Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sunday Tableau

My home parish is not a large church, so I was not expecting to see a sufficient number of acolytes to make up a Gospel Processional, complete with crucifer, bookbearer, and two candlebearers.

The rector is a Lutheran pastor---there is full communion between the Lutheran and Episcopal denominations---and (obviously) a woman. She's a living symbol of the changes that have come to the Church over the past half-century.

But is she doing a good job? Based on the evidence of our own eyes, she is.

The Anger Trap: More Powerful Than Ever

Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared.
-- Proverbs 22:24-25
(Telegraph image)
Before the modern era anger was not a virtue, in fact it was one of the seven deadly sins.

Nowadays if you are angry for the "right" reasons many people will follow you, you'll get on the nightly news, and you may even get elected to high office. And if you destroy property and harm people because you are angry about the way things are or will be shortly, you are also rewarded with fame and clicks. There is plenty of anger on display by all sides.

Your humble blogger is not immune from anger and sometimes allowed it to control his decisions. Although some say that anger can be used as motivation and channeled into productive uses, I have found its costs to be much greater than any benefits. As King Solomon wrote about the anger trap, don't "get yourself ensnared."

BTW, don't suppress or vent your anger. Try reappraisal.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Apt Metaphor

The new President's first and last names are each very punnable, so inspired by a headline such as the one shown ("Don of a New Day") I went outside on Friday to take a picture of the sunrise at 7:10 a.m. HST (12:10 p.m. in Washington, DC) while he was delivering the Inaugural address.

No luck, the heavy overcast blocked the sun, and fierce rains blew through Honolulu shortly after.

Well, a storm is a more apt metaphor anyway for what's going on in politics.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Nice to Test It

Tourists who want to spend a lot of money can always go to Maui or Kauai or stay in Waikiki, and I'm not averse to doing that every five years or so.

This time I would have my typical Oahu vacation in which expenses, including airfare, would be under $1,000 for the week (OK, it helps to have relatives who will provide a bed and a car).

I strolled down to Ala Moana Beach Park; it has large expanses of white sand, reef-protected beaches, and hardly any people on a weekday. The distance around the park was 1.8 miles, enough to meet the (low) exercise criterion on the Apple Watch.

The short walk was enough to work up a light sweat and a good reason to walk across Ala Moana Boulevard to the shopping center for refreshment. Retiring in Hawaii, I would start doing this every day and might eventually get bored. Well, I'm not sure about that but it would be nice to test that hypothesis.

Banyan at Ala Moana park

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Often Wrong but Never in Doubt

Two Wall Street Journals in one: from last Friday's web page, the Trump rally has peaked vs. the Trump rally continues. (Clicking through shows that the optimistic projection is actually from Marketwatch.)

Despite millions (billions?) of dollars spent on computer models and hiring the best mathematics PhD's from CalTech and MIT, the investment banks, the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Department, and Economics departments still can't tell us where the financial markets are going today, tomorrow, or next year.

Maybe they should think outside the box and hire climate scientists, who can tell us with unfailing accuracy when the polar ice caps will melt and what the global temperatures will be in a hundred years (about tomorrow they're not so sure). And they can do this with only a fraction of the funds allocated to financial software.

Spend $millions and get a lot of I'm-not-sures or run an Excel spreadsheet that tells you where mankind is going? Your choice.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Hospitalization Unlikely

The first order of business after getting off the plane was to go to a place where standing water is prevalent. Somewhat disconcertingly, a sign posted at eye level warned of an unpublicized peril, dengue fever. Fortunately, there were no mosquitoes buzzing about the room in the air-conditioned terminal.

Well, I'll just have to avoid the rainforests on this trip and confine myself to the bars and nightclubs, where one can still contract fevers and headaches. However, hospitalization will be unlikely.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Now This is a Data Set

In an important tech development that Americans may have missed, India has rolled out a digital identification system ("AADHAR") that “relies on fingerprints and eye scans to eventually provide IDs to all 1.25 billion Indians.”

While the system’s advantages of efficiency, accuracy, and security are potentially huge, its glitches have affected millions of the poorest people in the world by delaying their receipt of benefits.
The error level is less than 1%, but in the world’s second-most populous country the snag would still affect about 11 million people.
100% coverage also isn’t immediately feasible in a country “where many people live off the grid or have fingerprints compromised by manual labor or age.”

Another reason AADHAR won't work in America: beneficiaries must
first pay market prices, then have their subsidies deposited later (WSJ)
Such a system is years, perhaps decades, from being implemented in the U.S., not only because of privacy concerns but also because of technical matters. If a few Americans can’t get fingerprints read—and therefore their government payments right away---their complaints would go viral in the age of livestreaming video.

The trick would be keep the old systems in place—or have backup systems available—to handle the cases that fall through the cracks. But that would involve cost, planning, and smart people paying attention to detail, the latter of which is in short supply in private industry as well as government.

Well, the good news is that by the time such an ID system is implemented here many of the bugs will have been worked out elsewhere. The bad news is that the inventors won’t be American companies.

Monday, January 16, 2017

MLK Day, 2017

Last year's post, with an addendum:

At the 1963 March on Washington (ABC news)
The death of Martin Luther King, Jr., occurred when I was a teenager. I admired his speeches but knew little else about him. He was part of the societal eruptions occurring on the Mainland, and wasn’t the FBI investigating him, and weren’t there rumors that he was a communist?

Race riots, the civil rights movement, Vietnam war protests, drugs, the Russo-Chinese axis, and finally the granddaddy of worries—nuclear war—all made for an unsettled Sixties. The murder of Martin Luther King in 1968, one of the most eventful years of the 20th century, was another sign of a very unstable world.

The world, of course, did survive the tumult, and with distance comes reflection and perspective. For me Dr. King is one of those rare individuals whose greatness has increased with the passage of time. His “I Have a Dream” speech is as compelling—and relevant—as ever, and his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is a soul-searching treatise on civil disobedience. Only recently have I begun to appreciate its wisdom.

Dr. King's words, like the Bible, have been used by people to support opposing sides of various issues. Usually at least one side engages in cherry-picking; an honest reading in context will likely make it clear where he would have stood.

For example, gay rights may be analogized to the battle against segregation.
An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.
Another example: the hypocrisy of climate change celebrities and billionaires who use private jets and own multiple estates.
An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: something to like---and not like---for everyone.

Addendum: the Letter from a Birmingham Jail has something to say about the debate over a voter identification law (one side says it would prevent fraud, the other says it would cause intimidation). Would such a law be unjust? Your humble blogger would cheerfully show his ID to vote, as would the presumed majority who would support its enactment. In other words the majority would make the law binding on itself, making voter ID a just law by Martin Luther King's definition.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

St. Elizabeth's, South San Francisco

St. Elizabeth's in South City was the first church we attended in the Bay Area 40 years ago. The exterior looks better than I expected. For a mission that's always on the verge of closing, it's looking good. (The website history is out of date; due to declining attendance the Diocese has combined its congregation with St. Andrew's, San Bruno.)

(Photo from All Saints)
I have a distinct recollection of the Vicar, the Rev. Richard Byfield. As a young priest he worked with Bishop James Pike, whose once-revolutionary ideas (ordination of women, LGBT ministry) have become mainstream Episcopal thought. Father Byfield became rector of several large churches before he moved on to St. Elizabeth's. He gave his full attention to ministering to our small congregation, which loved him. That's one aspect of the Episcopal priesthood that I've always admired---everyone I've met puts aside worldly ambition and prestige and goes to where they are needed the most. R.I.P.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

No Woman in History has Exceeded Her Achievement

Ferdinand and Isabella - wedding portrait (Wikipedia)
This is a time when we need strong women leaders, so it's appropriate to remember one of the all-time greats, Queen Isabella, without whom the blessings of Western Civilization would not have come to the New World.

From America’s Hidden History by Kenneth C. Davis [bold and bullets added]:
In 1469…teenage cousins Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile were married. Isabella and Ferdinand were a remarkable couple whose successes in
  • uniting several fractious small kingdoms into a nation [Spain],
  • eliminating the last vestiges of Islamic power in Iberia,
  • revving up the Inquisition, and
  • setting Spain on a path of world domination
    were extraordinary by any measure.

    “No woman in history has exceeded her achievement.” - Hugh Thomas, Rivers of Gold
  • Isabella turned down arranged marriages and chose to marry second cousin Ferdinand, who was no shy consort material. By the age of 17 Ferdinand had already led troops into battle and fathered children by two different women.
    In modern tabloid parlance, he’d be headlined a “hunk.” In fact the pair would have been People magazine’s dream royals. The tall, blue-eyed beauty Isabella and the muscular Ferdinand would have dwarfed most contemporary celebrity couples.
    Moderns will quail at the brutality of those whom history has labeled great, but one truth is that in Isabella’s time everyone behaved savagely, the Moors whom “Ferdabella” drove from Spain, the French whom the Spaniards battled in the New World, and the “Indians” in what was to become America.

    Nevertheless in the annals of atrocities there are few rivals to the cruelty of the Spanish Inquisition, which tortured and killed Protestants and Jews during Isabella’s reign, or the death and destruction wrought by the Spanish conquistadores who came after Columbus and Isabella. Another Spanish first---years after Isabella's reign but a direct consequence of the forces that she set in motion--was slavery:
    Menendez also brought along Africans as "laborers" [in 1565], which should properly give Spain---not the English in Jamestown in 1619---the distinction of introducing African slaves to what would become the United States.
    Not all of Isabella’s “achievements” may be praiseworthy, but they had a profound influence on the world that exists today.

    Friday, January 13, 2017

    It's Not All Like the DMV

    Thursday : getting the news that we had to show up Friday.
    Today we found out why over 250 potential jurors had to be interviewed. The case was a homicide with two defendants, each of whom needed to have his own jury of 12 good persons and true, plus 3 alternates. Also, the proceedings were going to last at least 30 days and would turn out to be a "hardship" for many prospective jurors.

    Two months ago I had booked an upcoming vacation---the cancellation of which is a valid hardship---and I was excused tout de suite.

    The judge explained the complexities reasonably, IMHO, and the calendar didn't seem to have a lot of slack. All the court officers spoke courteously and professionally. The whole experience was a reminder that many who work in government not only are competent but also maintain cheerful spirits under pressure.

    Note: I ran into Helena, whom I just talked to last month volunteering for Home and Hope. That's the second time in four years that I've run into someone I knew at the jury pool. San Mateo County has about 750,000 people. When you've been around as long as I have, you may know more people than you thought you did.

    Thursday, January 12, 2017

    Newly Summoned Faces

    Redwood Creek is less than a 10-minute walk from the courthouse.
    By 9 a.m. the Jury Assembly room was filled to its 165-person capacity. Judging from past experience the odds were in favor of my going home early. Typically 50-60 would be called to go upstairs.

    Uh-oh, the clerk flourished a thick sheaf of papers and began reading. There was an initial thrill when 140 names were called, none of them mine. I sobered when the clerk told the "lucky" 23 to come back after lunch. What sort of trial calls 140 candidates, screens them in the morning, and needs more potential jurors in the afternoon?

    About 100 newly summoned faces were seated in the Assembly room after the lunch break. Half of them went upstairs, and we lucky 23 joined the uncalled remnant.

    After waiting an hour, the clerk told us to come back at 1 p.m. tomorrow. If we didn't, the judge could issue a bench warrant for our arrest. The good news: we all would be paid $15 for showing up.

    They couldn't get 12 jurors from the nearly 200 that went to the courtroom today. What was this trial about anyway?

    Wednesday, January 11, 2017

    Kerouac Would Approve

    (Ars technica image)
    In news that you may have missed, the village of Tourouvre au Perche in Normandy, France has opened a 1-kilometer (0.6 mile) "solar road" built out of solar panels:
    The roadway is just one kilometre (0.6mi) long, but that still works out at 2,800 square metres of photovoltaic cells—enough, hopefully, to power the village's street lights.
    At a cost of €5 million (currently US $5.3 million), the uneconomical "Wattway" is a demonstration project:
    There will now be a two-year test period, to see if Wattway can withstand the rigour of being pounded by thousands of cars and trucks per day, and whether it can actually provide a useful amount of electricity.

    Usefulness aside, the main problem with constructing solar roads is their crippling cost. One of the main selling points of Wattway, according to Colas, is that each panel is just a few millimetres thick, and can thus be installed on top of an existing road, which in turn massively reduces construction costs. Having said that, the 1km road in Normandy cost €5 million (£4.3m) to build. And that's for a single lane of a two-lane highway!
    There are clearly engineering obstacles--not only the vehicular pounding but also problems that are foreseeable with solar energy, such as dirt, snow, and other sunblocking materials and cloudy weather--but we applaud the experiment.

    Tuesday, January 10, 2017

    How Quickly We Condemn

    (Image from MountVernon.org)
    Many of the Founding Fathers were slaveowners, among them Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and James Madison. (Those who didn't own slaves include John Adams, Samuel Adams, and Alexander Hamilton.)

    The biggest Founding Father, George Washington himself, was also a slaveowner and at least for part of his life threw himself into the activity: [bold added]
    When Washington was 11, he inherited 10 slaves from his father; when he died five decades later, he owned 123 of the 317 slaves who lived and worked at Mount Vernon. In that time the estate grew from a fairly modest farmhouse with 2,000 acres to a 21-room mansion and nearly 8,000 acres. It was in this way that the first president became rich: by buying, owning and sometimes selling people and by forcing them to work for him, under pain of flogging, beating or being sold away from their relatives and friends.
    What George Washington did over 200 years ago is morally reprehensible now, but I wonder how many of the things we do today will be found to be beyond the pale in 200 years? There's a good chance that some of the following will be viewed as barbaric by distant descendants:
  • Eating meat from slaughtered animals.
  • Related: treating animals, including pets, as property.
  • Treating A.I. machines, such as robots, as property.
  • Burning fossil fuels, especially for flying to climate-change conferences.
  • Having an abortion.
  • Letting people die because it's illegal to purchase a kidney or liver.
  • Not letting people choose the manner and timing of their own death.
  • Imprisoning criminals instead of changing their behavior.
  • Behaving hypocritically (easy to check on the permanent record).
  • Letting people die instead of prolonging their life indefinitely.
  • Obviously, some of the above cannot co-exist.
    Judge not, that ye be not judged. - Matthew 7:1

    Monday, January 09, 2017

    So Will I

    There was a line despite the rain.
    Though the benefit is not worth the effort for most people, we've continued to take the bottles and cans to the recycling center.

    The benefit that I neglected to factor was teaching the youngster the value of work. The container by the side of the house was filled by Saturday. He emptied the plastic bottles into three large garbage bags, which we threw into a 26-year-old car that fits in well with the task.

    We stood in line with the rest of the small-time recyclers, waiting for our cash payout. Absent from everyone's mannerisms was the pretension of class; we're all here because we find that $5 or $10 is worth the time.

    The man at the counter weighed the bottles and presented us with $14.87. The youngster, who did most of the work, was happy when I handed him $10. As long as he wants to keep doing this, so will I.