Market Reflections: Were the ECB’s Bold Action Less that Meets the Eye?

What Did the European Central Bank Do?

The European Central Bank – eager to combat too-low inflation – acted decisively March 10 by announcing a package of rate cuts and an increase in its bond purchase program. It pushed its main deposit rate for excess reserves banks hold at the ECB further into negative territory, cutting the rate to -0.4% from -0.3%. To combat the potential adverse effects from negative rates on banks’ financial health, the ECB also announced a package of loans from the ECB to banks in which the ECB could actually pay banks to borrow – provided the banks then lend those funds out – under certain conditions. The ECB also will buy €80 billion per month of Eurozone bonds versus €60 billion previously – and the ECB will now also buy eligible investment grade corporate bonds. (One euro equals about $1.11.)

Stocks in Europe initially surged and the euro plunged, which we might expect. But then a curious thing happened as Mario Draghi, the head of the ECB, spoke: stocks fell and the euro rose (though stocks in both Europe and the U.S. rebounded the next day). The action in the euro was not what was supposed to happen; indeed, a primary (if unstated) goal of enacting such a monetary stimulus program was to cause the euro to fall in value.

Why Did the ECB Take the Action It Did?

A weaker currency would accomplish two key things. First, it would make European exports more competitive abroad and imports more expensive. A weaker euro would thus make European-made goods cheaper to foreign buyers, and would stimulate demand and economic growth, while discouraging competition from imports. But for those goods and services that are imported, they would become more expensive, helping to accomplish the ECB’s goal of increasing inflation up to, but not above, 2%.

Inflation in the Eurozone was -0.2% year over year in February, according to Eurostat, and that is certainly a disappointing outcome, especially because it fell from a 0.3% year over year increase in January. More inflation would make existing debts easier to repay, for one, and it would also encourage consumption and investment now, instead of postponing it (or abandoning new investment projects altogether).

Of course, goosing inflation can come from increasing demand for goods and services. That would reduce slack in the economy, as unemployment falls and wages might (hopefully) rise and as spare capacity is eroded. That’s why the ECB wants banks to lend, so as to get businesses to invest and consumers to spend. Giving banks free money to lend (and even charging them on certain assets for those funds they stash at the central bank) is one way to motivate banks to push loans on to creditworthy customers.

Why Were the Markets Initially Disappointed?

Eventually, investors realize that central bankers may be pushing on a string. Even if banks want to lend, and loans are cheap, it is beyond anyone’s power to force a would-be borrower from taking on a loan. That is particularly the case when confidence is reduced by the same central bank in question.

Indeed, the seeds of the program’s disappointment are sown into the policy statement itself. The ECB slashed its forecast for inflation this year – and lowered its projections for 2017 as well. It now expects consumer prices to rise by just 0.1% in 2016, having forecast in December they would rise by 1%, with inflation set to pick up to 1.3% in 2017 and 1.6% in 2018, still below its target of just below 2%.

The ECB also cut its growth forecasts, with Eurozone gross domestic product projected to increase by 1.4% this year and 1.7% next, identical to forecasts by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That compares to previous projected growth rates of 1.7% and 1.9% respectively.

So, if prices are expected to grow only slowly, and the economy might expand only modestly, what business would want to borrow to expand its operations? Similarly, why would consumers desire to leverage themselves further if their wages may not grow? When policy measures intended to reassure and to encourage consumption and investment are announced at the same time as forecasts that neither goal seems likely, it is easy to see why markets were disappointed.

Mr. Kelly Trevethan is a Certified Investment Management Analyst & Registered Financial Consultant. He is a Managing Director with United Capital Financial Advisers LLC, a national private wealth advisory firm with 79 offices across the nation. He can be reached at 415-418-2101. To obtain your free copy of the New York Times Bestselling book “The Money Code”, email him at Kelly.trevethan@unitedcp.com.

Disclosures

Investing involves risk, including possible loss of principal, and investors should carefully consider their own investment objectives and never rely on any single chart, graph or marketing piece to make decisions. The information contained in this piece is intended for information only, is not a recommendation to buy or sell any securities, and should not be considered investment advice. Please contact your financial adviser with questions about your specific needs and circumstances.

 The information and opinions expressed herein are obtained from sources believed to be reliable, however their accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. All data are driven from publicly available information and has not been independently verified by United Capital. Opinions expressed are current as of the date of this publication and are subject to change. Certain statements contained within are forward-looking statements including, but not limited to, predictions or indications of future events, trends, plans or objectives. Undue reliance should not be placed on such statements because, by their nature, they are subject to known and unknown risks and uncertainties. Indices are unmanaged, do not consider the effect of transaction costs or fees, do not represent an actual account and cannot be invested to directly. International investing entails special risk considerations, including currency fluctuations, lower liquidity, economic and political risks, and different accounting methodologies.

© 2016 United Capital Financial Advisers, LLC. All Rights Reserved

www.unitedcp.com

 

Got Muscle?

Got Muscle? The Trainer’s Secret on How to Lose Weight… and Keep it Off.

It seems as though we are confronted with the issue at every turn. We are bluntly reminded almost daily how fat we have all become and how our children face serious health challenges due to obesity. And the problem, like our waistlines, is growing worse every day. Today, better than two-thirds (69%) of all Americans are either obese or overweight with a whopping one third (35%) considered clinically obese!

One good thing about all of the media attention to the “obesity epidemic” is, it is at least prompting a response. People are thinking about it more and are becoming more focused on wanting to get fit. The negative side of all of this attention is that it has opened a big door for snake oil salesmen and hucksters. The airways are flooded with infomercials touting advice from fitness gurus as they pedal all manner of “fast and easy” programs, gadgets and gizmos. If we’ll just buy the new “Pedal-Spring-Cam-lock / Slant-Pulley-Rocker” device, along with the ten-part CD and accompanying workbook, we’ll get six pack abs and “buns of steel.” Of course, there is always the small print included that points out that results shown are not typical, and weight loss is guaranteed, so long as you use the equipment in combination with a reduce calorie diet, etc.

cleanSadly the truth is, many of us are obese and many children now face unprecedented life threatening conditions that they should not be facing. Conditions that were once rare in children are becoming common. Diabetes, gallbladder disease and obesity-related sleep apnea are all on the rise in children. More than sixty percent of children today have at least one serious risk factor for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, elevated insulin levels, or high blood lipids.

As a retired fitness professional, I have mixed feelings about the promotional pitches that I see for so many commercial fitness products and programs. I’m happy that there is more concern about our lack of fitness, but I am disturbed by all of the hype and misinformation. Most of the things marketed are really quite ridiculous, and the people and companies that pitch them—if they really do know anything at all about physiology, nutrition, or fitness—should be ashamed.

A variety of methods for losing weight, for example, are constantly being promoted. Unfortunately, most of these methods are ineffective and short-lived at best, and some, at worst, are downright dangerous. The fact is, weight loss is not the most important issue here, and it should not be the goal. For most Americans, the loss of fat is what is and should be important.

When it comes to the popular methods for becoming fit (and this includes nearly all of the gadgets that you see on television and most of the better-known weight loss programs and diets), they completely miss the mark. What these programs and gadgets usually end up accomplishing is a pattern of failure for the user because the methods used are not based upon sound physiological principles and correctly applied fitness training methods. What usually ends up happening is that the person participating, while maybe ending up with a net loss in overall weight, actually loses the wrong kind of weight. This is because nearly all of these popular programs focus on aerobic exercise alone, along with calorie reduction. For most Americans, this is a formula for eventual failure.

How can this be? Haven’t we all been told by the experts that what we all need is more exercise and less food? The answer is: if you follow the formula of just cutting calories and doing repetitive type exercise, yes it’s true, you will lose weight. The problem is, most of it will be a loss of lean body mass—muscle, not fat. If you think about it,  when all is said and done, your concern should not be how much you weigh, but how you feel and how you look.

To understand how all of this works, it is important to have some basic understanding of human physiology, and in particular, metabolic function. The key thing to remember is that muscle is what burns most all of the calories in your body. In fact, per gram of body weight, at rest, muscle tissue burns about ten times as many calories as fat. In the long run then, the more important factor in determining the rate at which your body burns calories when it is at rest–what is known as your resting metabolic rate—is how much muscle it has. The more lean body mass (muscle) that you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate. More muscle means more calories are being burned while you are just sitting around, doing nothing.

The problem with most diets and/or diet and exercise programs is that they simply focus on cutting calories alone or dieting along with non-resistance type, aerobic exercise. This does very little in the long run to affect resting metabolic rate because it does nothing to retain or increase your overall lean body mass. In fact, it almost always reduces your percentage of lean tissue, causing your resting metabolic rate to become lower. You end up having to cut calories even more just to stay even, because your body now requires fewer calories to survive.

This is why long distance runners are always skinny, as opposed to sprinters, who are always muscular. The marathon runner is in excellent aerobic condition, but he has very little muscle mass. He may burn plenty of calories when he running a race, but when he isn’t, he’d better eat like a bird or “love handles” will start growing with every extra bite of food. On the other hand, the sprinter, because of his high volume of muscle, burns an extraordinary number of calories while he is running, but he also burns many more calories than the long distance runner does when at rest. Generally speaking, he can afford to eat more all the time, without gaining an ounce.

When a person loses weight by way of the diet and aerobic exercise route, they simply go from being a big fat person, to being a little fat person. Yes they weigh less, and yes, they have lost some fat, but they have lost more lean tissue too, which is counter-productive. They now have a lower resting metabolic rate, so they have to keep their calories drastically reduced. With fewer calories, they now have even less energy than before, so staying on their exercise program becomes more difficult. Their overall nutrition is usually compromised, so their immune system becomes likewise compromised. Now, they get sick more easily, and more often.

The end result of all this is that even though the person now weighs less, they have become less healthy and feel bad. They then do what most people do when they feel bad: they start eating more! This is what causes the “yo-yo” effect that most people who have tried the more traditional weight loss methods are familiar with. They keep weight off for a while, than gain it back. Often, they end up worse off, and their percentage of body fat is even higher than before.

This, then, is the reason why so many of us really are obese. What we have been sold by the fitness gurus in the infomercials and what we have been taught about fitness in most all of the weight loss programs, is either ineffective or completely wrong.

The only way to effectively lose fat (not just weight) and keep it off is to reduce the percentage of body fat and increase our resting metabolic rate by retaining what muscle we have and adding whatever muscle tissue we can over time. And the only way to do this is to include progressive resistance anaerobic strength training (weight training) into our exercise regimen.Alive media magazine A Word about BMI Body Mass Index How to Lose Weight the Right Way Eric Johnson Franco Columbo (2)

If you want to lose fat and keep it off for good, add progressive resistance anaerobic weight training to your fitness routine; you’ll be amazed at what good old “pumping iron” will do to enhance your overall level of fitness. You’ll keep what lean muscle you have, add some new, and lose fat—and the best part is, you won’t have to eat like a bird to keep it off!

A Word about BMI (Body Mass Index)

One of the most common scales used by the medical community in determining whether or not a person is “overweight” or “obese” is by calculating your BMI or Body Mass Index. Essentially, it is a number that represents the ratio of one’s height to weight. In some formulas, a person’s age is also considered in the calculation.

According to broader medical community a BMI from 18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal. A BMI of more than 25 is considered overweight and a person is considered obese if their BMI is above 30. Severely obese is anyone with a BMI above 40.

The problem with using the BMI as the primary indicator of fitness is, it cannot show whether or not someone’s weight “problem” is due to a higher percentage of body fat, or muscle. In fact, since muscle is denser and weighs more than fat, someone with greater muscle mass and little body fat will often be determined to be obese, when they really are the exact opposite.

To illustrate my point, consider a relatively short man that weighs almost 200 pounds—194 to be exact. When we enter that height and weight into the Stanford Healthcare website’s “BMI Calculator,” this is what we are told:

BMI: 32.28

Your BMI falls into the obese range. You’re not alone. Over 45 million Americans have a BMI above 30, just like you do. Obesity can lead to serious medical issues like type 2 diabetes and hypertension. You should take steps to lose weight in order to avoid these obesity-related conditions. Call the Stanford BMI Clinic at 650-736-5800 to learn more about our comprehensive bariatric surgery and medical weight loss programs.

Aside from height and weight, no consideration has been made in this case of the person’s actual level of fitness. What is this subject’s percentage of body fat? Is this person really not only overweight but well into the range of “obese,” as the experts at Stanford have indicated here?

In this case, the subject is Franco Columbo, one of the world’s most accomplished, award winning body builders of all time—someone who even today at age 74, is far from being “obese.” (See photos)Alive media magazine A Word about BMI Body Mass Index How to Lose Weight the Right Way Eric Johnson Franco Columbo

So, while BMI can be used as one indicator of fitness for many “average” Americans who lead primarily sedentary lives, a better way to determine whether you are overweight is to measure your actual percentage of body fat. In the mean time, I recommend assessing how you feel and how you look. Just standing in front of the mirror with little or no clothing on will probably tell you just about all you need to know!

How to Lose Weight the Right Way

The typical traditional weight loss scenario goes something like this:

  • Bill starts at 200 lbs at 30% body fat. This means Bill has 140 lbs. of lean (muscle) body mass, and 60 lbs. of fat.
  • Bill’s goal is to lose thirty pounds. He goes on a diet.
  • After a few months, he has lost 30 lbs. He now weighs 170 lbs. He has done it mainly by cutting calories.
  • Bill is still 30% body fat. He now has 119 pounds of lean mass, and 51 pounds of fat.
  • Bill has lost only 9 lbs. of fat, and 21 lbs. of muscle!

Result:

  • Resting metabolic rate lower = less calorie burned at rest.
  • Must continue to restrict or reduce calories to avoid weight gain.
  • Energy level declines due to lack of calories. Exercise becomes difficult.
  • Immune system compromised. General fitness, health and wellbeing declines.
  • Bill begins to eat more in order to feel better again. Fat is gained. Fat % increases.

FAT loss program including Progressive resistance Training:

  • Bill starts at 200 lbs at 30% body fat. Has 140 lbs lean mass, and 60 lbs. fat.
  • Bill wants to lose 30 pounds, but focuses on building more muscle by doing weight training. Bill’s progressive resistance training adds muscle.
  • After a few months of training, Bill has lost 30 lbs. He weighs 170 lbs.
  • But, because Bill worked to retain and build muscle, he is now 10% body fat, instead of 30%. His body fat is only 17 lbs, and his lean body mass is 153 lbs.
  • Bill has gained 13 lbs of muscle, and LOST 47 lbs of fat!

Result:

  • Resting metabolic rate higher = more calories burned at rest.
  • Bill must INCREASE calories to feed lean muscle—without weight gain!
  • Bill’s energy level is higher. Exercise is now “fun.”
  • Bill’s immune system is strengthened. His general fitness, health, and wellbeing is greater.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Police VIPs Part II

This is the second of a series introducing the Danville Police Department VIPS (Volunteer In Police Service.)

Last month we accompanied Darren, our hypothetical alter-ego, as he attended the Danville Police Citizens Academy.  You may recall that upon graduation Darren applied to the Department to become a VIPS. At the very end of the first chapter, Darren was given a badge, a uniform, and an ID which meant he passed all the required interviews and background checks. I might add he was very pleased and anxious to get going, but there were a few hills left to mount.

Close-up of a police car's flashing blue lightsDarren’s first direct discussion with the powers that be was the introduction to the Scarecrow Rule. Now he may be in uniform, may sport a shield, may drive a black and white police vehicle, but he is NOT, I repeat NOT a police officer.  He may fool a few people and look professional, but it is important to realize his minimal training does not qualify him as an officer.  What then is his overriding duty? That’s where the Scarecrow rule comes in.

Now we all know that scarecrows are placed in corn fields. The crows see the image and are convinced that a live person is protecting the field. “Hey, let’s move on to the next field. This one is covered” is the crow’s response. The parallel applies. A black and white is seen cruising around a neighborhood, and “Let’s move on” is the bad guy’s response.

This boils down to a simple truth. Be seen by as many as possible, and be a good witness to what you see.

Now a VIPS is not allowed to travel alone. There must be a twosome for safety reasons. Obviously, they both are required to have radios which connect them to the Contra Costa Sheriff’s dispatch center. When they go on duty, and as they travel about, it is important that they keep the dispatch center informed. This little hill was Darren’s next to conquer. The radios themselves were not tough to learn, but it was surprising how tongue tied a normal person can become when they are faced with telling someone what they are witnessing. It takes a lot of work to overcome one’s stammering and concisely give the position and activity you are observing.

VIPS patrols cover a number of other things as well. A garage with an open door and no cars is an invitation to disaster. Those four expensive off-road bikes next to several sets of golf clubs can earn a thief a thousand dollars in five minutes. When our VIPS come upon this situation a mail reminder is sent to the resident with a request that they be a bit more cautious in the future.Alive Media Magazine Meet the Danville Police Department VIPS Volunteers in Police Service Harry Hubinger

Newspapers collecting on the drive and a UPS box on the front porch announce to a thief that the resident is on vacation.  Great time to make a midnight call! A large percentage of police calls are for crimes of opportunity, and Darren is out on patrol looking for these oversights. The program is called “If I Were A Thief” and reminds the residents to be more careful.

It didn’t take Darren long to become a friend with the sworn officers. They are fully occupied with the daily duties of investigation reports, traffic safety, thefts and robberies, and the mountain of paper work that goes with each activity. Darren was surprised to learn that last year the Danville Police Department handled just under 26,000 calls.  Not that there were that many crimes, but there were that many needs for police contact. Therefore, from time to time, he is called upon to help with traffic, vehicle maintenance, police station tours, fingerprinting, and possibly some office work.

Darren chose the activities he enjoyed the most and had no difficulty putting in the minimum of sixteen hours per month that are required to remain active.Patrolling the neighborhoods was one of Darren’s favorite duties. It seemed that on each patrol he was able to help make Danville a better place.

On one patrol he saw a young bike rider take a bad spill. His quick call had the fire department’s medics on scene in minutes, and they informed the parents of the accident.

Because there is only a limited number of sworn officers on duty at any one time, and on occasion more than one incident requires the police to respond, Darren was able to assist an officer with traffic control around the accident.

One of the highlights of his first year was in helping locate a missing young child. The incident was initiated by a call from a distraught parent. The youngster failed to return home fromschool at the usual time. This type of occurrence is treated with the highest police priority. Detectives interview teachers, parents, and friends. Patrol officers roam the streets, and bike and motorcycle officers work the trails. On some occasions even the helicopter from the Sheriff’s Office can be activated as well as the Search and Rescue teams.  Fortunately in this case the child was quickly found at a friend’s house – just having a post-school snack.

Also during this event Darren was able to watch the Danville Police K9 dog and the K9 officer do their thing. Most of the time one associates the K9 with a crime. For example, he may nose out hidden drugs in a car or find a perpetrator out of sight in a garage. But in this case the dog’s sensitive nose followed the child’s path from school to a friend’s home.

The most prevalent use of the VIPS occurs at the many special events hosted by the Town of Danville. These include the Fourth of July Parade, the car shows, and the periodic street fairs. We see the white shirted volunteers walking the streets, answering the simple questions like, “Where are the toilets?” to the scary ones, “I can’t find my child.”

We could go on and on and on listening to or reading about Darren’s adventures. But like most things in life, it’s necessary to move on. It is my hope that in these two stories about the Danville Police Department VIPS that you have found a better sense of the sometimes overlooked umbrella of security we all enjoy. We may go days, months, even years without contact with the police. But they are there, 24-7, willing to help under any circumstance.

Thank goodness….

 

 

2016 Kia Optima

There were a lot of quality players showing what they were made of on the field at this year’s Super Bowl and just as many in the TV commercials that aired in between the passes and catches. Not to be out done by the competition, Kia paid the big bucks to showcase its new 2016 Optima sedan.

2016 Optima SX 2.0 turboWe were sitting at my parents’ house wondering if the Panthers had it in them to make a comeback when the Optima commercial flashed on the screen. I pointed out that was the vehicle I was test driving when my seven-year-old son confirmed my comment; however, added that it was a different color. He is as observant as Payton was looking for an open wide receiver.

The 2016 Kia Optima has become a serious contender in the mid-size sedan market. Once dominated by the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, Kia has found success in the Optima which is now becoming the benchmark for style and value. It is truly one of the better looking sedans on the market and packed with upgraded features found on more expensive vehicles.

For 2016, Kia has redesigned the Optima in a way that refines the model. From the outside you might not notice some of the exterior, subtle changes. The 2016 Optima is somewhat longer, taller and wider than the 2015 version, which in turn manifests a more comfortable and roomier cabin with surprisingly larger trunk space. The front and rear styling is softened and better detailed, displaying the maturity of its design.

Kia incorporates key experiences of the Optima’s up-scaled siblings and delivers a more spacious interior, a quieter engine, reduced road noise, enhanced ride quality and refined interior trim features.

2016 Kia OptimaThe 2016 Kia Optima is available in five trim levels: LX, LX Turbo, EX, SX Turbo, and SXL. There are three engine options which include a 2.4-liter four-cylinder (24 mpg city/35 hwy), 2.0-liter turbocharged (22 mpg city/32 hwy), and the new 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (28 mpg city/39 hwy). The 2.4 GDI engine produces 185 horsepower at 6,000 rpm. The 2.0-liter turbo generates 247 horses also at 6,000 rpm. The 1.6-lier turbo available on the LX trim delivers 178 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 195 pound-feet of torque at 1,500 rpm and is mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that operates like an automatic. The Hybrid version will be reintroduced in 2017.

Besides liberating the mid-size category with its beautiful coup-like curves, the 2016 Optima continues its value benefit with a starting sticker price of only $21,990 (LX 2.4L). The LX 1.6L sells for $23,990, EX 2.4L $24,990, SX 2.0T $29,790, and the SXL 2.0T $35,890. All trim variations include: alloy wheels, rear camera system, six-way power seat, remote keyless entry, satellite radio compatibility, air conditioning, cruise control and you can order ventilated front seats and heated rear seats across the trim levels.

Cool Features:

  • Android Auto and Apple CarPlay Connectivity Systems
  • Speed Alert and Curfew Alert
  • Paddle Shifters

Safety on the 2016 Kia Optima begins with the standard rear camera and continues with a blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alerts. Additionally, the UVO eServices provides several features that are useful when teenagers are driving. They include: Find My Car, Speed Alert, Geo-Fencing and Curfew Alert that give parents the ability to locate the vehicle and to receive alerts when the Optima is going too fast, too far from home, or too late at night. The SXL also includes automatic high-beam headlights, adaptive cruise control with forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking, and a lane-departure warning system.

In Summary – The Kia Optima, since its first major revision in 2011, has been a game changer in the mid-size market. The redesigned 2016 Optima is refined in the exterior and interior. It went from being a niche vehicle to a successful player, with the benchmark of design and value. The performance is energetic and thrilling, and the ride quality is much improved. The 2016 Optima has once again raised the bar and Kia is optimistic about its future. I suggest taking the Optima for a spin! Be prepared with your checkbook in hand!


Specifications

2016 Kia Optima LX Turbo

Base price:                  $23,990

Engine:                       1.6-liter Turbocharged 4-cylinder

Horsepower:             178 @ 5,500 RPM

Torque:                       195 @ 1,500 RPM

Transmission:            7-speed automatic

Drive:                          FWD Drive

Seating:                       5-passenger

Turning circle:           35.8 feet

Cargo space:              15.9 cubic feet

Curb weight:             3224 pounds

Fuel capacity:            18.5 gallons

EPA mileage:             City 28/Hwy 39

Wheel Base:                110.4 inches

Warranty:                   5 years/60,000 miles powertrain limited

Also consider:            Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Subaru Legacy

April is the Kindest Month

Finally, after months of desperation and violence, it has returned.

Morning has broken! Dawn lights the sky once more! Life can begin again! Baseball’s back!

Outfielder Catching BallThe winter months brought us basketball, a nice indoor game. They also brought us football, a not-nice, violent, outdoor game. Now the world can breathe again. Baseball slows life into a rhythm that ebbs and flows, but never overwhelms. Football fans need to find another excuse to drink beer and keep from fixing the bathroom faucet. They can no longer watch four hours of gladiators slamming into one another while a director in a booth in some faraway city drools at the thought of screaming, “Go to commercial!”

Football can be fun to watch for forty-five minutes to an hour, during which the viewers will see about five minutes of actual play, preceding about twenty-five to thirty-five minutes of commercials. They will also see, however, another five minutes of superbly conditioned, unbelievably strong, totally courageous athletes strutting, beating their chests, and dancing as if they were inhabited by Satan himself.

Our capitalistic system, one of the pillars of our society even with its abuses, demands money to bring to you and me the great programming we are privileged to see on our 435 inch television sets. We get to see, without leaving the comfort of our homes and at our choice: opera, pop music, blues, jazz, and any other sounds we enjoy; magnificent or banal comedies and dramas; and any other of a hundred different types of programming. The money to fund sports, of course, comes from commercials, but there is a time when necessary commercialization becomes pure and simple greed.

There is a time to be born, and a time to die:

A time for war, and a time for peace;

A time for profit, and a time to PLAY BALL!

In baseball that time comes at normal, built-in intervals, namely at the end of each half inning or when there is a break in the action. In football it comes whenever the man in the booth signals the referees that it is commercial time. The worst abuse comes after a touchdown. A team scores/ commercials/ attempted conversion/ commercials/ kick off, usually with no run back/ commercials/ now we play a few downs before we get more you know whats. Four hours of television to watch sixty minutes on the clock?

In baseball an almost infinite number of things can happen on each of the 300+ / – pitches in a game: a ball or a strike; a foul ball; a fly or grounder; a hit batsman; an out, a hit or an error; infield or outfield; etc. Football, on the other hand, is totally predictable. If you have watched five or more games in your entire life, you probably know whether it will be a run, a pass, or a kick.

In one game near the end of the 2015 season, on a fourth and long situation, the coach called for a fake punt with the ball being centered to a back. The back ran for about twenty yards and a first down. The announcers and fans went bonkers praising and saluting the coach as if he had brought about world peace or cured cancer. If the play had not worked, the coach probably would have been fired before the start of the third quarter.

The biggest difference between the gentle and the brutal sports occurs when a player makes a good play, and he then feels the urge to make certain everyone knows it was he, not someone else, who made it. When a player scores a touchdown, he begins a dance that indicates that he has hot coals lodged in his trousers. Can you imagine what would happen to a baseball player who made an excellent defensive catch or hit a home run if he acted that way? His next time at bat, or perhaps the second time, he would have “Rawlings” imprinted on his left ear (right ear for a left-handed batter) while the pitcher exclaimed, “Oops! Sorry it got away from me. Oh, by the way, duck!”

The gladiators who act like three year olds remind me of a Woody Guthrie children’s song:

I waked up in dry bed, Mommy, I did.

I waked up in dry bed, Daddy, come see.

I waked up in dry bed, dry feet and dry head. I am a big boy now.

We need, in my opinion, some peace and gentility in our lives after a winter of rain and wind, plus the constant question of which of the 213 Arab factions will we line up with next, and, this year, listening to a plethora of presidential candidates (one or two of whom may even be qualified to hold that office) bellowing about what they will do on their first day as chief. (Do they plan to do anything during the remaining four years other than prepare for re-election?)

April traditionally brings us the rain that engenders May’s flowers. (All right, in California it brings relief from El Nino.) It brings to Christians throughout the world the holiday of Easter, and it brings to Jews, Passover. Both of those holidays represent renewal and rebirth and both use the egg as a vital symbol. It also brings us baseball and its slower pace and gentler attitudes. (The most common number on a baseball scoreboard is the zero or “goose egg. “) For those who need it, you can rest assured, even in April there will be violence enough.

So, let us welcome back our old friend baseball, and remember the last line of the old, standard song: I’ll remember April, and I’ll smile.

One serious note for April: On April 23, 1616, a fellow from Stratford upon Avon, England died. You may have heard of him—William Shakespeare. This year will mark the 400th anniversary of his death, but if anyone who lived four centuries ago still has a profound influence on our lives and especially our language, it’s the Bard. Hope you’re resting in peace, Will.

 

 

 

Basement Dwellers: The Bass Instruments

How many of us, when listening to music, are consciously aware of the lowest or bass part? I would venture to say hardly any of us would fit into this category. After all, we usually take in the totality of the sound. We either enjoy what we hear, are indifferent about it, or dislike it.

Composers, on the other hand, are keenly aware of the lowest or bass part, as it is the foundation of the other parts of the music. An analogy has been drawn to the foundation of a house that supports its superstructure and the foundation of a musical chord. The bass part, in many instances, is the determining factor of the harmonic structure.

Tuba with reflectionBass Instruments

There are several instruments in the string, woodwind and brass families that represent the lowest and the largest of the bass instruments.

In the string family the String Bass, as most people know it, is the lowest member of the string family. It is also called the Double Bass, Contrabass or Bass Viol. The String Bass sounds an octave lower than the Cello. Its open strings are E, A, D, G. Usually there are six to eight Double Bases in a symphony orchestra. The String Bass is the only string instrument used in concert bands.

The Bass Clarinet is made of wood with a metal bell. It has a metal lead pipe connecting to the mouthpiece. It sounds an octave lower than the regular clarinet. The top register or higher notes are relatively less pronounced and not very satisfactory. The lower notes are very rich and sonorous.

The Bass Clarinet has a wide dynamic range. It resembles a saxophone somewhat in structure. The earliest forms date back to the early 18th century; the modern form we know today was designed by Adolphe Sax of Brussels, around 1838. The Bass Clarinet is used in both band and orchestra.

The Baritone Saxophone was also invented by Sax in the early 1840s. It is a woodwind instrument made of brass with a conical bore and slightly flared bell. It has a single reed mouthpiece like the clarinet. The Baritone Sax is used almost exclusively in bands as saxophones are not commonly used in orchestras. Even though it is called a Baritone Sax, it is used as the bass or lower part in the saxophone family. There are Bass Saxophones, but they are not commonly used in today’s bands.

The Contrabassoon is pitched an octave below the regular Bassoon. If the instrument was stretched out it would be more than sixteen feet in length.  Because of its length it is doubled on itself several times in order to bring the keys in proper playing position. The bell points down instead of up like a regular Bassoon. The lowest and highest notes are not very pleasant, hence they are not regularly used. In 1880, Johann Heckel produced an instrument similar to today’s Contrabassoon. If one were to purchase a Heckel Contrabassoon, you would have to get a mortgage on your house. They are extremely expensive.

The Tuba is the lowest member of the brass family. Over the years it has been produced in many sizes and shapes. In modern times it is oblong in shape with a wide conical bore terminating in a flared bell pointing upward. The Tuba has three to five valves and a cup-shaped or funnel-shaped mouthpiece. The Tuba is the main bass instrument in bands and orchestras. Its function is to provide a strong, firm bass to the upper brass group of horns, trumpets and trombones.

The Sousaphone is a very popular instrument today, especially in marching bands. It has a long, detachable bell that originally pointed upward and was nicknamed a “rain-catcher.” Later is was redesigned to point forward; much better on the march rather than the sound going up in the air, only to be lost or not heard at all.

This form of the instrument was suggested by John Philip Sousa, hence the name, Sousaphone, in honor of the great composer and bandmaster. Confusion exists because so many people called the Sousaphone a Tuba. That, of course, is not correct. The Sousaphone is a circular instrument carried on the shoulder, whereas the Tuba is played in an upright position in front of the player.

The Bass Drum, a very important part of the ensemble, provides the basic beat for all the musicians to play together in the correct tempo. It is an indispensable member of the percussion family that gives the ensemble its solid foundation. The Bass Drum is the heartbeat of the band.

 

Rare Instruments

The Helicon is a Bass and Contrabass Tuba-like instrument. It is in a circular shape, similar to the French Horn, instead of the upright shape of the Tuba. The player can carry the instrument over his shoulder like the Sousaphone.  It was first used in the mid- 19th century and was prevalent in Russian military bands.

The Ophicleide first appeared in the early 19th century. It is made of metal with a wide conical bore and a slightly flared bell. It has a cup-shaped mouthpiece and a three octave range. The instrument is made in various sizes but the bass version is most widely used.  It was more common in bands than in orchestras and was eventually replaced by the Tuba.

The Serpent is an s-shaped wooden tube, about seven feet in length covered with black leather. The instrument has a cup-shaped mouthpiece.  Its early uses were primarily for sacred events rather than secular. “The Serpent can be compared to a drainpipe suffering from an intestinal disorder,” is how the Harvard Dictionary of Music described this serpentine instrument.

The Sarrusophone is in a family of double reed brass instruments. It was invented by French bandmaster Sarrus, in 1856. It was made in eight different sizes, from highest to lowest range. It has the same range as the Contrabassoon, although it is preferred by French composers to the Contrabassoon.

In music it is so important to have a solid, firm foundation. The bass instruments supply this need by supporting the other instruments in the group, providing a strong lower voice. These ’bass’-ment dwellers are the mainstay in most musical ensembles, providing support and cohesiveness to the musical score.

One of the things I am so proud of is the five Tuba players we are so fortunate to have in the Danville Community Band. They provide depth, solid support and richness to the music. Without the bass instruments the music would lack the complete message the composer intended.

The Danville Community Band presents “Museums around the World,” our Annual Blackhawk Museum Concert, Sunday, April 10, 2016 at 2:00 p.m.  Blackhawk Museum, 3700 Blackhawk Plaza Circle. Free concert with admission to the Museum. Free parking.   

 

Please submit your questions and comments to banddirector01@comcast.net

Visit our website at www.danvilleband.org for up-to-date information about the Danville

Community Band.

 

 

 

 

April in Danville

Many grocery stores carry some ho-hum version of asparagus all year long. It may look fresh, but it was usually grown in another hemisphere and shipped thousands of miles before reaching California. That is one of the many reasons it has little or no flavor.

Spring is coming into full bloom at the farmers’ market, and locally-grown asparagus is one of the star attractions. While shopping for “grass,” also check out the new crops of squeaky-fresh artichokes, fava beans, celery, sweet peas-in-the-pod and sugar snap peas, and tender young greens. And who can resist a basket of early cherries or strawberries? Needless to say, now is the time to start carrying a cooler in your car on Saturday mornings.

Processed by: Helicon Filter;After I have returned home and binged on plain roasted asparagus every day of the week, I start thinking of other ways to enjoy it… and the following recipe always comes to mind.

Frittata is one of the original fast foods. It comes together in a flash; is far healthier than anything you could order at a drive-through window; and is as suitable for breakfast and brunch as it is for a light lunch or dinner. It’s simple enough for a family weeknight meal, and good enough to serve to guests. Oh, and did I mention it is economical, too?

If you are fortunate enough to have any frittata left over, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate. Cold frittata—paired with handful of arugula and a slick of mayonnaise on artisan whole-grain bread from the farmers’ market—makes a stellar sandwich.

 

Spring Frittata with Asparagus & Goat Cheese

8 large eggs, preferably at room temperature

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons California olive oil

8 ounces locally-grown asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces

1/2 cup coarsely crumbled California goat cheese (about 2 ounces)

2 tablespoon chopped fresh chives, mint, or parsley

  1. Break the eggs into a large measuring pitcher or medium bowl. Add the salt and pepper and beat with a fork until the eggs are just blended. Preheat the oven broiler.
  2. Heat the oil in a 10-inch nonstick skillet with an oven-proof handle*, tilting the skillet to coat the bottom and sides. Add the asparagus and cook over medium-high heat, stirring and tossing until bright green, about 1 minute.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium and spread the asparagus in an even layer. Carefully pour in the eggs and cook, using a heat-proof rubber spatula to lift the edges as they firm up to let the uncooked egg flow beneath, until the underside is fully set (lift with the spatula to check) but the center is still slightly runny. Shake the pan now and then to make sure the frittata is loose and not sticking. Scatter the cheese over the top and place the frittata under the broiler until the cheese has softened and the top is very lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Slide the frittata onto a cutting board or warm serving plate and sprinkle with chives. Cut into wedges and serve. Serves 3 or 4.

*If your skillet has a plastic handle, wrap it snugly and completely with a double-thickness of heavy-duty aluminum foil.

Asparagus Tips

When buying asparagus, select firm, bright green stalks with little or no white and tight, dry tips. Asparagus breaks down quickly after harvest, losing sugar and moisture, so check the ends: if they are shriveled or dry, the stalks are old.

Choose asparagus spears that are approximately the same thickness so they will cook evenly.

Thick or thin? Like people, it’s all a matter of personal preference. Asparagus plants live 8 to 10 years. Young plants produce thin asparagus; mature plants produce thick spears.

To store, wrap the bunch of unwashed asparagus in a damp paper towel and refrigerate in a plastic bag for up to 4 days. If the spears begin to go limp after a couple of days rehydrate as you would flowers—by cutting off the ends and standing them upright in a container filled with about 1-inch of water. Cover loosely with a plastic bag and refrigerate.

To remove tough ends from asparagus before cooking: Hold a spear near its middle with one hand, and near its bottom with the other hand. Gently bend the asparagus spear and it will snap apart at the spot wear it becomes tough. (If you prefer things neat and tidy, just cut off the ends with a knife.) Add the tough ends to your compost pile, or use them fresh or frozen when making vegetable stock.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad and Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at www.pcfma.org. This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well!

 

Responsible

Definition: having the job or duty of dealing with or taking care of something or someone; able to be trusted to do what is right or to do the things that are expected or required; involving important duties, decisions, etc., that you are trusted to do

This is a powerful word. It describes a character trait I find revealing. How people act—what they choose to do or not do and what they believe they should do—says a lot about them in terms of how relevant the concept of responsibility is to them. To a large degree, what we think about responsibility is reflected in our political philosophies. It informs our thinking about equity, law and liberty and influences what we think about our institutions and what power we grant them.

One example that came to my attention recently illustrates my point. I was discussing with a friend—one often opposed to my political leanings—the recent San Francisco Unified School District’s decision to allow distribution of condoms to middle school students. At some point I mentioned that this wasn’t all that surprising, considering that it is already law in California that all children aged 12 and older can be tested, diagnosed and treated for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, receive “medical care related to the prevention and treatment of pregnancy,” and have abortions—all with the stipulation that “The health care provider is NOT permitted to inform a parent or legal guardian without minor’s consent.”   

Daughter Being Carried by FatherAt first, my “it takes a village” friend didn’t believe it, but then said this was probably a good thing, since some parents cannot be trusted to care properly for their children and might even punish them under such circumstances. In other words, the welfare of one’s child is the responsibility of the state instead of the parent.

In his defense, I suppose the intention of these laws is to provide care when parents do not accept responsibility—but I would argue that this goes too far because it assumes that most parents are irresponsible, which is ludicrous.

After being stated in more personal terms, as in: “What if one of your young daughters (he has two) became pregnant, was diagnosed with AIDS, and was considering an abortion; would you want a school administrator and health care provider to be the ‘default’ individuals to help her and guide her decisions, without your knowledge or consent, or should it be you and her mother?” my friend capitulated, agreeing that this didn’t seem right at all.

How we consider responsibility as individuals, members of our community and as citizens weighs heavily upon the direction we travel in every area of life.

It is a most important responsibility that each of us be… responsible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Redwood Watering

Q. I have a group of establish redwood trees planted on a slope. I thought they were being watered by a natural spring but I’ve come to find out it was from a neighbor’s leaking water line that now has been repaired. Since then four trees have died. How do I go about saving the balance?

isolated redwood tree on a white backgroundA. Redwoods are not a drought tolerant tree like a pine, cedar, deodar and other conifers. They’re also shallow rooted and suffer from water stress with the hot afternoon sun beating on the soil. In their natural habitat, the needles catch moisture from the marine influence. The moisture then drips slowly down to cool and moisten the roots under the canopy of the trees. Hence they need to be irrigated frequently once the rainy season concludes. Stand alone trees, those with no vegetation growing under them, often struggle while those planted in a vegetative ground cover thrive. Established trees on drip irrigation suffer more than those watered by conventional sprinklers. The whole idea behind watering is to get the entire root system wet. The root system of a Redwood is found under the canopy of the tree. A common mistake made when watering Redwoods is that the volume of water is insufficient, infrequent and it’s not uniformly distributed around the tree. When using a drip system, there is a lack of understanding on how to make it work efficiently. First off, a drip system distributes water in a gallon per hour while a conventional system provides water in gallon per minute. A drip system needs to run forty-five minutes to an hour to provide the necessary volume to get the roots wet. In addition, you’ll need a dedicated water line for drip irrigation. A huge conflict develops when a drip system and conventional sprinklers share the same line. The volume of water plants receive is either too much or not enough. The second issue has to do with the number of emitters around the trees. The originally installed emitters need to be reposition every couple of years and additional emitters need to be added so water is available throughout the root zone of each tree. There is a misconception that if you puddle water in one spot, all the roots will benefit. The water absorbing roots are not located at the tree trunk but out toward the drip line of each tree. Redwoods produce a lot of natural litter or mulch to help with the moisture retention. It also insulates the roots from the hot sun, especially those trees where the lower branches have been removed. A two to three inch mulch layer under the canopy and beyond is recommended. It’s not necessary to mulch the base of the trees. In addition, your gardening service should be discouraged from removing this valuable covering. When the temperatures are over eighty degrees, I would be watering weekly. In summary, water and mulch are the keys to keeping your trees healthy.

Q. Can I be assured that the nutrients from a dry fertilizer will find its way to the roots when I water with drip irrigation or should I hand water the material into the soil?

A. With a granular fertilizer, I’d scatter the pellets within the drip irrigation distribution pattern and then hand water it in. After that, the drip system should do the rest of the job. If you were using a time-release fertilizer such as Osmocote, it would be absolutely critical. These products only release a tiny bit of nutrients with each watering. If you’re still not sure it s getting to the roots, I suggest you switch to liquid fertilizer.

Q. My Christmas Cacti are not very full and have gotten leggy. If possible, how would I go about taking a few cuttings and then planting them in the same pot to fill the bare spots?

A. This is a workable solution as cuttings can be taken and rooted off the existing Christmas or Zygocactus plant(s). The ideal time to take your cuttings is after they finish blooming. The cuttings should be about five inches long and broken off where the stem is segmented. Next, allow the cuttings to air dry for a day before starting the rooting process. The ends of the cuttings are dipped in a rooting hormone to help with the new root formation. You’ll find a rooting hormone at your favorite garden center. With a pencil or screwdriver, punch a hole in the existing soil and insert the cutting about a half and inch deep. (Although I prefer to root my cuttings in a separate container instead of the existing pots.) I’d take many more cuttings than I needed. The cuttings are then placed in a single pot of pre-moistened potting soil. The pot of cuttings is placed in an area with bright, indirect light and the soil kept moist. Once rooted, the most vigorous cuttings are selected and planted in the gaps or bare spots in each container. The rest of the cuttings are discarded or given away. Another option is to divide the mother plant and this is the perfect time to do so. Christmas Cactus are divided once every three to four years, depending on the pot size. Remove the plant(s) from the existing pot and divide the plant into sections using a sharp knife. Once segmented, decide which sections or the mother plant you like the best and discard the rest. You could also plant two sections in the same or larger container. When transplanting plants into a larger container, the general rule of thumb is to move them up one to two pot sizes; however with Christmas Cactus, I would only go up one size. They like to be pot- bound. They’ll skip a blooming cycle until the roots fill the soil area in the pot, if they are in too large a container. Finally, fertilize to encourage the new growth. While there are lots of right answers as to what to use, I prefer the time-release fertilizer Osmocote. A little bit of nutrients are released over a four month period.

Quit Smoking – It’s Bad for your Cat

There is now an anti-smoking ad that is trying to appeal to smokers’ love for their cats. Cats that live in the homes of smokers are more likely to die of cancer and other diseases.  If it’s not a powerful enough reason to quit for your own health or for the sake of your human family, then by all means, quit for your cat. Allow me to give you some specific and concrete information about why smoking is bad for you and your cat.

I speak to people everyday about how their smoking addiction is hurting their health. For the most part, people understand that smoking is “bad” and that they are at an increased risk of cancer. It seems though, that their belief is that the harmful effects of smoking are far off into the future and something to worry about “later.” This couldn’t be further from the truth, because the harmful effects of smoking are affecting organ function now on a day to day basis. Far before causing cancer, smoking causes COPD, Cataracts, Crohn’s disease, Rheumatoid arthritis, Infertility, Impotence, Psoriasis, Reynaud’s phenomenon and many other illnesses. Smokers have a general life expectancy of ten years less than non-smokers.

There are many toxic elements in tobacco, even smokeless tobacco, that cause disease and illness. Tobacco smoke contains over 4,000 chemical compounds including carbon monoxide, arsenic, cyanide and formaldehyde. E-cigarettes aren’t currently monitored or controlled by the FDA, so there are large discrepancies in content from manufacturer to manufacturer, but formaldehyde and other cancer causing compounds have also been found in the solution that is then mixed with nicotine in the cartridges. Even the “nicotine-free” cartridges have been found to have traceable amounts of nicotine.

Obviously, inhaling the poisons in cigarettes is harmful, but nicotine itself is a poison in the body beyond its addictive properties. Nicotine causes vasoconstriction or tightening of the arteries of the body so that blood doesn’t flow as quickly and easily to the places that it needs to go. Blood carries nutrients and oxygen to skin, muscles, nerves, bone and soft tissues. Some tissues don’t have blood flowing to them directly and they have to rely on nearby blood vessels to leak nutrients and oxygen by diffusion to get what they need. A person who smokes is automatically making their heart work harder by having to push blood into the body against the resistance of the narrowed arteries. This causes high blood pressure. The body works harder to get blood flowing therefore it has to decide which organs need the blood and oxygen the most. The brain, heart, liver, lungs and kidneys are the “vessel rich” organs that need it the most. The skin, nerves, bones, discs of the spine, ligaments and other areas get less. Skin is the largest organ of the body and its appearance is a tell tale sign of what’s happening on the inside of the body. Smokers look older than they are because their skin isn’t getting enough blood flow and oxygen causing early wrinkles, sagging and a dull, dry, off color look.

More and more studies on the effects of tobacco use are showing that chronic pain, especially neck and low back, is directly related to smoking. The discs of the spine only get oxygen and nutrients through passive diffusion of blood flow from nearby spinal arteries. Discs that don’t get proper blood flow and nutrients are more likely to have early degeneration and lose their cushion effect on the spine which can cause nerve pain and damage. Slower tissue growth and healing is a major problem for all smokers whether they are healing from a relatively minor injury or surgery. Any type of chronic pain is made worse by smoking tobacco or e-cigarettes because those toxic elements accumulate in the tissues and prevent the body from healing itself. Unfortunately chronic pain isn’t always preventable or treatable but the decision to smoke can be changed and the harmful effects of smoking can be reversed if done early enough.