Thursday, June 30, 2016

It's Cheaper to Pay the Fine

The mushrooming costs of compliance with government regulations have caused some companies to reach the breaking point: [bold added]
Another rational response: pull the
sheet over your head and whimper.
Compliance related to regulatory requirements and changes isn’t a new problem for finance leaders, and it’s getting more complex. Most CPA decision-makers see the level of general business complexity getting moderately to significantly more complex in the next three years. Regulatory requirements and changes ranked as the most-cited challenge of U.S. CPA decision-makers in an AICPA survey in 12 of the past 13 quarters. Regulatory issues were cited by many CFOs as a top challenge in a recent CFO Alliance survey, and it was the top challenge of banking CFOs....

Some companies are choosing not to comply, according to a survey by the Global Trade Academy at management firm Amber Road.
That's a rational response: assess the odds of getting caught, and measure the potential fines against the cost of changes to the information systems and workflow.

If you kick the mule often enough, eventually it won't budge.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Outside Starbucks in Foster City

I have never seen these people before. Nevertheless....comments!

1) They've been married a long time: they are long past the point of trying to impress each other and are very comfortable in each other's presence.

2) 25 years ago their noses would have been buried in a newspaper.

3) Couples do look like each other over time.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Children of Acton

Research supports the notion that power corrupts.

Berkeley students [bold added]
monitored vehicle etiquette at road junctions, kept notes on models and makes. They observed who allowed pedestrians their right of way at street crossings; who pretended not to see them and roared straight past. The results couldn’t have been clearer. Mercedes drivers were a quarter as likely to stop at a crossing and four times more likely to cut in front of another car than drivers of beaten-up Ford Pintos and Dodge Colts. The more luxurious the vehicle, the more entitled its owner felt to violate the laws of the highway.
"Prisoner" and "guard" from the Stanford
Prisoner Experiment (SF Gate, 1971)
The Berkeley traffic study continues a long line of research that confirmed the results of 1971's Stanford Prison Experiment, in which "normal" middle-class males began to behave abusively if they were assigned the role of a prison guard over other subjects who were assigned the role of prisoners. Abuse of power results from the power position itself and is less a character defect of the powerful. Berkeley psychology professor Dacher Keltner:
“Here is what power does to just about every human being. It’s going to make you not pay attention to people as well as you used to pay attention to them. You may find yourself swearing at a colleague or telling them that their work is horseshit [blogger's note: this is a situation where it would be helpful to hear the speaker's tone to tell whether he's speaking with self-awareness]. You will be a little less careful in the language you use. You will be a little less thoughtful about how things look from their perspective. So just practise a little gratitude. Listen empathetically. It shouldn’t be that difficult.”
A few more thoughts:

1) Studies that show contradictory findings---that the wealthy are more charitable, for example---run against the prevailing wisdom and don't get published; similarly, hypotheses that the overwhelming left-wing political leanings of academia bias the results are ignored. In other words the social-science gatekeepers themselves are using their power to quash dissent.

2) If we accept that power corrupts, why does it necessarily follow that a larger State will reduce abuses? Encountering jerks in positions of authority is a fact of life, but it's been my experience that it's much more difficult to get rid of those who are in the public sector, who are often protected by higher-ups and even the law, rather than those who are in the private sector and ultimately vulnerable to market forces.

3) Leaders who head most charitable organizations are always asking, wheedling, cajoling, and thanking---but never telling--their volunteers and donors. (Mega-charities with large payrolls have traditional power relationships.) One also sees these non-authoritative leadership styles in organizations where the talent could easily go elsewhere (e.g., big data analytics, professional basketball, neurosurgery).

Said Publius (James Madison) in Federalist 47: "The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."

Monday, June 27, 2016

San Francisco's "Unsolvable" Problem

Diane Feinstein was the first mayor
to confront the problem (Chron--1986)
This week the Chronicle runs a landmark series of articles on San Francisco's homeless problem. Despite many millions of dollars spent and the attention of six mayors, the headline reads:
"SF homeless problem looks the same as it did 20 years ago."

The limitations aren't just financial. Estimates of San Francisco's homeless population run between 7,000 and 10,000, of which about a third are mentally ill. [bold added]
SF Chronicle--they tried and failed:
Mayors Agnos, Jordan, Brown and
Newsom. Will Ed Lee succeed?
The city would need hundreds of new psychiatric-care beds to get them off the sidewalks — the current inventory of fewer than 1,000 is not nearly enough. But even if it created those beds, getting people into them is difficult. Unless they are judged a danger to themselves or others, the mentally ill can’t be forced into care.
As someone who has encountered the homeless in off-and-on charity work over two decades, your humble blogger has the glimmer of appreciation for how intractable the problem is. Keeping above water in our rapidly changing society is difficult enough, but for those who are mentally ill, disabled, and/or engaged in substance abuse, getting a job and getting off the streets is usually out of the question.

Turning one's life around requires an unwavering commitment that would have probably forestalled homelessness in the first place.

"Mayor Willie Brown...ultimately — and famously — declared the homeless problem unsolvable."

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Hope and Fear

A little over a year ago CRISPR ("clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats") came to our attention. Now it merits the cover of Time:
Just four years old, this discovery is transforming research into how to treat disease, what we eat and how we’ll generate electricity, fuel our cars and even save endangered species. Experts believe that CRISPR can be used to reprogram the cells not just in humans but also in plants, insects–practically any piece of DNA on the planet. [snip]

Talk to any biologist, geneticist or botanist right now and you will hear a level of excitement that comes only from the emergence of something truly groundbreaking. If the evolution from giant mainframes to personal computers forever changed technology, CRISPR promises to do something similar for genetics–democratizing the power to improve on nature for scientists at nearly all levels of expertise in practically every field.
While human beings don't have the power to control the sun, moon, and stars, we now have at our fingertips the ability to redesign not only ourselves but every living thing. Enormous benefits are on the horizon (rejection-proof organ transplants, resurrection of extinct species, crops immune to disease), but there are also enormous risks:
CRISPR means that most microbes driving infectious diseases are just a few DNA edits away from becoming superstrains that could wipe out unprepared populations....With the tools easily bought online, it would be theoretically possible to engineer a killer mosquito that transmits a deadly disease, or a DNA-damaging virus, that could infect human cells and decimate the population.
As mankind races to acquire God's powers, pray that it falls no farther behind in acquiring His wisdom.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Right Man, Wrong Reason

Earlier this week we opined that Tesla's bid to acquire SolarCity made Elon Musk look more like money-grubbing capitalist than eco-visionary.

Post-announcement trading in both TSLA and SCTY indicates that the market agrees. [bold added]
Musk said the deal was about the “blindingly obvious” synergies of one-stop shopping for a Tesla electric car, a home battery pack, and SolarCity rooftop panels.

Nearsighted investors didn’t see those synergies. Instead, they saw two unprofitable companies aligning behind the name with the better cost of capital, so they can raise the billions they need to achieve Musk’s bold ambitions. By week’s end, Tesla shares (ticker: TSLA) were 12% lower, at $193.15, trimming the announced value of Tesla’s all-stock offer accordingly. More embarrassing for the entrepreneur, SolarCity stock (SCTY) closed Friday at $22.20, two bucks under the $24-to-$25 value of Tesla’s offer. That means investors doubt Musk can swing the deal, even though he chairs both companies and owns about a quarter of each.
Of all the celebrity CEO's in the Bay Area, Elon Musk , we said last year, was the one to watch, but not for the reasons we are watching him this week.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Upper Hand

The major stock market averages are down about 3% three hours before the close. Yesterday's British referendum to leave the European Union ("Brexit") has injected a huge dose of uncertainty. Normally, your humble small investor would view the current circumstances as a buying opportunity, but the problems may well extend beyond the impact on Great Britain.

According to British WSJ columnist James Mackintosh we can foresee either a short correction or a "rolling crisis": [bold added]
If the world sees Brexit as a cry of anguish from a small island somewhere to the northwest of the world’s biggest trading bloc, then the market correction elsewhere could be nasty and brutish, but short.

As a British passport holder I tend to think an impending disaster for the world’s fifth-largest economy could be the next round of the rolling crisis that started with U.S. subprime, crushed Lehman and then the eurozone before flattening emerging markets. Each showed the weaknesses in the global economy, and prompted proper arm-waving panic before central banks got them under control. I may be biased, but it feels as though there could be a lot further to fall before the central banks can stabilize markets.
The market is driven by both fear and greed, and fear is holding the upper hand.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Fun and Interesting, But....

The Grauman's Chinese Theatre is also worth a stop.
Native San Franciscan and 55-year Chronicle columnist Carl Nolte finds pleasant surprises in L.A. (as do most of us who don't go south too often). Excerpts: [bold added]
Los Angeles Union Station was full of people, even on a Saturday night. This is the last of the great railroad stations, opened in 1939 when streamlined trains were the cat’s meow....not long ago L.A. Union Station was like a ghost town at night, empty and dusty. Now it’s back.

Los Angeles is noticeably cleaner than San Francisco, Oakland or Berkeley. Less trash, or so it seemed. There was a bit of high fog — June gloom, it’s called — but no smog.

We hear that Los Angeles has twice as many homeless people as San Francisco, but they are not nearly as visible.....we see more beggars in a single block in San Francisco than we saw in three days in L.A.
A tour of L.A. is fun and interesting, but as a place to live? In Northern California the summers are cooler, and the air is cleaner. As Carl Nolte ended his piece, "all roads lead home."

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

His Leash Has Shortened

Tesla Motor's bid to acquire SolarCity makes little strategic sense to outsiders but does enhance the personal fortune of billionaire Elon Musk, who is the Chairman of both businesses. [bold added]
Aside from the familial connection and clean energy angle, there’s not much in common between the two companies in terms of synergies that make this deal logical. Seabreeze Partners’ Douglas Kass expects it to go through, but warns that it was “likely done out of desperation, as Solar City was probably on the way to extinction,” given its debt-heavy balance sheet and negative cash flow.

Jim Chanos has harsher words for Tesla. On CNBC, Chanos today called the deal a “shameful example of corporate governance at its worst.”

Given the state of SolarCity’s finances, and the ambitious Model 3 production schedule, further shareholder dilution may be possible even after the deal closes. Barclays’ Brian Johnson writes that the deal simply magnifies “the losses and cash burn” at both companies and it’s “far from certain” that the equity capital market would remain an “open well” for Tesla. SolarCity’s high cost of capital, which would only increase, it seems, without the deal, looks like an important factor in Musk’s decision to buy it.
Shares of both TSLA and SCTY have plunged this year.
Elon Musk controls both companies, so the motivations behind the merger look more financial than synergistic (he could have coordinated their businesses without this action). Mr. Musk risks tarnishing his image as eco-visionary by looking like a money-grubbing capitalist out to rescue a troubled investment through wheeling and dealing; SolarCity's declining financial condition will be masked by the bright light of Tesla.

Elon Musk's track record so far has earned him the benefit of the doubt, but judging from today's market reaction (TSLA dropped 10.45%) his leash has shortened.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Keeping It Simple is not Stupid

(Yahoo image)
A language maven analyzes why Donald Trump's speaking style has been so effective. [bold added]
First, he keeps it simple....Simplicity is not stupidity; making language easy to apprehend is intrinsic to making it appealing. Countless psychological studies have shown that what is easy to process is seen as more truthful. “I’m going to build a big, beautiful wall and Mexico is going to pay for it” may be preposterous, but it is easy to understand, and the human brain, in its weakness, likes easy things.

Another Trump tactic is repetition. This, too, may be incorrectly seen as childish. Mr Trump does often say exactly the same thing several times in a row in a crude, hammer-blow fashion. But in more sophisticated guise, repetition is a venerable rhetorical tool. Mark Antony sarcastically repeats the taunt that Brutus is “an honourable man” after Brutus murders Caesar. Winston Churchill rallied Britain with, “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets…” And the most beloved rhetorical repetition of the 20th century is the great refrain, “I have a dream.” Mr Trump is certainly no Martin Luther King, but he knows how to leave an audience remembering what he said.

he does not give speeches. Instead, he talks....Mr Trump, as noted above, repeats many tropes. But he also genuinely speaks off the cuff, avoiding the standard sunny string of clichés, which makes him fascinating to journalists. A Trump speech may actually make news...

This unscripted quality is powerful. Even a valid argument is weakened if it sounds canned. Even an invalid one sounds stronger if it appears spontaneous, especially to voters disgusted with the professional politicians.
It's difficult even for experienced speakers to repeat the same themes and come up with fresh insights or examples. And to do it while sounding "spontaneous", not "canned," requires exceptional skill. The cognoscenti may well be mistaking Mr. Trump's crudity and simplicity for a lack of intelligence.

Keep laughing at the barbarians and their leader, but come November they may be the ones laughing last.

Monday, June 20, 2016

As Most Fathers Do

LeBron supplants Steph as best player; Zhuri takes over
from Riley as cutest daughter (SF Chronicle photo)
It was indeed a Happy Father's Day for yours truly: some productivity (a few duties at morning service, finding the right parts at Home Depot), some relaxation (an afternoon nap does wonders), and great entertainment (a close, hard-fought Game 7 of the NBA Finals).

Yes, we have followed the Warriors all season and had a rooting interest, but we weren't as disappointed by the loss as we thought we would be.

LeBron James is an estimable Finals' Most Valuable Player (the 31-year-old has always displayed grace, IMHO, despite being under incredible media scrutiny since he was a teenager), it's about time that the City of Cleveland experienced the joy of a championship parade, and besides, the Warriors didn't deserve the title from the way they played (the team didn't score any points in the final four minutes, thirty-nine seconds of the game).

The Warriors only lost by four points, 93-89, and will likely be contenders for the rest of the decade. So cheer up, fans, and have some perspective, as most fathers do.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Father's Day, 2016

Dad walks regularly at Ala Moana's Magic Island
While we were waiting for a table in San Mateo, I called Mom and Dad on their landline in Honolulu. Dad's picture popped up on FaceTime. We switched to a mobile videocall and we spent the next ten minutes talking and looking at each other.

Everyone we discussed was doing fine, a remarkable and sadly temporary state of affairs in this journey we call life. 

Happy Father's Day!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Vast Wasteland of Corporate Accountability

Just because an organization, for example a government agency or a charity, is not chartered to earn a profit does not mean that it is more efficient than business (the latter budgets some funds for profits while the former do not). In fact, these agencies often produce abysmal results, as measured by funds spent versus services delivered. Government or charitable organizations have less oversight from third parties, are not required to divulge as much information as businesses have to, and frequently wield monopoly power (for example, a transportation district that controls bridge tolls). Costs go up, services get cut, and exorbitant compensation is paid to executives for objectively poor performance.

People who work in government are not "worse" than people who work in business. Businesses are forced to improve though competition and outsider scrutiny. Regarding government, if no one forces employees to work efficiently, most of them won't.

In a disappointing but not unexpected revelation the non-profit world suffers from the same disease as government agencies.
Nonprofit accounting is arguably one of the last vast wastelands of corporate accountability; rules are lax, disclosure is minimal, and available data are usually months, or even years, old.

Don’t expect the U.S. government to protect you. “There’s no regulatory agency for nonprofits,” observes CharityWatch President Daniel Borochoff.
Donors beware.

Friday, June 17, 2016

No Mr. Softie Any More

Nearly subsumed by the announcement that Microsoft will buy LinkedIn for $26.2 billion is the news that Microsoft will [bold added]
start offering software that tracks marijuana sales, breaking a corporate taboo on pot.
Perhaps you, dear reader, are puzzled by recent developments in Redmond. Here are the top four reasons Microsoft is getting deep into the weeds.

1) $26.2 billion? LinkedIn "connections." 'Nuff said.

2) Cements Microsoft's dominance in vaporware.

3) Out: blue screen of death. In: blue cloud of doob.

4) If you want more Clippy's, we're gonna need a little extra help.
Clippy (NYMag graphic)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

And Now Orlando

Orlando: the 49 dead (NY Daily News collage)
Whatever we're doing now to stop these mass murders, it's not working. Young lives ended or permanently damaged by strangers is horrible, made more horrible by the reminder that a very black heart beats in some of us.

Nearly a week has gone by, and the reaction was disappointing but not unexpected. There was an instantaneous rush to judgment by thought leaders who seem to be most concerned about validation of their worldview. Can't they all just budge a little on their positions on guns and immigration, whether pro- or anti-? No compromise solution will eliminate terrorist killings entirely, but any reduction in severity and frequency will be a step forward.

I don't know what will be lost by compromising but I know who the big winners will be---the ordinary Americans whose faces will not be on the six o'clock news.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Multinational Tax: No Change Any Time Soon

Lisa De Simone
Stanford accounting professor Lisa De Simone says that multinational corporations shift income to low-tax jurisdictions at twice the rate of previous estimates:[bold added]
In our European sample, instead of $54 billion being moved, we find that it’s more like $99 billion..... a change in the tax code could have a bigger effect on the tax base than previously thought. Say, for example, a country raises its tax rate, hoping to generate more revenue; you could get enough outward income shifting that tax revenue actually goes down. In a global economy, the corporate tax base is a very leaky vessel!
To repeat, after raising the tax rate countries sometimes find that total collections go down as multinationals shift income.

One of the principal mechanisms is "transfer pricing," that is, a high-tax French subsidiary "sells" product to an Irish sister company at a low price, thereby making France less profitable and Ireland more so. Income and expenses may also be shifted through other structures such as loans, leases, and service fees.

With the multiple jurisdictions and entities involved, international corporate taxation is much more complicated than U.S. individual income taxes. Trying to increase tax collections from multinationals would involve changing the law country by country in dozens of jurisdictions, which will be difficult and extremely time consuming.

Do not expect change any time soon.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Sign on a Pool Fence

  • Active diarrhea must be a recurring problem to have merited nearly a third of the space on the sign.
  • Pool closures resulting from diarrhea are generally caused by kids, most of whom can't read the word.
  • "Active" diarrhea is verboten; does that mean inactive diarrhea is permitted?
  • "Active" and "inactive" are adjectives applied to volcanos.

    Volcanic diarrhea! the monkey mind flits from image to image, unable to stop, as it plunges into deep waters by the pool.
  • Monday, June 13, 2016

    Even in Space You Can't Escape this Visitor

    I couldn't name a post-Apollo astronaut other
    than Sally Ride (1951-2012) without Googling
    Popular Science headline: A Brief History of Menstruating in Space.

    Women astronauts have been around so long that space menstruation has had a "brief history." Time indeed is flying. (It's easy to treat the subject lightly, but if interplanetary travel is ever to become reality, this is one body function that we had better understand.)

    Sunday, June 12, 2016

    But Not to Thee

    In one sense the Episcopal Church hasn't changed:
    five white guys are doing the 'splaining.
    As I mentioned a few days ago, I attended the Special Diocesan Convention at Grace Cathedral on Saturday. The clergy and lay delegates voted unanimously to amend canon law to clarify the governance of Diocesan institutions. These amendments are important in pending legal actions concerning the control of valuable Diocesan properties.

    Those who have a sense of irony may find it amusing that some delegates waxed indignant that non-Episcopalians are trying to seize control of the church's property. Many of the offended are also "social justice warriors" who advocate lessening property rights---in fact we had discussions on affordable housing and social justice immediately after---but, as the saying goes, property rights apply to me but not to thee.

    Saturday, June 11, 2016

    A Sense of Humor Helps

    Driving in the Bay Area requires forbearance, planning, and low expectations about one's time of travel. Always being able to see the humor in situations also helps.

    This afternoon the driver to my right inserted himself into the left turn lane ahead of me. There were several explanations, none of them flattering to him. Nevertheless, forbearance.

    Then the frontmost driver decided that he was in the wrong lane and shifted to his right. Obviously, when the left arrow came on, nobody moved.

    Conclusions: 1) Robot cars can't come soon enough. 2) Two wrongs don't make the light.

    Friday, June 10, 2016

    In Praise of Engineers

    SF sinkhole: gonna need a bigger patch (NBC Bay Area)
    Potholes have ruined a few of my tires---no axle damage yet, thankfully---and it's encouraging that researchers are developing 21st-century solutions to this scourge of the roads [bold added]:
    any repairs that do happen are usually a lash-up [blogger's note: British - a makeshift, improvised structure or arrangement]. To save money, the material used for the patch is frequently “worked cold”. This means it is not heated with specialist equipment to make the bitumen in it soft enough to flow into the shape required and meld properly with the edges of the pothole. Instead the stuff is simply shovelled off the back of a lorry and pounded down.

    [Univ of Minnesota professor Larry] Zanko and his colleagues built an experimental repair vehicle equipped with a microwave generator on the end of a hydraulic arm. Using this on asphalt that contained between 1% and 2% magnetite, he found he could heat the material in a patch to 100°C in about ten minutes. At that temperature it could be tamped down to produce a more effective repair.

    [Leeds professor Phil Purnell's] system would then activate a robotic repair vehicle when it came across a crack that needed fixing. This robot would come to the crack and fill it with a fast-setting bonding material (asphalt would not be needed, since no hole would yet have formed).
    Microwaved patches, preventive-maintenance robots, and nanoparticle surfaces that "require no more than driving over them once a year with a special vehicle which generates an appropriate magnetic field" demonstrate that engineering minds remain keenly occupied in solving an important but un-sexy problem.

    Thank goodness for engineers; while we talk, they do.

    Thursday, June 09, 2016

    Postponing Fulfillment

    Uber, the ride-sharing company headquartered in San Francisco, won't become a public company soon, says founder Travis Kalanick.
    “I say we are going to IPO as late as humanly possible. It’ll be one day before my employees and significant others come to my office with pitchforks and torches. We will IPO the day before that. Do you get it?”

    For one thing, he said, employees at public companies wasted an inordinate amount of time checking on their money.

    “If you can keep your employees from refreshing every 10 minutes to see what the stock price is, your company is going to be more geared towards the future and move faster,” Kalanick said.
    At Costco in Redwood City I spotted a Porsche driven by an Uber employee. This employee appears to have plenty of money already, and an IPO would allow him to quit and do something else with his life.

    Mr. Kalanick understands incentives: make them think you're the answer to their dreams, but postpone fulfilling their dreams "as late as humanly possible."

    Wednesday, June 08, 2016


    Paul Johnson (BBC photo)
    Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for President, has been rejected by some conservatives and won only the qualified support of others. Therefore, one takes notice when the British historian Paul Johnson gives Mr. Trump a full-throated endorsement ("Let America Reinvent Itself"):
    Like Reagan, Trump began as a joke. But as he’s continued to score popular successes across the country, many Americans have come to see him as the answer to all their hostile feelings about government, i.e., that it’s unresponsive, bureaucratic and run by elite groups of professionals, and is, in the broadest sense, un-American.

    The media–predominantly a part of this elite–has from the start denounced Trump as vulgar, boorish, uncouth, redneckish, unsophisticated, racist and ignorant. But the media is slowly coming to admit that America itself is all these things and that attempting to suppress this truth will no longer work. The electoral system is unrepresentative of the people and a denial of democracy.

    By refusing to be discouraged and demoralized by criticism, Trump has, in a sense, reinvented American democracy. He’s a billionaire who has used his money sensibly to make this reinvention possible. Against all the odds and all the rigging–a salient feature of political conventions–Trump is on the brink of winning the Republican nomination.

    Trump began his campaign by attacking political correctness, which underpins all the attempts to water down, erode, poison and destroy American democracy. His success has proved that the American democratic spirit is indestructible and that he is the choice of huge numbers of voters who want their party to once again be the upholder of freedom, individualism, justice and equality.

    Those who, until recently, shouted that Trump could never win the GOP nomination now claim that he can never beat the person likely to be the Democratic Party’s choice, Hillary Clinton. But who is Mrs. Clinton? She is the epitome of PC within the Democratic Party. Her entitlement to America’s votes rests essentially on two facts: She is a woman, and she’s the wife of a former President.

    In November voters will have an excellent opportunity to reinvent their nation. There should be a general expulsion of shibboleths, an end to catchwords and slogans, a toppling of passwords and formulae and a tossing out of all the clichés and pseudopopulist gadgetry of electioneering. The U.S. is a great nation. From time to time it has gone through shocks, such as war, and has survived and profited from them, growing stronger in the process. This time there will be no fighting. It will all be done by voting, which is what elections are for.
    Mr. Johnson, 87, could be off his rocker. On the other hand foreigners are often able to perceive America (think de Tocqueville) better than Americans. Come this November, we shall see.

    Tuesday, June 07, 2016

    Then and Now

    The Beatles met Ali before the Liston fight (Time photo)
    When the boxer formerly known as Cassius Clay burst onto the scene in the 1960's, his lightning-quick hands peppered stronger, slower adversaries into submission. He danced around the ring, trash-talking throughout. Muhammad Ali has iconic status today, but many people didn't like him then, and it had little to do with race.

    Boxing's color barrier had been broken before World War II by Joe Louis, who overcame poverty, racism, and the lack of education to become one of the greatest and most admired heavyweights in history. In 1937
    the Brown Bomber, as he came to be known, knocked out the defending champ [Jim Braddock] in the eighth round setting the stage for a 12-year-run as the heavyweight king all the while becoming a sports icon for blacks and white across America.

    Part of it could be chalked up to the sheer fact that fans loved a winner. Of Louis' 25 title defenses, only three went the full 15 rounds. But in winning, Louis also showed himself to be a gracious, even generous victor. Louis, who enlisted with the army in 1942, threw his support behind the country's war effort, and went so far as to twice donate his purse money to military relief funds.
    After Joe Louis came seven champions--four African Americans--until 1964 when Cassius Clay wrested the heavyweight championship from the heavily favored Sonny Liston. A few days later he changed his name to Muhammad Ali.
    He was 22 years old, one of the youngest heavyweight champions of all time, as well as one of the best, the most charismatic and the most controversial. With that triumph over Liston, Clay’s trajectory was set: a hero and a villain, then a principled warrior and, finally, a beatified legend, at once misinterpreted and beloved.
    Muhammad Ali won the title when the heavyweight champion was one of the most famous people in the world. Unlike his predecessors--or for that matter all other celebrities--he bragged "I am the greatest" and publicly demeaned his rivals.

    He was ahead of his time, or maybe he was responsible for the times we live in now.

    Monday, June 06, 2016

    Passing an Opportunity

    If one of the solutions to affordable housing was to build
    Section 8 apartments on Grace Cathedral property,

    I would have attended.
    This Saturday the Episcopal Diocese of California will hold a Special Convention. Delegates will go to Grace Cathedral to vote on technical changes to canon law that are necessary to pursue a legal action involving one of the Diocesan properties. As a delegate I will do my duty and rubber-stamp whatever the church's lawyers advise.

    Under the principle of never letting an emergency meeting go to waste, the delegates will have an opportunity to discuss matters important to this Bishop and this Diocese: "greening" the church, social justice, and affordable housing. I will pass on this opportunity, with enthusiasm.

    As I wrote in 2012:
    A perusal of the July General Convention resolutions, which includes endorsing statehood for the District of Columbia and expansion of Medicaid to states that want to decline (legally, according to the Supreme Court) Medicaid expansion, shows that the Episcopal Church has not only become deeply entwined in secular politics but consistently takes positions nearly indistinguishable from the far left wing of the Democratic Party.
    Church leaders, by their actions, seem to think that attendance is falling because the church does not have enough politics. They just could be mistaken.

    Sunday, June 05, 2016

    Saturday Conversation in the Park

    Sandwiched between a corn crunch vendor who was passing out free samples and a chiropractor who was giving free neck rubs, volunteers from the local Episcopal Church set up a booth at Foster City's CityFEST, formerly known as the Arts & Wine Festival. They had nothing to pass out, unless you count the free gift of eternal life. (Hey, it's a church booth.)

    I was prepared to answer questions about Sunday School, choir, and charitable activities. To my surprise a man stopped and asked, "What do you believe in?"

    We are Protestant Christians whose services are a lot like the Catholics--we have Mass every Sunday--but we are organized differently and don't have a Pope at the top. The non-answer tried to give a short-hand perspective on the Episcopal Church, but the man wasn't buying. "But what do you believe in? Do you think the Bible is true?"

    So it was going to be that kind of conversation. Over the next half hour we talked about the Nicene Creed and the Council of Nicaea, Biblical inerrancy, the Old vs New Testaments, the history of the Anglican Church, same-sex marriage and the Anglican split, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and prophecy. We parted amicably, but I doubt he'll be visiting our congregation since he lives in the South Bay.

    My booth partner, Charlene, did field questions from passersby about Sunday School and charitable activities. At CityFEST one must expect the unexpected.

    Saturday, June 04, 2016

    Cutting the Cord is Inevitable

    ( image)
    Yesterday my uncle in Hawaii got a call from the "Minnesota police" who said that your humble blogger was collateral damage in a drug raid and urgently needed money for medical expenses. Of course, uncle immediately got in touch, and we confirmed the call as fraudulent. (This was a variation of the grandparent scam, which has been around for years.)

    The puzzling aspect of this episode was how the scam artists knew that uncle and I were related. We have different last names, he doesn't have an electronic address book that could be hacked, and mine is encrypted on the iPhone.

    The scammers aren't omniscient, though. Uncle has grandchildren living on the Mainland, and it would have been much more believable to him if one of them had gotten into trouble (no offense, cousins, if you happen to see this).

    Uncle hasn't changed his phone number for over 30 years, and neither have we. With our personal data linked to them, the landlines have become inundated with telemarketing, fundraising, and scam phone calls. Keeping landlines has become increasingly costly on multiple levels. Cutting the cord, I'm afraid, is inevitable.

    Friday, June 03, 2016

    Know What You're Getting Into

    Welcome to the 21st century: guinea pig ultrasound.
    Our adopted guinea pig had been losing weight steadily. A blood test and X-ray had not revealed the cause, so the next step was an ultrasound exam. (We had decided that if six-year-old Pumpkin had cancer, it would be time to say goodbye.) The images showed that she had a couple of small (6mm) ovarian cysts. They were not malignant but could diminish appetite. The vet proposed spaying, a riskier procedure on an older pig but one which we will consider if the weight loss continues.

    We have written before about the financial and time commitment involved in taking care of pocket pets. They're cute, but know what you're getting into.

    Thursday, June 02, 2016

    Looking Ahead to 2024

    Yes, we can out-muscle Putin (
    Turned off by our choices for President? It's too late for this year, but....Time: Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson Is Not Ruling Out a Presidential Run:
    “I’ll be honest, I haven’t ruled politics out,” he said. “I can’t deny that the thought of being governor, the thought of being president, is alluring."
    The Rock didn't make these comments impulsively. He's been thinking about politics for a while. From 2012:
    "Right now the best way that I can impact the world is through entertainment. One day, and that day will come, I can impact the world through politics," Johnson — whose latest film, "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island," opens Friday — tells the site. "The great news is that I am American, therefore I can become President."
    Natural-born citizen? Born in Hayward, California.

    Age? 44 (born May 2, 1972)

    Constitutional requirements? check.

    In the media age one has to be able to speak well, but there don't seem to be other gotta-haves. It helps to be wealthy, beautiful, somewhat ideologically consistent, and politically experienced, but we can all point to successful candidates who lacked one or more of the above.

    By the way, the Rock's political affiliation is Republican.

    Aren't you tired of people who talk tough? This guy is tough. The slogans write themselves.

    Wednesday, June 01, 2016

    Unable to Stop the Bleeding

    The Wall Street Journal pricked the bubble of Theranos' blood-testing technology last September, and founder Elizabeth Holmes has been unable to stop the bleeding for her company or her own net worth. Now the comeuppance is complete.

    We've all had bad investment years, but to go from $4.5 billion to zero? That's one of the biggest fortune wipeouts in history.