Monday, February 29, 2016

An Old Phenomenon

(Image from SFGate)
Former California Speaker and SF Mayor Willie Brown on Black Lives Matter [bold added]:
According to the FBI, roughly 90 percent of black homicide victims are killed by black people.....To hear some members of the community tell it, cops are the problem. Cops may well be part of the problem, along with a host of other issues like discrimination and poverty.

But black people are killing a lot more black people than cops are.

And at some point, no matter how uncomfortable the conversation may be, it has to take place within the African American community. We have to get to the cause of this open wound — otherwise, we are just going to keep passing on the pain from generation to generation.
It's far easier to blame others---who indeed may be partially responsible---than to try to fix oneself.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

"various facts all began to make much more sense"

Economist/finance quant Eric Falkenstein, 51, becomes a Christian (h/t Tyler Cowen).

His essay, much like those by C.S. Lewis, makes sense to the converted. However, despite its title, "An Economist's Rational Road to Christianity", I doubt it will change the views of those who are committed to their unbelief.

The Saul treatment, I guess, is reserved for very special cases.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Glorious Future

(Image from the Guardian)
"The car will be the smartest device that people will own"
Former Motorola and Cisco executive Padmasree Warrior has joined electric carmaker NextEV in Silicon Valley. She [bold added]
thinks the auto industry is starting to look a lot like the cellphone business just before the iPhone shook things up....

"In the next decade, the car will be the smartest device that people will own, and NextEV wants to bring the mobile Internet experience to the vehicle. In other words, why can’t your car be as easy to own, operate, update and personalize as your smartphone?"
Time: "The computer is simply a better driver than a human."
Let us count the ways:
Better at keeping its eyes on other drivers; better at maintaining a steady cruising speed and thereby maximizing fuel efficiency; better at parsing GPS data, weather data, traffic data–any and all kinds of data, really–and better at making rapid-fire adjustments.

The computer doesn’t get distracted by a spouse, kids or the jerk who just made an illegal lane change. It doesn’t sneak a glimpse at Snapchat, or fumble with a leaky burrito, or steer with its knees while playing air guitar. The computer couldn’t blink even if it wanted to. It never says yes to a fourth chardonnay, never convinces itself that weed improves its driving. Asking directions is a computer’s favorite activity, and unless ordered to, the computer never falls asleep.
In the glorious future car "owners" will not be able to control the object sitting in their driveway. For one thing, they will not be able to turn it off and on. They cannot
a) pull the plug because the car runs on batteries,
b) disconnect the batteries because the car will be hermetically sealed like new laptops today, or
c) drain the car of electricity and/or gas because it automatically goes to a refueling station.
Given the advancement of artificial intelligence, it won't just be the smartest device in the household but will be smarter than any person in the household. Also, there will be a backdoor that will allow the NSA, the car manufacturer, and/or Chinese hackers to take control of "your" car, which, to repeat, is smarter than you. You have been warned.

I am definitely keeping the old VW.

1983's Christine: Life catches up to art.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Cross-Sports Comparisons Aren't Always Valid

Fans are agog over a free kick made by Malaysian soccer player Mohd Faiz Subri.
The goal, which took place during a Malaysian Super League encounter between Faiz’s side Penang FA and rivals Pahang FA, resulted from a stinging shot the 28-year-old midfielder unleashed about 40 yd. from the net on the field’s left side. The ball somehow ended up in the top right corner, however, after swerving almost 90 degrees in midair.
I don't see the big deal. Every time I golf my drive slices more than this.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Silver Screen

Not an art film in the bunch.
The Economist crunches the numbers on how to make profitable movies (bullets added):
  • First, create a child-friendly superhero film with plenty of action and scope for turning it into a franchise.
  • Set your budget at an impressive but not reckless $85m.
  • Convince a major studio to distribute it on wide release in the summer (when releases earn an average of $15m more than at other times).
  • Lastly, cast two lead actors with a solid but unspectacular box-office history, who are thus not too expensive.
  • With reasonable reviews from critics and the audience alike, your film would make about $125m at the American box office.
  • But do it for the money, not the plaudits: such a film would have just a one-in-500 chance of carrying off an Oscar for Best Picture.
  • What's that? You have a good script? We'll call you back. We're kinda busy right now making movies money.

    Wednesday, February 24, 2016

    The First Shall Be Old

    In 2014 I was moved to the front of the line at HNL by an agent; I was using
    a cane, limping badly, and did feel a little guilty about the special treatment.
    In Brazil the law requires that businesses and government agencies move those over 60 years old to the front of the line, i.e., they get to cut legally:
    To comply, many organizations have set up exclusive service windows, known as “caixas preferenciais” or preferential lines. Walk into any bank, post office or supermarket and you’ll see older customers making a beeline for these dedicated queues. The disabled, pregnant women and moms with young children in tow can use them, too.
    1) I would not want to see such a law in the U.S.--we've already got too many laws, not to mention privileged groups;
    2) A social norm would be fine: about half the time people in our community let the old, infirm, and/or disabled move ahead in the line;
    3) OTOH, many spry over-60's hesitate to own up to their age, so maybe there would not be that many people cutting.

    Tuesday, February 23, 2016

    Chilling Out

    (Image from Time)
    More findings about sleep, validated by science: [bold added]
    Setting the thermostat to around 65 degrees Fahrenheit is good for sleep, studies have found. Research has also found that room temperatures as low as 60.8 degrees are best when people pile on the blankets.

    The body’s core temperature needs to drop by about 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit to initiate sleep, [UC Professor Matthew] Walker says. “If our core temperature is too high the brain cannot easily make the switch from being awake to being asleep, or create the best quality sleep.”
    One counter-intuitive piece of advice--take a hot bath before bedtime:
    The hot water brings the circulating blood to the surface of the body, which is one of the quickest ways to drop core body temperature.

    “When you get out of the bath you cool down more quickly, which is what the body wants to do at bed time,” says James Horne, a neuroscience professor at Loughborough University in England. His research has found that young, healthy people have about 10% more slow-wave sleep when they take a warm bath before bedtime. He says soaking in water that is about 102 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes in the early evening will improve sleep. A shower won’t have the same effect, he says.
    This may explain why people with hot tubs seem mellower----they sleep better.

    Monday, February 22, 2016

    A Life's Work

    The Lombardis (
    They've been married 72 years, and Mr. and Mrs. Lombardi, both 95, give advice "about love, life, and staying together" (many of these tips apply to unmarried folk, too.):
    1. Just love each other.
    2. Compliment each other often.
    3. Have a good sex life.
    4. Live near family.
    5. Limit eating out, eat good food, watch your sugar intake.
    6. Never cheat.
    7. Never go to bed mad.
    8. Be okay with arguing.
    9. Respect each other.
    10. Keep a nice home.
    11. Be good parents.
    12. Marry good genes.
    13. Be sure that your faith beliefs bring you together and don’t divide you.
    14. Take the good with the bad.
    Happiness isn't just a matter of luck, a lot of work--and thinking outside oneself--is involved, too.

    Sunday, February 21, 2016

    Forgiveness is Divine

    Terrible tragedies abound in the news, and we are used to hearing anger and accusations of blame that are often wholly justified. But on occasion we hear words of forgiveness, words that are unfathomable because we know we could never attain that state of grace.

    In 2008 Dong Yun Yoon, a Korean immigrant to the U.S., lost his wife and two baby daughters when a Marine jet crashed into his house near San Diego.
    Yoon, sobbing into a tissue at his destroyed house, also asked for prayer for the jet’s Marine pilot, who ejected safely from the F/A-18D Hornet after his training mission went awry Monday.

    "I don’t have any hard feelings," Yoon, 37, told reporters. "I know he did everything he could."
    Three months ago a white supremacist slaughtered nine members of Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Said the daughter of one of the victims:
    “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.”
    On February 11th Oklahoma City assistant coach Monty Williams lost his wife, Ingrid, 44, when Susannah Donaldson, 52, drifted into her lane and hit her head-on. Both women died. In his eulogy on Friday Monty Williams gave a moving tribute to Ingrid, the mother of his five children, but the part that everyone most remembers is this:
    I'm going to close with this and I think it's the most important thing that we need to understand. Everybody's praying for me and my family, which is right, but let us not forget that there were two people in this situation,and that family needs prayer as well. We have no ill will towards that family.

    In my house we have a sign that says, “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” We cannot serve the Lord if we don't have a heart of forgiveness. That family didn't wake up wanting to hurt my wife. Life is hard. It is very hard, and that was tough. But we hold no ill will towards the Donaldson family. We, as a group, brothers united in unity, should be praying for that family because they grieve as well so let's not lose sight of what's important. God will work this out. My wife is in heaven. God loves us. God is love.

    Saturday, February 20, 2016

    Dream(liner) On

    Boeing's stock price has fallen 20%--about $20 billion of market value---since the beginning of 2016, more than three times the decline in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The primary reason, initially, was softening demand for the 777 and 737 and worries that the aviation up-cycle was getting long in the tooth.

    1. 777 transition: Although Boeing has finally conceded to a weaker than hoped demand environment, and cut the 777-300 rate to 7/month, there is concern that there could be further downside...

    2. The Cycle: Look back over 40 years, and Boeing is clearly a cyclical stock....with aerospace into year 7 of this up-cycle, there is nervousness about how long the good times can last. About half of the Boeing Commercial Aircraft backlog is exposed to emerging markets, where there are real concerns over growth and FX pressures...

    3. 737 transition: Perhaps the biggest bombshell in the 4Q15 results was the unexpected dip in 737 deliveries this year.
    Last week's revelation that the SEC was looking into Boeing's accounting was The Straw That Broke the Camel’s Back, according to stock analysts.

    In 2015 Boeing received 71 Dreamliner orders, only
    157 to go to reach the 1,300 target.
    (Boeing table)
    Boeing is one of the few companies that uses program accounting, which spreads the cost of development over the lifetime production of an aircraft model. Both cost and future production are Boeing estimates not easily verifiable by auditors and other outsiders.

    For the 787, $28.5 billion of development cost will be spread over 1,300 Dreamliners.

    Boeing's balance sheet from
    If more costs straggle in, or if demand turns out to be less than 1,300 units, billions of dollars of charge-offs could occur.

    $28.5 billion comprises a significant portion of Boeing's $94.4 billion balance sheet. By the way, this amount resides in Inventories of $47.257 billion, which in turn are part of Current Assets, which most accountants define as assets that can be turned into cash within one year.

    Dream(liner) on.

    Friday, February 19, 2016

    Cooling Soon

    It was only a matter of time. The stock market tailspin has affected venture capital: [bold added]
    Investors, eyeing collapsing tech stocks and economic sloth, are culling their portfolios and forcing cash-starved companies to retrench or shut down.

    Investors funded fewer U.S. startups in the fourth quarter than any period in more than four years. Since November, at least a dozen tech companies, which combined raised well over $2 billion in venture funding, have announced layoffs, letting go hundreds of people that in most cases represented at least 15% of their staffs. Other companies are closing money-losing projects and raising debt to tide them over.
    Everyone talks about the escalation in home prices, but
    renters are being squeezed, too (Mercury News)
    Layoffs and business cutbacks will have a delayed effect on the red-hot Bay Area real estate market, which should be cooling soon. However, home prices and rents should soften only a few percentage points. No established analyst has (yet) predicted a stock-market collapse on the order of 2000, when the dot-com bubble burst.

    SF Chronicle: How a tech slowdown could affect Bay Area housing

    Thursday, February 18, 2016

    A Late Discovery

    This roller was $19 on Amazon.
    Until I underwent physical therapy for my injured leg, I hadn't given foam rollers a second thought. How could something so simple and cheap have any benefit?

    The therapist told me to lie flat on the ground and place the roller under the injured area. I rolled the leg on top of the hard foam, and it hurt---much like a deep-tissue massage hurts. I stopped after 30 seconds, and the leg tingled.

    The foam roller was a revelation. Not only do I use it for the leg, but it also helps with balance exercises and relieves lower back pain. Just thinking about this late-in-life discovery gives me a thrill up my leg.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2016

    Just In Time

    Despite decades of research, little progress had been made in finding a cure for Alzheimer's Disease:
    Alzheimer’s was first discovered in 1906, which means doctors have had a century to peel away the disease’s molecular layers and search for a cure. But despite their best efforts, they still have no real treatments. Since 2000, more than 200 Alzheimer’s drugs have been tested, and none proves to be a silver bullet.
    (Image from
    Post-mortem examination a century ago revealed a connection between dementia and the formation of amyloid plaques in the brain. Scientists have
    focused first on finding ways to soak up the excess amyloid in the brain, hopefully before the protein can form its tacky plaques and destroy neurons. They developed, among other drugs, antibodies to find and bind to amyloid and break it down. But these compounds, though they worked in animals, failed to make much difference in memory and cognitive function in people.
    The latest therapies, successfully tested on laboratory mice, include a combination of anti-amyloid, anti-tau (another protein found in Alzheimer brains), and nerve-growth drugs that not only stop deterioration but restore some brain functioning.

    The history of Alzheimer's research, like the war on cancer, has been a story of hopes raised and dashed. Nevertheless, cures for these dread diseases may arrive just in time to save millions of the baby-boom generation, the luckiest generation in the history of mankind.

    Tuesday, February 16, 2016

    Decree First, Data Last

    The Hayward-San Mateo Bridge from the levee trail (2013).
    Foster City's levees were built to withstand a once-a-century flood, therefore homeowners are not required by lenders to buy flood insurance. However, in 2015 the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA's) "new modeling methodology and new regulations....concluded that roughly 85 percent of the city’s levee system is not adequate."

    Foster City must raise the levees by 5.5 feet, plus an additional margin for sea-level rise, at an estimated cost of $75 million. The project would be completed by 2020. If it doesn't do this, most property owners will have to buy flood insurance.

    Last October FEMA helpfully advised "Californians to buy flood insurance, even if they live in areas of low to moderate risk" because of "drenching El Niño rains."

    1) El Niño has helped alleviate the drought, but a respected meteorologist said the forecasted heavy rains were overhyped.
    2) Vast sums have been and will be spent because people believe in the forecasts of computer models (climate change, El Niño, floods). Why should we believe FEMA's new, supposedly improved, flood models when it's been so wrong about El Niño? FEMA is also wrong about projected sea-level rise because its models could not possibly have included last week's development [bold added]:
    the increasingly hot and parched Earth is absorbing some of that water inland, slowing sea level rise, NASA experts said Thursday [Feb. 11].
    3) When the science is not settled, hold off on the mandates, put the information out there, and let people decide for themselves. (By the way, we have weighed the premium cost against the economic benefits, in addition to the probabilities, and bought earthquake insurance for the past 20 years, though there are no requirements to do so. It's a private decision, as we hope flood insurance will be.)

    Monday, February 15, 2016

    A Flaccid Holiday

    Before the 1970's Washington's Birthday (February 22nd) and Lincoln's Birthday (February 12th) were widely remembered occasions. Washington's was a national holiday, while Lincoln's was (and remains) a separate paid holiday in a handful of states.

    The Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968 re-calendarized many Federal holidays to Monday to "aid the work of Government and bring new efficiency to our economy." Washington's Birthday, partly because of its proximity to Lincoln's, became popularly known as President's Day, but the original name remains on the books.

    Exacting historians agree:
    Today is not “President’s Day.” Presidents’ Day is not a federal holiday. Officially, Feb. 15, 2016 is George Washington’s Birthday [blogger's note: the writer means the recognized but not the actual date]. Presidents Day is a myth.
    "Presidents Day" is not a myth to Madison Avenue, which publicizes the holiday as a good time to buy cars and furniture. As George Washington recedes into the mists of time, his birthday will be supplanted in the popular mind by a flaccid day that honors all Presidents, most much less deserving than he.

    Such would be Washington's wish. The great man would have approved not being remembered:
    The growing infirmities of age and the increasing love of retirement, daily confirm my decided predilection for domestic life: and the great Searcher of human hearts is my witness, that I have no wish, which aspires beyond the humble and happy lot of living and dying a private citizen on my own farm.

    Sunday, February 14, 2016


    When the local church announced that it would be hosting sessions on Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) during Lent, I had an instinctive negative reaction. The short description of ABCD contained terms like "sustainable development", "community", and "environment", all favorites of the Marxism progressivism to which our bishop and many of our clergy adhere. (Just to be clear, your humble blogger supports to varying degrees these activities on an individual basis; when featured prominently together, however, they signal common cause with a political group that is not mine. See dog-whistle politics.)

    But there was a pleasant surprise: the first session did not bash capitalism and did not advocate an expanded central government to correct society's wrongs. According to Episcopal Relief and Development [bold added]
    Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) is an approach that catalyzes change and development based on utilizing the existing gifts and capacities of people and their communities. The ABCD model discourages development brought in from an outside source, but rather energizes change and development from within.
    (Image from
    ABCD seeks to make changes to the community based on existing individuals, associations, institutions, physical assets, and connections. The traditional model of starting with wants (for example, affordable housing) seeks outside help, which becomes permanent and creates dependency.

    In other words ABCD says, let's start with our assets to see what we can do, not list our wants to see what we can get. I'll attend the next session to see where this goes.

    Saturday, February 13, 2016

    Election Returns Follow the Supreme Court

    Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died yesterday from natural causes. The punditry began immediately, and there's nothing insightful that this interested but not immersed observer can add to the political discussion.

    1) Let's mourn the loss of a brilliant mind.
    there is considerable cross-ideological consensus that Scalia was a great legal thinker who had a major impact, especially by means of his strong advocacy of originalism.
    When a formidable intelligence departs the scene, it's a loss to humanity. (I would feel the same way about Paul Krugman, whose style makes me grit my teeth.)

    2) Predicting the important issues in a Presidential campaign is often folly.


    Friday, February 12, 2016

    Not Totally Obsolete

    The clearance rack at Staples consists almost entirely of typewriter ribbons. I looked for one that fits the one we have, to no avail.

    We rarely use a typewriter--a Brother model stored in the back of a closet--but when it's needed it's really needed to fill out the odd government or commercial form.

    The difference between "never use" and "rarely use" is a chasm, turning trash into treasure.

    Thursday, February 11, 2016


    (Image from
    The math is irrefutable. Old people have less remaining time than the young. It would not be surprising if the elderly were more afraid of death, but according to psychologists [bold added]
    if you look at the research, older people have less anxiety and sadness and more overall satisfaction
    Plausible explanations are:
    1) the aging process prompts the letting-go of not only material attachments but also the disappointment of dreams that will never be realized.
    2) in every long life there are at least a few moments that inspire gratitude. Remembering them, a grateful person is a happy person.
    3) a legacy (e.g., children, educating the young, or building a business) that engenders satisfaction.

    No one likes "dead"-lines, but they do concentrate the mind.

    Wednesday, February 10, 2016

    Go Forth

    (Image from Rockwell House)
    During Lent Christians traditionally refrain from pleasures like chocolate or watching TV. Another school of thought encourages a daily positive behavior, like meditation or exercise.

    Pope Francis wrote last year that we should go beyond either of these negative or positive philosophies. He called for turning the inward focus outward. Christians must battle against "the globalization of indifference" to the suffering of others. [bold added]
    every Christian community is called to go out of itself and to be engaged in the life of the greater society of which it is a part, especially with the poor and those who are far away...we can help by acts of charity, reaching out to both those near and far through the Church’s many charitable organizations. Lent is a favourable time for showing this concern for others by small yet concrete signs of our belonging to the one human family.
    Episcopalians just have to follow the instructions in the traditional blessing:
    Go forth into the world in peace;
    be of good courage;
    hold fast that which is good;
    render to no one evil for evil;
    strengthen the fainthearted; support the weak;
    help the afflicted; honour everyone;
    love and serve the Lord,
    rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit;
    and the blessing of God the Father etc.

    Tuesday, February 09, 2016

    Pancake Pleasures

    Martha Stewart likes them thick, too.
    On Pancake Tuesday Time describes The Science Behind Making a Perfect Pancake: [bold added]
    a “standing” period of between one and three hours before cooking is vital.,,,It is important to beat the mixture hard, so that gluten forms, for the mixture to then stand to allow the starch to swell and any air bubbles to pop. Unless you do this, the structure of the pancake will be weak and it will be full of holes.
    This "curing" tip pertains to the thick pancakes served in America, not to the thinner crepes preferred by Europeans.

    Thick, fluffy, light pancakes for breakfast, accompanied by hot coffee, are one of life's pleasures.

    Wailana's pancake breakfast--unlimited pancakes including
    bacon and eggs--is a good deal at under $9.

    Monday, February 08, 2016

    The Advantage of Cosmopolitanism

    Like last year, 2016's Chinese New Year is very close to Lent. As noted yesterday a quirk of the calendar has given us the excuse to indulge in three days of continuous gluttony. Happy New Year!

    Sunday, February 07, 2016

    Fat Super Sunday

    The Tuesday before Lent once commanded a decent turnout for the traditional pancake supper, but attendance has been dwindling for some time.

    And so it is that many churches now celebrate mardi gras after the Sunday service. Liz and Brian, our recent arrivals from Louisiana by way of Texas, showed that pancakes were a poor substitute for the real thing. Homemade shrimp etouffée, chicken gumbo, and king's cake made it difficult to pace oneself in anticipation of the furious gluttony that would occur later that afternoon.

    At 5:30 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday
    I had the weight room to myself.
    We have an extra day in 2016, but the calendar seems compressed with the Super Bowl and "dimanche gras" occurring today and the Lunar New Year tomorrow.

    Easter will come early this year--March 27th--as will Lent, six weeks of fasting and prayer that in my case are sorely needed.

    Saturday, February 06, 2016

    Not Buying It

    Over 5 years AMZN's price appreciation is more than 3X any of the indices.
    I love shopping at Amazon, but its three-digit PE multiple (the current price of $502.13 is 402x earnings) has always prevented me from buying the stock. AMZN's priciness has persisted during bull and bear markets for the nearly two decades that it has been a public company, so something's going on here that some shrewd analysts (and the not-so-shrewd like your humble observer) don't understand.

    Even an august financial publication like Barron's, which balked at recommending the stock at $319 in 2013, now refuses to make a call in either direction:
    don’t expect us to double down on the skeptical view on we took a little over two years ago (“ Dangerous for Competitors—and for Shareholders,” Oct. 5, 2013). Shares, then $319, have made a punishing climb to a recent $502, and we’re trying to think of our safety word. Oh, right: valuation!
    The Shepard Booster has flown and landed safely (Blue Origin photo)
    My own take on last year's price run-up was that founder Jeff Bezos got tired of shareholder and analyst complaints about the lack of profitability. Amazon turned down the investment and R&D spigot in 2015, and the stock was off to the races when Amazon's profits took Wall Street by surprise. In 2016 Amazon will resume its old ways of going after "moonshots" (in Jeff Bezos' case the term is literally accurate; his company, Blue Origin, is working on and has successfully launched space rockets). We can only watch bemusedly.

    One final word of advice to the Barron's writer, however. Don't use sarcasm unless 100% of your readership will get it---don't let your last sentence be
    We predict Amazon stock will triple by Wednesday and double again on Thursday, on news that all those new stores will sell organic burritos, too.

    Friday, February 05, 2016

    The Gentleman Can Start His Chomping

    New software allows the patient to view the status of each
    tooth. The latest X-rays are in the bottom left corner.
    It's been a year since my last visit to Stan the Dentist. I was due for a cleaning, which went quickly because I've been flossing regularly and using an electric toothbrush.

    I also needed him to re-glue one of my gold crowns. Since late December I had been chewing very carefully; biting on a loose crown could distort its shape, perhaps ruining the fit. But what I most feared was swallowing the bit (!) of precious metal and having to retrieve it, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

    I told Stan that the subject crown was the left bottom molar, the furthest one back. Oh, you mean number 18. He "sandblasted" (his words) the tooth and crown and applied cement. The crown had been installed in 1987, so by applying simple linear extrapolation we'll have to do this again in 2045. Rampant chomping has resumed.

    Thursday, February 04, 2016

    Cheap by Waterfront Standards

    Infrared image of a subject sitting on a bench.
    While yesterday's visit to Super Bowl City didn't live up to expectations, I was glad that we went. The content was mediocre, but San Francisco impressed with its organization, security, and minimal (tolerable?) disruption to city life. Super Bowl 50 demonstrates to the Olympic Committee that the SF Bay Area could be a viable host.

    The day wasn't lost; we spent a couple of interesting hours at the Exploratorium science museum. Though we're members, we've delved deeply into only 20% of the exhibits.

    The Exploratorium is normally very crowded on weekends. This Wednesday afternoon it was empty. The $29 adult admission may seem high, but it's cheap by San Francisco waterfront standards.

    Wednesday, February 03, 2016

    Super Bowl City

    We hied over to San Francisco to see what all the fuss was about. Apparently a tent city had sprung up in Justin Herman Plaza, overflowing onto Market Street and the Embarcadero.

    It was in the same place held by Occupy SF four years ago, but these "occupiers" came from different circumstances.

    Super Bowl City was built to celebrate Super Bowl 50, which is going to be held this Sunday, 45 miles south in Santa Clara.

    Parking lots along the Embarcadero had doubled their all-day parking fees to $40 (we found a $20 garage a block inland). We passed through security and strolled by large corporate booths (Verizon, Chevron, Levi's) and many smaller ones serving food and drink.

    There were also sizable media tents (CBS and ESPN). We had poor views, and loudspeakers piped out what was going on inside. One had to wait for night time to catch a glimpse of celebrity athletes and media personalities, not to mention hear the live music.

    After a couple of hours of wandering around, we treated ourselves to dinner at a restaurant along the Embarcadero. Nothing like seafood and sourdough to dispel the disappointments of the day.

    [Update - 2/5: The Streets of San Francisco: Super Bowl City Meets Tent City]

    Tuesday, February 02, 2016

    A Stunning Allegory of Moral, Intellectual, and Even Religious Excellence About a Big Rat

    Like 2013's Groundhog Day Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow, thereby auguring an early spring. Groundhog Day was a quirky custom in an out-of-the-way town--it didn't rise in the popular consciousness until the 1993 film.

    I came across the movie 20 years ago on HBO. At first glance it was a cleverly written comedy about a jaded, world-weary weatherman who mysteriously must re-live Groundhog Day over and over again.

    Bill Murray's character, Phil Connors, is trapped. Even when he despairingly "kills" himself he wakes up the next morning in the same hotel bed to the strains of Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe" on the clock-radio.

    Phil-the-human cannot escape, yet in a sense he is totally free. He can commit any number of sins without consequence because he will have a fresh start tomorrow. No one but he remembers what he did.

    Repeated viewings struck a chord. The movie plumbed deep waters. And I'm not alone in that realization.
    In the years since its release the film has been taken up by Jews, Catholics, Evangelicals, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, and followers of the oppressed Chinese Falun Gong movement. Meanwhile, the Internet brims with weighty philosophical treatises on the deep Platonist, Aristotelian, and existentialist themes providing the skin and bones beneath the film’s clown makeup.

    theology professor Michael P. Foley wrote that Groundhog Day is “a stunning allegory of moral, intellectual, and even religious excellence in the face of postmodern decay, a sort of Christian-Aristotelian Pilgrim’s Progress for those lost in the contemporary cosmos.”
    The movie ends on a hopeful note. Phil makes positive changes of his own free will, without expectations of a reward. Only then is he released from the prison of endless repetition.

    Part of the genius of Groundhog Day, the movie, is that it doesn't pummel you with philosophy. It invites you to think, but if you just want to laugh, that's ok, too. As Jonah Goldberg observes,
    We’re talking about the movie in which Bill Murray tells a big rat sitting on his lap, “Don’t drive angry,”

    Monday, February 01, 2016

    Designing is Better Than Destroying

    We first came across the acronym, CRISPR, almost one year ago. The technology is too powerful and too easy to use that it couldn't stay bottled up, despite the ethical implications.

    U.K. Approves First Studies of New Gene Editing Technique CRISPR on Human Embryos: [bold added]
    It’s the first time the technology, which has taken the medical world by storm, has been sanctioned for use on human embryos. The team of scientists led by Kathy Niakan, a biologist at Francis Crick Institute, will attempt to edit out bits of DNA that prevent an embryo from developing properly—which may answer important questions about infertility. The embryo would not be allowed to survive beyond 14 days—meaning they wouldn’t be implanted into a woman’s womb and grown into live babies.

    “I promise you she has no intention of the embryos ever being put back into a woman for development.”
    It's highly unlikely that all scientists--or parents willing to pay big bucks--will be so scrupulous. The ethical issues have been known for some time.
    CRISPR raises the notion of designer babies, made-to-order genetic traits and so forth. If CRISPR can successfully change the genome of an embryo, it could forever alter the human gene pool. [snip]

    Niakan is using CRISPR to study genes responsible for infertility, but the technology could just as easily be used to dictate which genes an embryo should, or shouldn’t have. It’s relatively straightforward to decide that the gene that causes sickle cell anemia, for example, a devastating blood disorder that requires people to get regular transfusions of healthy blood cells, should be snipped out. But what about a gene involved in short stature? Or grey hair?
    Millions of people use online dating sites to select prospects according to physical qualities (e.g., blonde, dancer, pianist), so such screening techniques are familiar. One can break up with a dating partner, however, but not a child.

    Expect these designer-baby qualms to be dispensed with quickly; the wealthy and connected will do what they want and easily find justifications for their actions (an embryo is just a bunch of cells that's the woman's property, and besides, designing is better than destroying, right?).