Hear Ye! Since 1998.

Archived Posts for October 2022

30
Oct 22
Sun

Weekly Report: October 30, 2022

Observations

  • It’s school enrollment season and we have been busy deciphering the California school system. Here’s how we understand how it works (an understanding that may be faulty). You live in a school district that covers a certain geographic zone. The district is divided into neighborhoods. Each neighborhood has a public elementary school that gives enrollment priority to kids living in that neighborhood. While you can still apply to a neighborhood school outside of your neighborhood via what’s called a “School of Choice” application, it will be on a “space available” basis. Additionally, some schools in the district are not designated to a specific neighborhood and can be applied to with a School of Choice application. Selections are done by lottery. There are also private schools that can be applied to, but they are expensive and may impact priority if you later decide to transfer your child to a public school in the future (e.g. a quasi-selective public school).
  • Public schools are funded in large part by property taxes. Each year, property owners pay a little more than 1% of their assessed property value to the county, and this is used to fund various things. Through a quirk of the system, the assessed property value is basically tied to when the property was last sold, and modestly increased each year. This means that some people who have been living in their house for decades are paying property tax based on an assessed value that is significantly below market.
  • This also means that property prices are driven tremendously by what school district and neighborhood a house is in.
  • The system in Australia is different, and the boundaries are not so rigid. It’s not unusual to start applying to schools for kids when they are born. I recall my parents trying to get me into Year 3 of a particular school. My dad happened to know the brother-in-law of the state premier at the time (he was a patient), and somehow obtained a letter of recommendation from the premier that got sent to the school. Whether it was the letter or the results of my aptitude test, I don’t know, but I got in. Like my dad, I am a first-generation migrant, but unlike him, I have no such connections here. We’re anxious.
  • The IRS is increasing the 401(k) contribution limit to $22,500 for 2023 (from $20,500 this year).

Articles

Books

  • Smart Brevity (Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen, Roy Schwartz)
    “Smart brevity” is what the folks at news company Axios call their writing style. Known for its newsletters, Axios reports news concisely through a series of “axiomatic” headings and bullet points. The style has its many haters— typically journalists who lament the inevitable loss of nuance and thoughtfulness when you attempt to distill everything down to its essence — but I find the writing style pretty compelling for specific use cases. Long form writing still has its place (and the authors point that out), but I think this style of writing can be very effective in the business world where people’s attention and bandwidth are limited, and chat has displaced email as the favored medium of communicating. The book itself is, true to its name, quick and easy to read — about the only type of book I can read these days with young kids. The hard work is in practicing and eventually internalizing the writing style (“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”). Recommended.

Movies & TV

  • House of the Dragon (Season 1)
    Wasn’t expecting it to be groundbreaking like its predecessor, and it’s not, but it has been good enough to earn a spot in our weekly routine. Season 1 is dialog-heavy with mostly single-threaded stories that would fill the royalty pages of a medieval tabloid. Strong end to the season, and a long wait for Season 2 in 2024.
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks (Season 3)
    Another entertaining season!

Charts, Images & Videos

On Twitter

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23
Oct 22
Sun

Weekly Report: October 23, 2022

Observations

Childcare is eye-wateringly expensive in the Bay Area. We pay our pre-school almost $5,000 a month to take care of our kids during the day. Sadly, that is not unusual here. And while we really like our pre-school, it’s not exactly a celebrity pre-school where kids get visits from former first ladies.

This level of expense means that, apart from a decent amount of ethnic diversity at our pre-school, the families with kids there are otherwise remarkably (but perhaps unsurprisingly) homogeneous: two parents in their mid-30s to early-40s who are both working professionals in good jobs with one, two, or maybe three children. A good deal of them, like us, grew up overseas.* The street turns into a parking lot for Teslas during drop off and pick up times.

We’re now going through a phase of life where we’re attending 4th and 5th birthday parties almost every weekend. This is a new experience for us. I quickly realized that these parties are always well-attended. It’s not because 4 and 5 year olds are inseparable best friends that are good at showing up for each other, but because it’s an easy way for parents to keep their kids occupied for a couple of hours while someone else has figured out how to feed and entertain them. The price of admission is a gift that you have probably regifted from someone who attended your own child’s birthday and regifted something that had already been regifted to theirs. There are only so many good gift ideas.

It’s difficult to avoid the temptation of comparing birthday parties. Each party is a public display of time, money, and by extension in an observing parent’s irrational and paranoid mind, love.

Every weekend, my mind spirals into the same pattern as I walk by yet another party with a bouncing castle: Am I doing enough for my child? Do I not love my child enough? Is my child going to think they aren’t loved because they didn’t have a bouncing castle? Why aren’t we ever invited to the parties with the bouncing castles? Or the Oscar-style party favor bags? Or the tonnage of balloon decorations that I’m sure are the cause for the nation’s helium shortage? And so on and so on.

I also find these parties awkward. Some families invite the whole class and maybe we know a handful of the parents there. Ten years ago, given the homogenous bunch we are, we probably would have got along just fine had we met at some random party. But it’s next to impossible to have a conversation of substance with the constant interruptions of a pre-schooler and their toddler sibling.

Also, my parental mind suspects that everyone is judging everyone else at these events. This part is not paranoia.

To wit, last weekend’s party. It was at a park that we had never been to before. New is good, as far as our kids are concerned, and they immediately raced off to find the nearest muddy puddle to jump into. The party was well-attended, very nicely done, and Formula 1-themed with liberal, unlicensed use of Ferrari insignia sprawled across six tables. It was immediately clear to us that these parents loved their child more than we loved ours.

Nonetheless, not all parents were so easily impressed. Shortly after we arrived we witnessed an exchange between one guest’s father and the birthday boy’s mother.

Guest’s Father: “Do you have a vegetarian table?”

There is a moment of silence while the birthday boy’s mother — a Persian woman who does not appear to be someone who is normally lost for words — is seen visibly struggling with how to respond.

“… no.” she finally says.

The guest’s father makes an equally visible annoyed face back.

The mother regains her footing and shoots back with thinly masked disdain: “Sorry I, um, forgot that children could be vegetarian.”*

Later in the party, the same father decides to share his perspective about an activity table where the kids are busy submerging a fleet of knockoff matchbox cars in a rainbow of glitter glue.

The vegetarian father, making a show of examining his frizzy wool sweater with disgust, sidles up to another person, who happens to be the birthday boy’s father.

“Glitter glue is the worst! You never, ever, ever give kids glitter! I’m going to leave here with glitter on me!”

The birthday boy’s father is unapologetic. “Well it doesn’t help you’re wearing a glitter magnet.”

As the party begins to wrap up, party favor bags are distributed. In the bag is a whistle. Seconds later, every kid discovers the joy of their Favorite New Toy. And also in that moment, everyone is judging the birthday boy’s parents.

When we leave, we pass by another party that has been setting set up for the past three hours and whose costumed guests are finally starting to arrive. It is a 3 year old’s birthday and it features freshly grilled food, drinks in four huge Yeti coolers, and the nation’s missing helium supply.

I pull my daughter back as she attempts to crash the party.

“Why can’t we go to that one daddy?”

* I literally only just realized why the word “abroad” is used more frequently in the U.S. to describe foreign lands than the word “overseas”, which is far more common in Australia. It is probably because, in Australia, every foreign country is across a sea.

** L’esprit de l’escalier: “Yes, but your kid is the only one who’s vegetarian so he’s going to be sitting all by himself.”

Further Observations

  • Series I Bonds purchased by October 31, 2022 will yield 9.62% for the next 6 months. This yield is expected to drop to ~6% in November. There’s been a lot made online about purchasing I bonds before November to lock in the 9.62% rate, but given annual purchase limits, there’s something to be said about waiting. This is because the interest rate on I bonds is composed of a fixed rate and a variable inflation rate. While the fixed rate has been 0% for the last 3 years and <1% for the last 15 years, interest rates have risen sharply over the last 6 months and any fixed rate above 0% is good for the 30 year life of the bond – which may result in a better return over time versus buying a bond today with a 0% fixed rate component.
  • As the CCP Congress closes, China enters a new, troubling era. Several friends, some of whom have spent many years of their lives and careers working in or with China, now express a reluctance to even physically set foot in the country. Whereas the China my generation knew while growing up seemed full of promise and reform, the China my kids will grow up knowing will be darker.

Articles

Movies & TV

  • Thor: Love & Thunder (Disney+)
    Reasonably amusing, but not particularly memorable. Actually fell asleep during the final fight scene (#parentlife). 3/5.

Charts, Images & Videos

On Twitter

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16
Oct 22
Sun

Weekly Report: October 16, 2022

Observations

When I was in my mid-20s, an older cousin of mine decided he had to own an expensive sports car at least once in his life. When his shiny new Mercedes SLK AMG convertible arrived, I eagerly accepted his invitation to take a ride with him. It was a thrilling experience. The monthly lease payments on the thing were more than my salary at the time, and there were two things I remember most about that experience. The first was the seats, which were lowset and snug. As the engine revved to life, the seat belts automatically tightened — a wholly unexpected, but gentle and comforting embrace that signaled: this was something special. The second was that, as we pulled up to our first traffic light with the top down, it started to rain. Then the lights turned green. The hard-top roof only took about 15 seconds to close, but as we sat there immobile, waiting for salvation, we could only pretend not to notice everyone around smirking at us with a mix of withering ridicule and annoyance.

I was recently reminded of that experience in a surprising way. My one year old loves to give hugs, but only to his mother. He gives me no such affection. Occasionally, I need to take him from his mother’s arms. Upon seeing me approach with outstretched hands, he will yelp and bury himself into her, arms wrapped tightly around her shoulders. Susanne describes the experience as “heavenly”. My experience is different. Once the limpet is pried away from his lifegiver, I am instead left with a screaming, writhing infant who is doing his best to kick me.

So I was surprised earlier this week when I was out walking with him in the neighborhood (or rather carrying him, since it is impossible to get anywhere when every rock, flower and poisonous berry by the sidewalk warrants an inspection). Normally outward facing, he suddenly turned around, buried his face in my shoulder, and squeezed tight.

It didn’t take me long to realize that this was because we were approaching a house with a lawn full of particularly creepy animatronic halloween decorations, and he did not like it. As we passed a zombie struggling to take a stake out of its chest, he squeezed even tighter in silent terror.

For him, it was a death grip. But for me it was, as advertised, heavenly.

Taking advantage of the situation, I walked back and forth between the zombie and a skeleton, with Alex’s hug tightening in inverse proportion to our distance from the undead.

After I had my fill of manufactured affection at the expense of my child’s mental health, we continued our walk. A few feet later, I passed a skeletal jack-in-the-box, which suddenly leapt 8 feet into the air and towered over the sidewalk. I screamed like a baby. Alex giggled, and I could only pretend to laugh in response to the smirks of passers-by.

Further Observations

  • A friend I was texting with believes the Ukraine war will drag on for a long, long time. His reasoning was that it’s the scenario that’s most in the United States’ interest: while it continues, it saps Russia economically and militarily, weakens Europe relative to the U.S., and strengthens NATO (of which the U.S. is the most influential member)… and all at the relatively low cost of shipping materiel to Ukraine. As long as tactical nukes don’t make an appearance, I can’t say I disagree with him. Just because it’s a cynical take doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
  • Voting by mail is so convenient. My vote-by-mail pack came in this week, and I already mailed it in. No need to line up at a polling booth on a Tuesday!
  • The inflation numbers came out on Thursday and they are still high (8.2% y/y versus 8.3% y/y for last month).
  • Kwasi Kwarteng was fired as the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer after 39 days on the job. That is only the second shortest tenure for that position in modern UK history. The dubious honor of the shortest tenure belongs to Iain Macleod, who died in office only after 31 days.

Articles

Books

  • Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood (Michael Lewis)
    A laugh-out-loud funny, all-too-true compilation of personal anecdotes on fatherhood by my favorite non-fiction author that makes me feel just a little better about my own questionable parenting skills.

Charts, Images & Videos

On Twitter

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9
Oct 22
Sun

Weekly Report: October 9, 2022

Observations

  • Interest rates are up, so bank savings account interest rates are up as well. Given how long ZIRP has been in place, this feels unusual, but back in my uni days, I had my savings in an ING Direct online savings account that was paying 7% interest. That seemed normal at the time. I didn’t understand how interest rates worked, so I thought it was just the “normal” rate of interest for an online bank.
  • I don’t know why it took me so long, but I discovered this week that you can buy treasury bills, notes, and bonds directly from the U.S. Treasury as a consumer. These are all debt instruments of varying maturity periods backed by the “full faith and credit” of the U.S. government. Here’s the significance: First, these instruments currently offer better rates than any bank account or certificate of deposit (CD). At Ally Bank, a 12 month CD currently pays 3.1% APR. A 52-week T-Bill currently pays at 4.134%. Second, interest from these instruments is exempt from state and local taxes. Third, they’re very easy to buy – you open a Treasury Direct account, link your bank account, and Treasury will automatically debit your account upon purchase, and credit your account upon maturity. The main downside is that it’s not easy to get rid of treasury instruments if you don’t want to hold them to maturity. You can sell them after a 45-day minimum holding period, but you need to transfer them to another institution first. Here’s more information.
  • If you’ve bought Series I Bonds (now in vogue given the current 9.62% rates), you will already have a Treasury Direct account. We hold some of our emergency cash in I Bonds.
  • My youngest learned how to say his own name this week!

Articles

Charts, Images & Videos

Spotted near home: “XRP” and “F*** the SEC”
Filming aerial scenes for the $1.5B grossing Top Gun: Maverick

On Twitter

Warning: Lots of loud swearing👇

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2
Oct 22
Sun

Weekly Report: October 2, 2022

Observations

  • I received my “Official Voter Information Guide” this week for the November 8 midterm elections. It’ll be the first general election I’m eligible to vote in. The guide is 127 pages, with information about 7 propositions for new California laws (including the text of those laws, legislative analysis, and arguments and rebuttals from each side), candidate statements for state and federal office, information about various California Supreme Court and Courts of Appeal justices to be confirmed, and information on how to vote. That’s a lot of information to process if you want to make an informed decision about everything that’s up for a vote, but it’s great that it’s there.

Articles

Charts, Images & Videos

Eurozone inflation

On Twitter

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