Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day, 2011

The colombarium at the National Cemetery of the Pacific, Punchbowl crater.
Memorial Day, 2011, is especially poignant because this year marks the tenth anniversary of the Afghan war, the longest (under some definitions) in U.S. history. The immense expenditure of resources and, more importantly, American lives seem never-ending. Was it all worth it to finally kill the mastermind behind the September 11th attacks? Did the war help prevent other terrorist attacks from happening?

Paying respects to Uncle Jack and
his three brothers at Punchbowl
Reasonable people will differ because there is no way of knowing what the alternative history would have been. History is not a computer simulation that we can restart to see the effect of different decisions. All we can do in our own lives, like the brave soldiers who gave their all, is to try to act with principle and wisdom while the shadows dance mockingly on the cave wall.

Lately I've been thinking more about the generation that fought and won World War II. Today's problems are daunting, but they are nothing compared to what they faced--economic catastrophe and the destruction of nations. They secured the blessings of liberty for themselves and their posterity, in the words of the Constitution, and so shall we, if we remember our forefathers' example.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Just Cart Me Off, Lord

Someone couldn't spare 10 seconds to put away the cart, center.
I can understand the fascination with end-of-the-world predictions. There's a slim chance that the terrible event will come to pass, but there are some silver linings if the horror indeed occurs: we won't have to pay off those noisome creditors, we won't have to do those urgent-but-unimportant tasks that clutter our to-do lists, and we'll take our last breath comforted by the knowledge that there is a deity after all who was mad as heck and couldn't take our foolishness any more.

Which brings me to the death of civic society. How is it that shoppers can't spend a few seconds walking their carts to the shopping cart corrals after they've loaded their car trunks? The discourteous leave them all over the parking lot, and especially on busy weekends prevent others from using valuable parking spaces.

Victor Davis Hanson laments the souring of life on the roads of central California:
I have been hit three times in the last 10 years: 1) driver ran stop sign, slammed into my truck, limped off, was run down and detained by me until police arrived; 2) speeding driver hit a mattress in the road (things such as that are rarely tied down by motorists in California), swerved, was hit, did a 180, braked, but still hit me at 45 mph head-on (survived due to the air bags of the Honda Accord); 3) rear-ended as explained above. But this time your wiser author, when the car rear-ended me at 50 mph, was driving a four-wheel-drive Toyota Tundra with huge tow bar in back; the texter was driving a Civic. Nuff said.
But wait, if you think it's bad now, it's only going to get worse.
Tens of thousands of prisoners are scheduled by a U.S. Supreme Court order to be released. But why this inability to house our criminals when we pay among the highest sales, income, and gas taxes in the nation? Too many criminals? Too few new prisons? Too high costs per prisoner? Too many non-violent crimes that warrant incarceration? God help us when they are released. We know what crime is like now; what will it be like if thousands are let go?
Wherever we turn our eyes, things are getting worse.
Our schools rate just below Mississippi in math and science. Tell me why, given our high taxes and highest paid teachers in the nation? Can the governor or legislature explain? Is the culprit the notoriously therapeutic California curriculum? The inability to fire incompetent teachers? The vast number of non-English speaking students? Derelict parents? How odd that not a single state official can offer any explanation other than: “We need more money.” What is the possible cure for the near worst math and science students in the nation? Yes, I see it now: the California Senate just passed a bill mandating the teaching of homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered history, just the sort of strategy to raise those English composition and vocabulary scores among the linguistic and arithmetic illiterate.

Try driving a California “freeway” lately, say the 101 between Gilroy and San Luis Obispo or the 99 between Modesto and Stockton, or an east-west lateral like the 152 between Casa de Fruita and Gilroy, or the 12 between Napa and Stockton [blogger's note: I've driven all those stretches in the past year, and I won't risk driving them at night]. In other words, just try driving across the state. These stretches are all nightmarish death traps (the concrete divider on the two-lane 12 is a sick joke, a sort of kill-contraption), no improvements from 40 years ago when there were 15 million fewer people and far better drivers. But how did this happen when we pay the highest gasoline taxes in the nation; where did the revenue go? Is there some cruel joke I’m missing — a stash of billions in gas tax money buried somewhere and never used? And how can we even begin discussing “high-speed rail” (stage one planned from Fresno to the megalopolis of Corcoran no less!) when millions do not yet have “high-speed roads”? Madness, sheer madness.
His despair is understandable, and I have no prescription to offer our sick state. Fellow Californians, you must hunker down and hope that times get better. Look after yourself and your family, try to do a little something for others in your spare time, and meanwhile put away that shopping cart.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Golgi Cells Randomly Firing

Thoughts upon viewing this sign:

1) Californians are pigs.

2) Sure makes me want to continue on the trail.

3) Rats! I didn't bring my shovel.

4) Only city boys need toilet paper.

5) Doesn't warn about poison ivy, snakes, or mountain lions, which hardly anyone runs into, so relax and enjoy.

6) Great place to stop and smell the roses.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Caveat Emptor

LinkedIn's initial public offering and subsequent trading activity, which valued the company at $8.8 billion on Friday, have traders, speculators, investment bankers, and investors salivating over the prospects of another tech-stock boom. But we shouldn't forget to watch the behavior of founders and employees.
In the wake of the dot-com bust in 2001, which left many dot-com millionaires with massive mortgages and worthless stock, the new tech magnates are likely to take a more cautious approach to their money. Advisers say the new class of dot-commers is likely to sell as much of their holdings as possible and protect their cash.
In 2001 and 2002 my tech holdings took a huge hit because I didn't pay attention to the actions of corporate insiders who dumped their stock and ran.

The nouveau riche from the current boom are entitled to some enjoyment of the fruits of their labor, but one of the reasons their companies have such sky-high valuations is that the market is expecting the founders to shepherd the growth that will justify the stock price. Selling "as much of their holdings as possible" is a red flag that will keep this oft-burned investor away.

[Update - 5/22/11: Barron's has a negative view on LinkedIn's valuation. LinkedIn's "market value is equal to 35 times 2010 revenue of $243 million and almost 550 times 2010 profit of 17 cents a share. Google (GOOG) is valued at five times revenue and 20 times trailing earnings."

The article lists other concerns: the artificial demand boost from the thin IPO float of 7.8 million shares (out of 94 - 124 million, depending on how one does the counting), competition for engineering talent, and whether U.S. growth in membership has peaked. Conclusion: "most highfliers flame out, and the odds are long that LinkedIn can justify its huge market value. Investors probably should stay away." Note: your humble servant has no position in LinkedIn.]

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Friendly Dinner

Devra, Kris, and Tessa
Last night I had dinner with some old and new friends. Diane roasted a nine-pound ham, enough for the six servers and the 14 younger guests who were staying overnight. Kay heated the vegetables and dessert brownies. Devra and Kris brought the salad, rolls, and drinks. I contributed ice cream bars and a hearty appetite.

At Home and Hope, formerly known as the Interfaith Hospitality Network, churches and synagogues on the Peninsula provide housing, food, and other aid to families in need of temporary shelter. We can only assist a fraction of those who need help. Thousands on the Peninsula suffer from job loss, family breakups, and other afflictions, and Home and Hope can only serve a few hundred. But we do what we can.

After dinner the TV in the play area switched to the travails of our ex-Governor and his rich and famous wife. Some of our new friends nodded sagely. They were familiar with human weakness and its consequence. Even those with wealth, fame, and power succumb.

I talked with M., who's applying for a job in San Francisco. Not being familiar with the City and public transportation, he was confused about where and how to transfer from a SamTrans Bus to SF Muni and which bus numbers he should watch out for. He needed to disembark at the temporary bus terminal (the old one's been torn down), then transfer to the SF Muni #38 that starts on Market and makes a right on Geary.

I went back to the car and rummaged around in the glove compartment. Yes! there was an old San Francisco street map that hadn't been used for years in the age of GPS. I gave it to him so he could see what I was talking about. We do what we can.

Before dinner at Hope Lutheran Church, San Mateo

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Rancho San Antonio Park

Four miles in, the elevation is 1,600 ft.
Recent appointments in Mountain View have not been tightly scheduled, and I've been using the 3-hour gaps in the calendar to walk the trails at the Rancho San Antonio Park open space preserve.  I've never been much of a hiker, and my lack of training and aerobic capacity were clearly in evidence when a mere four-mile (but hilly!) route initially left me gassed.

Now that I've been going at least once a week since March, I've found enjoyment increasing along with endurance.  A mile in from the parking lot is Deer Hollow Farm, the destination for most families and school groups.  The casual strollers also drop off at the farm, while serious runners charge up the wooded hills. I plod after them, catching up on the inventory of old podcasts. Lately I've been listening to classical music or have turned off the sound completely. Being alone with one's thoughts has not been a familiar experience. It's not easy to dismiss the inner voice that insists that one always be entertained or be doing something useful.  Eventually the tumult subsides.

The trails alternate between woods and meadow, creeks and sere. Chipmunks, squirrels, and butterflies cross the path fearlessly. Occasionally one sees deer, but thankfully no mountain lions.

Last week I walked four miles to the end of the utility road that services the power lines and four miles back along the opposite ridge. Sunburn and blisters were the price, and inner peace, at least for that day, was the reward.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Distant Perspective

The Giants swept the Rockies in a three-game series over the weekend and closed Colorado's division lead to one game.

Two hot dogs plus two sodas cost more than one cheap seat.
At Friday's contest we obtained cheap ($27 each) tickets high above home plate. Baseball is one of the few spectator sports where a distant perspective has some advantages. No, we couldn't see the sweat on Brian Wilson's brow, nor could we tell if his pitches were just off the corner.

On the other hand, we got a clearer view of the infielders positioning themselves for a bunt and the outfielders cheating towards the infield to cut off the runner trying to score from second base. (But we wouldn't have turned down closer tickets if someone had offered them.)

The Giants quickly spotted the Rockies a 3-0 lead but clawed their way back to a 3-3 tie in the late innings. When Freddie Sanchez singled home the winning run in the bottom of the ninth, we went home happy.

Willie Mays, perhaps the greatest player who ever lived, turned 80 on Friday.

Monday, May 09, 2011


Steve Jobs to Apple's MobileMe team after the 2008 product launch failed:
He asked the team what MobileMe was supposed to do. Someone answer [sic], and Jobs said to that person (and everyone else), "So why the f*** doesn't it do that?"

He continued, "You've tarnished Apple's reputation ... You should hate each other for having let each other down ... [WSJ tech columnist Walt] Mossberg, our friend, is no longer writing good things about us."

Right there and then he named a new executive to run the MobileMe service....most of the team that built the original service was disbanded.
Steve Jobs could never be an executive in government, which is more a sign of our shortcomings than his.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

Early this morning the youngster walked a mile to the local supermarket and bought roses for his mother. After walking back he put the flowers in a glass vase.

The family will go out to dinner tonight at a French restaurant that we save for special occasions.

I’ll give my wife, their mother, a box of candy, but even if it were diamonds it wouldn’t matter.

Long after the rest of the day has been forgotten, she’ll remember the roses.

Monday, May 02, 2011

No Beatification

Thoughts on the death of Osama Bin Laden:

1) If hell exists, and if OBL is not in it, then everything written about Christian theology and Christian ethics needs to be torn up into little teeny pieces.

2) Hooray for President Obama:
a) For going against his promise to close down Guantanamo, thereby continuing to harvest valuable information that enabled special forces to get OBL.
b) For not dismissing but retaining the wisdom of experienced Bush Administration senior staff like David Petraeus and Robert Gates.
c) For approving the surge in Afghanistan after dissing the successful surge in Iraq;
d) For stepping up drone warfare despite it being---let’s be frank---a targeted assassination policy and perhaps chasing OBL from the mountains into an urban area of Pakistan.
e) For making the final call to kill Osama Bin Laden through a boots-on-the-ground military operation and recover the body to dispel uncertainty.
3) President Bush deserves credit for building the military, intelligence, and technological infrastructure that enabled President Obama to finish the job, but he’s not getting much credit in mainstream news reports so far.

4) The celebration about the death of another human being, no matter how heinous, is distasteful.

5) But if we’re celebrating a big reduction in future terrorism, that’s okay.

6) Isn’t it amazing that there were no leaks about this operation for the past six months? Another hooray for President Obama.

7) The silver lining that some Republicans foresaw from the 2008 Obama victory—that the country would be more unified by military action from a Democratic President because he would not be subject to criticism—is proving correct though he started yet a third war, and renditions, American fatalities, targeted killings, and innocent deaths show few signs of abating.

8) President Obama’s order to kill three pirates in 2009 showed that he wasn’t afraid to use deadly force.

9) President George H.W. Bush was immensely popular after the victory at the end of the first Gulf War on February 28, 1991. 20 months later the senior Bush was voted out of office. President Obama is deservedly popular for the action he took yesterday, but he can’t rest on this accomplishment because the news cycle and the emotional swings of the electorate move much faster than in 1991.

10) We’re supposed to pray for the soul of Osama Bin Laden, but I’ll have a hard time doing that. No beatification for me.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

49er Hope and Same

A new President was enthusiastically voted into office on the promise of reversing the six-year-old war policy of his predecessor, only to keep in place the predecessor’s military and civilian leadership. The reversal of the reversal was a shock.

Now we are just bemused by this sporting news.
Alex Smith almost certainly will be back for Season 7 with the 49ers, and there's nothing 49ers fans can do about it except shake their heads in amazement.[snip]

[New 49ers coach Jim] Harbaugh said he expected Smith to re-sign with the 49ers, said he has given Smith a playbook to study during the lockout and said he already believes Smith has the edge in the quarterback competition.
49er fans, how's that hope and change workin' out for ya?

Even More Pathetic

The returns from our Treasury bills are even more pathetic since we last wrote about the subject.

$1.52 of interest on $10,000 invested over 13 weeks amounts to an annual percentage rate of 0.06%.

And it's pathetic-to-the-max when we factor in the inflation rate over the same period (the higher the inflation rate, the less the dollar will buy, i.e., the less it is worth).

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that inflation was 1.4% during the first quarter of 2011, an annualized rate of 5.6% (higher if one compounds monthly or quarterly). (There are many who believe that the inflation rate is closer to 10%, but let's put that argument aside.)

The purchasing power of $10,000 on January 1st had deteriorated to $10,000 x ( 1/1.014) = $9,862 on April 1st. My $10,000 lost $138 and gained $1.52 of interest. Is it any wonder that America's foreign creditors are getting out of Treasuries as fast as they can? © 2011 Stephen Yuen