Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Heat and Light Out West



The Washington Post's new logo: "Democracy dies in darkness"

California can be the Post-er child. Our great Progressive democracy is converting as fast as it can to solar energy to keep the lights on.

When there are weeks of stormy weather--which officials thought will never happen again [note: California has failed to maintain levees and dams--the Federal ones are in decent shape] because of global warming--they will, in the dark, do the facepalm, just like when they forced Californians to throw out old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs. Oops, so CFLs poison the surroundings with mercury. They meant well.

Did you know that backup generators are getting cheaper, lighter, and more efficient?

Monday, February 20, 2017

Wet and Wild

Water pours from the drain from
Highway 92 above.
On a wet and wild President's Day the Bay Area experienced flash floods, power failures, and road closures. Staying close to home, we went to the gym and Costco.

Another reason not to travel is to avoid potholes. Pothole damage can run into the thousands of dollars, and I speak from personal experience.

The good news is that we are less than halfway through the "water year" ending September 30th, and already rainfall totals have exceeded those for an entire normal year of about 24 inches.

Though the governor has yet to declare it, the drought is over. If we survive, we'll be in good shape.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Give It A Rest

Making conversation after the morning service, I looked quizzically at a fellow parishioner when he asked, "Did you hear about the terrorist attack in Sweden?" No, I didn't. "President Trump said there was." Oh, he was making a joke about another of the President's apparent gaffes. I chuckled, and I changed the subject to the discovery of the underwater continent Zealandia (my friend was born in New Zealand).

Everyone wants to talk about the President, though no one I know voted for him (including me, which I have to repeat endlessly lest I be suspected of racist, sexist, deplorable heresy).

When I got home I had to look up what provoked the latest contretemps ("contre-Trumps"?). In a Saturday rally the President said:
"You look at what's happening last night in Sweden," Trump said. "Sweden. Who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They're having problems like they never thought possible."
If only he had not said "last night", because nothing happened on Friday. The rest of his statement does have merit, because some Swedes are having second thoughts about the correlation of higher crime and the immigration of "hundreds of thousands" of refugees into their country of 10 million.

But the bigger story to me is how Donald Trump's words pre-occupy the waking moments of so many people who didn't vote for him. You're letting him make your lives miserable, people.

Sunday is the day of rest for your benefit, not God's, so for your sake, not for Donald, the Republicans, and their supporters, please give it a rest.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Number Sixty-Three, And Proud of It

The deeper the blue, the safer the neighborhood
Only two Bay Area cities were in the list of the top 100 safest cities in the United States.

Los Altos was #98 and Foster City was #63.

Our middle-class Peninsula city has a prosperous light-industry and commercial sector--Gilead Sciences (GILD) and Visa International (V) are both headquartered here--and healthy tax receipts assure a fully-funded police force.

Perhaps of greater importance is that there are only three exit roads, which the police can block quickly. (Friends' experience with 911 calls shows the average response time to be between 5+ minutes. EMTs, fire, and police arrive nearly simultaneously.) Criminals look for easier pickings.

There were several times over the past 30 years that we thought about trading up to tonier zip codes. With the price appreciation that Bay Area real estate has experienced, our balance sheet would have looked better today. However, being able to sleep peacefully has value, too.

Friday, February 17, 2017

A Happier Guy

Christmas and New Year's resulted in a surfeit of coffee-bean gifts. We're slowly grinding through the packages and enjoying tastes other than French Roast and Italian Roast.

I mix the remainder of one bag with a new one when I'm close to running out. That's not how the connoisseurs do it, but having lower standards in coffee--and across most areas of life--means I'm a happier guy.

Besides, blended or not, the coffee still tastes pretty good.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Press Conference That Was Must-See TV

Intending to tune in briefly to the President's press conference today, I listened to the very end. It was riveting.

Policy issues---I agree with the President more often than not, btw---took a back seat. He laid into the "dishonest" media and particularly CNN, ("I mean I watch CNN, and it's so much anger, hatred"). The tone ("Tone. I see tone. You know the word tone. The tone is such hatred") of reporters' questions confirmed his assessment.

He further inoculated himself against press conference post-mortems by predicting, therefore de-fanging, the criticism:
Tomorrow, they will say, Donald Trump rants and raves at the press. I'm not ranting and raving. [blogger's note: FWIW, he didn't look angry.]
Hard-core supporters cheered. Hard-core opponents had their beliefs confirmed.

Barack Obama may have had some difficult questions to answer during his eight years in office, but reporters' tone was always respectful and often obsequious.

If the oppositional press has any hope of getting Trump voters to listen, it must show the President the respect due his office and criticize him with facts that can be independently verified. If the press just wants to preach to its bicoastal choir, it can just keep doing what it's doing.

For the record I am a paid subscriber to Time, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Economist, all of which have strongly anti-Trump editorial positions. I don't mind those, but what I do mind is how those positions bleed into their news sections and headlines. As I've written before, I hope that Donald Trump will revive them and make them great again.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Don't Correct, Sympathize

(Clipart image)
There's a word for that condition:
Misophonia, a disorder which means sufferers have a hatred of sounds such as eating, chewing, loud breathing or even repeated pen-clicking, was first named as a condition in 2001.
So, people who tell others to stop slurping their soup aren't necessarily etiquette-obsessed, they may have a brain abnormality:
scientists said scans of misophobia [sic: misophobia is the fear of germs] sufferers found changes in brain activity when a 'trigger' sound was heard. Brain imaging revealed that people with the condition have an abnormality in their emotional control mechanism which causes their brains to go into overdrive on hearing trigger sounds. The researchers also found that trigger sounds could evoke a heightened physiological response, with increased heart rate and sweating.
In recent years anti-social, unusual, and even criminal behaviors have been found to have a physiological basis. Institutions are already having a tough time adjusting to the notion that the environment determines life's outcomes. If one's genes determine the rest, what role is there for free will, motivation, and character? (Those questions are way above your humble blogger's pay grade.)

Meanwhile, when your kid covers his ears because certain sounds bother him, don't correct, sympathize.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Out of Kilter

The sauna is out of kilter. The repairs were scheduled to be completed by Valentine's Day, but they look like it will take another week at least.

I need the quiet time, I want the quiet time, I must have the quiet time. The steam room is one of the few places that I can get away. (Is there stuff going on in the world that bothers you as well, dear reader?)

I guess I'm out of kilter, too.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Water, Nearly Everywhere

We were glued to the set Sunday night as the emergency spillway for the Oroville Dam threatened to rupture and send a 30-foot wall of water down the Feather River. (I used to visit my uncle in Paradise, a few miles from Oroville and Oroville Dam. Paradise would have been out of the water's path.) Failure could have occurred any minute, and 180,000 people were evacuated.

Fortunately the rain abated, and the dam operators were able to release water quickly enough to take the pressure off the spillways. Evacuees have the option of moving back, and more rain is expected this weekend.

The five-year drought is almost over. We know this because newspapers have begun writing stories about great California floods.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sunday Revelations

Two scenes from church today, one unusual and the other (sadly) typical.

Future Collector
As mentioned before, children often are asked to help collect the offering. About half the families don't put anything into the plate (it doesn't mean the church goes without--some write monthly checks, and a few prepay their entire annual pledge for tax purposes). One young helper had been noting who had not contributed, and when we reached the back of the church made a beeline to recalcitrant donors, tapping some on the shoulder and pointing to the plate, sign language for "Did you forget something?" It took a minute to corral him.

As we frantically whispered our explanation, he grew mortified. Switching gears and kneeling at eye level, I shook his hand and thanked him for his service. He brightened. Church can produce indelible memories, and this incident shouldn't be a negative one. Besides, when he grows up we are always looking for people to run the pledge campaign....

A Regular Feature of Announcement Time
During announcement time someone got up to denounce the President of the United States, a seemingly weekly occurrence in the modern Episcopal Church. The source of the ire this time was the Administration claim that the media either under-publicize or don't even identify some incidents as terror attacks. This can't be so, the speaker declared, because terrorists always claim responsibility for their deeds.

Well, I mentally objected, why do we have such a cartoonishly simple understanding of the behavior of Jihadists? Have we forgotten about how the investigation into the 1999 Egyptair crash was diverted for years because no one believed that the Islamic pilot (probably not a terrorist) would commit suicide? Or that terrorists would use women and children to kill innocents? Or that they would attack "soft" targets? Haven't the terrorists evolved, too? No, I don't wholly buy into the President's assertion either, but why are we talking about a media dispute in church?

The speaker sat down to a smattering of applause. The Presidency of Donald Trump---whom I didn't vote for---has been remarkably enlightening about the good people whom I work with, care for, and see every day. During the previous Administration they have viewed themselves as morally superior to the people who were upset by President Obama. Now that the worm has turned, their own reaction has been far angrier and more intrusive than anything I saw in the past eight years. I hope that, after the anger passes, they have time to reflect on what their reactions tell them about themselves.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Protecting the Golden Years

Not uncommon, unfortunately (Mirror)
Scam artists find the elderly to be inviting targets: paraphrasing Willie Sutton, they're where the money is, and can't protect their finances because of cognitive decline. [bold added]
Studies suggest financial decision-making ability tends to reach its peak in a person’s mid-50s, after when deterioration sets in....But even “normal” ageing can cause cognitive change. Financial-management skills are often early casualties, because they demand both knowledge and judgment.

Older people are more likely to struggle with day-to-day banking and are more susceptible to poor investment decisions. They are also more vulnerable to fraud or to financial exploitation, often by relatives. In 2010 the over-65s in America made up 13% of the population but had over a third of the wealth.
After I turned 60, memory and alertness declined so much that even I could notice. The consequence is that I might well purchase investments, such as annuities, that I would not have previously considered---annuities lock up one's cash and are difficult to steal.

But the best defense is to have children who are financially secure (so they won't be conflicted when handling your money) and who have your interests at heart. No matter what else may have happened to you, if you have such children your life has been a success.

Friday, February 10, 2017

One Thing is Certain: Climate Change Will Take the Blame

Venice? No, Sacramento in 1862 (SFGate)
An unexpectedly wet winter has not only alleviated the drought, it has revived interest in---and fears of--- disastrous floods: [bold added]
the USGS lays out a case for a hypothetical "megastorm," one that could cause up to $725 billion in damage and impact a quarter of California's homes.

The ARkStorm [Atmospheric River 1000] would bring with it catastrophic rains, hurricane-force winds and hundreds of landslides. Central Valley flooding alone is projected to span 300 miles.

If that sounds far-fetched, there's historic precedent: Geological evidence indicates that California endures massive flooding caused by atmospheric rivers every 100-200 years. And settlers who moved to California after the Gold Rush soon found what the native population had known for centuries: Northern California is prime flooding territory.

The most prominent example is the Great Flood of 1862, a natural disaster that still ranks as the largest flood in the history of the American West. Between Dec. 1861 and Jan. 1862, the West Coast received a near-constant deluge of rain. Sacramento received a stunning 23 inches in that period, turning the city into a watery ghost town.
Information like this puts the kibosh on dreams to purchase a get-away-from-earthquakes home in Sacramento. An underwater haven will do us no good. Something a bit higher might still be suitable, though driving there would be a problem.

The real takeaway is that scientists have a sense of humor. ARkstorm? Indeed.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Enhanced by the Surprise

Friends of ours sent us a box of oranges on January 28th, the Lunar New Year.

Giving red envelopes to the kids or eating tsai is usually the most we do to celebrate; hardly anyone we know in the second, third, or later generations honor other Lunar New Year traditions.

The oranges are nearly gone, their sweetness enhanced by the surprise of receiving them.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

The Trend is Not Our Friend

U.S. companies are coming "back home", but many aren't bringing back jobs. Here's a new buzzword---no-shoring: [bold added]
digitizing back-office tasks brings them back to the country in which a company operates, but without bringing back any jobs.
From the Labor Day post:
we just may be in one of those historical inflection points where automation, robots, and artificial intelligence finally destroy more jobs than they create.
We are living longer, but the trend is toward fewer jobs that give life meaning. I hope I'm wrong.

[Note: the fact that the elite of the elite talked about the issue at Davos doesn't give much hope. How often does a top-down solution, for example job retraining, help more than a few people?]

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Rising Above It

Like the stages of grief, I've gone through several stages of irritation over the use of Facebook by some of my friends to trumpet their political views. Of course, I was initially irritated with friends whose politics differed from mine. But then I became irritated with other friends "on my side of the aisle" who wouldn't let up, either.

Facebook is a great way to communicate instantaneously with a large number of people; it also is a great way to inflame. From Politics Have Turned Facebook Into a Steaming Cauldron of Hate
Nearly everybody reported that they’d blocked, muted, or unfollowed people with extreme — and extremely different — political views.
I refuse to go down the rathole of argumentation and believe the worst about people with different views. Not everyone on one side is a gun-toting, racist homophobe, and not everyone on the other side is an elitist snob with zero real-world experience. In fact, I read a variety of publications, such as the Huffington Post, Slate, the National Review, and the Weekly Standard, along with mainstream big media, and I find that there's reasoning behind the thinking that I disagree with. Occasionally, I change my mind.

Politics is very important to a few--most in my circle post about their families--but that's what friendship is, listening to what's important to others. Nothing that they post about is worth breaking the bond.

Below are Facebook posts from a friend on the left and a friend on the right, both women. And I love them both (the final stage of irritation?).