Monday, April 21, 2014

Fiction vs. Journalism

Gabriel García Márquez on the difference between fiction and journalism:
I don’t think there is any difference. The sources are the same, the material is the same, the resources and the language are the same. The Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe is a great novel and Hiroshima is a great work of journalism.

In journalism just one fact that is false prejudices the entire work. In contrast, in fiction one single fact that is true gives legitimacy to the entire work.
"Gabo," who died last week at the age of 87, was called "the most important writer in Spanish of the 20th century". He won the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature. R.I.P.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

On the Avenue

The Easter Parade is but a shadow of its former self. Wikipedia:
Starting as a spontaneous event in the 1870s, the New York parade became increasingly popular into the mid-20th century—in 1947, it was estimated to draw over a million people. Its popularity has declined significantly, drawing only 30,000 in 2008.
The Easter-Parade-that-once-was lives on in the ebullient 1948 musical starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland warbling and belting, respectively, tunes by Irving Berlin.

To see an unapologetic celebration of Easter we must go to a land whose residents seem to admire American culture more than Americans do.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter Vigil, 2014

Attendance for Holy Saturday evening services has revived, as more Christians study and honor the roots of their faith. The Church of England on the Easter Vigil:
This is probably the oldest feature of the Easter celebrations. From its earliest times the Church would keep watch through the night and meditate on the mighty works of God. Christians would pray until the earliest hours of the morning, when Christ’s resurrection was acclaimed.The Vigil is properly a service for the night and should never begin before sunset on Holy Saturday
During the Easter Vigil the priest lights the Paschal Candle, proclaiming the "new fire" that has entered the world. Incense is sprinkled liberally around the altar, and biblical passages are read and meditated upon. The flame from the new fire ignites the candles throughout the church, until, finally, all the lights come on. Worshippers exit into the night.

Alleluias, ringing bells, and Easter egg hunts will begin in a few hours.

Friday, April 18, 2014


Barbara Brown Taylor (PBS image)
Preacher-philosopher Barbara Brown Taylor says that our avoidance of the dark leaves us poorly equipped to deal with life:
we pay a high price to shut out the darkness. We glue our eyes to screens by day, while electric light hampers our ability to sleep at night. Then, when we lie awake with all our fears, we turn to solitaire or to sleep aids to cope. Our spiritual avoidance of the dark may be even more dangerous. Our culture’s ability to tolerate sadness is weak.
She deplores the perpetually cheerful Christianity that "focuses on staying in the light of God around the clock, both absorbing and reflecting the sunny side of faith." She is careful to say that such Christians are genuinely caring people. It's just that
the trouble starts when darkness falls on your life, which can happen in any number of unsurprising ways: you lose your job, your marriage falls apart, your child acts out in some attention-getting way, you pray hard for something that does not happen, you begin to doubt some of the things you have been taught about what the Bible says.
During Holy Week it is tempting to skip past the night of spiritual agony and betrayal in Gethsemane, the physical agony of the cross, and the darkness of the tomb to Sunday's celebration of the Resurrection. Barbara Brown Taylor provides a reminder to Christians that they should also give thanks for Good Friday.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maundy Thursday in the City

Nancy Pelosi and Marc Andrus (Chron photo)
Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Episcopal Bishop Marc Andrus washed the feet of immigrant children at St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church, San Francisco.

Foot washing on Maundy Thursday is one of Christianity's oldest traditions and derives from Christ's command ("mandate") to perform this humbling act in service of one other [John 13]. The Lord Himself kicked off the practice:
“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you."
Initially I thought that Nancy Pelosi's opponents were being much too reflexively critical; by washing immigrant children's feet she appeared to be performing a commendable act of humility. But it turned out that she was using this ceremony
to talk about passing HR15 - bipartisan immigration legislation that her office says would "reduce the deficit by nearly $1 trillion, secure our borders, unite our families, protect our workers and provide an earned pathway to citizenship."
Politicians, like the poor, will always be with us, but at least the poor know when to stop talking.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Satisfactory Resolution

The Chronicle's $99-per-year offer to new Peninsula subscribers--it has since expired--was too good to pass up; it was one-fourth the cost of a subscription five years ago. I mailed in a check.

A week, then another, and a month went by without a paper on my doorstep. If the Chron's finance department had put the kibosh on the promotion, it would have been perfectly understandable since it didn't even cover the cost of production and transportation; nevertheless, they should give me my money back.

I e-mailed Circulation and attached front-and-back copies of the check (hooray for traditional proofs of payment). Within 24 hours Amy R. responded with an explanation: the Chronicle was being delivered to the same street address as ours in Hercules, which is 50 miles north. Our one-year subscription would begin on April 20th, Easter Sunday.

Comments: 1) Many suburbs have street names with maritime and/or English themes (e.g., Spinnaker, Marlin, Bristol), but they're now so prevalent that duplicate-address mistakes have become common; 2) this was an unexpectedly quick response by Chronicle customer service---if the rest of the operation has improved to that extent, I'll give some thought to retaining their subscription, yes, even at much higher rates. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

You Can't Do Both

99% of the information had come in, and the maximum error for being wrong would have been plus or minus $100, but the green-eyeshade section of my brain would not let me file our tax return on April 15th.

The missing 1% was a partnership form (1065 K-1), so, after a quick calculation showed that we were paid in for both Federal and State, extension Form 4868 was mailed to Fresno.

The partnership has much upside, but its complexity has its cost on this April 15th. The old saw comes to mind: you can sleep well or you can eat well, but you can't do both.

Monday, April 14, 2014

If Something Changes, Be Very Careful.

Technology has given us amazing tools to manage the complexity of modern life. I am speaking, of course, of automatic bill-pay---no more stamps, envelopes, and cramping of a right hand that's no longer accustomed to writing checks, or handwriting anything, for that matter. The downside of technology is that there are new screw-ups to watch for.

I have a simple business which has its own bank account. The business has five automatic transactions per month--one cash receipt and four cash disbursements, all fixed amounts--that produce a surplus of $200. After the surplus is transferred out, the bank account keeps a few hundred dollars. The business was on auto-pilot.

One of the regular payments was for a loan. When Bank of America sold the loan to Nationstar, I changed the information on the bill-pay system. Unfortunately, the Nationstar payment was, I suppose, entered under both "recurring" and "one-time," so a double payment was made, resulting in an overdraft. (I am happy to say that this error never occurred when a payment could only be made by check.)

I voiced a minor complaint to Bank of America, which never responded. Yes, I probably bear some responsibility for not filling out the bill-pay instructions correctly. But it was the sale of their loan that did trigger the error, after all, and they made a tidy sum while inconveniencing me. Oh, well, I'll just keep this incident in mind when I'm looking for a bank to handle my next business opportunity.

But the important lesson is that auto-pilots are great when everything's normal. If something changes, be very careful.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Palm Sunday, 2014

As in Palm Sundays past, the congregation marched around the block in remembrance of Jesus' palm-lined march into Jerusalem two thousand years ago. Holy Week begins in sunshine, then descends into a darkness that will be dispelled two days later by transcendent Light.
During Holy Week Christians remember the fleeting exultation of Palm Sunday, Jesus' betrayal by Judas, His abandonment, rigged execution, and astonishing triumph over death itself. From the highs to the lows to the ultimate high, it's a story that's hard to believe in an age where science rules more strongly than ever.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Humble Egg: Great and Powerful

(WSJ photo)
As dieters have come to realize that sugar, not dietary cholesterol, is the enemy (in fact, consumption of sugar can cause high blood cholesterol) the lowly egg is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Prolific cookbook writer Michael Ruhlman calls the egg "the greatest of all our foods."
The egg combines beauty, elegance and simplicity, a miracle of natural design and bounty. Containing all of the nutrients required to create life, eggs give our bodies a powerful combination of proteins, amino acids, fatty acids, antioxidants, minerals and vitamins, a package unmatched by any other single food.
Your humble observer has found that fried or scrambled eggs come out just right sautéed in butter on medium-low heat (if the eggs brown the burner is too high), a simple, filling, delicious, inexpensive, and sugar-less dish that most doctors will approve. I don't yet have Mr. Ruhlman's enthusiasm, but he does know much more about the subject than I.
An egg is an end in itself; it's a multipurpose ingredient; it's an all-purpose garnish; it's an invaluable tool. The egg teaches your hands finesse and delicacy. It helps your arms develop strength and stamina. It instructs in the way proteins behave in heat and in the powerful ways we can change food mechanically. It's a lever for getting food to behave in great ways. Learn to take the egg to its many differing ends, and you've enlarged your culinary repertoire by a factor of 10.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Rare Batting Feat

Petaluma students perform the National Anthem
The fans filed in to AT&T Ballpark on a cool Friday night, hopeful of a victory with ace Madison Bumgarner on the mound. Little did they suspect that he would win the game by performing a feat by a pitcher that is rarer than a no-hitter.

In the fourth inning "Mad Bum" came to the plate with the bases loaded and the Giants trailing the Rockies, 3-2. On the first pitch he slammed a towering drive into the left-field bleachers. (When the ball left the bat, the crowd, including your humble observer, rose to its feet and didn't stop yelling for a good five minutes.) It was only the second grand slam by a Giants pitcher (the first was Shawn Estes in 2000) since the team moved from New York 57 years ago. During that same period, Giants hurlers have notched seven (7) no-hitters.

The tall, lanky 24-year-old is already one of the top pitchers in baseball. Although no one expects his batting to be as consistent as that of an everyday player, his raw power will have to be respected. The Giants have made some poor personnel decisions recently, but with Madison Bumgarner they've struck gold.

By the way, the Giants held on to win, 6-5.

Photo from Bay Area Sports

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Easter Drop-Off

No room on the floor: we stacked the boxes on chairs.
Today we made our annual drop-off of Easter food boxes at CALL Primrose. (CALL Primrose, a partnership between the Methodist and Presbyterian churches, renders aid to less fortunate families on the Peninsula and has been in operation for over 30 years.)

Each box contained:
1 package pasta
1 box instant mashed potatoes
1 box muffin or bread mix
1 box flavored rice, e.g., Rice-a-Roni.
1 box macaroni & cheese
1 can tomatoes
1 can soup
2 canned vegetables (one green, one not)
2 cans fruit
1 small bottle cooking oil
2 cans beans (refried, kidney, black, etc.)
1 $20 Safeway gift card
It may seem that a modest container of food would have a small impact, but CALL Primrose says that the boxes make a big difference to each family that receives one. It's trite but bears repeating: we can't save the world, but we can feed a family for a day.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Another Example of Religion vs. Science

+1°C over 130 years doesn't seem so bad (Stanford graph)
The "global warming" alarmists began changing their object of disaffection to "climate change" when recent measurements (as well as record cold winters) did not support the thesis that higher CO2 levels caused rising temperatures, at least high enough to make the world's population take meaningful action.

"Climate change" is a synonym for extreme weather, a hard-to-pin-down concept which has the virtue of being an enemy impossible to defeat.

But here's a development that could make the alarmists' heads explode: could it be that global warming dampens extreme weather phenomena?

Bloomberg news: [bold added]
Rising heat in the equatorial Pacific Ocean portends the quietest Atlantic hurricane season in five years, Colorado State University researchers said.
Give credit to the researchers for putting science above a religion that ignores and/or suppresses results that don't fit the narrative.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Just Like the Old Days

This copy of Windows XP was purchased in 2009.
Today Microsoft ceased support of Windows XP, the only operating system that our seven-year old Dell Vostro has ever known. The computer still works, but it will become even more open to computer viruses and other Internet dangers. Windows 7 or Windows 8 (maybe) could be installed on the creaky old Dell, but all the files would still have to be off-loaded then recopied back because the upgrade would wipe the hard disk.

We'll get a new Windows desktop but won't be rushed into making a decision. Luckily there are other desktops, laptops, and mobile devices on which to do work. Meanwhile, the plug has been pulled on the wireless adapter, and the Internet-less Dell is still being used for writing letters and memos and designing spreadsheets.

Just like the old days.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Taste of Hawaii

Poke display at Costco, Redwood City
Hawaiian culture is enjoying one of its cyclical resurgences. Hawaiian food, clothes, and music are served, worn, and heard throughout the Bay Area. Of course, there's nothing like experiencing the real thing, but I haven't been able to get away this year.

Costco is dishing up poke in April, and though it was a tad expensive ($15.99-$17.99 per pound), I splurged. The ahi and limu (sea algae) were very fresh, and though the taste wasn't an exact match it certainly wasn't a disappointment. That reminder of Hawaii will have to tide me over until summer.