Friday, April 10, 2020

Sacramento County Covid Cases By Zip Code

Not too bad in my neighborhood, but they've got a hot spot in adjacent Oak Park.

Trying To Work Out A Solution To The Opioid Crisis

Trying something new:
In late February 2019, Nikki was in a meeting with hospital administrators when one said, in an offhand way, that Medicaid wouldn’t reimburse the hospital for the CADS program, because it was housed at the courthouse and not in a medical facility. He proposed that they shelve the program, and Nikki felt her composure slipping. Maybe they could use a hospital-owned practice in Batesville, someone else suggested. But that was half an hour from the courthouse, too far for many patients. Another practice was closer, just 10 minutes away. Maybe they could co-opt the break room, move a refrigerator around.

That was when Nikki lost it, right there in front of the administrators—all of whom were at least two decades her senior. Housing a medical program inside the courthouse had been the whole point, the key to finally making the medical and legal systems mesh. It was the heretofore-missing component, a way to coordinate the carrot and the stick. The fact that people like Gessendorf and Schmaltz knew each other so well now—their quirks, their backstories, the names of each other’s spouses—those relationships, Nikki argued, were what made the program work.

But then she had an idea.

“Why can’t I just buy part of the courthouse?” Nikki asked. They could wall off one side of the conference room they were already using and the hospital could rent it for $25 a month. The county commissioners would have to sign off, as would the judges and Schmaltz, who worried, initially, about the appearance of spending taxpayer money to convert the space. But he was supportive. For the first time in some people’s lives, the cycle of jail to probation to relapse and back was coming to a close.

The "Family Fund"

At Next Door, the community-oriented, “sustainable” restaurant chain owned by billionaire Kimbal Musk, workers were told they were part of a family.

...But workers at Next Door did have something called the Family Fund. A pool of money they contributed to out of their paychecks, the fund was supposed to be there for them in times of crisis.

Then a crisis hit. And the Family Fund wasn’t there for them at all.

...As the restaurant chain grappled with the business impact of the coronavirus, Next Door told employees on March 16 that it would temporarily shut down operations for two weeks. Managers would have to take pay cuts, they were told. Hourly workers would get no pay at all, though they were told they could access paid sick time ― but they never got it. Many applied for grants from the Family Fund, according to several former employees.

What happened next was “pretty shady,” said Reggie Moore, the former head chef at the Indianapolis Next Door and one of seven former Next Door employees who spoke with HuffPost.

Five days after the temporary shutdown, management told workers that the Family Fund was changing. “In an effort to better help our employees, we are in the process of revising our Family Fund program,” reads an email sent March 21 to employees, which HuffPost reviewed.

The email promises that under the revised program, employees will get a $400 grant within one to two days. There was a catch, written in bold and underlined: “Please note that if you have already applied to Family Fund, you will need to re-apply through the new application link.”

But employees never got that link. Just two days later, on March 23, about 100 of them were officially out of a job. Musk closed four of the restaurant’s 11 locations, in Indianapolis, Memphis, the Cleveland area and Highlands Ranch, Colorado.

The timing of the closures, halfway through the “temporary” two-week pause, surprised some workers. Many asked about the Family Fund.

That’s only for current employees, they were told. “This has always been a rule of the program,” wrote a Next Door human relations representative in an email to one employee in Memphis who asked about the money. “Of course, we are all upset by the closure of these locations and we are here to assist you in any way we can.”

Workers in the restaurants, some of whom made the tipped minimum wage of $2.13 an hour, were not given any severance. Many have not been paid their accrued sick time.

“It’s a betrayal. It seems really sneaky,” one former Next Door manager told HuffPost, declining to publish his name for fear of repercussions from Musk.

Have Bicycle, Will Travel

Thanks to Rachel, I now have the use of two bicycles (although one bike is in kind of challenged condition).

The Schwinn is pretty solid - built like a tank. Gets me out, when bike-riding is nearly the only exercise that appeals. (Jogging tends to hurt, and exercise classes via Zoom seem dispiriting.)

I used my newfound freedom today to visit Masonic lawn cemetery, and the adjacent justly-famous Sacramento City Cemetery, where so many august Forty-Niners were interred.

The Mark Hopkins tomb seems the biggest there. Cost $80,000 in 1878 money.

Mark Hopkins (1813-1878).

According to Wikipedia:

Mark Hopkins (September 1, 1813 – March 29, 1878) was an American railroad executive. He was one of four principal investors that funded Theodore D. Judah's idea of building a railway over the Sierra Nevada from Sacramento, California to Promontory, Utah. They formed the Central Pacific Railroad along with Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, and Collis Huntington in 1861.

...When the California Gold Rush began, Hopkins created the "New England Mining and Trading Company", a group of 26 men each of whom invested $500 to purchase goods and ship them to California for sale. On January 22, 1849 Hopkins left New York City on the ship Pacific. After rounding Cape Horn, the ship arrived in San Francisco on August 5, 1849.

Hopkins opened a store in Placerville, California, but it did not succeed and he relocated to Sacramento where he opened a wholesale grocery in 1850 with his friend Edward H. Miller. Miller would later be secretary of the Central Pacific Railroad.

...In 1855, Hopkins and Collis P. Huntington formed "Huntington Hopkins and Company" to operate a hardware and iron business in Sacramento.

In 1861, as part of The Big Four, he founded the Central Pacific Railroad. Sometimes called "Uncle Mark", he was the eldest of the four partners and was well known for his thriftiness (it was said that he knew how to "squeeze 106 cents out of every dollar",[2] a reputation that gained him the post of company treasurer. Noted American historian Hubert Howe Bancroft quotes Collis Huntington as saying, "I never thought anything finished until Hopkins looked at it". Bancroft described Hopkins as the "balance-wheel of the Associates and one of the truest and best men that ever lived." A Whig and later associated with the Free Soil Party, Hopkins was an abolitionist and an organizer of the Republican Party in California.

Mary and Mark Hopkins had no children of their own. Mary adopted Timothy Nolan, the adult son of her housekeeper, who took the Hopkins name and was given an administrative position at the Union Pacific Railroad. Despite Hopkins' thriftiness, his wife managed eventually to persuade him to build an ornate mansion at the top of Nob Hill in San Francisco, California, close to the mansions of other Central Pacific founders. The construction commenced in 1875. The architects were the prominent San Francisco firm of Wright and Sanders and the project manager was architectural engineer William Wallace Barbour Sheldon, who worked for Hopkins under the Southern Pacific Improvement Company.

By then, Hopkins was having health problems and in 1878 died aboard a company train near Yuma, Arizona. At the time of his death, the house was not complete and was eventually finished and occupied by Mary. The structure later burned to the ground in a fire caused by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. In 1926, the Mark Hopkins Hotel (currently InterContinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco) was built on the site.

Hopkins is buried in Sacramento Historic City Cemetery (aka Old City Cemetery) in Sacramento, California.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Boxing To Pass The Time

Some sports are hard to do with social distancing. This evening, watched two guys box in a deserted parking lot under the W-X freeway. Within six feet of each other most of the time, but apart from me in the distance, there was no audience.

Monday, April 06, 2020

Armor Made of Toilet Paper

I didn't really need any toilet paper - I had bought a bundle just before the big rush started - but given the empty shelves, I worried about eventually running out.

Today, I found and bought another bundle of toilet paper. It's impressive, the sense of well-being one gets from having a supply that should last for months.

Sunday, April 05, 2020

The Real Heroes of the Coronavirus Emergency: Insurers

Taking names and kicking ass:
On Thursday, Howard-Browne announced he was calling off all services for the following Sunday in order to protect his flock from “the antagonistic climate” stirred up since his arrest. This came even after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis carved out an economy-size loophole for churches that allows them to circumvent a stay-at-home order he issued just 24 hours earlier.

The order bans all mass gatherings of 10 or more people, but at the same time declared religious services to be an “essential activity.” On Thursday, DeSantis issued a memo that declared his memo would “supersede any conflicting action or order” at the local level–effectively giving the green light for churches to meet with no restrictions on how many people can come. This move had local officials shaking their heads. For instance, Hillsborough County Commission chairman Les Miller said, “Our hospitals better get ready.”

So why is Howard-Browne keeping his church doors closed even though DeSantis effectively cleared the way for him to reopen? Well, Staver may have let the reason slip while declaring victory to Liberty Counsel’s Facebook followers–this whole affair left The River without an insurer.

...It’s hard not to blame that insurer for cutting and running in this situation. Since this pandemic mushroomed, there has been story after story about outbreaks of coronavirus that can be directly tied to church functions. Many of these occurred despite the churches taking every precaution in the book and urging people to stay home if they didn’t feel comfortable.

The message is obvious–this virus has spread to the point that it is simply not worth the risk to hold in-person services. Apparently The River’s insurer realized this. It’s not unreasonable to assume that company officials repeatedly told Howard-Browne that his course was reckless, and that his arrest gave the insurer the legal cover it needed to drop him.

Despite DeSantis’ inexplicable move, there hasn’t been an influx of churches announcing they’re throwing their doors open on Sunday. Apparently they know that if even one person catches this disease and it can be traced back to a church gathering, it won’t matter whether or not that church was committing a crime. The public outcry would be more than that church and the insurer would be able to withstand. After all, the bar for acceptable behavior is set higher than the bar below which you go to jail.

Under the circumstances, it’s hard to believe that any reputable insurance company would want to go anywhere near Howard-Browne or his church, no matter what DeSantis and Staver may say. Whoever decided to drop Howard-Browne and effectively keep his church doors closed deserves a medal.

Covid-19, and the Oil Business

Trouble in the oil patch:
Rogers, who also worked as an adviser to oil giant BP and its auditors on liability estimates and disclosures arising from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, describes fracking as being “like a Ponzi scheme, it only works as long as you continue to get new suckers to sustain growth.”

The global spread of the COVID-19 virus has caused both supply and demand for global goods to plummet as factories are shuttered, workers stay home, and businesses are ordered to close or cut their hours drastically by states across the U.S. Jets are grounded as people cease traveling, and talk of an ongoing global recession, or even depression, is now commonplace.

Oil prices sank to nearly $20 per barrel, the lowest price in more than 18 years, due to the combination of the ongoing global pandemic coupled with an oil price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia, which has caused a supply glut – ironically, one that is also exacerbated by fracking itself. (Most oil companies in New Mexico that are fracking need oil to be $50 per barrel just to break even.)

The Financial Times recently ran a story which posited, “Oil crash only a foretaste of what awaits energy industry: The end of hydrocarbons as a lucrative business is a real possibility. We are seeing that in dramatic form in the current oil price crash.” Oil companies are already announcing major cuts in spending in response to the rapid devaluation of stock prices. American oil companies are now frantically racing to restructure their massive debt, as the price war appears poised to cause numerous bankruptcies across the entire shale patch. Seven of the most active companies involved in fracking in Texas have already cut $7.6 billion from their budgets as a response to the oil price collapse.

...“I don’t know from a financial standpoint that it ever becomes a calamity, but it becomes a calamity if we depend on this oil and gas and think it’s going to grow forever,” she told the host. “People forget about the idea that somebody had to pay the money back. And so, I think there is an analogy to this today when I get asked the question, ‘Why on Earth would Wall Street fund these guys [frackers] if it’s this uneconomic? You must be wrong.’ I say no, no, no, just look at the history of Wall Street: they’ve funded plenty of things that are uneconomic at the end of the day.”

...Rogers sees what he calls a “tsunami of bankruptcies” across New Mexico, Colorado and California that appear imminent. The earthquake in this case is the peaking demand for oil and gas. “The tsunami, then, is all the asset retirement obligations that come sweeping in after the earthquake that a lot of people hadn’t anticipated,” he said.

But Rogers also gave another warning: “The interesting twist is from financial markets that are always looking ahead and pricing in futures. If the markets become keenly aware of the impending tsunami, they will price this into current costs, in which case the tsunami accelerates the earthquake.”

Rogers continues, “Say you are JP Morgan and lend oil and gas a lot of cash, and you figure out this is a permanent decline in the industry, and there is $400 billion of ARO debt out there, and most of that is positioned ahead of you to pay states before you get paid,” Rogers said. “Do you want to keep loaning money? Not likely. So that would be a way of the tsunami causing the earthquake. I think that is what is going to happen here.”

...The long-term outlook for the global oil and gas industry, given the climate crisis and now the global pandemic, does indeed look bleak. Additionally, given that Saudi Arabia and Russia have large petroleum reserves and the lowest production costs in the world, the current oil glut does not bode well, according to Rogers.

“They are saying, If climate change and the energy transition means that oil is to be left in the ground, it’s not going to be our oil that goes unburned,” he said. “The U.S. can’t survive a sustained price war, and they know it.”

From Rogers’s perspective, New Mexico’s time to extract itself from the dying industry it has tied so much of its budget to, is now.

“The coronavirus is an ideal opportunity for Russia and Saudi Arabia to do what is in their economic interest and also within their power — bury the U.S. oil and gas industry involved in fracking once and for all.”

Setting Global Air Currents Closer To Normal

Repairing the ozone layer:
The shred of good news comes as scientists observe that the ozone layer over Antarctica has recovered to the point that several atmospheric changes in the Earth’s southern hemisphere have come to a halt. Before the start of the century, the changes were enough to cause dramatic change in weather patterns in several parts of the world.

A new study now suggests that the reversing conditions or in more optimistic words, the healing of the Earth, can be accredited to the Montreal Protocol signed by the world leaders back in 1987. The pact directed nations across the globe to stop using ozone depleting substances (ODSs) for several applications.

By the time the pact came into effect, Ozone depletion had already caused the fast air currents (called jet streams) in the southern hemisphere to shift further south, causing changes in weather patterns and a dry spell in many areas accustomed to rainfall. This southward drift of the jet streams suddenly stopped after more than a decade of the Montreal Protocol, around the year 2000. Only last year, the Ozone layer hole over Antarctica was recorded to be at its smallest since 1982.

Two Markets, and Toilet Paper

Not much hoarding going on:
Story after story explains the toilet paper outages as a sort of fluke of consumer irrationality. Unlike hand sanitizer, N95 masks, or hospital ventilators, they note, toilet paper serves no special function in a pandemic. Toilet paper manufacturers are cranking out the same supply as always. And it’s not like people are using the bathroom more often, right?

...Faced with this mystifying phenomenon, media outlets have turned to psychologists to explain why people are cramming their shelves with a household good that has nothing to do with the pandemic. Read the coverage and you’ll encounter all sorts of fascinating concepts, from “zero risk bias” to “anticipatory anxiety.” It’s “driven by fear” and a “herd mentality,” the BBC scolded. The libertarian Mises Institute took the opportunity to blame anti-gouging laws. The Atlantic published a short documentary harking back to the great toilet paper scare of 1973, which was driven by misinformation.

...There’s another, entirely logical explanation for why stores have run out of toilet paper — one that has gone oddly overlooked in the vast majority of media coverage. It has nothing to do with psychology and everything to do with supply chains. It helps to explain why stores are still having trouble keeping it in stock, weeks after they started limiting how many a customer could purchase.

In short, the toilet paper industry is split into two, largely separate markets: commercial and consumer. The pandemic has shifted the lion’s share of demand to the latter. People actually do need to buy significantly more toilet paper during the pandemic — not because they’re making more trips to the bathroom, but because they’re making more of them at home. With some 75% of the U.S. population under stay-at-home orders, Americans are no longer using the restrooms at their workplace, in schools, at restaurants, at hotels, or in airports.

Everything is Coronavirus These Days

Everyone thought "let's visit some tourist towns!" at the same time:
Stacy Corless opened Facebook on Monday and saw someone suggest it was time to start slashing visitors’ tires.

It was startling evidence to Corless, a Mono County Supervisor, that a frantic fear of outsiders had gripped some people in the ski resort community of Mammoth Lakes.

“I’m really concerned about the level of vitriol and xenophobia,” she said. “I’m worried someone is going to get shot.”

Mono County over the weekend banned most short-term vacation rentals in an effort to prevent tourists from carrying the new coronavirus into the isolated, resource-strapped community. The decision followed a wave of similar announcements that have derailed ski trips, hobbled backpacking plans, and landed a devastating blow to local tourism-dependent economies across the West.

After Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide shelter-in-place order last week, longstanding tensions between locals and tourists have begun simmering in new ways. Hundreds of thousands of urbanites have crowded trails, swarmed beaches and holed up in vacation homes and rentals across the state. Newsom’s order said people were still allowed to go outside and exercise, but it didn’t set limits on where they could go.

A short-lived offer from the folks at the antiques store:

Several pix from a walk on March 24th: a sunset, a box of misfit toys, and a chalked sidewalk.

Mysterious, silent response by emergency personnel in my neighborhood in the middle of the night. Curious, and no answers.