Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Retro Carbo

We are fans of Krispy Kreme, especially when the doughnuts are served hot, but steady price increases, plus their diminutive size, made us yearn for a traditional offering last week.

So we made a detour to San Bruno. When we moved to Daly City in the '70's, we made regular stops at Rolling Pin Donuts, and we're happy to confirm that RPD is still in business. (The sign reads "since 1958.")

We ordered a baker's dozen (13 for the price of 12--take that, Krispy Kreme!) of the non-fancy doughnuts, which by the way were plenty good. While prices are slightly higher than KK, two Rolling Pins more than satisfy, whereas your humble blogger has been known to partake of three (or more) Krispy Kremes in one sitting.

Rolling Pin is open "Midnight to Midnight, 7 days a week". You hardly see that any more.

Below is a review from two young foodies who show off their jiu-jitsu moves during the first two minutes ("it was tiring, but I think we had no asthma attacks").

Monday, October 16, 2017

Progress in Education

Intelligent, sentient, machines have been a staple of science fiction since Isaac Asimov began writing about robots in 1939. His robots were for the most part benign because they were programmed to obey the Three Laws of Robotics, but most science fiction is not so rosy.

Sci-fi artificial life that is smarter, faster, and stronger than human beings is often shown as something to be dreaded (see, for example, Blade Runner and Battlestar Galactica). In the real world we see glimmerings of this dystopian future in killer drones, sex with robots, and worries that more jobs will be lost than created by automation.

But surely there are positive applications for human-like machines in science, education, and medicine. SynDaver Labs uses
a library of polymers to craft synthetic cadavers that twitch and bleed like real suffering humans.

Hospitals and med schools use the fakes to teach anatomy and train surgeons, and the most lifelike model is the $95,000 SynDaver Patient. This exquisite corpse can be controlled wirelessly so practitioners can rehearse elaborate medical scenarios in which the patient goes into shock and even “dies.”
Unlike HBO's fantasy Westworld, an amusement park where human beings can torture, rape, and kill robots that look like humans, SynDaver's cadavers cannot think, feel, or remember anything.

At least we hope they can't.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Respite from Their Harangues

Admonitions against self-righteousness ("pot calling the kettle black", "people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones") go back centuries or longer:
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? [Matthew 7:3]
The first European colonists brought strict moral codes to the New World, and the Puritan tradition held sway for hundreds of years.

Burt Lancaster won Best Actor in 1961 for
his portrayal of a con-man evangelist.

The philosophical revolt began in literature, then continued in film. Morally compromised clergy became so commonplace in fiction that nowadays it is unusual to read the story of a man of the cloth who is not consumed by lust, avarice, and/or ambition. Real-world revelations of child abuse, adultery, and financial chicanery contributed to the erosion of Christianity's moral authority.

By the end of the 20th century the status of Christianity was so undermined that few clergy had the temerity to pontificate upon the evils of society, preferring to minister to the needs of their congregation and focus on individuals' spiritual health. (To be sure, some issues like late-term abortion did rouse conservative Christians from their torpor, but those occasions were rare.)

There was a strain of Christianity--endemic in my Episcopal Church--that embraced progressivism (Marxism rechristened) and gave full-throated advocacy to identity politics, the denunciation of "structural" racism/sexism/economic inequality, and the use of State power to rectify perceived injustice.

Academia, Hollywood, and mass media merged with progressive Christianity to create a new priestly caste, the educated philosopher-kings who marched on the right side of history. After Donald Trump was elected in November, the outrage from these morally superior beings has been broadcast unceasingly over all TV, radio, print, and internet channels.

Until last Sunday, that is, when the deeds of Harvey Weinstein came to light. He was one of their spiritual ringleaders, and his crimes--moral and social, if not legal---were far more severe and extensive than any Donald Trump might have committed.

The priestly caste will not be shaken from their worldview by the actions of one, two, or ten Harvey Weinsteins, but here's hoping that for a little while we will be granted respite from their harangues.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Too Soon

Prediction: expect certain wine-tasting terms (smoky, crisp) to become more prevalent in the coming years.

Poor taste! (Are we talking about the wine or this post?)

The fires are still burning; it's too soon.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Paying Attention Now

Bay Area residents were able to look at the
sun all week without special eclipse glasses.
Yesterday's throwaway line about the Bay Area's smoky haze ("Do you want to breathe like the people in China?") isn't a laughing matter. The allergist strongly recommended that we stay indoors, and the asthmatics in the family are wheezing, even with the air filters running continuously.

Popular Mechanics - The Air Quality in San Francisco Right Now Is As Bad As Beijing:
"These fires are bringing Beijing to the Bay Area and are allowing us to see what they experience around the clock," says Richard Muller, a UC Berkeley professor of physics...."By published estimates, it's killing 4,400 people a day in China alone. People die prematurely in China every day and we pay no attention."
Meanwhile businesses and government officials are cancelling events:
many schools decided to close Friday and organizers canceled weekend events, including an Oktoberfest in Walnut Creek and a fitness festival and half marathon in San Francisco.

Sports teams are monitoring the air quality as they prepare to host games. Some members of the Oakland Raiders wore masks during workouts Thursday.

The NFL has been exploring options to move Sunday's game between the Oakland Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers if it becomes necessary.

Oakland, some 45 miles (72 kilometers) south of the fires, has been blanketed by smoke.

Officials at the University of California, Berkeley and Stanford are monitoring the air quality as weekend football games approach.
The fires in the North Bay aren't contained, and the forecasters predict that the winds will pick up again. If it weren't for various responsibilities, we would have taken off for the weekend.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Updated Warning

Chronicle: [bold added]
people in the East Bay are reporting ash falling from the sky on Wednesday afternoon, adding more pollution to the area's smoke-filled sky.

The gray flakes are covering windshields, outdoor furniture, backyards, trees.
We've had some ash fall in San Mateo County, albeit much less than in San Francisco and the East Bay.

Air quality red alert for the Peninsula---what is this, Los Angeles?
The ash has contributed to the particulate matter. [bold added]
“We are reporting the worst air quality ever recorded for smoke in many parts of the Bay Area,” said Tom Flannigan, spokesman for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. “This is similar to what you see in Beijing China in bad air days there.”
20th century warning to American kids: Do you want to starve like the people in China? 21st century version: Do you want to breathe like the people in China?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Hollywood: the Tribe Protects Its Own

The reports of sexual harassment by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein have escalated to rape:
Mr. Weinstein was accused of rape by three women and sexual harassment by 10 others in an article published by the New Yorker magazine on Tuesday morning. Soon after the article appeared online, the New York Times reported that several more actresses—including Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie—said the mogul had propositioned or harassed them at early points in their careers.
When thinking about how "everyone knew"--at least in the media and entertainment industries--what Harvey Weinstein did for about 20 years, I can't help but think of what happened to Joe Paterno.

Alumni and players have called for the restoration
of Joe Paterno's statue, removed in 2012  (LA Times)
Joe Paterno was the winningest coach (409 wins) in college football history and led the Penn State Nittany Lions to two National Championships and 37 bowl appearances in 46 seasons. When his assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, was arrested in 2011 on 52 counts of child molestation that occurred from 1994 to 2009, Joe Paterno was fired. Sandusky was convicted on 45 counts in 2012.

There was some evidence that Joe Paterno knew second-hand about Sandusky's acts in 2001. He did comply with the State law at the time to report this knowledge to his superior, the Athletic Director, but did not follow up. Joe Paterno died of cancer a couple of months after he was fired, an ignominious end to a great career.

Coach Paterno's name was removed from buildings and awards, attempts were made (but ultimately failed) to deny him contractual compensation, and Penn State was fined $60 million by the NCAA. Perhaps the greatest symbol of his fall was the taking down of his statue by the University.

Some of the most famous names in Hollywood, as well as national media organizations, knew about Harvey Weinstein's crimes for over 15 years. Harvey Weinstein deserves, as did Jerry Sandusky, whatever sentences will be meted out to him, but will any of Weinstein's enablers suffer a fall equivalent to Joe Paterno's? Will any organizations be fined millions of dollars for covering up the ruination of young girls' lives? Will anyone have to return their Oscars?

We already know the answer: the tribe protects its own.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

"It was a hell-storm of smoke and ash"

We are 60 miles south of Novato, the closest of the fires, yet we could smell the smoke. Friends in San Francisco said that ash was falling on their house.

Unlike previous fires that have struck unpopulated areas, these have spread through wine country and North Bay cities.
A swarm of fires supercharged by powerful winds ripped through Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties Monday, killing at least 10 people, injuring dozens of others, destroying more than 1,500 homes and businesses, and turning prominent wineries to ash.

Starting in the middle of the night, the fires hopscotched across neighborhoods, raced across fields and jumped freeways. Wind gusts up to 70 mph pushed walls of flames nearly 100 feet high, throwing embers ahead like hot fingers into strip malls and subdivisions. Many people who fled the surge had enough time to grab car keys, perhaps a pet, but not much more.
Winery building in Napa County (Chronicle photo)
And it's far from over.

Today the only thing we could do was head to Costco to stock up on wine. Wineries have been destroyed, thereby reducing both inventories and production capacity for years.

After the situation is contained, we'll look at ways we can assist the recovery.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Give Me Some of That

Tied for NFL's worst record (0-5): you might kneel, too (Chron)
Vice President Mike Pence walked out of the Indianapolis-San Francisco game yesterday when twenty-three 49ers knelt during the national anthem. One of the kneelers, 49ers safety Eric Reid, said after the game: [bold added]
“He know that our team has the most players protesting, so he stopped to watch us do it and left in an effort to try to thwart what we’re trying to accomplish,” Reid said. “This is a case in point for systematic oppression. This is a powerful man with a huge platform and this is what he chooses to do. Fly in on taxpayer money to confuse the issue that we’re trying to control the narrative on.

“It’s really disheartening.”
Eric Reid doesn't like a system that "oppresses" him with a salary of $5,676,000 in 2017. By the way, the Vice President of the United States makes $230,700, four percent (4%) of Mr. Reid's compensation.

If this is oppression, I'd like a helping of that, too.

Afterthought: "control the narrative on"---it looks like Eric Reid has picked up a little critical theory from some newfound protester-friends. It's impossible for your side to control the narrative now, Eric, and besides, they are not your friends and certainly not football's.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

They Don't Have to Be There

Politics was the leading cause of stress in 2014 (outsidethebeltway)

The seeping of politics into the workplace causes stress that is harmful to health, writes Deepak Chopra. [bold added]
talking about politics has become the norm. Critics may complain that outrageous behavior from the White House is being normalized, but at a more hidden level, stress is being normalized too...the vast majority of lifestyle disorders, from heart disease and stroke to type 2 diabetes and probably cancer, are incremental diseases that take years or decades to develop before symptoms appear. The two main culprits of this are low-grade inflammation and chronic stress.
Deepak Chopra has helpful suggestions about reducing workplace stress brought on by politics:
  • Focus on one thing at a time. Don’t multi-task. For example, don’t read political news while you’re working on a difficult project.
  • Keep your focus relaxed instead of tense, which begins by working without interruptions in a quiet environment.
  • Lose physical tension by standing up once an hour, preferably combined with a few stretches and a short walk.
  • When a situation gets tense—especially if it’s a political argument—walk away as soon as you can.
  • Take downtime three times a day when you can be quiet and alone. Take some deep breaths and center yourself.
  • Maintain contact with the people who matter most to you for at least an hour a day, combining phone calls, texts, emails, and best of all, personal engagement. Don’t talk about politics.
  • Stay away from the people at work who create pressure, show no regard for the comfort level of others, and force their politics on you.
  • Football and religion---for some people it's the same thing!---used to be a refuge. No longer is that true in the NFL. My church isn't one either; the majority of resolutions to be decided at the Diocesan Convention in San Francisco are political (in bold):
    Resolution 1: Repeal of Mandatory Retirement Age for Priests and Deacons
    Resolution 2: Becoming a Sanctuary Church
    Resolution 3: Becoming a Sanctuary Diocese

    Resolution 4: Church-Wide Paid Family Leave Policy
    Resolution 5: Task Force on Paid Family Leave
    Resolution 6: Climate Change, Carbon Tax
    Resolution 7: A Just Peace in the Holy Land
    Resolution 8: Supporting Transgender Access
    Resolution 9: Climate Change, Corporate Governance
    Mr. Chopra said to "stay away from the people at work who create pressure, show no regard for the comfort level of others, and force their politics on you."  Football fans and Episcopalians are following that advice, especially because, unlike work, they don't have to be there.

    Saturday, October 07, 2017

    That New Phone Fever

    iPhone 6: still fine.
    The iPhone 6 is a perfectly fine smartphone, as we noted in July. Mine is fairly new, replaced under the AppleCare extended warranty this May.

    We ought to have the discipline to hold off buying a new iPhone 8 or iPhone X until 2018. Reports on the new phones' reliability are mixed. But I'm getting that new-phone fever....

    Another reason I shouldn't upgrade is because the 8 or X would be even "better" at hijacking my mind.
    Not only do our phones shape our thoughts in deep and complicated ways, but the effects persist even when we aren’t using the devices. As the brain grows dependent on the technology, the research suggests, the intellect weakens.[snip]

    "Mind-blowing": Apple's right again.
    In an April article in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, Dr. Ward and his colleagues wrote that the “integration of smartphones into daily life” appears to cause a “brain drain” that can diminish such vital mental skills as “learning, logical reasoning, abstract thought, problem solving, and creativity.” Smartphones have become so entangled with our existence that, even when we’re not peering or pawing at them, they tug at our attention, diverting precious cognitive resources.
    The effects of smartphone addiction--or just heavy use--have become worrisome to those who have designed many of its features:
    many of these younger technologists are weaning themselves off their own products, sending their children to elite Silicon Valley schools where iPhones, iPads and even laptops are banned. They appear to be abiding by a Biggie Smalls lyric from their own youth about the perils of dealing crack cocaine: never get high on your own supply.
    As if the iPhone wasn't engrossing enough, the new models come with souped-up augmented reality.

    I shouldn't upgrade if I know what's good for myself, but why start now?

    Friday, October 06, 2017

    Golden Sanctuary State: Information is a Two-Way Street

    Est. 2.7 million undocumented in CA (Image from KVPR)   
    California is officially a sanctuary state: [bold added]
    The law bars law enforcement officers in the state from asking about a person’s immigration status or participating in any joint task force with federal officials for the purpose of enforcing immigration laws.

    The new law makes changes to the state’s Trust Act by barring local jails from holding an inmate for immigration authorities if that person is cleared for release on their state criminal cases. The law also limits the list of offenses that make undocumented immigrants subject to having their impending release passed along to federal authorities.
    One counter-move by the Federal Government, namely, withholding payments to California, has been much discussed and will be challenged in court if attempted. But money isn't the only weapon.

    The information flow from the U.S. Government to the States is massive. California benefits from economic (e.g., interest rates, tax audits, census), scientific (e.g., weather, USGS), transportation (e.g., aviation, shipping), and other data, often delivered in real time, the lack of which would severely hamper the functioning of State government.

    For example, the State piggy-backs on IRS audits of individuals; a balance due to the U.S. Treasury is followed up by an invoice from the Franchise Tax Board a month or two later. If the Treasury withheld audit results, California could not staff up independently to review the taxes of its residents and lose millions of dollars each year.

    As it shuts off communication to the Federal Government, our State should remember that information is a two-way street.

    Thursday, October 05, 2017

    Guns and Pancakes

    Next door to friendly, well-maintained Awful Annie's is the friendly, well-maintained Lincoln Gun Exchange, the "Friendliest Gun Dealer in Northern CA".

    Both are tenants of the 137-year-old Lincoln Brand Feeds building, which will soon undergo renovations.

    Owner Bill Falconi:
    “Not much is going to change. The building will look the same; we’ll keep the same tenants. We’re not going to split it up or tear it down.”
    Guns and pancakes, side by side.

    Toto, I've a feeling we're not in the Haight-Ashbury any more.

    Wednesday, October 04, 2017

    Awful Annie's

    French toast
    We stopped at Awful Annie's, a Little Orphan Annie-themed breakfast and lunch restaurant near Sacramento.

    Your humble blogger has been cutting down on sugar and other carbohydrates, but glances at other tables revealed that nearly everyone was ordering pancakes or waffles.

    At the waitress' suggestion I ordered French toast. According to culinary law, dietary restrictions are unenforceable away from home.

    A little maple syrup and a cup of coffee rounded out an unexpectedly pleasant breakfast.

    We were not disappointed.

    Tuesday, October 03, 2017

    Still Appealing

    The streets in our neighborhood are being repaved and resealed, which meant that any cars we wanted to use during the next two days had to be parked at least a block away. It was as good an excuse as any to take a road trip.

    A full tank of gas, an overnight bag, an open calendar, and some spending money---some pleasures of 40 years ago still appeal.