Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Not Chipper

In the 1970's your humble blogger worked as a junior analyst for a timber company. At the time the forest products industry was at, er, loggerheads with environmental groups that wanted to expand the national parks and halt logging activity. The environmentalists won, and today the California timber harvest is but a shadow of its former self.

A conversation from those days: one of our executive vice presidents sat next to a Sierra Club officer on a return flight from New York. The Sierra Club person was extolling the beauty and majesty of forests. Our man's contribution: "The most beautiful tree is one that's lying on its side." (I don't know what was said, if anything, after that.)

What recalled that tale: Here’s where California Christmas trees go to die
(Chronicle photo)
the [Fish and Wildlife] department’s “fish improvement shop” in Yreka (Siskiyou County) will sink 200 or so old firs and spruces into state-managed waters.

It’s a move, ecologists say, that will create valuable fish habitat — and boost fishing, too...

Bass fishing (Outdoor Life)
any sort of sunken wooden object — from manzanita plants to huge pines — is appealing to fish. They lay eggs and nest underneath downed branches, then feed on the smaller creatures attracted to the security and shade of the structure. A large downed tree, according to the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, will degrade over the course of several hundred years and in that time attract a whole community of fish, with 15 or so species calling the thing home at any given time.
Even greens applaud these trees that are lying on their side.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Depends on Who's Doing the Asking

Fake census form--can you tell? (cleveland.com)
Too intrusive: A New York Federal judge has ruled that the census cannot ask about citizenship: [bold added]
“Secretary Ross’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census—even if it did not violate the Constitution itself—was unlawful for a multitude of independent reasons and must be set aside,” wrote U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman, who had presided over a trial about the question last year.

The decision comes as a result of two lawsuits filed by cities, states and left-leaning advocacy groups. The plaintiffs had argued adding the question ignored the Census Bureau’s own research, would lead to a significant undercount and was motivated by discrimination against immigrants.
There's a lot of mind-reading going on here, because there are no direct quotes, audiotapes, or videos of Census officials being "motivated by discrimination against immigrants", but as one who deplores the government's intrusion into our lives I like the ruling. I am in favor of satisfying the Constitutional requirement for a census ("Enumeration") and no more:
The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct,----Article I, Section 2
Not intrusive: the Democratic Governor of Oregon wants officials to visit the home of every newborn:
One of the more ambitious items tucked into Gov. Kate Brown's agenda for 2019 is a home-visitation program for the families of new infants.

All new infants.
Of course, it's for the welfare of the babies and their families.

The census may not ask a question, but Oregon may enter your home. An intrusion is okay if the right people are doing it.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

In Short Supply

One of the annual customs of our church is to turn over the pulpit to a high-school senior. Our students are not polished speakers or valedictorians (although once in a while one slips through). But they all speak from the heart.

Cristina was no exception. After thanking her parents, she talked about what she learned from the church. Not only did she engage with the words but like the other kids, watched our deeds....very carefully. In recent years she has helped the less fortunate not only through our church outreach programs but has become a leader of such activities at her high school.

I like listening to these annual reflections (unlike sermons and others in their generation, these young people never tell us what to do). They give me hope, a commodity in short supply.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Sweep of History

These 20th century events all occurred in 1919: [bold added]
(Image from historycooperative.org)
The year 1919 began with catastrophe, a disastrous flood of raw molasses that swept through Boston’s North End on Jan. 15 when a huge tank of the stuff gave way. In a metaphorical sense, too, 1919 seemed to represent the turn of a colossal tide. It marked the end of World War I and the culmination of contentious campaigns for Prohibition and women’s suffrage. (The 18th Amendment was ratified in January and the 19th approved by Congress in June.) It was a year of labor unrest and massive strikes, of race riots and mob violence, of anarchist bombings and the Red Scare, and a baseball scandal that shocked the country, when the Chicago White Sox deliberately threw the World Series.
So far in 2019 the headlines scream excitedly every day about what the stock market or personalities have done. But really, are any of them important enough to be remembered 100 years from now?

Friday, January 11, 2019

They Will Never Forgive

In 2015 Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan donated $75 million to the SF General Hospital's foundation. The hospital was renamed the Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center.

Sasha Cuttler, a nurse at SF General, has protested the name change because of Facebook's past mishandling of user data and alleges that his managers have retaliated against him.
According to Cuttler, hospital managers pressured him to stop criticizing the addition of Zuckerberg’s name to the hospital. When he did not, supervisors retaliated against him by removing him from internal boards and denying him transfers and promotions, he alleges in the complaint. During this time, Cuttler also raised concerns about the hospital’s staffing and its reporting of data on patient falls.
For some, money directed at a worthy cause will never buy expiation from past sins, though these "sins" were not illegal and may not even be sins in the eyes of many others. From Sasha Cuttler's Facebook page:
Since the "Trumpocalypse" began I have helped SEIU to defend immigrants right to care, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. I have also led the effort to get the "Zuckerberg" off of San Francisco General Hospital.
Facebook employee contributions are made overwhelmingly to Democrats, but progressive true believers will never forgive the social media giant for its perhaps-unwitting contribution to the election of Donald Trump. The revolution eats its own.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Vast Benefits, Vast Risks

Microsoft research head Eric Horvitz believes that computers will be able to tell if you're sick. They will know this before you do and before you ask them to look. [bold added]
Eric Horvitz (Microsoft)
He and Microsoft colleague Ryen White, along with co-investigators from Stanford and other universities, have examined anonymized data from hundreds of millions of users of Bing, Microsoft’s search engine. They initially looked at query terms—what you search for—and the time and date of searches. Then, they added IP addresses—your computer’s unique identifier—and other location information. Most recently, they have focused on motor movements such as keystrokes, clicks and mouse activity.

This data can reveal critical diagnostic evidence. People confide intimate secrets about their health—yellow skin, odd-looking stools and other curious symptoms—to their search engine that they do not share with others, even physicians, Horvitz says. And the biometric and geographic information picked up by search engines may uncover secrets of which even users are unaware.
Just because someone did a web search on symptoms doesn't mean that he or she has cancer, but that datum can be correlated with other information, for example, if the user comes from a region with a high incidence of cancer. Similarly, a change in mouse-click speed and accuracy may indicate sleeplessness or a budding neurodegenerative condition, relatively easy to determine from other indicia (age, family history, whether the cellphone was active at 3 a.m., etc.)

We're not there yet, but we're nearing the point when computer networks will know each individual better than they know themselves. The benefits are vast, but so are the risks.

Sodden afterthought--if the Graduate were remade today, the dialogue might well go something like this:
MR. MCGUIRE: I want to say two words to you. Just two words.

BENJAMIN: Yes, sir.

MR. MCGUIRE: Are you listening?

BENJAMIN: Yes, I am.

MR. MCGUIRE: Predictive analytics.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Do it For Your Heart and Brain

(Image from Harvard.edu)
As if excess abdominal fat didn't have enough harmful effects--e.g., diabetes and heart disease--we may have to add declining brain function to the list:
The scientists found that people with both higher BMI (defined as equal to or greater than 30 kg/m2) and higher waist-to-hip ratio measurements had lower grey matter volume in the brain compared to those who were leaner. This effect remained strong even after researchers accounted for other factors that might affect brain volume, including age, smoking history, education, physical activity and history of mental illness.
Correlation is not causation, so the obvious explanation--obesity causes brain shrinkage--is not necessarily true. It's possible that the reverse obtains, i.e., lower brain function causes obesity, or that some other mechanism is the source of both.

But what does your gut tell you, dear reader?

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

New Law Greatly Needed

Los Angeles National Cemetery
As expected, new California laws in 2019 expand progressive ideals and the regulatory state ("non-binary" can be the sex on driver's licenses, no pets from "breeding mills", at least one woman on public companies' boards, sexual harassment training required of 5-employee businesses, no plastic straws, etc.), but there's one new law that enlarges freedom:

Los Angeles cemeteries that meet certain conditions can sell alcohol: [bold added]
This bill would authorize the department to issue a special on-sale general license to the operator of a for-profit cemetery with specified characteristics, including that it be more than 100 years old, be located in, and designated a Historic-Cultural Monument by, the City of Los Angeles, and have an endowment care fund and a memorial care fund that are exempt from the payment of income taxes, as specified.
The law's specificity may cause one to think that an LA cemetery must have bribed contributed to some legislators' re-election fund.

It's easy to eliminate such suspicions: just grant liquor licenses to Northern California memorial parks, where a "stiff" drink is often greatly needed.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Clearing the Clothes Clutter

(Clothing flowchart from WSJ)
This year marks the 10th anniversary of my resolution to clear the clutter. We conduct periodic purges, but like weeds the mess grows back in the absence of constant vigilance.

In 2019 I'm going to focus on just one area: the closet. There are too many ties and suits, some of which have never been worn this century.

Other items can't be worn again unless I lose 25 pounds. Even if that unlikely event occurred, they're datedness will leave them hanging.

Paring down one's clothes has become a trend:
We’re collectively buying more, yet are continually confronted with the dilemma of what to wear, because these teeming closets often lack organization. The solution: Winnow down our existing wardrobes and then buy less, and with more clarity.

Though challenging, the winnowing part of this strategy is hardly a radical move these days. As clothing consumption has ramped up, so has an equal and opposite movement toward austerity,
On January 1st Netflix began a series hosted by de-cluttering guru Marie Kondo. (Her book is still, miraculously, visible on our crowded nightstand.)

Ms. Kondo says the first place one should attack, before the books, papers, and kitchen, is the closet. These days saying banzai! will offend some ears, so we'll just say "onward."

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Epiphany (Reprise)

From seven years ago:
Today, January 6th, Epiphany, marks the official end of the Christmas season. Not too long ago Catholics, Episcopalians, and other Christians observed not only the twelve days of Christmas but also the eight days of Epiphany. ("The Octave of Epiphany" sounds like the title of Dan Brown's next book.) In the Internet age we can barely concentrate twelve minutes, much less eight or twelve days, on any endeavor.
In a more observant time the Feast of Epiphany was celebrated in Church on January 6th, even if the sixth fell on a weekday. The children's Christmas pageant was held on Epiphany, rather than Christmas Eve, because that was when the Magi (three kings) by tradition visited the manger.

Your humble blogger has childhood memories of dressing up as Gaspard, Melchior, or Balthasar and marching down the aisle holding a representation of gold, frankincense, or myrrh, all to the strains of "We Three Kings of Orient Are." It was hard to find boys to volunteer for the role, because each king had to sing his designated verse (e.g., "myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume, breathes a life of gathering gloom"); singing was not viewed as a manly activity. The girls had better voices, but they didn't want to do it either because that meant stepping out of their gender role.

Yes, it was a different time.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Often Wrong But Never in Doubt

(Marijuana map from governing. com)
In addition to taxes and regulations stunting sales, there may be another reason for business projections falling short where marijuana has been legalized: the public doesn't trust the enthusiasts who say it's no worse and may even be less harmful than alcohol.

Headline: Marijuana Is More Dangerous Than You Think. Coincident with the rise of marijuana use has been an increase in the incidence of psychosis and paranoia, though we must be careful to state that marijuana has not been proven to be the reason because correlation is not necessarily causation. [bold added]
And last September, a large survey found a rise in serious mental illness in the U.S. too. In 2017, 7.5% of young adults met the criteria for serious mental illness, double the rate in 2008.

None of these studies prove that rising cannabis use has caused population-wide increases in psychosis or other mental illness, although they do offer suggestive evidence of a link. What is clear is that, in individual cases, marijuana can cause psychosis, and psychosis is a high risk factor for violence. What’s more, much of that violence occurs when psychotic people are using drugs. As long as people with schizophrenia are avoiding recreational drugs, they are only moderately more likely to become violent than healthy people. But when they use drugs, their risk of violence skyrockets. The drug they are most likely to use is cannabis.

The most obvious way that cannabis fuels violence in psychotic people is through its tendency to cause paranoia. Even marijuana advocates acknowledge that the drug can cause paranoia; the risk is so obvious that users joke about it, and dispensaries advertise certain strains as less likely to do so. But for people with psychotic disorders, paranoia can fuel extreme violence. A 2007 paper in the Medical Journal of Australia looked at 88 defendants who had committed homicide during psychotic episodes. It found that most of the killers believed they were in danger from the victim, and almost two-thirds reported misusing cannabis—more than alcohol and amphetamines combined.
What about predictions that legalization would reduce violent crime?
The first four states to legalize marijuana for recreational use were Colorado and Washington in 2014 and Alaska and Oregon in 2015. Combined, those four states had about 450 murders and 30,300 aggravated assaults in 2013. In 2017, they had almost 620 murders and 38,000 aggravated assaults—an increase far greater than the national average.
The broad effects of legalization---public health and mental illness, criminal justice, economic activity, taxation--will take years to make themselves known.

But it's called a social experiment for a reason. We can guess at but don't know the results in advance. Possible harmful effects are already appearing. A little humility is called for, especially in the advocates, but I'm not expecting to see it.

Friday, January 04, 2019

Not On My Reading List Until 2020, Maybe

Time says that one of the must-read books for January is the memoir by freshman Senator Kamala Harris.

Oh, please. The Time reviewer's political motivations are transparently obvious. Kamala Harris' book is the first one of the eleven listed (in case you're a reader who drops out after 4-5 paragraphs). This "review" is pure public relations: [bold added[
Her memoir highlights her dedication to public service, detailing her journey as a prosecutor out of law school to becoming District Attorney of San Francisco to her rise to the U.S. Senate. Democratic Sen. Harris’ passion for helping others is on full display in The Truths We Hold, where she shares her insights on leadership, problem solving and the power of speaking your truth.
But Time is just echoing what the newspaper of record is trying to do. Law professor and blogger Ann Althouse believes the New York Times is writing disparaging articles on other Democratic candidates on "the path the NYT would like to clear for — let's be honest — Kamala Harris?"

Politicians are always trying to recreate the past. Democrats constantly refer to JFK, who brought "Camelot" to Washington. Republicans compare their leaders to Ronald Reagan, whom they view as the greatest Republican President since Lincoln.

IMHO, one of the reasons Hillary Clinton was nominated was to restore the glory days of her husband's administration, but Hillary did not have Bill's charisma or political skills.

And Kamala, though attractive and black, so far has not shown that she's anywhere close to being Barack. I suppose, if she wins the Democratic nomination, I'll be picking up her book. So 2020, maybe.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Lesson Learned

I think they know that many long-time donors are unhappy with them. Wealthy private universities are getting it from all sides---not enough diversity in their students and faculty on one hand, and on the other too much identity politics and opposition to core values like freedom of speech and religion.

Many donors don't care whether they're listed in the group that gives $500, $1,000, or $5,000. They also know that whatever they give makes absolutely no difference to a school with a $10 billion endowment.

So how about being “loyal” or “true” to the tribe? Giving $100 to help a poor kid with her $40,000-a-year tuition: that message doesn't resonate. Well, I do have some admiration for the institutions as they used to be. What I learned back then is that I should give to the food bank or homeless shelter. Lesson learned.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Informative Diversion

Chronicle columnist Kevin Fisher-Paulson composes an annual Holiday Quiz consisting of San Francisco-related questions. Obeying his admonition not to use the Internet, I got precisely none of the answers though the questions didn't seem so tough. Perhaps Undoubtedly you can do better, dear reader.
1. What is the foggiest place in the United States?

2. Who are Bummer and Lazarus?

3. What is the original site of the Castro Theatre?

(From opensfhistory)
4. What was Zane Grey’s first name?

5. Where is the Breon Gate?

6. What do Lesotho, San Marino and the Vatican have in common?

7. Originally called the Peacock Cafe, this restaurant reopened in 1963 and serves the best pizza in the city.

O Henry (Britannica)
8. Streets of San Francisco: Dore Alley, Cora Street, Jessie Street, Isis Street and Minna Street, all small corridors south of Market, have what in common?

9. How did O. Henry get his pen name?

10. Who was originally cast to play the role of Dirty Harry?

11. By what means of travel did Al Capone arrive at Alcatraz?

12. Streets of San Francisco, Part 2: What is the steepest street in San Francisco?

13. What is the Feynman Point?

14. Where is an exact replica of the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in San Francisco?

Alameda Naval Air Station (airphotona)
15. Dorcas Reilly passed away this year. What did she invent that affected the lives of 20 million people?

16. What is the fastest way to walk from the county of San Francisco to the county of Alameda without crossing a bridge?

17. You enter a dark house in the middle of the night. Inside are an oil lamp, a stove full of wood and a candle. You have only one match. Which do you light first?

18. Which state is farthest south? North? West? East?

19. Where is the tallest rotunda dome in the United States of America?

20. Name a word in which all the vowels appear in alphabetical order?

21. What do Doc Holliday, Casey Stengel and Zane Grey have in common?

22. Streets of San Francisco, Part 3: Another of my favorite Chronicle columnists, Armistead Maupin, made this street famous. Where in the city can you find Barbary Lane?
Answers below the fold:

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Happy New Year, But Resolutions Start Tomorrow

New Year's Day is a holiday, and we're on holiday, too, so resolutions start tomorrow.

In Rocklin we ordered brunch at the Window Box cafe. The corned beef hash--sliced, not ground--was a coruscation of color.

Reluctant to disturb its symmetry, I eventually relented. It tasted as good as it looked.

The casino Food Court was crowded on New Year's Day.
A family member wanted to try his luck at the nearby casino. It was a New Year, but for him it was the same old result.

I spent most of the afternoon at the food court. The WiFi was intermittent, but I was able to do some work that didn't require an Internet connection. (Often without the Internet I find myself to be more productive, but that's just me.)

Tomorrow I'll get serious. We'll see how long that lasts.