Moontower #96


I’m in Tahoe this long weekend with my extended local family. My in-laws have kids in SF public elementary schools. They are very involved parents in the Richmond district. On Friday night after the kids went to bed we were chatting about school life and the struggles of remote learning in the community.

Deeply regrettable stuff. I learned of the hotline where parents can call in to vent for 60 seconds. Seriously, 1 minute. It’s a desperate outlet. Parents feeling that “they are unfit to be parents”. Totally overwhelmed by the demands of holding down jobs, guiding their kids 24/7, being short with their kids, and their kids becoming distant, troubled, sad or any other strain of negativity you can imagine exacerbating the parents’ dire year even further. A vicious cycle.

Then there’s the clinically tragic. Consider the alarming reason why SF is suing the schools for remaining closed:

UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital has seen a 66% increase in the number of suicidal children in the emergency room, and a 75% increase in youth who required hospitalization for mental health services, the lawsuit said, quoting pediatricians, child psychiatrists and emergency room doctors.

Last month, UCSF Children’s Emergency Department at Mission Bay reported record high numbers of suicidal children seen and treated, according to the legal filing which did not provide detailed numbers of cases and hospital visits. It also quoted doctors citing an increase in anxiety, depression and eating disorders among children, consistent with national data. (Link)

Now this is all quite bad (after using a thesaurus to find the right word I rejected all the candidates. “Bad” wins.)

But it’s not shocking. If Covid revealed how our economic supply chains were globally optimized to the penny, we should not be surprised to discover that a typical household was already driving on a spare.

What was shocking was what I read about the SF Unified School District, coincidentally, just before the conversation with my in-laws. After they told me their stories, I simply read aloud what I learned in Bob Seawright’s Better Letter earlier that day:
The school board of the San Francisco Unified School District recently voted to move ahead with a plan to change the names of more than 40 schools. The plan called for removing from schools names of those who “engaged in the subjugation and enslavement of human beings,” who “oppressed women,” who committed acts that “led to genocide,” or who “otherwise significantly diminished the opportunities of those amongst us to the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Among those to be excluded are Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, John Muir, Robert Louis Stevenson, Paul Revere, and Dianne Feinstein.

[pause for family to grok the irony of reading this together on President’s Day Weekend]

The board eliminated Lincoln’s name because of his policies toward Native Americans; Washington’s and Jefferson’s names were struck because they held slaves. The Paul Revere Elementary School will be renamed because of Revere’s role in the Penobscot Expedition of 1779, a Revolutionary War naval assault on a British fort from the Penobscot Bay that the committee assumed, bizarrely and wrongly, was intended to colonize the Penobscot people.

Perhaps it will become Robespierre Elementary and the school board will offer instruction in Maoist constructive self-criticism. 

Robert Louis Stevenson, an important area literary figure, is having his name removed because the poem, “Foreign Children,” from his famous collection, A Child’s Garden of Verses, used the rhyming word “Japanee” for “Japanese.” James Russell Lowell was wrongly claimed to have opposed allowing Black people to vote. It was enough to cancel Lowell. The name of James Lick was ordered removed because his legacy foundation funded an allegedly racist art installation nearly two decades after his death.

Clarendon Elementary, named for Clarendon Avenue, on which it sits, will lose its name because, as the Board of Education explained, the name “can be traced to a county in South Carolina, one of the 13 Colonies named for Edward Hyde Earl of Claredon [sic] impeached by the House of Commons for blatant violations of Habeas Corpus.”

[I was reading all this aloud and decided to take a let-that-sink-in pause. They would need a moment to collect themselves before the crazy train picked up speed again]
Gabriela López, the head of the San Francisco Board of Education, defended the overall decision along with the decision not to consult any historians during the process because she doesn’t want to “discredit the work that this group has done” despite their questionable judgment and glaring use of false information. In her view, those pointing out even obvious errors are “trying to undermine the work that has been done through this process.” 

López insisted that people are “up in arms” because they “have a problem with the discussion of racism.”

Oh, and “Lincoln is not someone that I typically tend to admire or see as a hero.”

In general, any breach of political purity precluded a name from fronting a school irrespective of countervailing good works. There was one exception, however. When a member questioned whether Malcolm X Academy should be renamed because Malcolm was once a pimp, and therefore subjugated women, the committee decided that his later deeds redeemed prior errors. Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson, the Roosevelts, and the others did not receive similar forbearance.

In other San Francisco school news, the school board has deemed acronyms racist, and SFUSD’s vice president, Alison Collins, asserted that the concept of merit is also racist. Just this week, after two hours of debate, the board rejected a gay dad of mixed-race children from volunteering for one of several empty seats on a parent advisory group that didn’t have any gay members or men. Their problem was that he’s white and doesn’t bring diversity to the group. Really.


Let me stop here for a moment. I don’t especially like bringing attention to the most ridiculous and therefore straw version of progressivism. Doing so undermines progressive ideas that actually deserve attention (Moontower readers might be surprised that I almost agree with “meritocracy is racist”. In fact, the reason I don’t agree, is because that statement is an object level instance of my meta belief that meritocracy is largely “besides the point”. Maybe I’ll discuss this at some point when I’d feel less bad about a flock of unsubscribes. Like right before there’s enough readers to shove me into the paid tier of Mailchimp.) But also, I couldn’t help but share the insanity as it collided with what my family was telling me.

I’ll let Bob’s pragmatic sentiment be the outro…

Meanwhile, the SFUSD has no plan to reopen its schools despite the weight of scientific authority establishing that reopening can be done safely and that remote school is bad for kids. Priorities, people.

While nearly half (48%) of San Francisco’s residents are white, only 15 percent of public-school students are white. It’s hardly a coincidence that San Francisco’s private school are open, all but conclusively establishing that the city’s care for “the least of these” is far more symbolic and performative than real. As the Apostle James made clear, believing the right things without action on them is worthless.

The Money Angle

Some links on market microstructure to share:

  • The Front Month (substack)

    This is a new substack devoted to market microstructure wonkiness. Give author @hidenotslide a follow as well.

  • Banning PFOF or whatever (Money Stuff)
    Matt Levine

    Virtu CEO Doug Cifu on Twitter:

    The misinformation about PFOF and internalization is just staggering and other than @matt_levine
    basically zero financial journalists have even the remotest clue which doesn’t help I guess.

    One of my favorite pieces of web memorabilia is the “Do You Even Lift?” skit. Now that Levine wrote that PFOF bit, I feel like any discussion about PFOF is a flowchart item that should just point back to “Have Read You Read Matt Levine on PFOF?”

    Come to think of it, almost any esoteric finance topic could have its own “Have You Read Matt Levine on X?”

Inflation topics are picking up steam.

A good follow here is Michael Ashton (@inflation_guy)

His recent post The Risk Of Confusing Inflation Frames (Link) begins:
People who look at and talk about inflation are always having to move between multiple frames. There is the macro versus the micro, the theoretical versus experiential, and of course the short term, medium term, and long term. I spend a lot of time talking about the macroeconomic backdrop (27% money growth, weak velocity that should be recovering), and mostly address the short-term effects when I do the monthly CPI analysis on Twitter. And occasionally I do a one-off piece about more lasting effects (e.g. inventories).

But I rarely tie these things together, except quarterly for clients in our Quarterly Inflation Outlook. Right now, though, this is an exquisitely confusing time where all of these frames are colliding and making it difficult to make a simple, clear argument about where inflation is headed and when. So in this column I want to briefly touch on a number of these effects and tie the story together…

Last Call

  • What. A. Man. (tweet)

    What George Harrison does to Phil Collins is unbelievable.

  • The Call of Cthulhu (short story)
    H.P. Lovecraft

    I just started reading this. I’m familiar with Lovecraft’s name and the Metallica song of the same title, but otherwise I’m heading into this cold. One could say the first paragraph is a doozy:

    The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

    One could also say…Oh my god. Not the OMG version of that either.

From my actual life 

The first time I ever came to Tahoe was exactly 17 years ago. I remember because it was the first Valentine’s Day after I met Yinh and I totally ditched her to fly to SF from NYC to enjoy a ski weekend with my college friends. And I don’t even ski. I also remember bringing poker chips on that trip and being stopped by security who literally flipped through each of the 500 chips. Why so thorough? The TSA agent told me poker chips look like pipe bombs when passed through the scanner. Better than being stripsearched for being an “Abdelmessih” I guess.

[My father was actually stripsearched in a pre-9/11 world and a few men in my family changed their names after 9/11…nevermind the fact my last name is aggressively Christian translating to “servant of the Messiah”. When you consider my first name, I’m a walking recursive loop. Anyway, the men in my family weren’t going to count on racists to split hairs on brown people and the etymology of names.]

I’d say those were stupid times, but we still take our shoes off before we fly which is a comically overfit, closing-the-barn-door-after-the-horse-escaped policy. I’d like to see a risk to cost analysis of the millions of lost minutes due to that one. Anyway, nothing is stupider than me circa Feb 2004.

(I actually thought Yinh avenged me in the most voodoo way…it took 8 hours to drive back to SFO from Incline Village. Of course now we know that is not unusual. It’s just a holiday weekend.)

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