Sunday, July 20, 2014

Offering of Letters, 2014

Letter-writing in 2009.
We are pragmatists, not ideologues. Though we have deep misgivings about using governmental coercion to "do good", principle takes a back seat when people are dying of starvation.

Under the auspices of Bread for the World we have joined Christians across the United States in writing to Congressional representatives in support of food aid to foreign countries, where a life may be saved for pennies a day.

Unlike in previous years, 2014's Offering of Letters doesn't ask for increases to the $2 billion aid budget but wants to make spending more efficient. For example, supplies must be purchased from U.S. companies and transported on American ships; in far-away emergencies it would be far more expeditious to purchase food closer to the need and shipped on available vessels nearby. Faster (and fresher) for the same amount of money? Nearly everyone can support that. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Different Goals, Different Styles

The old explanation: men interrupt women because men are sexist.

The new: generally speaking (as it were), men are trying to establish dominance while the goal of women is to make a connection. Men are not necessarily "sexist"-----they speak that way to other men.

Amherst researcher Elizabeth Aries
analysed 45 hours of conversation and [discovered] that men dominated mixed groups—but she also found competition and dominance in male-only groups. Men begin discussing fact-based topics, sizing each other up. Before long, a hierarchy is established: either those who have the most to contribute, or those who are simply better at dominating the conversation, are taking most of the turns. The men who dominate one group go on to dominate others, while women show more flexibility in their dominance patterns. The upshot is that a shy, retiring man can find himself endlessly on the receiving end of the same kinds of lectures.
In conversation your humble observer's main goal is not to dominate or connect with others but to learn something new about a subject (and if ignorance is on display, at least he'll have learned something about the speakers). A justification for introversion? Perhaps, but as a wise person once said, one learns by listening, not by talking.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Weird Reaction

Yale Alumni Magazine graphic
It's understandable why people hide negative episodes in their history, but concealment is often the case for praiseworthy aspects as well. It's more than just humility (genuine or false).

With the passage of time an individual builds a web of relationships with people who don't know the individual's history. If they discover, for example, that the humble individual whom they have known for years is very wealthy, some would begin keeping their distance, perhaps caused by embarrassment over their own circumstances.

A similar dynamic appears to be at work with Yale alumni who say, vaguely, that they "went to school in Connecticut" when asked about their degree. (It's socially acceptable to brandish an Ivy credential when trying to get a job, get into graduate school, or raise money, but rarely otherwise.)
Stephanie Elizabeth Small ’99 spoke for many when she said she opts for a vague answer “because 90 percent of the time when I say ‘Yale,’ people have a really weird reaction.

Don Gooding ’80 agreed with Small. “I do this less now than when I was younger, but I’m still contextual about it,” he wrote. “There are times when it can be a conversation killer, and why do that?”
Of course, having six-figure student loans that you can't pay off is another reason to keep quiet.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

It's How You Say It

Researchers have discovered that "the human voice, particularly changes to pitch and modulation, can betray the speaker’s hidden sexual attraction to his or her listener".
not only do men’s voices get deeper when they’re chatting up some lovely woman, but they also get higher compared to when their speech is directed at another male or to an unattractive female listener.
A low-pitched voice signals masculinity, while a sing-song modulation lessens the fear that the speaker is overly aggressive.
In other words, “Hey, sexy lady, hear this? Hear how I’m sounding right now? That’s right: I’m a virile, testosterone-fuelled male specimen of our species but, cross my heart, I’ll be sweet to you… and our future offspring.”
The math: Deep voice + modulation = Masculine + non-threatening = Sexy

If guys say it right, it doesn't matter what they say or even how they look. Below is an example from one of the all-time greatest practitioners of vocal seduction.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Café Bakery

Today's special: roast pork w/ spaghetti
Three or four times a year, when errands take us to the western parts of San Francisco, we stop at the Café Bakery and Restaurant on Noriega.

Café Bakery is popular with the locals because of its value pricing: all meals include soup, bread, entrée, coffee or tea, and jello(!). Reflecting both its ownership and clientele, Café Bakery does offer some Asian selections such as noodles and fried rice, but its sensibility is much more American diner than Chinese restaurant.

Seafood meals can cost nearly $20, but the daily specials are under $10. Your cheap frugal correspondent always gets the special.

The kitchen prepares dishes that are more comfort than gourmet, and quantities are generous. Café Bakery doesn't take credit cards, so bring cash along with your appetite.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Cooking Time: 5 Days

Gomphothere drawing by
North Americans ("Clovis") of 13,000 years ago hunted gomphotheres, now-extinct elephant-like creatures. Scientists originally thought that gomphotheres pre-dated the Clovis, but a recent find in Mexico showed that man and beast co-existed.
Further digging revealed the complete remains of two gomphotheres—one 13 to 24 years old and the other a comparative juvenile at 10-12 years old. Mingled in with the bones were more spear points and though weathering on the bones made it hard to look for the cut marks and gouges that usually indicate butchering, the signs of a hunt were unmistakable. For one thing, animals that die natural deaths leave bones arranged in more or less the proper skeletal configuration. In this case, however, the remains were stacked in two distinct, non-anatomical piles.
Conclusion: the paleo diet may be attracting much enthusiasm, but unless it includes a side of gomphothere it ain't the genuine article.

(Photo by

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Fantasy Lives

Not only is the house from a different time, so is the price ($535,000). To California house-hunters buffeted by seven-figure asking prices, the description seems unreal.
  • 1,600 square feet
  • 1 bedroom
  • 2 bathrooms
  • 2.79 acres

    Walt Disney's Palm Desert, California, party house is for sale.

    The home, owned by the Disney family in the 1950s and '60s, is where Disney hosted A-list stars including Humphrey Bogart, Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, offering trips on the zip line Disney had installed on the property. The home also still features the ceiling fan system in the main living area that was seen in the movie "Casablanca."
  • An historical celebrity home in a popular retirement spot for "only" $535,000.....either something about it is very wrong, or it's fantasy.

    Sunday, July 13, 2014

    Aloha and Mahalo, John

    I first met John Keast in the 1980's, when he joined the local Episcopal church. He participated in the choir and various ministries, becoming an integral part of church life.

    15 years ago John felt called to address the problems faced by released prisoners trying to make their way back into society. According to a 2011 report by the California Department of Corrections
    The total three-year recidivism rate (return to prison) for all felons released during FY 2006-07 is 65.1 percent.
    John's foundation, with its cadre of professional volunteers, educated and trained groups of prisoners before release, helping hundreds of the formerly incarcerated. Local law enforcement has praised John and his organization for helping to reduce the crime rate.

    At 93, he no longer can move around as well as he used to and is moving to Santa Cruz to live with his daughter. His work at the Inmate Correctional Education Project is an inspiration to everyone, not only for its devotion to one of society's most powerless populations but also for showing that it is possible to embark on meaningful new initiatives at the age of seventy-eight (78). Godspeed.

    Saturday, July 12, 2014

    Paying for the Label

    Whole Foods organic display
    (Greensboro Daily photo)
    We regularly purchase (and pay a premium for) "organic" food without fully understanding the term. Below is a summarized version of the USDA definition:
    To be labelled organic, a producer must abide by a stringent set of government standards. The USDA qualifies produce as organic if no synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizers or genetically modified organisms (GMO) are used. Pest control and crop nutrients must be managed through natural physical, mechanical and biological controls. And when producing organic meat, eggs and dairy, for instance, farmers must provide non-GMO livestock with year-round outdoor access. They are also prohibited from using growth hormones or antibiotics.
    We won't know for a long time if going organic will make any difference to our longevity and quality of life, but the price difference is manageable and there appear to be no other downsides. Yes, we may be suckers, but at least we are pesticide-, antibiotic-, and GMO-free.

    Friday, July 11, 2014

    "There are Too Many Novels, and Too Many People Writing Them"

    Writer Javier Marías lists seven good reasons not to write novels:
  • There are too many novels and too many people writing them.
  • Because anyone...can write a novel, it is an activity that lacks merit and mystery.
  • Writing a novel certainly won’t make you rich.
  • The novel is no guarantee of fame.
  • The novel does not bring immortality.
  • Writing novels does not flatter the ego, even momentarily.
  • Other: suffering, isolation, sacrifice of a normal life, etc.
  • In other words, writing a novel is a highly inefficient means of achieving worldly ends such as riches and fame.

    Even those who scribble occasionally (cough)---though much, much less than professional writers and novelists---soon come to the realization that their limited talents make writing, like playing music or sports, an activity to be enjoyed for its own sake. For true writers, however, an audience of one is all they need.

    Thursday, July 10, 2014

    Ubiquitous Presence

    Spotted near SFO today on Hwy 101
    A familiar sight on Bay Area roads--and in many towns across the country--is Google's Street View Car. Street View has been criticized for showing what the front of everyone's house looks like, but that's the point, isn't it? Google also has not been forgiven by vehement critics for scooping data from unprotected wi-fi networks 4-9 years ago but seems to have weathered the public relations storm.

    Because the benefits of Google Maps and Street View far exceed the costs (zero out-of-pocket for most people, who aren't very concerned about privacy because "they have nothing to hide"), those applications have expanded rapidly in popularity. Someday, acceptance could even grow into universal love.
    O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Google. -- With apologies to George Orwell
    © 2014 Stephen Yuen

    Wednesday, July 09, 2014

    Part of the Educational Experience

    Everyone has experienced traffic congestion at old roads that cannot accommodate an increased number of cars. But there shouldn't be an excuse for stoppages after a new building has been constructed and its road and parking lot have been completed.

    After classes at the new Science Center students rush across the street at the same time dozens of cars--sometimes over a hundred--leave the parking lot. Of course, the crosswalk is situated where the cars must turn right. The light is green only for a few seconds, and it can take 10-15 minutes to exit the Science Center. This may not seem to be an inordinate delay, but for the many commuter students who are rushing to get to work the daily stop-and-go can be grinding. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

    Tuesday, July 08, 2014

    The "Lifegiver" Scorpion

    Deathstalker scorpion (Image from
    Pediatric oncologist Jim Olson may have a solution to "one of the most vexing problems in oncology: the fact that a tumor’s precise boundaries are nearly impossible to define during surgery."

    His answer is chlorotoxin, a molecule that is found in the deathstalker scorpion and binds only to cancer cells, not healthy ones. Attaching a special dye to the chlorotoxin causes tumors to glow under infrared light; "Tumor Paint" greatly increases the probability that surgeons can detect and remove the entire cancer during surgery.
    You know, a tumor doesn’t have a big sign that says ‘Here I Am,’” says Steven Rosenfeld, director of the Brain Tumor Research Center of Excellence at the Cleveland Clinic. “An MRI can be helpful, but it doesn’t identify all of the microscopic deposits and nests where the tumor occurs.” Neurosurgeries are particularly tricky because the brain has a gelatinous consistency—surgeons compare it to a wobbly slab of Jell-O. Poking and prodding an exposed brain with sharp instruments alters its shape, thereby rendering MRI images useless as guides.
    Dr. Olson's idea was rejected by large funding organizations, but he was able to pursue his research ($100,000 buys less than a gram of chlorotoxin) through donations from grateful families. He raised $5 million for the initial phase, then $20 million after experiments showed success. Human clinical trials began last December.

    The War on Cancer began 42 years ago. Jim Olson's campaign is one of many battles that still have to be won but is another sign that ultimate victory may be achievable during our lifetime.

    Monday, July 07, 2014

    Psychology of Clutter

    (WSJ Graphic)
    Clearing the clutter is like losing weight: periodic spurts of motivated progress punctuated by long periods of backsliding. Why is attacking clutter so difficult? It could be due to "psychological demons":
    Difficulty letting go of your stuff can also go hand in hand with separation anxiety, compulsive shopping, perfectionism, procrastination and body-image issues. And the reluctance to cope can create a vicious cycle of avoidance, anxiety and guilt.

    In most cases, however, psychologists say that clutter can be traced to what they call cognitive errors—flawed thinking that drives dysfunctional behaviors that can get out of hand. Among the most common clutter-generating bits of logic: "I might need these someday." "These might be valuable." "These might fit again if I lose (or gain) weight."
    If I won't do it for myself, perhaps I can be motivated to do it for loved ones. As part of the final, great gift, I should not only get rid of as much stuff as possible, but also organize and label the items that I do keep. (For example, the old cup on the mantel was from my maternal grandmother, and the jade floral sculpture was a gift from a now-departed good friend.)
    The biggest sources of clutter and the hardest to discard are things that hold sentimental meaning. Dr. Rego says it's natural to want to hang onto objects that trigger memories, but some people confuse letting go of the object with letting go of the person.
    Final thought about cleaning up: if you won't make the decision, then someone else will, someone without your knowledge and perspective.

    Sunday, July 06, 2014

    It Still Matters....A Lot

    Historian David Armitage reflects on the two "elements that sometimes get conflated" in the Declaration of Independence [bold added]:
    The first of these is the assertion of popular sovereignty to create a new state: in the Declaration's words, the right of "one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them."

    The second and more famous element of the Declaration is its ringing endorsement of the sanctity of the individual: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights."
    (Using the pedestrian terminology of organizations, the Declaration was the mission statement while the Constitution was the first attempt at the policies and procedures manual.)

    Throughout history to the present day, the most heated debates concerned the meaning of the words in the founding documents. One development has been clear: the two "conflated" elements of the Declaration are often in conflict with State power that has grown all over the world:
    In the Declaration of Independence, the same principles that empowered one people to separate from the British Empire also gave them, as individuals, certain expectations about how they would be treated by their own governments in the future.

    Today's authoritarians are eager to flex their sovereign muscles, especially in suppressing dissent at home and criticism from abroad, but they don't like the second half of the equation—the notion that their authority derives, ultimately, from the "unalienable rights" of their citizens.