of a set of directions. You can think of the song as being “here are directions to see a girl who moves her butt like a cement mixer.”

Cuba in the news again.


Bark beetle

In years of drought, when trees in the forests of Oregon and northern California don’t get enough moisture, they don’t create the sap they need to prevent attacks of tiny bark beetles. The bark beetles kill trees, leaving the forest littered with dead trees, ideal conditions for a huge fire.

The beetle is a tiny insect, about the size of a match head, but the sheer numbers pose a risk to the forest, officials say. They lay much of the bark beetle problem on forests that have become too overgrown with small trees and brush.

And ironically, it’s decades of aggressive fire suppression that has left forests dense and overcrowded, according to the forest service.

A hundred years ago, low intensity fires regularly burned through the forests, keeping stands of trees thinned out, and prevented them from becoming too thick.

Because smaller trees were regularly thinned out by fire, the trees that remained were larger and spaced farther apart.

A hundred years ago, a forest would have typically 20 or 30 trees per acre, Hamilton said. Nowadays, though, it is not uncommon to have 800 to 1,000 smaller trees an acre, he said.

When a drought comes along, like the current one, too many trees are competing for too little moisture and the trees’ natural defense against bark beetles breaks down, he said.

When trees are healthy and they get plenty of moisture, they exude sticky sap to ward off the bugs and protect themselves.

But when trees lack water they can’t produce enough sap, and the beetles move in and damage trees until they die, Hamilton said.

“When bark beetles’ population is at epidemic levels they can still attack and overcome even healthy trees,” according to Cal Fire.

That’s from “Drought and bark beetle kill millions of trees, increase wildfire risk in North State forests” by Damon Arthur for the Redding Record Searchlight / Siskiyou Daily News.

The number of dead trees are staggering. Millions of trees:

The 2019 forest service aerial survey of tree mortality shows the Klamath National Forest, with large swaths of land in Siskiyou County, was the forest hit hardest in the state, with an estimated 1.8 million dead trees.

Here is a breakdown by county of tree mortality in the North State, according to the survey:

  • Siskiyou: 2.8 million trees on 406,000 acres
  • Trinity: 1 million trees on 150,000 acres
  • Shasta: 305,000 trees on 115,000 acres
  • Tehama: 318,000 trees on 67,000 acres

Yesterday I drove from Redmond, Oregon down here to Siskiyou County, a four hour drive, about two hours of it through smoke from a distant fire, (the Bootleg fire?), and through burnt forest, ranging from singed to totally black smoking ashscape, and still more through trees that looked dry and gnarled and unwell and ready to burn. It was over 90 degrees most of the way, dry, staying hot until 8 or 9 pm at night. A fire crew was cutting down a big old tree by the side of Highway 97, and not far beyond that was the ruins of a motel that had been burned to the ground, except for a sign, “MOTEL.”

Burnt over forest country makes me think of the start of Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River”:

The train went on up the track out of sight, around one of the hills of burnt timber. Nick sat down on the bundle of canvas and bedding the baggage man had pitched out of the door of the baggage car. There was no town, nothing but the rails and the burned-over country. The thirteen saloons that had lined the one street of Seney had not left a trace. The foundations of the Mansion House hotel stuck up above the ground. The stone was chipped and split by the fire. It was all that was left of the town of Seney. Even the surface had been burned off the ground. 

Nick looked at the burned-over stretch of hillside, where he had expected to find the scattered houses of the town and then walked down the railroad track to the bridge over the river. The river was there. It swirled against the log spires of the bridge. Nick looked down into the clear, brown water, colored from the pebbly bottom, and watched the trout keeping themselves steady in the current with wavering fins. As he watched them they changed their again by quick angles, only to hold steady in the fast water again. Nick watched them a long time. 


The Big Room

Michael Herr wrote Dispatches, he wrote a novel about Walter Winchell, he wrote a short book (an expanded article) about Stanley Kubrick, he collaborated on the screenplays for Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket.

He also wrote the text for The Big Room, a collection of portraits by Belgian artist Guy Peellaert, centered around Las Vegas. Short essays about Howard Hughes, Milton Berle, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, FDR, Richard Nixon, Bugsy Siegel, Nat King Cole, Colonel Tom Parker, Martin & Lewis, more.

When they talk about luck in Las Vegas, it’s just the way they have there of talking about time. Luck is the local obsession, while time itself is a sore subject in the big rooms and casinos. It’s a corny old gag about Las Vegas, the temporal city if there ever was one, trying to camouflage the hours and retard the dawn, when everybody knows that if you’re feeling lucky you’re really feeling time in its rawest form, and if you’re not feeling lucky, they’ve got a clock at the bus station. For a speedy town like Vegas, having no time on the walls can only accelerate the process by which jellyfish turn into barracuda, grinders and dumpers become a single player, the big winners and big losers exchange wardrobes, while everyone gets ready for the next roll. The whole city’s a clock. The hotels change credit lines as fast and often as they change the sheets, and for a lot of the same reasons. The winners and the losers all have identical marks on them, bruised and chewed over by Las Vegas mitosis, with consolation prizes for anybody left who’s not already inconsolable. Don’t laugh, people. It could happen to you.

It’s fantastic.

The big room is not a clearing that anyone should charge into blindly, unarmed. The way in is hard, as dangerous as the approach to King Solomon’s Mines, and obscure as a tomb. In fact, many a headliner has had good reason to compare the room to the tomb, having experienced for themselves the non-contradiction that once you’ve made it here, it’s all over for you.


funny description

After he wrote My Face for the World to See Hayes decided, counterintuitively, to move permanently to Los Angeles, the city he had described as looking ‘as hell might with a good electrician’. 

and a classic:

In a novel published in 1968, The End of Me, Hayes’s disillusionment is projected onto the main character, Asher, a failing screenwriter. Asher tells a joke about a man who goes into a butcher’s shop and sees two signs. One reads ‘writers’ brains: 19 cents a pound’; the other: ‘producers’ brains: 79 cents a pound’:

‘Now you are supposed to ask me,’ I said patiently, ‘why producers’ brains cost 79 cents a pound and writers’ brains cost 19 cents a pound?’ … “Well,” the butcher said, “do you know how many producers you have to kill to get a pound of brains?”’

Lucie Elven on Alfred Hayes in LRB.


The fix is in

I haven’t been following boxing but I don’t like anything about the Floyd Mayweather / Logan Paul fight, except maybe the pleasure of an obnoxious person getting hurt, and I don’t like to cultivate that taste in myself. This is not a sporting event, it’s an exhibition. The prescripted outcome isn’t known to me but I suspect it’s known to others as well.

“The fix is in,” in other words. Looking into the origin of the term I find, among other things, a spay and neuter clinic in Wisconsin.

Some time ago I got pretty interested in boxing both as a workout routine and spectacle. In both it was rewarding. The world of writing about boxing is wonderful: AJ Liebling, Joyce Carol Oates. The Fight is the only Norman Mailer book I ever finished, I suspect it may be his best. I found a copy in a youth hostel in Ireland and ate it up. Of course When We Were Kings is unreal on the same tale, a story so good you could hear it told many times and not get bored. Best of all might be Pierce Egan.

The quality Egan most admires is “bottom”:

Boxiana is worth getting just for the fitness regimens.

That’s for a pedestrian, one who competed in long walking competitions like a thousand miles in a thousand hours, that kind of thing.

Once I contemplated going for an MA at Cambridge on the topic of Pierce Egan, but then I realized that would be a most un-Pierce Egan thing to do.

During my boxing period I got a press pass, maybe after pitching an idea to Slate, for the second fight of Manny Pacquiao against Morales. In my memory, I wrote the article, and Slate didn’t publish it, but that may be inaccurate. What I remember is seeing Freddie Roach at the press conference. Impressive man. Dedham kid. He spoke of his own fighting career, and said he was never the same boxer after he’d been knocked out.

Having attended a Pacquiao fight made me a superstar among the Filipino sailors when I sailed on the Hanjin Athens cargo ship from Long Beach to Shanghai.

Here is a chart I made tracing back boxers into the past by who fought who. Having shaken the hand of former heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis, I wanted to see how far I could get back. Looks like I made it to Jem Mace,

Forgive the poor quality photo, the original is somewhere.

I wondered if I could connect all the way to Cribb vs. Molineaux:

(that print is at the Met, which I think may be in error, or at least in conflict, with the WBA about how many rounds this fight went. I’ll mention it at the ball.)

That fight went 44 rounds (rounds were shorter in those days. Egan has accounts of 100+ round fights). From a WBA writeup by Robert Ecksel:

The morning of the championship, Molineaux ate a boiled chicken, an apple pie, and drank a half-gallon of beer.

Was the fix in on that one?

SPOLER ALERT! Ecksel again:


Preakness

On October 25, 1870, the racehorse Preakness won the inaugural running of the Dixie Stakes (now called the Dinner Party Stakes), on the opening day of Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Three years later, they named a new race after Preakness. The Preakness Stakes ran just the other day, it was exciting.

As for Preakness the horse?

After his retirement from racing, he was sold in England to stand at stud. He later became temperamental, as did his new owner, the Duke of Hamilton. After an altercation where Preakness refused to obey the Duke during a breeding session, he retrieved a gun and killed the colt, leading to a public outcry. As a result, there was a reform in the laws regarding the treatment of animals.

Poor Preakness. The Duke looks like a cad.

A description of Hamilton pertaining to this period in his life has this description of him to offer:“At Christchurch, he went in for boxing, as he went in later for horse-racing, yachting and other amusements… He was full bodied, of a rudely ruddy complexion, had a powerful neck, and seemed strong enough to fell an ox with his fist… He had a frankness of speech bordering on rudeness”.

Killing a champion horse seems like the most notable thing he ever did.

Loved William Finnegan’s article about horse racing (can it survive?) in the May 24, 2021 The New Yorker. Horses given Lasix can lose 20-30 pounds of urine.

Horses usually give birth in the middle of the night, which makes sense since that’s when they are less likely to be disturbed by predators. But foals need to be able to move with the herd at daybreak.

What about this scam that the Stronach Group, owners of Pimlico, pulled on Maryland’s taxpayers?

… the company wanted to move the Preakness to Laurel Park, a racino in the suburbs. Baltimore officials were aghast at losing the race, which has been running since 1873, and the state ultimately agreed to invest nearly four hundred million dollars in Pimlico and Laurel Park. Stronach committed to leaving the Preakness where it was, having offloaded the risk onto the State of Maryland.

Belinda Stronach, a fascinating character. Served in Canada’s Parliament for two different parties, “just friends” with Bill Clinton, her second husband was Norwegian speed skating legend Johan Olav Kloss, she defeated her father in a lawsuit to claim his assets.

(Kyle Plesa added this one to Wikipedia)

Finnegan suggests that “sealing” the track at Santa Anita too frequently after the dump of 2019 rainfall here in southern California may have contributed to the number of horse deaths at the track, a loss we mourned at the time.

One of the attractions of Santa Anita is that it’s a time capsule, of another California:

Alexander grew up down the street, in Pasadena, and he knew the track in its heyday, in the fifties. “When I was growing up, horse racing was pretty much the only game in town,” he said. “No Dodgers, no Lakers, just the Rams. But I was already a Dodgers fan, because of Jackie Robinson. We were both from Pasadena.”

Had a chance to take in some racing at Santa Anita a couple weeks ago, and had a corned beef sandwich on rye with mustard, horseradish and pickles that I found exquisite both in taste and in antiquitude.

It’s hard to see a growing future for horse racing. Finnegan notes that “in the past two decades, the over-all national betting handle at racetracks has fallen by nearly fifty per cent.” Although at Santa Anita over 2020, even while spectators were kept out, the handle was up from the previous year.


ran out of gas

(happened to come upon that one while reading about trial lawyers)


Warrior of Capestrano

The Warrior of Capestrano is a tall limestone statue of a Picene warrior, dated to around the 6th century BC. The statue stands at around 2.09 m. It was discovered accidentally in 1934 by a labourer ploughing the field in the Italian town of Capestrano, along with a female statue in civilian attire, called Lady of Capestrano.

Imagine you’re just ploughing your field and you come across this thing. (Or was that a cover story for a band of tomb raiders?). 6th century BC, long before Rome. An inscription apparently found in the extinct South Picene language:

Makupri koram opsút aninis rakinevíi pomp[úne]í” (“Aninis had this statue made most excellently for Rakinewis, the Pomp[onian]”).

Capestrano is a town in Abruzzo:

I’ve been near there, 40km away or so.

You’ll find a description of a visit to the farm of a distant relative in my book, co-authored with Vali, The Ridiculous Race.

Among those with ancestral roots in this region are myself and Madonna, whose father’s folks are said to be from Pacentro.

The claim on Madonna’s roots was told to me in Abruzzo by a distant relative with some combination of local pride and disgust for Madonna’s life and art, a very contradictory, Italian Catholic reaction to something provocative and famed.

The fortified mountain towns of that region suggest a long stretch of history when “Italy” was a crazy war of all against all, with an Appalachian geography. (And temperament? Somewhere in my notes I have a draft proof that the Italians are the original Scotch Irish).

Capestrano was home to the saint John of Capestrano, Giovanni da Capestrano:

Famous as a preacher, theologian, and inquisitor, he earned himself the nickname ‘the Soldier Saint’ when in 1456 at age 70 he led a crusade against the invading Ottoman Empire at the siege of Belgrade

Though John’s ferocity can’t be questioned, his theology and record don’t seem favorable to contemporary standards.

Like Bernardine, he strongly emphasized devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus

The section of his Wikipedia page entitled “Anti-Jewish Incitement” gives much we can’t approve of. He died of plauge.

The spirit of Giovanni da Capestrano was brought to California by Spanish Franciscan missionaries, who founded the mission of San Juan Capistrano. We had a chance to visit there recently.

The mission does deliver in the charm department in part because of the semi-ruined quality of the place. One of the first efforts at a grand stone church collapsed in an earthquake, killing forty-two people attending Mass inside. You’d think this would suggest maybe the missionaries line to God was not direct, or at the very least, instead of stacking heavy rocks, they should switch to a vernacular architecture:

But no. The California missions seem like they used to be more of a draw. The popular novel Ramona, early movies, Zorro, plein air painters, early preservationist movements, all these seem to have flowed around, drawn inspiration from and contributed to the appeal of the missions in popular imagination.

This one was a hit (?) for The Ink Spots in 1949, maybe marking the peak:

Maybe Madonna should cover it?

I don’t think this is what an airline would use to advertise SoCal today?

One incident I didn’t learn about at the site, but have now found looking at Wikipedia: in 1818 the French-born Argentine sea captain Hipólito Bouchard and his guys raided the mission. I guess it makes sense the mission doesn’t want to emphasize that, it must’ve been a sad day. Plus they don’t want to scare the current tourists.

The Lady of Capestrano:


How much would you pay for this painting?

I wouldn’t go a dime above $92 million. But it is damn cool.


Proust (in comic form)

A graphic novel, in several volumes, of In Search of Lost Time. I feel like I heard about this when it first came out in 2015, but I must’ve been preoccupied.

I was supposed to read some of this in college, in a class I really liked, Joyce and Modernism, but I could never “get into it.” Now, in this form, I’m reading it in a different way and I find some of it to be awesome and really moving.

Some of it is, look, let’s admit it can be ridiculous:

Maybe the key to unlocking it, for me anyway, is that Proust’s world, pre-WWI France, can feel as distant as 11th century Japan. We have to approach this as something very strange, but the power is in recognizing ourselves in it.

Last Proust post (prost) was about Edmund White’s short biography of Proust, recommended by Larry McMurtry to me, and now by me to you.

More or less posting this in lieu of just texting about it to MMW and Vali.


Buffett and Munger speak: Berkshire Hathaway 2021 oddities and highlights

Augy18400 for wikipedia

I always feel like I’m getting both nutrition and entertainment when I read the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting transcript, found here at Rev.com

Asked about the morality of owning an oil and gas company like Chevron, Charlie Munger poses and then answers a strange hypothetical:

You can imagine two things. A young man marries into your family, he’s an English professor at, say, Swarthmore, or he works for Chevron. Which would you pick? Sight unseen? I want to admit, I’d take the guy from Chevron. Yeah.

Did not know this about the origin of the rear view mirror:

Warren Buffett: (01:35:54)
Maybe that’s why they called it Marmon. And that we’re proud of the fact that the company in 1911 named one of the first Indianapolis 500. It also was the company that invented the rear view mirror. I’m not sure whether that was a big contribution to society. And certainly around your household rear view mirror, you don’t want to emphasize too much. But they, the car that was entered in Indianapolis 500, the guy who normally sat next to the driver and looked backwards to tell what the competitors were doing, he was sick. So they invented the rear view mirror. So let’s just assume that you had decided that autos were this incredible thing. And someday there’d be an Indianapolis 500 and someday they’d have rearview mirrors on cars. And someday 290 million cars would be buzzing around the United States or autos or trucks there.

On BNSF railroad:

15% of the interstate goods move on our railroad

Competition for BNSF, and for Geico:

This question comes from Glen Greenberg, it’s on the profitability of GEICO and BNSF. He said, “Why do these companies operate at meaningfully lower profit margins than their main competitors, Progressive and Union Pacific? Can we expect current managements to at least achieve parity?

Warren Buffett: (02:33:25)
Was it GEICO and-

Becky: (02:33:27)
BNSF.

Warren Buffett: (02:33:28)
Oh, actually, if you look at the first quarter figures, you’ll see that the Berkshire Hathaway/Union Pacific comparisons has gotten quite better. Katie Farmer’s doing an incredible job at BNSF, and it’d be an interesting question whether five years from now or 10 years from now, BNSF or Union Pacific has the higher earnings. We’ve had higher earnings in the past, Union Pacific passed us. The first quarter, you can look at and they think they’ve got a slightly better franchise. We think we’ve got a slightly better franchise. We know we’re larger than Union Pacific, we will do more business than they do. And we should make a little more money than they do, but we haven’t in the last few years. But it’s quite a railroad, I feel very good about that.

 And it’s a very interesting business, both Progressive and GEICO were started in the ’30s. I believe I’m right about Progressive on that, and we were started in ’36. We have had the better product for a long, long time, I mean, in terms of cost. And here we are 80, 85 years later, in our case, and we have about 13% or so of the market, whatever it may be, and Progressive as just a slight bit less. So the two of us have 25% of the market, roughly, in this huge market, after 80 something years of having a better product. So it’s a very slow changing, competitive situation, but Progressive has done a very, very good job recently. We’ve done a very, very good job over the years, and we’re doing a good job now, but we have made some very significant improvements.

Is Flo just more appealing than the Geico Gecko? Ajit Jain doesn’t think so:

Progressive has certainly done better, but when it comes to branding, GEICO is, I think, miles, excuse me, ahead of Progressive. And in terms of managing expenses as well, I think GEICO does a much better job than anyone else in the industry.

On interest rates:

I mean, interest rates, basically, are to the value of assets, what gravity is to matter, essentially. …

I mean, if I could reduce gravity, it’s pull by about 80%, I mean, I’d be in the Tokyo Olympics jumping. And essentially, if interest rates were 10%, valuations are much higher. So you’ve had this incredible change in the valuation of everything that produces money, because the risk-free rate produces, really short enough right now, nothing. It’s very interesting. I brought this book along, because for 25 or more years, Paul Samuelson’s book was the definitive book on economics. It was taught in every school and Paul was… he was the first Nobel a prize winner. It’s sort of a cousin to the Nobel prize, they started giving it in economics, I think, in the late ’60s, he was the first winner from the United States, Paul Samuelson. Amazingly enough, the second winner was Ken Arrow, and both of them are the uncles of Larry Summers. Larry Summers had the first two winners as uncles.

Weird, did not know that. Buffett goes on:

But if present rates were destined to be appropriate, if the 10 years should really be at the price it is, those companies that the fellow mentioned in this question, they’re a bargain. I mean, they have the ability to deliver cash at a rate that’s, if you discounted back and you’re discounting at present interest rates, stocks are very, very cheap. Now, the question is what interest rates do over time. But there’s a view of what interest rates will be based in the yield curve out to 30 years and so on.


It’s a fascinating time. We’ve never really seen what shoveling money in on the basis that we’re doing it on a fiscal basis, while following a monetary policy of something close to zero interest rates, and it is enormously pleasant. But in economics, there’s one thing always to remember, you can never do one thing, you always have to say, “And then what?”

Buffett goes on to invoke the St. Peterburg paradox.

On, basically, what’s cool about the stock market:

we’ve got the greatest markets the world could ever imagine. I mean, imagine being able to own parts of the biggest businesses in the world and putting billions of dollars in them and take it out two days later. I mean, compared to farms or apartment houses or office buildings, where it takes months to close a deal, the markets offer a chance to participate in earning assets on a basis that’s very, very low cost and instantaneous, huge, all kinds of good things, but it makes its real money if they can get the gamblers to come in because they provide more action and they’re willing to pay silly or fees and all kinds of things.

On the market as a casino:

Well, the stock market, we’ve had a lot of people in the casino in the last year. You have millions and billions of people who’ve set up accounts where they day trade, where they’re selling… Put some calls, where they, I would say that you had the greatest increase in the number of gamblers essentially. And there’s nothing wrong with gambling and they got better odds than they’ve got if they play the state lottery, but they have cash in their pocket. They’ve had action. And they actually don’t have a lot of good results. And if they just bought stocks, they do fine and held them.


But the gambling impulse is very strong in people worldwide, and occasionally it gets an enormous shove and conditions lead this place where more people are entering the casino than are leaving every day, and that creates its own reality for a while. And nobody tells you when the clock is going to strike 12:00, and it all turns to pumpkins and mice. But when the competition is playing with other people’s money, or if they’re playing foolishly with their own money, but the big stuff is done with other people’s money, they’re going to beat us. I mean, we’re not… that’s a different game and they’ve got a lot of money, so we’re not going to have much luck on acquisitions while this sort of a period continues.

Charlie Munger saying Bernie Sanders “has won,” but he didn’t mean it in a complimentary way:

MUNGER: And I think one consequence of the present situation is that Bernie Sanders has basically won. And that’s because with the, everything boomed up so high and interest rates, so low what’s going to happen is the millennial generation is going to have a hell of a time getting rich compared to our generation. And so the difference between the rich and the poor and the generation that’s rising is going to be a lot less. So Bernie has won. He did it by accident, but he won.

Charlie is asked, given high tax rates, what keeps him in California?

MUNGER: Well, that’s a very interesting question. I frequently say that I wouldn’t move across the street to save my children 500 million in taxes and stuff. So I have that, that’s my personal view of the subject, but I do think it is stupid for states to drive out their wealthiest citizens, the old people that don’t commit any crimes, they donate to the local charity. Who in the hell in their right mind would drive out the rich people? I mean, Florida and places like that are very shrewd and places like California are being very stupid. It’s contrary to the interest of the state.

I love the dodge here on a question about Bitcoin:

Yeah, I knew there’d be a question on Bitcoin. I thought to myself, “Well, I’ve watched these politicians dodge questions all the time.” I always find it kind of disgusting when they do it. But the truth is, I’m going to dodge that question because we’ve probably got hundreds of thousands of people watching this that own Bitcoin, and we’ve got two people that are short. We’ve got a choice of making 400,000 people mad at us and unhappy and/or making two people happy. That’s just a dumb equation. I thought about it. We had a governor one time in Nebraska, a long time ago. He would get a tough question, what do you think about property taxes or what should we do about schools? He’d look right at the person, and he’d say, “I’m all right on that one,” and he’d just walk off. Well, I’m all right on that one and maybe we’ll see how Charlie is.

A quality of a great business:

Well, we’ve always known that the green business is the one that takes very little capital and grows a lot, and Apple and Google and Microsoft and Facebook are terrific examples of that. I mean, Apple has $ 37 billion in property, plant, equipment. Berkshire has 170 billion or something like that, and they’re going to make a lot more money than we do. They’re in better business. It’s a much better business than we have, and Microsoft’s business is a way better business than we have. Google’s business is a way better business.

I thought this was funny. The question was re: Robinhood.

But they have attracted, maybe set out to attract, but they have attracted, I think I read where 12 or 13% of their casino participants were dealing in puts and calls. I looked up on Apple, the number of seven day calls and 14 day calls outstanding. I’m sure a lot of that is coming through Robinhood and that’s a bunch of people writing… They’re gambling on the price of Apple over the next seven days or 14 days. There’s nothing illegal about it. There’s nothing immoral. But I don’t think you would build a society around people doing it. If a group of us landed on a desert island, we knew that we’d never be rescued, and I was one of the group and I said, “Well, I’ll set up the exchange over and I’ll trade our corn futures and everything around it.” I think the degree to which a very rich society can reward people who know how to take advantage essentially of the gambling instincts of, not only American public, worldwide public, it’s not the most admirable part of the accomplishment. But I think what America has accomplished is pretty admirable overall. And I think actually, American corporations have turned out to be a wonderful place for people to put their money and save, but they also make terrific gambling chips.

Odd anecdote from Warren, Munger is talking about state lotteries (he doesn’t approve):

Charlie Munger: (04:40:03)
The states in America, replaced the mafia as the proprietor of the numbers game. That’s what happened.

Warren Buffett: (04:40:03)
Yep.

Charlie Munger: (04:40:03)
They pushed the mafia aside and said, “That’s our business, not yours.” Doesn’t make me proud of my government.

Warren Buffett: (04:40:03)
When I was a kid, my dad was in Congress, they had a numbers runner in the house office building, actually.

On the potential CP/KSU railway merger, which would strengthen a rival to Berkshire’s own BNSF:

In terms of the price that’s being paid, like I say, if you can borrow all the money for nothing, it doesn’t make much difference to people. This would not be being paid under a different interest rate environment. I mean, it’s very simple. There’s no magic to the Kansas City Southern. I think their deal with Mexico ends in 2047. It’s the number of carloads carried. I mean, it’s not going to change that much, but it is kind of interesting. There’s only two major Canadian, what they call Class I railroads, and there’s five in the United States. This will result in, essentially, three of the units being Canadian, four being U.S., which is not the way you normally think of the way the development of the railroad system would work in the United States.

We looked at buying CP. Everybody looks at everything. We would not pay this price. It implies a price for BNSF that’s even higher than what the UP is selling for. But it’s kind of play money to some degree, I mean, when interest rates are this low. I’m sure from the standpoint of both CP and CN, there’s only one K.C. Southern. They’re not going to get a chance to expand. They’re not going to buy us. They’re not going to buy the UP. The juices flow, and the prices go up.

Charlie Munger: (03:37:15)
They’re buying with somebody else’s money.

Warren Buffett: (03:37:18)
Yeah. It’s somebody else’s money, and you’re going to retire in five or 10 years. People are not going to remember what you paid, but they’re going to remember whether you built a larger system. The investment bankers are cheering you on at every move. They’re just saying, “You could pay more.” They’re moving the figures around. The spreadsheets are out, and the fees are flowing.

The juices flow, indeed.


Swartzwelder

From Mike Sacks’ interview with the great John Swartzwelder in The New Yorker. The man wrote 59 Simpsons episodes, it’s an achievement difficult to comprehend, up there with Ted Williams batting .400, or, I dunno, the sumo achievements of Hakuho?


Kentucky Derby

Benoit photo via Kentucky Derby.com

Used my complex handicapping method on the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

  1. Known Agenda – 81.33
  2. Like a King – 75
  3. Brooklyn Strong – 73.6
  4. Keepmeinmind – 78
  5. Sainthood – 79.66
  6. O Besos – 80.8
  7. Mandaloun – 85.6
  8. Medina Spirit – 91.6. Came in second to 15 at the Santa Anita Derby back in April.
  9. Hot Rod Charlie – 75.57. Has very been fast lately.
  10. Midnight Bourbon – 85.833
  11. Dynamic One – 74.6
  12. Helium – 78.3
  13. Hidden Stash – 75.2
  14. Essential Quality – 87.6 . The favorite, undefeated in five straight, has beaten 4, 9, 17 & 18.
  15. Rock Your World – 88. Undefeated in 3 straight.
  16. King Fury – 75.83
  17. Highly Motivated – 88.2
  18. Super Stock – 78.4
  19. Soup and Sandwich – 87.66
  20. Burbonic – 67.16

A couple storylines to watch. Kendrick Carmouche will be the first black jockey since 2013. In the early days of the Derby, almost every jockey was black, 15 out of the first 28 winners were black.

Luis Saez will be riding the favorite, 14, Essential Quality. Saez has a shot at redemption after being denied a victory due to disqualification in the 2019 Derby. Essential Quality’s Brad Cox would be the first Louisville born trainer to win.

I gotta cheer for Medina Spirit, a horse with the same name as the Great Debates moderator. Medina Spirit may not end up as a “value,” with six time winner Bob Baffert as trainer. Just glancing at the odds here I’d say Highly Motivated could be something at 19/1? Highly Motivated is a fast horse.

Bob Baffert named his son after Bode Miller?

The best odds as usual are being the house. If you’d bought Churchill Downs stock, $CHDN, the morning after the last Derby (Sept 7) for $169, it’s today worth $211, a 22% return (S&P 500 was up 18% same period). Even the most studious horseplayer would be pleased to gain that return from studying the form.

My call:

1 – Essential Quality

2- Rock Your World

3 – Medina Spirit.


Water in California

Here are some things we learned from Introduction to Water In California by David Carle:

  • manufacturing 28 million water bottles a year for US sales required 17 million barrels of oil.

  • making one-time, plastic water bottles takes three times as much water as went inside each container (and produced a lot of carbon dioxide, 2.5 million tons)

  • an acre-foot of water, a standard measurement, is equal to 325,851 gallons, “which would cover a football field one foot deep.” A common estimate is that an acre-foot meets the domestic needs of five to eight people

  • snow that falls when it’s extra cold can contain significantly less water per cubic foot as snow that falls closer to 32 degrees

  • about seven million acre-feet make it to the state aquifers each year. About 400,000 acre feet come off the Eastern Sierra, averaging enough water per year for about 3.2 million people

  • “coastal redwoods specialize in growing massive on long, slow drinks of harvested summer fog”

  • 55% of all the country’s produce is grown in California

  • almost all of the eared grebes in North America use the Salton Sea at some point
  • There are an estimated 6.9 million dogs and 7.7 million cats in California

Great book, I’d recommend it. The topic of water in California is so complex, involving so many agencies and mandated plans and districts and projects and regulatory commissions. The most alarming fact in this book is that the twentieth century was California’s third or fourth wettest century of the past four thousand years. So all our plans, desperate as they often are, may be built on rosy assumptions that are unlikely to hold.

Since I got to California in 2004 and read Cadillac Desert, I’ve been trying to understand California’s water system. In the far north of the state, roaring rivers run through redwood forests and down to the sea, and it’s wet almost every day. In the southeast of the state, there are places where it hardly ever rains. A big feature on present day maps of the state is the Salton Sea, a “new” lake (though it’s been flooding there on and off for thousands of years). A big feature on old maps of the state is the Tulare Lake, which has now vanished. The Tulare aquifer is still used to grow cotton, one of the most water intensive crops you can plant. Across the center of the state runs a mountain system that traps huge amounts of moisture as snow, and still has at least one glacier. The central valley of the state was once an intermittent wetland, there were times when you could’ve almost paddled a boat from Bakersfield to Sacramento.

There’s not nearly enough water for southern California in southern California, that’s why our tap water has to travel three hundred miles. Despite that, through our produce and bottled water like Arrowhead, we export water. Yet turn on your tap, and out comes the water. It’s a miracle (and maybe some kind of crime, as the movie Chinatown suggests).

I see Slate Star Codex wrote a piece in 2015 about how much water goes to alfalfa, for feeding cows. California also exports water in the form of meat, which I guess is not ideal.


might spend my Sunday like this

source.


Sweet Track

Reader Chris P writes:

I just got back into reading your blog and spent all day on it 
today. Good stuff.

Yes. Sounds like a good day, Chris.

This is something that’s been in my mind the last few weeks and 
seems relevant to your stuff.

I was back in Long Island for the first time in a while and since 
we’re only doing outdoor things we went on a bunch of hikes that 
have elevated plank walkways through marshes. I was reflecting that 
I just love those things and it’s always a good hike when some part 
of it is on a marsh walkway. You look out on a well made elevated 
marsh walkway and everything feels great. You don’t see them as much 
in California but there are a few.

Then I found this:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweet_Track

Some of the oldest structures ever found in the British Isles are 
elevated marsh walkways. Built in 3800 BC. Older than Stonehenge. 
Lots of good stuff in the wiki piece.

“The track was constructed from about 200,000 kilograms (440,000 lb) 
of timber, but Coles estimates that once the materials were 
transported to the site, ten men could have assembled it in one day”

So it seems like the elevated marsh walkway is one of those human 
-constructed landscape elements that people have a deep almost 
“genetic memory” affinity before. At least people with ancestry in 
the British Isles.

(Similar to the “open” woodlands where natural brush has been 
repeatedly burned out by controlled fires to facilitate hunting.)

Anyway… thought you might be intrigued. If nothing else I feel 
better having told someone.

Lol truly the motivation over here at Helytimes: To feel better having told someone. The Sweet Track design, illustrated here, seems beautifully efficient.


North American Pacific

(acqua scissors for Wiki)

I can barely keep up with the story of Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern railways merging to form a transcontinental, Canada to Mexico super railway.

On April 13, Brooke Sutherland in Bloomberg reported on some potential bumps to the CP/KSU merger:

Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd.’s plan for taking over Kansas City Southern in a $29 billion transaction has drawn pushback from the Department of Justice. The Surface Transportation Board is the rail industry’s primary regulator and has the final say, but the DOJ is allowed to express its opinion and this week it asserted a “statutory right to intervene” in major railroad mergers. The DOJ takes primary issue with Canadian Pacific’s plan to close the deal on a financial basis in advance of regulatory approval by putting the acquired Kansas City Southern shares in a voting trust. It rightly points out that companies in other consolidated industries frequently have to wait a year or more to close transactions and they manage just fine without a voting trust that risks compromising the target’s independence and future competitiveness. The DOJ — along with rival railroads and some key shipping groups — also wants the STB to waive Kansas City Southern’s exemption from tougher 2001 merger rules that require major carriers to prove a transaction is in the public interest. While Kansas City Southern remains the smallest major North American railroad, it’s much bigger than it was, in part because of the 2005 acquisition of Mexico’s TFM railroad. Canadian Pacific issued a response to the DOJ, arguing that the pre-2001 rules are rigorous enough for its merger and that a voting trust is essential to make the transaction work. The voting trust is useful in staving off a counterbid from the private equity firms that were circling Kansas City Southern last year, but I’m less convinced of its public interest benefits. If there are any, Canadian Pacific should have to prove that. 

Look I would never tell CP CEO Keith Creel how to do his job, but I worry about CP losing control of the story here. Creel may come off a little too confident in the 2001 merger rules putting him in the right here. This is the Surface Transportation Board’s time to shine, they’re gonna flex their muscles. Creel will need to win them over, not just bowl them over, to make this merger happen. What about a PR campaign? Creel should:

  • remind the Surface Transportation Board that although the company may be called Canadian Pacific, he’s from Alabama.
  • remind the Surface Transportation Board of where he comes from in a deeper sense. Creel is a protege of great Tennessee railroader Hunter Harrison. Harrison’s goal was simple: more efficient railroading. That’s good for the consumer, it’s good for partners, it’s good for rail customers, it’s good for traffic, it’s good for reducing congestion, it’s good for the environment, it’s good for America.
  • sell the glorious, international, free trade vision he’s seeing here. The Canadian Pacific / Kansas City Southern railroad merger would create a true transcontinental railroad, rolling from Canada to Mexico and through Chicago by the way.
  • should the new company be called North American Pacific, or even American Pacific? While no one would want to take away from the beautiful history of Canadian Pacific, flattering American regulators and winning over the American people should absolutely be the strategy for now.
  • could HQ be moved from Calgary even? Just spitballing!


The beauty of this railroad isn’t a tough sell, people love thinking about this new, enormous railroad once you help them see it. At least I do.

It’s a question of storytelling here. CP needs to tell the story, and not let the DOJ come up with a darker, more unpleasant story.

But then, this morning, a twist! Canadian National, Canada’s other enormous railway, threw their hat in the ring to buy KSU and achieve the continental super railway!

Again, Brooke Sutherland in Bloomberg is on the case. We have to understand the CP/CNI rivalry, it’s over hundred years old:

Century-Old Rail Rivalry Flares Up Over a $30 Billion Prize

as Bloomberg puts it, Kevin Orland reporting:

The very formation of Canadian National made Canadian Pacific “apoplectic” that it now had to compete with a government corporation, and Canadian National’s public backing was a sore spot for decades, Anastakis said. Even when Canadian National was privatized in 1995, it was initially run by Paul Tellier, a former high-ranking government official.

The two firms also reflect regional and political tensions in Canada, with Calgary-based Canadian Pacific representing the western, conservative part of the country, and Montreal-based Canadian National embodying the more liberal, elite character of the east, Moore said — as well as the bilingual nature of Quebec.

I dunno, I might be biased as a CP shareholder, but this CNI bit seems weak to me. Didn’t they argue against any merger with KSU at all? A deal used to mean something in railroading. I’m afraid I have to root even harder for CP now.

Will the Surface Transportation Board see the phony arguments of CNI were just some Canadian pettiness, and be more inclined to allow the merger?

As Brooke Sutherland reports:

no one really knows at this point what the STB will or won’t allow

Note the headline:

Forget Bitcoin. Railroads Are the New Bubble.

Look, I’m just an enthusiast here.


Need Want Do

In order to be maximally compelling, protagonists should be active, the principal causer of effects in the plot that follows. Textual analyses reveal the words “do”, “need” and “want” appear twice as often in novels that feature in the New York Times bestseller list as those that don’t. A character in a drama who isn’t reacting, making decisions, choosing and trying somehow to impose control on the chaos isn’t truly a protagonist. Without action, the answer to the dramatic question never really changes.

That’s from The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr. On first attempt I put this book down in frustration, because the book itself is not framed in the form of a story. But encouraged by Rob Henderson I picked it up again and found a lot of value in it. Storr talks about how stories are framed around a central question: who is this person? He gives a good illustration from Lawrence of Arabia:

When he finally makes it out of the desert, to the shores of the Suez Canal, a motorcyclist on the opposite bank spots him. Curious about this strange white man in Arab robes emerging from the desert, the motorcyclist shouts across the water, “Who are you? Who are you?” As the question fills the baking air, the camera freezes on Lawrence’s troubled face.

Storr also spends a good deal of time with Ishiguro’s novel The Remains of The Day, a story that’s heartbreaking even when summarized. We the reader, and Stevens the butler, are both asking who this man is?

I found Storr’s discussion of the “ignition point” of a story, and his “sacred flaw” method to developing stories to both be thought-provoking and potentially block-breaking for a storyteller.

The textual analysis bit comes from The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel by Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers. This book is a tiny bit ridiculous: the authors fed lots of books into some kind of computer algorithm they’ve got rigged up at Stanford, and produce charts like this one:

The Y axis there is “emotion.” While I might hesitate to trust the suggested precision of a graph like this on something as squishy as storytelling, the basic insight – that thrilling stories have a lot of ups and downs – is valuable and rings true.

More on key words from bestsellers:

Both Storr and Archer & Jockers cite the work of Christopher Booker, who wrote a titanic volume called The Seven Basic Plots. When Booker’s book dropped, I was working as a professional TV storyteller and amateur novelist, and I bought it, and set down to study, eager to crack the code.

long

Booker’s seven categories were kinda wide, though. One of them, for instance, is comedy. I grew suspicious. When I got to this part, I laughed out loud:

I felt like Jim Carrey’s Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon when he realizes the Eastern cancer treatment he’s gone for is just some cheap fakery. Really Booker? Did you miss the FIRST FRAME OF THE MOVIE?!

Too funny. Booker’s work wasn’t in vain, there was still much to consider, but it did reveal the somewhat ridiculous nature of trying to distill stories into simple forms. There will always be tricky exceptions, they escape from containment like mercury.

Guides to story and storytelling remain a passion. The urge to quantify these things seems to drive people half-mad. We all know what stories are, we know one when we hear one, and yet they’re surprisingly hard to pin down.

It occurred to me that NEED WANT DO could be a way to map out your day. You might wake up, for instance, and think:

  • I NEED: breakfast burrito from Cofax
  • I WANT: breakfast burrito from Cofax
  • I will DO: go get breakfast burrito from Cofax.