Saturday, December 16, 2017

Net Neutrality: Keep Them on a Short Leash

The Economist has a restrained view of this week's repeal of the "net neutrality" regulations. First, let's define the term:
Put simply it is the principle that all internet traffic, whether from Netflix, Tinder or a news website, is treated equally by the “pipe” companies carrying that traffic, like AT&T or Verizon....With the rise of Netflix and its ilk in streaming media, broadband companies began to suggest that they may have to charge more for some types of traffic, or slow down some services (“throttling” them). Net-neutrality activists argued that if providers could discriminate between different types of traffic, they would have far too much power over the internet. They could privilege their own services over competitors’, or they could even throttle or block some services they did not like. The Obama-era rules were designed to prevent that.
After considering the pros and cons the Economist concludes: [bold added]
In the end the argument about net neutrality boils down to whether internet-service providers should be regulated before they have shown they might abuse their power, or only after they have actually done so. The current FCC has just opted for the latter.
The regulatory mindset is ascendant, and it's refreshing to see it halted, if only temporarily. However, we harbor no illusions about the beneficence of the internet providers. We have seen how these same companies behave in the wireless and television markets and expect them to try to raise prices and degrade service where there is no competition. However, regulation can also stifle innovation by forcing new players to spend resources on compliance.

Let's give the providers the benefit of the doubt but keep them on a short leash.

A confused message, since the FCC would be doing the regulating.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Anybody But Him

Imagine that you were mayor and believed with absolute certainty that paying taxes was wrong. So you ban all City employees' tax withholdings and other tax collections that are under your purview. Your ban wouldn't last long (though some citizens might gleefully follow your orders) until State and Federal authorities forced you to comply. You could well be impeached or recalled because you knowingly violated your oath to uphold the laws of your city, state, and nation.

Marriage license line at San Francisco City Hall, 2004
Elected officials always encounter laws that they disagree with. They can comply with them albeit minimally, and they can work to change them with the appropriate legislative body. In our democracy executive-branch officials are in charge of law enforcement and are not allowed to openly violate the law; if they can't enforce laws they believe to be wrong, the honorable and moral course of action is to resign.

In 2004 San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom knowingly violated the law by issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. For the record I supported gay marriage but thought his action was anti-democratic.
But I am just a humble citizen with an opinion. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom showed that he is unfit for higher office by issuing marriage licenses to gay couples in direct contravention of state law. The executive has a special responsibility to uphold the law, even those he disagrees with. Given the strong arguments on either side of issues such as abortion, capital punishment, recreational drug use, and immigration, to name but a few in addition to gay marriage, it is not only possible but likely that the chief executive of a city, state, or even the nation would not agree with some of the laws it is his duty to uphold. If he didn’t think that he could enforce these laws, then he shouldn’t have taken the oath of office.
Gavin Newsom is now the front-runner in the 2018 race for Governor of California. He is being lauded for his "pivotal role" is furthering the cause of gay marriage.
For Newsom, the gay-marriage battle was a defining moment, the likes of which few politicians experience. He seized a contentious issue, pushed it forward while others resisted or held back, and then waited for public opinion to reward his foresight.
I didn't want Barack Obama and I don't want Donald Trump to pick and choose which laws to enforce. Such Executive power is not democracy but tyranny.

Gavin Newsom showed he had no qualms about picking and choosing if he were in charge. I will support any candidate, Democratic or Republican, who runs against him.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Western Elite from a Chinese Perspective

(From the Stanford GSB website)
Ever since Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America became a best-seller, Americans have been fascinated by visitors' opinions of America. A recent example of this genre is Puzhong Yao's essay The Western Elite from a Chinese Perspective. Now 32, he dismisses any comparison with the French chronicler (who was 33 when the first volume of Democracy was printed):
I don’t claim to be a modern-day Alexis de Tocqueville, nor do I have much in common with this famous observer of American life. He grew up in Paris, a city renowned for its culture and architecture. I grew up in Shijiazhuang, a city renowned for being the headquarters of the company that produced toxic infant formula. [Blogger's note: ok, be on the look out for ironic observations and amusing asides.] He was a child of aristocrats; I am the child of modest workers.
Despite the sweeping title, the essay is more of a journal along the lines of "what I have learned about life so far."

Puzhong Yao describes himself as "an average student in an average school" who happened to show (a lot of) math aptitude, found the competition in China to be too tough, then settled for an easier scholastic path at Trinity College, Cambridge(!). In 2007 Goldman Sachs hired him as a bond trader. After being promoted, he realized that he needed to learn the soft skills of emotional and social intelligence to become truly successful in Western business, so with Goldman's encouragement off he went to Stanford Business School.

Though he plays the naïf, Mr. Yao shows doubt about some of which passes for elite business education. And, dear reader, if you think that the humor in the first paragraph below is unintentional, you must learn to read more carefully:
One class was about strategy. It focused on how corporate mottos and logos could inspire employees. Many of the students had worked for nonprofits or health care or tech companies, all of which had mottos about changing the world, saving lives, saving the planet, etc. The professor seemed to like these mottos. I told him that at Goldman our motto was “be long-term greedy.” The professor couldn’t understand this motto or why it was inspiring. I explained to him that everyone else in the market was short-term greedy and, as a result, we took all their money. Since traders like money, this was inspiring. He asked if perhaps there was another motto or logo that my other classmates might connect with. I told him about the black swan I kept on my desk as a reminder that low probability events happen with high frequency. He didn’t like that motto either and decided to call on another student, who had worked at Pfizer. Their motto was “all people deserve to live healthy lives.” The professor thought this was much better. I didn’t understand how it would motivate employees, but this was exactly why I had come to Stanford: to learn the key lessons of interpersonal communication and leadership.

On the communication and leadership front, I came to the GSB knowing I was not good and hoped to get better. My favorite class was called “Interpersonal Dynamics” or, as students referred to it, “Touchy Feely.” In “Touchy Feely,” students get very candid feedback on how their words and actions affect others in a small group that meets several hours per week for a whole quarter.

We talked about microaggressions and feelings and empathy and listening. Sometimes in class the professor would say things to me like “Puzhong, when Mary said that, I could see you were really feeling something,” or “Puzhong, I could see in your eyes that Peter’s story affected you.” And I would tell them I didn’t feel anything. I was quite confused.
He will probably make a lot of money in quantitative finance, maybe even trading bitcoin, but I hope he continues his writing. De Tocqueville was interesting but not very funny. Puzhong Yao is both. (H/T Tyler Cowen for the link.)

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Old Reasons Haven't Gone Away

(UCSF photo)
Headline: UCSF fired head of sexual harassment prevention office [bold added]
she ordered an employee to falsify dates on complaints to make it appear that they were handled more efficiently, The Chronicle has learned. The medical school confirmed that it fired Cristina Perez-Abelson in April after an investigation prompted by a whistle-blower found she also had instructed her staff to hide files from an auditor.
Be honest, what was the first thought that crossed your mind after seeing just the headline? Right, another one--probably a man--bites the dust for sexual misconduct or worse.

What a relief, it was plain old falsifying data. We have new reasons to fire or even prosecute people, but the old reasons haven't gone away.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Missing Him Already

Ed Lee with former mayors Willie Brown, Dianne Feinstein, and Gavin Newsom (Chronicle photo)
"You won't miss him till he's gone" is a cliché that happens to be true in the case of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, who died earlier today of a heart attack.
Lee was city administrator in January 2011 when the Board of Supervisors appointed him to replace Mayor Gavin Newsom, who had been elected the state’s lieutenant governor...

Lee initially said he wasn’t interested in being mayor, but relented and took the job after a public campaign led by Chinese American civic leaders — the slogan was “Run, Ed, Run!” He said he wasn’t interested in a full term, but after solid job reviews and months of urging from former Mayor Willie Brown, now a Chronicle columnist, the late Chinatown power broker Rose Pak and, ultimately, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Lee changed his mind...

Lee won election to a full term in November 2011 and was re-elected in 2015. An early accomplishments was 2011’s “Twitter tax,” which cut payroll taxes for six years on a sketchy stretch of Market Street and lured thousands of tech jobs and workers to the city. While Mid-Market has since been partially redeveloped with new offices and hotels, the overarching effect of the tax cut was to draw startups and established tech companies to the city, which now has one of the lower unemployment rates in the country.
City administrator Lee's appointment to interim Mayor in 2011 might well have caused a lesser man to kick back and enjoy the perks of office; instead he worked much harder. He brought tech companies--and jobs--into the City, then worked to mitigate prosperity's adverse consequences (congestion, high housing prices, and homelessness).

Many people liked him, recalling another cliché: he could "disagree without being disagreeable". He was nice to everyone and apparently didn't play "dirty politics." Although spending long hours, Mayor Lee displayed publicly a "friendly and often jokey personality" that showed that work for him wasn't everything. His lack of ambition helped to make him popular: not only did he not seek higher office, he didn't even want to be mayor.

Note to Republicans: whoever the Mayor is, he or she will never agree with your position on sanctuary cities, climate change, tax cuts, or social spending. Given that premise, Mayor Lee, who advocated business-friendly policies, was the best that you could have hoped for. Wait till you see who comes after, and, yes, you'll miss him now that he's gone.

[Update - 12/13: Ed Lee's obituary in the Chronicle.
And when starting a speech, he often began, to the chagrin of his staffers, “I’m going to keep this short, because I am short.”
The most disarming humor is the self-deprecating kind.]

Monday, December 11, 2017

Hard to Defend

Nov. 16th: 210,000 gallons spilled in SD (WSJ photo)
In news that was largely overlooked last month (not by you, dear reader) the Keystone Pipeline sprang a leak.
the rupture in the pipe may have been caused by a weight placed on the pipeline during its construction meant to keep it from floating in groundwater.
Although I believe that the benefits of Keystone outweigh the costs, incidents like these make the pipeline hard to defend. The owner had given assurances that technological and engineering advances had minimized the environmental risks, but now they look like the worst stereotype of greedy capitalists who care not one whit for the environment. (It's the second leak since the beginning of 2016.)

Note: for historical perspective here are the 10 worst oil spills in history. 1989's Exxon Valdez at 11 million gallons doesn't even make the list.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Jerry Does Jeremiah

The Drudge Report is known for the sometimes amusing, ironic placement of news stories on its home page.

On Saturday Governor Brown opined that President Trump doesn't fear the "wrath of God" while huge swaths of California burned.

Jesuitically trained Jerry Brown knows better than to presume how God will judge others ("judge not lest ye be judged", "why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?"). Unfortunately, liberal Christians have shown that they are just as judge-y as those whom they deride. Their New Testament love, tolerance, non-judgmentalism, and kindness are cast aside (as in my Episcopal Church) when the political winds start blowing against them.

Time for some good ol' fire and brimstone.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

The Jury Nods

(photo from Aspen Advocacy Books)
Dismissing jurors who fall asleep is now a thing:
Last week, federal judges in two New York trials—one involving charges of sanctions evasion, the other concerning allegations of corruption in international soccer—dismissed jurors who were dozing off....

In one current trial, Manhattan federal prosecutors are seeking to convince a jury that a Turkish banker is guilty of helping Iran evade U.S. sanctions. The testimony has focused on emails, spreadsheets and wiretapped calls—mostly in Turkish and translated by a live interpreter.

The alleged scheme is so complex prosecutors asked one witness to draw the banks and front companies involved on a large sheet of paper. By the end, the witness had drawn a maze of boxes connected by multicolored lines and arrows to indicate the money flow.
Some have attributed juror napping to the "short attention span" and lack of sleep that are phenomena of the smartphone era. However, to this observer the practice of law gets most of the blame.

Everyone, except lawyers it seems, has adapted to the need to tighten up presentations, to practice getting one's message across in an elevator pitch. (Watch a few TED talks to see how experts distill big, complex topics to five minutes.)

Well, at least lawyers have the good sense to let the judge wake the sleepers:
The government and defense are generally careful not to call out a sleeper in open court, to avoid embarrassment and turning the juror against one side.
Interesting...and amusing...throughout.

Friday, December 08, 2017

California Conflagrations

Current SoCal fire map (Cal Fire)
Californians love trees for esthetic and environmental reasons, but the recent spate of catastrophic fires should make everyone cautious about their homes being surrounded by trees and other flora.

Fires continue to burn out of control north (Ventura County) and south (San Diego County) of Los Angeles. [bold added]
firefighters in Ventura County, northwest of Los Angeles, gained 10 percent containment of the largest and most destructive fire in the state, which has destroyed 430 buildings. The so-called Thomas Fire has grown to 206 square miles (533 sq. kilometers) since it broke out Monday. Fire crews also made enough progress against other large fires around Los Angeles to lift most evacuation orders.

The fire 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of San Diego, driven by winds above 35 mph (56 kph), razed rows of trailer homes in the retirement community, leaving charred and mangled metal in its wake.
Meanwhile, in contrast to October's Northern California fires for which PG&E was quickly blamed, the media has been uncharacteristically silent about possible causes for fires in the Southland.

Dinocrat speculates that officials are behaving as if they are trying to trap arsonists. If so, I hope they get the max sentence.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Day of Infamy, 76 Years Later

My father's generation was there, and to honor him and the few who remain I am reprising this post.

On December 7, 1941 Japanese bombers obliterated the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor. My father, a junior at William McKinley High, saw the silver planes flying overhead on that clear Sunday morning. He didn’t realize anything was out of the ordinary until he saw smoke rising from the Ewa (western) side of Oahu. My mother, a middle-schooler at Robert Louis Stevenson Intermediate, was preparing to go to Sunday services downtown.

It was a day that changed everything. Millions of Americans, including Dad and his six brothers, answered the call.

While the majority survived the War with life and limbs intact, hundreds of thousands did not, like my wife’s uncle who died somewhere over the Pacific. His body was never found.

Some found the armed services to be to their liking and made it a career, like my uncle who was the best auto mechanic I ever knew. Others, like my father-in-law, seized the opportunity offered by the GI bill and went on to college and jobs that they would never previously have considered.

At the U.S.S. Arizona memorial the names of the fallen are inscribed on the wall. Are we worthy of their sacrifice? Perhaps......if we preserve, protect, and pass on the gifts they have bestowed to us.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

His Pride Was Pricked

His IMDB photo drips with humility.
Justifying a Will & Grace episode that shows a bleak portrait of historical NYC, executive producer Max Mutchnick said in EW (12/8/17): [bold added]
"It's important to note no matter how much complaining that a certain part of this country is doing, the good ol' days weren't actually that good when you jump back 90 years...The world we live in now is better than it once was."
  • Max, why can't people agree with both premises--the past wasn't that good and the world is better than it once was--and still disagree with you politically?
  • Way to go, dissing a good chunk of your customer base. I guess I wouldn't care either, if my net worth was $100 million.
  • We can't enjoy sports or entertainment as an escape. It's all politics, all the time.
  • Tuesday, December 05, 2017

    The Best Age to Have a Baby

    Forget health, science, culture, and religion. From an economics point of view,
    What’s the best age to have a baby? The answer: [bold added]
    Fertility graph (
    To maximise their lifetime earnings, women should aim to have their first child between the age of 31 and 34.

    the [Danish] study concluded that women who waited until 31 to have a child earned more over their entire careers than women without children.

    The study’s authors suggest that older women, who tend to be more highly skilled, are harder to replace in the workplace – so companies may bend over backwards to support them. Older women may also be more attached to their careers, and less willing to give them up. And they tend to earn more so are better placed financially to offload their children on other people during the day.

    Yet according to this study, there’s not much to be gained financially from delaying having children until after the age of 34. College-educated women who have their first child between the ages of 31 and 34 earn on average 13% more than women without children. However, women who have their first child between the ages of 34 and 37 earn only 2% more than women without children.
    Other tidbits:
  • "Having a child before the age of 25 is particularly impoverishing."
  • Conceive with a younger man: "there was a 62% drop in sperm supply between men in their early 30s and those in their early 40s."

    What is a bug to some is a feature to others: 20-somethings who don't want to get pregnant should take another look at 50+ year old guys, who take less energy to keep happy and would be very grateful for the attention....or so I've heard. Besides, you can't argue with fertility science.

    [On a serious note, as the latter-day Reign of Terror obliterates all progressive strongholds, i.e., Hollywood, government, the media, and (eventually) academia, your humble blogger must point out that he is only referring to situations where women initiate contact. So please spare me, he whimpered.]
  • Monday, December 04, 2017

    Lost in Translation

    Bahtiyar Duysak (Times Union)
    President Trump's Twitter account was shut down for 11 minutes in November. The "rogue employee" has left the United States and has been identified as a German contractor who no longer works for Twitter. [bold added]
    [Bahtiyar] Duysak, who had not previously been identified as the person behind the takedown, told TechCrunch that he considered Trump’s temporary silencing a “mistake” and never thought the account would get deactivated.

    It was not a planned act, he said. Rather, he said, the chance to shutter the account fell into his lap near the end of his scheduled final shift, and he decided to take it.

    “There are millions of people who would take actions against him if they had the possibility. In my case, it was just random,” Duysak said in a video of the interview posted online. He wore a gray sweater emblazoned with the American flag.
    "Random" (made, done, happening, or chosen without method or conscious decision) doesn't mean what he thinks it means.

    Sunday, December 03, 2017

    God Rest Ye, Merry Gentleman

    One of my favorite TV shows in the Sixties was Gomer Pyle, USMC. Jim Nabors, who died Thursday at the age of 87, played the titular character, whose innocent naïveté always prevailed over the tough-as-nails Sergeant Carter.
    Gomer was a recognizable kind of American hero: a good-hearted, gentle, unsophisticated sort (not unlike Forrest Gump of a later era) who encounters a harder, more cynical modern world — in this case embodied by Southern California — and helps redeem it.

    “Sheldon Leonard and his co-creators astutely chose a Southern California Marine base for their hero,” Gerard Jones wrote in his 1992 history of the American sitcom, “Honey, I’m Home!”

    He added: “In various episodes Gomer connected with the movie and TV industries, the music business, the surf scene, the Beverly Hills rich — all the easy symbols of modernity. Everywhere he went he left a trail of fond smiles and innocence — at least temporarily — restored.”
    It was easy for kids to identify with Gomer, whose bumbling caused him to be yelled at by Sgt. Carter. Somehow Gomer always triumphed in the end, but that wasn't his only super-power. In one or two episodes per season Jim Nabors unleashed a powerful baritone that incongruously coexisted with a high-pitched (for a male) speaking voice.

    After television Jim Nabors had a second career as a singer. He moved to Hawaii in 1976 and lived with Stan Cadwallader, whom he married in 2013. He kept a low profile, never speaking on controversial topics and giving generously of his time, treasure, and talents. R.I.P.

    In the spirit of the season below is the 79-year-old Nabors singing "Silent Night" with the Marine Corps band in Hawaii.

    Saturday, December 02, 2017

    Sorrow and Loss

    “The interest of the figure was not in its
     meaning, but in the response of the
    observer.” - H. Adams (WSJ photo)
    The Adams Memorial grave marker (1891) at Rock Creek Cemetery, DC is not well known, but its image haunts the memory far longer than more famous American works.

    The Memorial commemorates historian Henry Adams' wife, Clover Adams, who committed suicide in 1885 at the age of 42.
    When [Augustus] Saint-Gaudens undertook the Adams commission, he drew on the precedents of both Eastern and Western art. Because of its cloak and flowing drapery, we presume the statue to be female, but Adams wrote that he wanted an expression of “universality and anonymity.” The sculptor achieved this by making the figure just over life-size and generalizing the features.
    If the viewer is moved, as was your humble blogger, to a sense of sorrow and loss as well as contemplation, then the artist likely has achieved his goal.