Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Best of Humanity

The Rev. Daniel Simmons, Cynthia Graham Hurd, Ethel Lance, The Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor,
Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, The Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Susie Jackson
and The Rev. Clementa Pinckney (Time photo)

When I feel like patting myself on the back for some modest charitable endeavors, the world reminds me that there is a great distance between ordinary practitioners of faith and those who live and breathe the Word.

On June 17th a declared white supremacist killed nine members of the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church at a Bible Study in Charleston, S.C. Nadine Collier, whose mother, Ethel Lance was one of the victims, said at the bond hearing:
“I couldn’t remember his name,” she recalls of her one-way encounter with the alleged killer. But she remembers that she was “angry, mad” because her mother had “more living to do.” And the killer “took something away from me that was so precious.”

At the same time, racing through her head were lessons she had learned long before: “You have to forgive people and move on,” she says. “When you keep that hatred, it hurts only you.”

“I kept thinking he’s a young man, he’s never going to experience college, be a husband, be a daddy. You have ruined your life,” she recalls thinking.

What she said at the podium, while choking back sobs, came out like this: “I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again—but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul … You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. If God forgives you, I forgive you.”
Forgiveness is more than just saying the words. True forgiveness can be a long and painful process.
Anthony Thompson essentially agreed with Collier’s statement, as far as it went. It was important for him to forgive as quickly as possible so that he could continue to live as God intended. Forgiveness, as he later explains, is like a Band-Aid that holds the edges of an open wound together long enough for the wound to heal. Though he cannot heal what happened to his wife [Myra], nor whatever is wrong with the man who killed her, he must attend to the wound inside himself. “I don’t know what happened in his life, and frankly I don’t want to know,” he says.

Thompson did not want to leave the impression that forgiveness is as simple as speaking three words. For Roof to be forgiven by God, the young man had an awful lot of work to do.

Thompson put it this way, speaking quietly: “I would just like him to know that—to say the same thing that was just said—I forgive him, and my family forgives him. But we would like him to take this opportunity to repent. Repent,” he repeated. “Confess. Give your life to the one who matters most, Christ, so that he can change him. And change your ways, so no matter what happens to you, you’ll be O.K.”
How easy it is for us to advise other people to forgive wrongs, yet how fiercely we hold on to our own memories--and anger--over slights that are but pinpricks in the great scheme.

On this Thanksgiving week I am grateful to the members of the Mother Emanuel AME Church for showing us how to walk a very narrow and difficult path. In their response to the tragedy they have shown the best of humanity.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Reversals of Fortune

From the penthouse to the outhouse:

  • Friday was the almost-certain end of Colin Kaepernick’s career as a 49er.
    On Saturday, the 49ers placed Kaepernick on injured reserve. He reportedly has a torn labrum on his non-throwing shoulder, suffered in Week 4 against Green Bay.

    His season is over.

    His 49ers career is likely over.

    It’s shocking because just three years ago, Kaepernick was considered the prototype for the quarterback of the future. The 49ers locked him up in what appeared to be a long-term deal to give the team stability at the game’s most important position.
  • Chipotle: the Centers for Disease Control named the restaurant chain as the probable source for a spate of E.coli.

    Chipotle's reputation for clean food is in tatters. Restaurant owners, you never want to see your name and E.coli in the same sentence.

  • From worst to first:

  • Microsoft and security:
    Microsoft was once the epitome of everything wrong with security in technology...“They’ve changed themselves from worst in class to the best in class,” [Finnish researcher Mikko] Hypponen said. “The change is complete. They started taking security very seriously.”
    Clich├ęs that may apply to these reversals of fortune:
    What have you done for us lately?

    Anything's possible.

    People have short memories.

    History is bunk.
  • Friday, November 20, 2015

    Dropping Off the Supplies on a Friday Morning

    We brought the gift cards and food boxes to CALL Primrose when it opened at 9 a.m.

    Activity was already starting to pick up; three people were waiting in line for groceries. One of the volunteers helped us unload the car. The office appeared better organized than on previous drop-offs. Bill showed me the upstairs storage room, which was stacked to the ceiling with donated food.

    Never again will I lament my own difficulties with inventory.

    Thursday, November 19, 2015

    Counting the Cans

    Imbalance: 2 muffin mixes needed, while we had excess
    pasta, cans of tomatoes, and stuffing
    Thanksgiving is next week, which meant it was time to drop off food at CALL Primrose. Our church had signed up for four boxes, each containing sixteen (16) specified items. I took inventory; we were short a couple of packages of corn-muffin mix, which were purchased with five $20 gift cards on a trip to Safeway.

    Shopping is easy. Inventory is hard.

    Inventory for your humble accountant always has been one of the most challenging, if mundane areas of accounting. Whether there's a computerized or handwritten list, it always has to be checked against the physical inventory.

    Shortfalls occur because of mistakes, defalcation, or shrinkage. (Too bad shrinkage in other areas can't be remedied by a trip to Safeway.)

    Wednesday, November 18, 2015

    In the Nick of Time

    An app whose time has come: StoryCorps.
    StoryCorps is working with high school teachers across the country to ask students to interview a grandparent or elder over the 2015 Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

    Using the new free StoryCorps mobile app, participants will be able to upload their recordings to the StoryCorps archive at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. In one holiday weekend we will capture an entire generation of American lives and experiences.
    It's not a requirement that the maximum-40-minute conversation be uploaded to the Library of Congress. The interviewer can keep it for herself and/or edit it before uploading.

    The app is easy to use, and barriers come down quickly because a camera isn't stuck in the subject's face.
    There’s something about the presence of a microphone in a StoryCorps session that changes the dynamic between two people. It’s a license to say things that wouldn’t normally come up, and ask questions you don’t usually get to ask.....The generation that might not want to broadcast every whim on Facebook doesn’t necessarily have a problem sharing deeper knowledge. “We all want to know we are not going to be forgotten and that our lives matter.”
    Most of us regret not being able to hear again the voices of those who were precious to us.

    This Thanksgiving we have an opportunity not to add to those regrets.

    Tuesday, November 17, 2015

    Village Hummus, San Mateo

    Hummus & pita (Yelp photo)
    We have become regular patrons of Village Hummus in San Mateo, across the street from Whole Foods Market.

    Sure, one can buy hummus and falafel at every grocery store, including the aforementioned Whole Foods, but the Village Hummus offerings are superior: complex, flavorful, and fresh. And don't forget the pita, which is as far removed from the store-bought version as a fresh-baked loaf of bread.

    Its chicken and beef dishes are quite tasty, but if I ever decided to go vegetarian Village Hummus would make the transition quite easy.

    Monday, November 16, 2015

    The Journey Home

    Leading theories about how pets find their way home: magnetic fields (cats), scent (dogs), and the stars (birds) .
    Dogs extend their scent range by moving among overlapping circles of familiar scents—much the way cell phone coverage relies on interconnected footprints from different cell towers. A dog that wanders out of its own immediate range might pick up the scent of, say, a familiar dog in the next circle. That might point it to a circle that contains a familiar person or tree or restaurant trash can, and so on.

    Cats, like other animals, might rely more on magnetic fields—a faculty that could turn out to be quite common in mammals. “There are some studies that show that the ears of most mammals contain iron.”
    One of my favorite childhood books was The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford. Three household pets, a Labrador, a bull terrier, and a Siamese cat (!), traverse 300 miles across the Canadian wilderness to make their way home.

    Having lived my entire young life on a 44-mile-long island, I had to use almost as much imagination for Journey as I did for Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, but the effort was worth it.

    Such is the power of a good Odyssey story, a story, it turns out, that had a factual basis.

    Sunday, November 15, 2015

    The Best Number

    Six writers of varied backgrounds opine on "What’s the best number?"

    Their answers--13, 17, 42, 747, 200 billion, and infinity (∞)--are by turns whimsical and thoughtful.

    On Sunday, the first day of the week, it may seem fitting to celebrate ONE, the beginning of the natural numbers, and the rank that everyone is striving to be in the good old U.S. of A.

    I'm partial to THREE, however. It's the day of the month when I was born and connotes stability (a three-legged stool, a tricycle versus a bicycle). Besides, three is the limit of the number of things I can retain in memory.

    As we visit our place of worship today, three is also a reminder that the world and beyond are more complicated than the monotheistic one.
    O blessed glorious Trinity,
    Bones to philosophy, but milk to faith,
    Which, as wise serpents, diversely
    Most slipperiness, yet most entanglings hath,
    As you distinguish'd, undistinct,
    By power, love, knowledge be,
    Give me a such self different instinct,
    Of these let all me elemented be,
    Of power, to love, to know you unnumbered three.
                        ---John Donne

    Saturday, November 14, 2015

    It Almost Makes Me Want to Vote for Him

    Barron's runs a second splenetic cover story about Donald Trump.

    The first was about a 25-year-old securities-analysis dispute in which Mr. Trump comes off like a blustering bully, and this week's is about how he's going to start a trade war with China that could start another Great Depression. (Just in case the reader needs to be bludgeoned into understanding, Barron's invokes Herbert Hoover and Smoot-Hawley in the second paragraph.)

    From the cover [bold added]:
    Trump's proposed tariffs could lead to a trade war with China--and possibly a real war. This guy is either ignorant about global economics or he wants to replay the Great Depression. When will Republicans tire of amateur hour?
    Barron's risks losing its hard-won reputation for reporting and analysis by going after Donald Trump in such a vituperative fashion.

    Barron's pet issues are not important to most voters. On top of everyone's minds are illegal immigration, national security, and terrorism, and to a lesser degree jobs, taxes, spending, and medical care, so his views on those topics are fair game. But a "real war" with China? Barron's should be printed on yellow paper.

    Friday, November 13, 2015

    Maybe We Won't Always Have Paris

    Like millions of others, we've visited the Great Cities of Europe---London, Madrid, Venice, Florence, Rome, Amsterdam---and also, like millions of others, Paris is #1 or #2 on the list.

    It's difficult for our minds to grasp the evil of what happened tonight.

    It wasn't a natural disaster like an earthquake or a man-made disaster like a pipeline explosion or a hybrid disaster like a heat wave.

    It wasn't a vengeful person fueled by hate, rage and alcohol or an unnoticed individual seeking to become famous through a horrific act.

    It was a coordinated attack by dozens of heavily armed men who killed as many people as possible. The killers are not appeased by sweet words or money. Widespread death was the goal.

    After 9/11 we said that the world was changed forever. After years of unresolved conflict, wishful thinking, and willful blindness we thought terrorism "contained" and resumed our normal lives.

    The problems were growing beneath the surface and now threaten to overwhelm Western Europe. Hundreds of thousands of unassimilated Muslims live in the outskirts of Paris.  Rick said, "We'll always have Paris," but maybe we won't.

    Thursday, November 12, 2015

    Listening and Talking Over a Meal

    Executive Director Meg and new staffer Abby.
    Despite scheduling conflicts our four cooks came through with a tasty and balanced meal for the overnight guests of Home and Hope.

    I was the sole volunteer present, but setting up the tables and laying out the food took only a few minutes, as was clean-up, which is easy now that someone donated a dishwasher.

    One of the teenagers left quickly after dinner. After her mother departed, she returned to the kitchen as I was wiping the counters. Would you like something more to eat? "I can't stand her." Oh, she just wanted to be in a different room from her mother. I can't help you with that, but a lot of teenagers feel that way. She gave a wan smile and helped herself to some ice cream. Home and Hope is more than about dropping off food; it's also about listening and talking.

    Our next date at the Lutheran church is in January, which will come all too quickly.

    Wednesday, November 11, 2015

    Controlling One of the Deadly Sins

    (Image from Medical Daily)
    One basic marker of growing up is learning how to control one's anger at other people. However, suppression isn't the answer.
    What happens in the brain when you try to clamp down on that rage? A whole mess of bad stuff.

    Your ability to experience positive feelings goes down — but not negative feelings. Stress soars. And your amygdala (a part of the brain closely associated with emotions) starts working overtime.
    The opposite of suppression, venting, isn't the solution either.
    Venting intensifies emotion....“getting it out” tends to snowball your anger.
    Psychologists and neuroscientists recommend reappraisal, that is, telling yourself another story about the person who triggered your anger.
    You want to scream back. Or even hit them.

    But what if I told you their mother passed away yesterday? Or that they were going through a tough divorce and just lost custody of their kids?

    You’d let it go. You’d probably even respond to their anger with compassion.
    A reappraisal story is likely fictional--your conscious mind even knows this--but it's enough to get past your initial flash of anger and prevent your own angry response.

    I now realize that I have long used a (more immature) form of reappraisal to get through the day. Whenever an aggressive driver pushes into my lane then slams on his brakes, I think about all the accidents he must have and how high his insurance rates must be. I've had my share of bad bosses who scream at their staff, and I imagine how that Type A behavior will land them in an early grave.

    It's hard to be angry against someone whom you're pitying (of course, don't tell them that because that could make them angrier).

    Tuesday, November 10, 2015

    Recipe for Hope

    The temperature dipped into the 30's and 40's. At the Home and Hope shelter we closed the dining room door quickly to keep out the cold.

    Volunteers range in age from
    one to sixty-ish.
    I said a silent prayer of thanks for the fossil-fuel companies that provide the natural gas, nighttime electricity, and complex distribution systems that keep the furnaces going. My church favors alternative energy produced by solar panels and windmills; unfortunately, these energy sources are currently too expensive and too underpowered when it's freezing outside.

    Tonight was perfect for comfort food. We brought spaghetti and meatballs, a creamy kale and spinach casserole, and broiled potatoes. Bread, salad, and pumpkin pie comprised the rest of the dinner. We packed the leftovers for Wednesday's lunches and said goodnight at 8:30. We'll be back with more on Thursday.

    Monday, November 09, 2015

    Efficient Markets in Transportation

    The efficient market hypothesis (EMH) has been around for about half a century. Its tenets are still in dispute, but there's no question that the EMH has had a profound influence on the behavior of capital markets, if for no other reason that powerful participants believe it to be true in at least the weak and semi-strong forms [bold added]:
    The weak form of EMH assumes that current stock prices fully reflect all currently available security market information....

    The semi-strong form of EMH assumes that current stock prices adjust rapidly to the release of all new public information....

    The strong form of EMH assumes that current stock prices fully reflect all public and private information.
    Your humble observer and stock punter has found the semi-strong form to be operative; whenever a particular stock is touted in a business publication, the price rises before I could buy it at a price that would produce an extra-normal return. By the time he reads the article it's too late for the average investor to join the party.

    Not all drivers are personable young ladies. (Atlantic image)
    Now that the Internet and mobile communications have spawned businesses that were unimaginable a few years ago, these pricing principles have also been found to apply in other marketplaces. Take the case of Uber, which matches riders to drivers as demand and traffic conditions change. One of Uber's innovations is surge pricing:
    which refers to the practice of charging customers higher prices at peak times. It got a lot of attention during a snowstorm in New York in December of 2013, when rates were massively increased, up to eight times, attracting a flood of negative press and customer feedback.
    In Uber supply responds to higher prices quickly, so many experienced drivers don't waste their time chasing them.
    "The seasoned drivers don’t pay any attention to surge,” [driver John Sollars] said. “By the time you get to that part of the city, the surge is over. Often, even when I’m sitting dead center in the middle of a surge area, I don’t get a ride request. Then, as soon as the surge is off — bam! — here comes a ride.”

    newer and part-time drivers — who account for the vast majority of Uber vehicles — do chase surges. “The online message boards are full of questions about how to get surge pricing,” he said. But Ryder Pearce, co-founder of SherpaShare, which helps drivers analyze earnings, said that many new drivers become disillusioned after chasing surges that end or getting stuck in traffic jams en route.
    In the brave new mobile Internet world prices change quickly in response to new information, and achieving above-average returns is difficult. Eugene Fama is smiling.

    Sunday, November 08, 2015

    Remembering Sarah

    Prayer chapel: St. Ambrose, prie dieu, votive candles.
    I lit a candle this morning for my grandmother, who was born 111 years ago.

    When she was 16, kidney disease made her severely ill. She was miserable during her two months in the hospital and wrote that she "wanted to die." Her kindly doctor, one Grover Batten, continually encouraged her, saying that she had much to live for.

    After she recovered, Sarah lived the rest of her life with serenity and gratitude, the outlook of many who have been given a second chance. That is how I remember her, and I still miss her.