Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Near to the Madding Crowd

We joined the madding crowd at the Fashion Valley mall on “Black” Friday, so designated because it’s the day after Thanksgiving when merchants’ profit-and-loss statements, it is hoped, flip from red to black. Fashion Valley is one of San Diego’s ritzier shopping centers (Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth, Nordstrom’s, Tiffany, Armani--all places where I become aware of my credit card limits).

The parking lots were filled; it took twenty minutes to find a space. The walkways were likewise jammed. Most in the crowd were under 30, chatting on their cell phones and enjoying the sun. Doesn’t anyone work? (I’m an old guy who’s accumulated nearly seven weeks of vacation, so I’m allowed to ask without a whiff of hypocrisy.)

The youngster and I hung out at Border’s bookstore. Although I was tempted by a number of titles, I refuse to buy any more books until I work through the unread and half-read stack on my nightstand.

Meanwhile, the college student and his mother shopped for shoes and returned a defective air filter to the Sharper Image. The Sharper Image is pricey, but we’ve never had trouble returning or replacing merchandise so we continue to patronize them. This year we’re giving out a lot of gift cards, many of them from the Sharper Image. Not only do we avoid the hassle of wrapping and mailing, but the recipients can buy what they really want and can purchase the items at a lower price after Christmas than we could before.

I hadn’t had a deep-dish pizza for over a year, so we lunched at Uno’s and ordered a large. All calorie-counting is suspended during Thanksgiving weekend. In for a penny, in for a pound, or, in my case, five. © 2006 Stephen Yuen

An Inconvenient Cold Snap

The thermometer has dipped below freezing this morning. If the skies weren’t clear, we’d be having snow, just like in Seattle. Further north, Calgary is expected to break a 110-year-old temperature record today (-27C, -17F) Those who believe that excess CO2 emissions cause global warming have a lot more to explain before we beat our cars into windmills. They predicted that 2006 would be one of the worst hurricane seasons ever (not so #1) or that we would have a water shortage crisis in California (not so #2)

In spheres like war and economics, experts (should) have been humbled because their predictions have proven to be wildly off the mark. Scientists supposedly are trained to consider the evidence first, cherished theories second. Maybe the theories are valid, but as we approach Christmas, let us remember the baby in the manger, who taught that a little humility would do us all some good. © 2006 Stephen Yuen

Friday, November 24, 2006

Thanksgiving, Part 2

This was the first Thanksgiving in many years that we didn’t have to cook. Not being tied to the kitchen all day for the preparation and cooking—and don’t forget the cleaning up—was a liberating eye-opener. We shouldn’t make a habit out of it though, because no holiday more connotes family, hearth, and home than Thanksgiving. It’s hard to capture the feeling at a hotel and restaurant.

We did spend Thanksgiving productively. The student’s mother cleaned and rearranged his room while I did some maintenance on the car, a classic assignment of gender-based roles. Well, it is a traditional holiday. Also traditional—I napped on the couch while she continued to buzz about the rooms doing the work that is never done.

She asked the student about the last time he cleaned the bathroom. “October,” he said. “Right.” You could cut the sarcasm with a knife. I reminded her that males have a different definition of cleanliness. “He has your genes.” When she says that, it’s not a compliment to him.

We drove down to Harbor Island, near the airport. The San Diego skyline twinkled across the water while we munched on turkey at the Boathouse restaurant. It really is a beautiful city. © 2006 Stephen Yuen

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving, 2006

143 years ago, “in the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity”, Abraham Lincoln put aside thoughts of anger or despair and proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving. Surely the problems facing our nation today are small beer compared to those that beset Lincoln (adjusting for growth in the American population, the 600,000 soldier deaths during the Civil War are equivalent to 6 million war dead today). Lincoln was able to lift his eyes to the “blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies”, and so should we.

Yesterday, however, the skies were hazy all the way down to Los Angeles. Highway 5 was crowded with impatient travelers tailgating the trucks and campers who were poking along at 65 mph. 65 looked pretty good when we hit northern L.A. near Magic Mountain, and the traffic ground to a halt. 32 million people were traveling by car yesterday, and a lot of them were on Highway 5. As we crept along for the next three hours, my traveling companion said over and over again, “I couldn’t stand living here”. Well, we don’t, and although millions upon millions of people obviously feel differently, the fact that we don’t live in Southern California is reason to be grateful.

We arrived at La Jolla nine hours after we started. Our student was happy to see us, and we him. We went to dinner at an upscale campus watering hole, the kind that serves designer beers and fusion cuisine. We checked into the hotel, and I was out when my head hit the pillow.

The charges from this long weekend would have caused me to blanch 30 years ago, but now I regard them with equanimity. Another reason to be thankful (no, not for my bank account---just my attitude!) © 2006 Stephen Yuen

Residence Inn, La Jolla, on Thanksgiving morning

Monday, November 20, 2006

All the Rage

So now the solution to Iraq is to enlist the help of the Syrians and Iranians. Brilliant. That’s like asking North Vietnam to help with the problem of the Viet Cong.

Since Vietnam parallels are all the rage, how about following Curtis LeMay’s advice?

Sunday, November 19, 2006


Yes, there’s Ohio State-Michigan, Nebraska-Oklahoma, and USC-UCLA, but only one end-of-year college football contest is deserving of the sobriquet, the Game.

A reminder to these future leaders of America: “Unruly behavior and public urination do not meet our community standards.”

Friday, November 17, 2006


Having skipped breakfast, I had a hankering for a Hawaiian plate lunch--the genuine article---two scoops of rice, macaroni salad, and animal flesh swimming in sodium. I hoofed up to the L&L on Kearny. The d├ęcor was red and yellow---the colors of Roosevelt, my high school’s rival.

I ordered the mahimahi special. The free soda sealed the deal.

Three students were sitting on the nearby barstools, their kanaka accent revealing their origin. They were talking about roommate and money problems, the plaint of students everywhere. The skinny one said that he went to McKinley. “My dad went to McKinley before the war,” I said. The kid was kind enough not to ask which war.

They were clearly enjoying themselves. The bright lights of San Francisco are irresistible to wide-eyed kids from the Islands, so irresistible that some of us never leave. © 2006 Stephen Yuen

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Far from the Farm

Lee blew into town. I hadn’t seen him for years. We met at business school, and he’s always been on the move, from Hawaii to Germany, San Francisco, New York, Dallas, Colorado, Hong Kong and Boston (these are places he’s lived, not just visited).

Lee became a stockbroker for Wall Street firms and achieved success soon after graduation. But he felt drawn to another path and entered seminary in Texas. With three small mouths to feed, that move exhibited a leap of faith, a faith that I have never come close to matching.

Lee’s network of friends and followers has continued to grow, and his energy shows no signs of flagging. His Bay Area visit was only for a couple of days. He invited a couple of wizened fellow alumni, businessmen and students from China to dinner in Foster City, where we reminisced about days long gone. He talked about the foundation he established to minister to the Asian-American community, the struggle of looking after an adult autistic son, and his loyal, brilliant, and remarkably patient wife who has supported him through every move and unconventional idea.

One of the alumni remarked that while half of our classmates are retired we are still searching for what to do with the rest of our lives. Lee found his calling decades ago. © 2006 Stephen Yuen

Friday, November 10, 2006

Miscellaneous Thoughts on the Election

I’m glad the Republicans lost, although I generally agree with their policy positions. They grew fat, corrupt, and lazy during their 12 years of holding the Congressional majority. Holding power became the end, not the means to the ends of upholding the rule of law, limiting the domestic role of government, and protecting the nation. Politics is the art of compromise, so politicians always disappoint their followers when they split the policy baby, but that was not the problem that I had with them. It was their failing of character that was more disturbing.

If we believe in competition in the economic sector as a disciplinary tool, why shouldn’t it work in politics? Being out of power should make the Republicans stronger if they hone their message and try to field better candidates. [11/11/06 afterthought: of course, the Republican seats that changed hands were by definition in more competitive districts. It's the safe seats---on both sides---that are more likely to be held by the lazy and corrupt.]

Another economic analogy: the ownership society. It’s been demonstrated empirically that a society that promotes the ownership of property is better at creating and preserving wealth. Now that the Democrats “own” part of the government, one hopes that they’ll be more interested in working toward solutions to the problems in the Middle East, health care, illegal immigration, and fiscal policy. If, instead, they persist in lobbing stink bombs at the Administration in the pursuit of more raw power, they’ll deservedly be relegated back to their minority status in 2008.

My life will be more pleasant during the next two years. The angry ranting, both at work and home, should subside.

Before this week’s election, the media were saturated with reports of the unreliability of electronic voting systems and their susceptibility to fraud and manipulation. Now that the results are in, there has been nary a peep about the subject. Miraculously, the problems that were insoluble for six years have been fixed overnight. [Update 11/11/06: Steven den Beste has related comments.]

Despite the war, I felt that things were actually going pretty well with the strong economy and the absence of terrorism on U.S. soil since 2001. The Republicans’ message of “I’m bad, but the other guy’s worse” didn’t cut it in 2006. But if a cataclysmic event should occur during the next two years, the public, justifiably or not, may conclude that Republican rule wasn’t so bad after all. Appreciation is often granted in retrospect. © 2006 Stephen Yuen

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Dispositional Dyspeptic

Today is Election Day, and I don’t have the inclination to sort through all the arguments for and against the propositions and measures that fill up the 192-pages-in-small-type California election guide. Fortunately I have a bias that enables me to save time.

I am a conservative--no, not a movement conservative who wants to ban abortions, mandate the teaching of intelligent design, and abolish the estate tax--but a dispositional conservative who requires a (very) strong argument to be persuaded that new laws are necessary. We have way too many confusing and conflicting rules and regulations already.

Our system of checks and balances is slow as molasses, but the stability that it provides is needed more and more in a world of accelerating change. Voter initiatives are valuable to blast through politicians’ fortress walls, but they should be used very sparingly. Initiatives bypass the legislative process and often conflict with other laws. The courts are called in, and we have more frustration, delays, and recriminations.

So I turn a jaundiced eye to these proposals, many of which have fine-sounding names. I will vote “no” on most if not all of them. Besides, do you think there’s not enough change in the world that we have to vote for more? © 2006 Stephen Yuen

Friday, November 03, 2006

Worthy Cause

On lunchtime on Tuesday I organized a poker contest at my company. My motives were entirely benign because this was part of the annual fall fundraiser that benefits local charities. Nevertheless, we encouraged criticism and mockery in order to spark competitiveness, impulsive donations, and side bets. All proceeds will go to La Casa de las Madres, a shelter for victims of domestic violence.

The fact that the contest fell on Halloween was even better. The players got extra chips for coming in costume, while the dealers got into the spirit, too.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Late for the Lasagna

It was again our turn to make Sunday lunch for everyone who showed up at the community center. I pulled the lasagna from the freezer and threw it into the oven. It’s inefficient to make it from scratch when one can buy a ready-to-bake tray for less than $12. The lasagna was done by 9:30, and I turned the dial to warm. The church service went past 11:30; the service always goes long when you have an appointment right after.

I rushed home to pick up the lasagna and headed south with one of the kids. The children were helping out; it’s good to stretch the service muscle at an early age.

We started fifteen minutes late despite having gained an hour when Daylight Savings expired the night before. Apparently the general rule of tardiness* and pew distribution applies outside the church setting as well.

*The majority always arrives after the service is supposed to start—which is why the back pews are crowded with worshippers who are too abashed to march up to the front where there’s plenty of space.

The line of about 80 people waited patiently while we set up. One of the lasagnas didn’t show, and we subdivided the portions so that everyone would get a spoonful. Several of us muttered about loaves and fishes (a reference to Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand----yes, Episcopalians do know something about scripture). Fortunately, a kindly baker donated bread rolls, we had plenty of salad to go round, and everyone was served a full plate.

The kids poured the juice and, when our patrons were leaving, gave each of them a bag meal---more nutritious fare than the sweets that we passed to the ghosts and goblins last night. Our next hosting will be in the midst of the holidays, the last Sunday in December. I'm sure we'll find a way to manage. © 2006 Stephen Yuen