Change the way you cook bacon

Over the holiday, Rodney read an article that tested the various ways that you can cook bacon. The winner (which I think was from Martha Stewart?) was putting slices of bacon side-by-side on parchment paper on top of a baking sheet (with edges) then baking it at 400 degrees until it looks the way you want it to. Use enough parchment paper that the edges are folded up around the edges of the baking sheet so the grease never touches the baking sheet (like you might do with fish). You don’t even need to flip it. We let the bacon cook for about twenty minutes. Then transfer the bacon to a plate with paper towels like you normally would. After the grease cools, just throw the parchment paper in the garbage. There’s no mess to clean up, and the bacon tastes like fluffy, airy goodness.

We will seriously never cook bacon in a skillet again. Perfection!!!!!

Democrats' big lie about the state of the economy dies under the Christmas tree

Only a few weeks ago, if you listened to the Democratic political operatives in the mainstream media – er, I mean “journalists” – the US economy was collapsing, spiraling into a recession, and President Trump’s “only” accomplishment was going to be a giant dumpster fire heading into the election.

Back in September, I dropped my basket on registered-Democrat family members (yeah, I actually have a few of those, believe it or not) on this very topic. Recessions do not sneak up on you absent some life-altering global catastrophe (and if one of those occurs, it will not be a subject of partisan debate). You do not see freeways packed with Amazon and Target semi trucks and restaurants with lines out the door when the economy is in turmoil. People you know start getting laid off and saving every penny they have.

It’s the dumbest of dumbass political talking points in a year with no shortage of spectacularly dumbass talking points. And, in general, it’s a bad idea to get your financial markets commentary from millennial journalism majors with six figures of student debt. Yeah, I know that’s cruel, but so is outright lying to people about the state of the economy so your lefty political lords will pat you on your head.

So here we are at the end of 2019, and GDP figures were just revised upward. That’s despite a 40-day strike at Government Motors and the grounding of Boeing’s 737 Max airliner, both major employers with a major impact on the economy.

Literally every asset class has proven to be a winner this year, which is an unbelievably rare event in the financial markets. The highest-returning asset was crude oil, in a year when the United States finally became an energy-independent net exporter for the first time in 70 years.

The S&P 500 is up more than 25% this year. The tech sector is up over 40% this year. Communication services, industrials, financials, real estate, and consumer sectors are all up more than 20% this year. No kidding, we could have a repeat of the Great Recession and the stock market would still be in positive territory – that’s how well the market has performed under Trumponomics.

Oil, gold, and corporate bonds have all returned double-digits this year. You’d actually have to work hard to lose money in this market (but I’m sure some hedge funds have managed it, lol).

And at this point, you have to be brain-dead to think tax reform has not had an incredibly positive impact on domestic investment and employment.

It is no exaggeration to say that we are currently living in the strongest labor market in the history of the United States. Unemployment is at historic lows and wages have finally started to grow under President Trump in the first sizable increases since the financial crisis in 2008. (And no, the financial crisis was not an example of a recession that sneaked up on the country. The country was already in a recession in 2007. The financial crisis was a quite predictable puke, and betting against real estate minted a number of billionaires.)

Most of the benefit from wage growth under President Trump, moreover, has been in the lower half of earners in the country, not the self-proclaimed elites (see the chart below from Goldman Sachs). When Emerson polls tell you that more than a third of black voters now support President Trump, look at the inversion here in hourly earnings growth beginning in late 2017 – early 2018. And the trend is persistent. Income inequality has decreased under Trump, not increased. Unless you think statistics from the federal Department of Labor are a vast right-wing conspiracy (and I’m sure MSNBC can find some panelist to argue as much).

But probably a third of the country – the same people who have spent well over a hundred days now bitching and moaning about a ten-minute phone call, nuking millions of taxpayer dollars in the process – think the country is in the throes of some economic Armageddon. They truly believe this garbage…. as they go out and buy a new iPhone or a $50 metal thermos for the sake of conspicuous sustainability (the struggle is real).

When this country does eventually experience a recession – and there’s no telling when that will be, as there is no law that expansions have an expiration date and the US has already proved incredibly resilient to global economic headwinds – these folks are really going to get a lesson in economics. Because, baby, this is as good as it gets.

One can only imagine that this delusion belongs to a very small portion of the electorate, considering that Baby Yoda now has more social media interactions than the entire Democratic field, and it isn’t even close. Not even Hunter Biden knocking up a stripper in flyover country while simultaneously banging his brother’s widow and then claiming in court filings that he’s broke and can’t pay child support, even though everyone knows a corrupt Ukrainian company was paying him at least $50,000 a month and that’s no malarkey, can get people to care enough about Democratic candidates to chatter about them on social media. That’s a fine proxy for how well the doom and gloom is selling (graphic courtesy of Axios), and that’s pretty much the only public policy suggestions they have.

Americans are headed into what should be a financially merry holiday season. I’m not sure toxicity is going to be a winning strategy politically. But I do look forward to watching them try.

Computational philology busts academic snobs on Molière

I very much appreciate the irony with which the term “elites” is employed these days, as the snobbishness of most academic elites is undeserved. Most of the things academics present as facts are simply their opinions, and many of their opinions are highly… uneducated… and the product of silly prejudices. But it’s not like your opinions about French literature are going to lead to an economic depression or nuclear holocaust, so there’s no corrective mechanism for stupidity in the marketplace of ideas. You get to toss another article on the publish-or-perish heap and no one cares if the contents are even real. Then other similarly situated academics cite the article you wrote that no one read, and a truthiness emerges about a subject.

That has certainly been the case with Molière, whom academics have accused of being a plagiarist, for literally no other reason than they thought he was too uneducated to produce such highbrow fare. (And, yes, they did the same thing with Shakespeare.)

For at least a century, scholars have argued that the supposed lack of education of Molière, the French playwright responsible for seminal masterpieces including Tartuffe and Le Misanthrope, means he could not have written them. Now academics say they have resolved the controversy once and for all, using an algorithm to find that Molière – born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin in 1622– was the author of all his plays.

Molière’s father was one of the appointed furnishers of the royal household, but his son rejected this career for a life on the stage, touring, acting and writing the searing comic plays that would change the face of French theatre. In 1919, French writer Pierre Louÿs claimed that the poet Pierre Corneille had ghostwritten Molière’s most famous works. Since then, questions about Molière’s level of education, his busy schedule and the rarity of surviving manuscripts have kept the debate going.

Well, that theory has now been busted with technology.

Low tide, a pod of dolphins, and fishing birds

Our morning walk along the Intracoastal Waterway was at low tide. Combined with serious winds, the water was pushed far away from the banks.

All of the birds were gleefully out fishing. There were several ospreys, cranes, and a blue heron so large that it came up to my neck.

The highlight of our walk, however, was seeing a pod with upwards of ten dolphins making its way southward. Among them was a mother dolphin and a baby who were swimming and leaping perfectly in sync. It reminded me of the research from the Sarasota dolphin project about how dolphins have signature whistles that likely function like names.

I tried my best to get a picture of the dolphins, but they are so hard to catch in motion. This has to be a record number for our dolphin-watching episodes though. I feel so blessed to live in Florida and have creatures like this in our backyard.

The great American childhood

We have had a great Thanksgiving week at the lake house (on Lake Hartwell, which is on the Georgia – South Carolina border). I’ve read books on the Crow tribe and Aristotle (both by Jonathan Lear) and shade gardening (ideas for the fern dell we will be constructing when we get home) sitting out by the fire pit for hours. We’ve been out hiking and Rodney and Papa took Elise fishing with great success.

Here is a shot of Elise with the two bass that she caught. She helped clean and cook them afterward. As you can see, she was rather happy with her catch.

Here is Sherlock taking in the fall colors.

And Sherlock chasing Elise as she goes down the zip line.

Here is Elise chilling with Buddy on the couch. She later convinced her Mimi to camp out with her in the attic. (Though technically I think they slept in the anteroom to the attic.) They have an attic that is straight out of a C.S. Lewis book. It’s up two sets of stairs and has a small window with panoramic views of the lake, and the shelves are lined with old books and pictures. It’s Elise’s favorite place to hide out for hours. I’m sure it seems magical from a child’s perspective.

Buddy will let Elise do anything she wants to him. Here he is sporting Baylor colors.

Elise hiking with Papa on the Heartbreak Ridge trail (Payne’s Creek). It was a beautiful hike, snaking along several steep ravines.

Elise insisted on having her picture made with the root system of this massive tree, which I’m guessing toppled over in a storm. You can’t see the tree itself in this picture, but you can get a sense of how immense it was from the root ball.

Just beautiful fall colors. Elise brought home a giant bag of leaves and rocks from the hike.

This maple tree behind the lake house is spectacular. When the light shines through the leaves, they are as red as a fire engine. We smoked our turkey on the Big Green Egg, stuffed with onions, apples, rosemary, and garlic. It was incredible.

I have been parked here all week.

Sunset over the lake, taken from the boat.

Remember who you are

We spent yesterday driving up to Lake Hartwell, Georgia, to spend Thanksgiving with family. Along the way, we decided to stop in and see good friends who relocated to Georgia from Kentucky, whom we had not seen in years. They have found a truly beautiful spot to live here. The Georgia forests are alive with fall colors. We found ourselves gasping at the woods and creeks with each curve of the road or descent into a valley. It was a spectacular drive.

While we were visiting, one of their teenage daughters asked permission to go out with some of her friends from school to look at a display of Christmas lights. Her parents asked who she was going with, who else might be there, who was driving, and so on, before telling her she could go.

As she was walking out the door, her mother stopped her and said, “Remember who you are. Make good decisions.”

Remember who you are. Make good decisions.

That succinct delivery of wisdom stunned me. Her daughter received the words thoughtfully too, even though you knew she was accustomed to hearing it. I told our friends that I was going to make a note of those words for when Elise is old enough to venture into the world independently. That will become my mantra too.

As a young adult (heck, even as a mature adult), you get so caught up in being popular or trying to attract the attention of certain people that you tend to forget existential decisions often seem like small matters. That pushing through what seems like a porous boundary on one occasion – what might seem like a small or even reasonable gamble – can end up having life-altering consequences.

And beyond that, we now live in a society that is actively encouraging children to forsake the wisdom of millennia for cheap pleasures or a fleeting sense of belonging. How do you tell a child to be wise when every other social influence – even perceived authorities and institutions – are telling them to be stupid and make mistakes? How do you help your child navigate cultural influences that now have quite the track record for producing lost and miserable generations?

Our friends are Mormon. Although I am Roman Catholic, I have always respected the practical wisdom of Mormon parenting and felt a kinship to their virtue ethics.

After our conversation last night, I Googled the phrase “remember who you are” and learned that this is a common refrain in Mormon communities. The reason the words are so effective is they cut to the core of what it means to be a person of faith and live with dignity.

When someone tells you to remember who you are, you do not only think “I am a person from a good family, who was raised correctly, who genuinely wants to live a good and virtuous life and bring honor to my family name.” It goes well beyond filial piety (not that filial piety is a bad thing). Rather you think, “I am a child of God and everything I do is a demonstration of my relationship with God. What will doing this say about who I am as a person and what I value? Do the people around me care about what they are doing in the same way?”

To that end, I enjoyed reading this article on Mormon parenting:

We have been up in Logan this past week caring for Richard’s wonderful 91-year-old mother who sleeps about 20 hours a day and retains her wonderful, sweet personality, though for the last two or three years, she can’t remember who we are or who she is. Seasons revolve, roles reverse. She took care of me in that same house on Fifth North when I was a small boy, and now we take care of her in the same rooms.

I don’t want the forgetting part to happen to me, but I do want what she has had — another really good 20-plus years beyond 65. During that autumn of her life, she created lesson plans for a national chain of preschools, wrote a remarkable history of her Swedish ancestors, managed her investments, real estate and rental properties, dabbled in poetry and art, traveled around the country and around the world, and maintained great relationships with every one of her children and grandchildren. She’s in her deep winter now, and in her lucid moments wishing to go to a better place to be with my dad, who has been gone for 50 years.

There is a certain irony in the fact that she can’t remember anything, because I used to think I was the only boy with a mother who, every time I left the house, and I do mean every time, would yell at me, “Remember who you are!” I have since learned that it is quite a common parting shot among moms, including Teddy Roosevelt’s mother.

You guys know I love Teddy Roosevelt, so the idea that Roosevelt’s mother used to say this too is just fantastic. But anyway, back to the article:

“Remember who you are” means a lot of good things, like uphold the family name, make me proud, don’t do anything stupid, be careful, think, etc. But have you thought what it means in the eternal context? Remember who you really are — a child of God, a spiritual being having a mortal experience, a person who has taken upon himself the name of Christ, a priesthood holder, etc.

We want our children to remember those things not just so they will behave better, but so they will feel more self-worth, treat their body with respect, make good choices, be kind to others, protect themselves and their standards. We could give them continual lectures on all these points, but maybe the best way to say it really is “Remember who you are.”

It strikes me, however, that this approach only works on children if their lives up to that point have had some sort of spiritual information.

If you told a child who was raised by moral relativists to remember who they are, they would not respond with “I am a person who genuinely wants to lead a good life.” They would say, “I don’t know. Who am I?” This is one of the many reasons social institutions now fail to produce kids who are capable of flourishing at all, let alone flourishing through periods of adversity.

You can’t ground someone who has come to view their personhood as some plastic cultural context. Similarly, a person who does have a life with spiritual content cannot remember who they are without placing the small stuff within an eternal context.

San Francisco loses Charles Schwab headquarters in TD Ameritrade deal

Charles Schwab has been headquartered in San Francisco since its Sacramento-born founder established the company in the 1970s. Alas, that is no more. Charles Schwab announced today that it was acquiring TD Ameritrade, and in the process, it is moving its headquarters to … wait for it… Westlake, Texas.

The company says that it will still keep some of its workforce in the city (for the time being), but this is a major loss for the city (and the State of California). The company was already intent on moving its operations to Texas, and with the new acquisition is picking up major facilities in other low-cost states. Divesting from California just became a lot easier.

Schwab personally made $100,000 in campaign donations to oppose 2018’s Proposition C, which raised taxes on companies’ gross receipts over $50 million to fund homelessness services. The city has become a magnet for homeless and drug addicts, and now has more drug addicts than children enrolled in public high schools.

Schwab is only the latest major defection telling San Francisco (and the State of California) to pound sand. Not to point out the obvious here, but this investment adviser is literally following all the money to Texas.

In June, North Face finished moving from Alameda to Denver. In April, the McKesson Corporation – which sells medical devices and pharmaceuticals, and is one of the largest companies in the world – ditched San Francisco for Los Colinas, Texas. In June of last year, Bechtel – the massive engineering firm that created San Francisco’s BART transit system – moved to Virginia. Before that, Jamba Juice moved to Frisco, Texas.

San Francisco’s economy is now almost completely built on the tech industry. From a government perspective, having a highly concentrated economy makes the city’s tax structure very fragile. While it may seem like high times in San Francisco now (literally and figuratively), the next recession will likely have a profound impact on the city. That should be of even more concern to folks there, as government services are already breaking them in a robust economy. Demand for government services only increases during a recession.

And even beyond that, Silicon Valley representatives have already suggested that problems with California’s electrical grid may start driving (highly inter-connected) tech companies to less dysfunctional states.

A bad political landscape can destroy economic value a heck of a lot faster than you’d think. California needs to get its act together big time.