Friday, March 30, 2007

Self-Deprecating Humor and Biting Commentary

The Chron profiles a colorful 64-year-old grandmother-blogger headed for Iraq. The article waxes at length about her quirky personality, the simple philosophy which guides her life, and her family and friends. Only at the very bottom of the 1,500-word article does it explicitly state her perspective,
On July 4, 2002, she traveled to Washington, D.C., to serve an eviction notice -- "Three-day Notice to Perform or Quit" -- on President Bush "based on multiple violations of their lease, The United States Constitution."

In her last blog post ( before she left for Kuwait, Stillwater confronted what could happen next with her usual mix of self-deprecating humor and biting commentary.

She told readers that she was headed to "Baghdad to write fabulous stories for YOU all about how our brave troops are doing a bang-up job over there despite the fact that their bosses in the White House are sadistic bastards, terribly inefficient crooks and totally nuts -- or I will spend three weeks wandering the streets of Kuwait City waiting for my flight home, searching for internet cafes and trying to sell bootleg Girl Scout cookies."
I admire Ms. Stillwater for following her star. What rankles me is the Chron’s puff-piece approach to a cranky Bush-hater who is a little out of the mainstream, even by Bay Area standards. Media bias? nothing to see here, move right along. © 2007 Stephen Yuen

Monday, March 26, 2007

U ! - C ! - L ! - A !

San Jose’s HP Pavilion was Pauley Pavilion North on Saturday. The atmosphere in the sold-out arena was electric blue as the UCLA Bruins defeated the Kansas Jayhawks, 68-55, in the NCAA Western regional final. Kansas looked sharper and faster at the beginning of the game, but the constant crowd noise that sought to disrupt their every free throw, as well as a ball-hawking Bruin defense, eventually wore down the Midwesterners.

Even so, the game was still at issue when, with just under five minutes to go and UCLA up 55-50, Bruin guard Darren Collison hit a fallaway 25-foot three-pointer over two defenders as the shot clock was about to expire. A miss, and the shift in momentum could easily have changed the outcome. At that point, the game was over.

My seatmates and I originally didn’t have a rooting interest--none of us had connections to either school—but the incessant, even obnoxious cheering [U! – C! – L! – A !] made the no. 1 seed Jayhawks seem like the underdog. The Bruins won’t enjoy such a “home court” advantage next week in Atlanta, so they should savor this moment of triumph. © 2007 Stephen Yuen

The San Jose Caltrain station is across the street from HP Pavilion.

We stopped at the Oasis in Menlo Park. In 30 years little has changed.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Open House

The local high school’s fa├žade looks clean and colorful after the multi-year earthquake retrofit and the renovations that were partially funded by well-heeled alumni. Of course, what goes on within school walls is much more important than how it looks from the outside.

Last night we went to the open house and visited with our sophomore’s teachers. Although he has average grades, he tries hard, they said, and is curious, polite, and motivated. [We identified ourselves again: were they talking about our student?] One teacher said that some kids are so uninterested in the proceedings that they race through multiple-choice exams, circling answers randomly. Cliques rule, and social interactions in the hallways can be cruel, almost abusive.

Although per-pupil spending in our district is high, there is never enough money at the ground level where the learning occurs. Extra-curricular activities were slashed long ago. Teachers were laid off, and more layoffs are expected this fall. Despite all they have to contend with, the teachers we met were energetic, enthusiastic, and evinced genuine interest in education.

Given the multiple problems they face, the multiple demands we make, and the multiple skills they need to have, the instructors are woefully underpaid. I say this from the perspective of someone who has dealt with many people at various levels in business and the professions; every teacher we met could be making more doing something else. (I’m most certainly not an advocate for mandated job-equivalency compensation.) But we should count our blessings, too; our school isn’t an inner-city school, where the problems are even worse.

We walked over to the gym to talk to the volunteer organizations. One of the leaders of the charitable foundation was a fellow that I had worked with over twenty years ago. I was pleased to see that he’s done well for himself; circumstances were harsh when I last saw him. We’ve both reached the age where we should give something back. The young teachers we met have started already. © 2007 Stephen Yuen

Monday, March 19, 2007

Pleasant Day in Wine Country

The Island visitors have acquired a taste for wine, encouraged by a 21st-century science that recommends light imbibing for medicinal reasons. I picked them up at their hotel last Monday, and within 40 minutes we were sipping wine on a Sonoma hillside. We would hit a few of the larger, well-known tasting rooms; not among our group were the sophisticates who troll California for out-of-the-way wineries highly rated by the Wine Spectator. We knew enough to taste the difference between a zin and a cab, but that’s about the extent of our expertise.

The Viansa is one of the first wineries one encounters on the way to Napa / Sonoma. Perched on a hillside, it’s a favorite venue for wedding receptions and corporate functions. The amicable host gave us the history of each vintage as he poured a sampler into our glasses (the humble tour guide declined to participate---it was not even 11, and there was a lot of driving to come).

One of the visitors started to pass around pictures of her grandchildren and chat about each one. I struck two destinations off the six in my tentative itinerary. Long and leisurely would be the theme for this pleasant day in wine country. © 2007 Stephen Yuen

The view at Viansa.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Same Inspiration

I’ve taken out-of-town visitors on the ferry before, but this was a different group. They had seen other attractions last year and on a warm Sunday afternoon the Bay beckoned.

For seniors and children who pay half-price, the Sausalito ferry is one of the best bargains in the Bay Area. The van deposited us at the terminal at 2:40, and we were on our way within minutes. We arrived in half an hour and beat our ride, which was stuck in heavy traffic by the Marina Green. The line of passengers waiting for the return trip to San Francisco was double the length of ours. On a sparkling March weekend many shared the same inspiration. © 2007 Stephen Yuen

Treasure Island

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Sunday Worship

After we exited the ferry in Sausalito, I asked the Island visitors if they had ever seen a redwood tree. Yes, when Eisenhower was President. It was time to go again.

The cars were bumper-to-bumper on Highway 101 as we exited to Mill Valley. They peeled away as we approached Mount Tamalpais, so traffic was only moderate as we pulled into Muir Woods. Nevertheless, the parking lot was filled on late Sunday afternoon.

We ambled the main trail with dozens of other park visitors. The walkway was wide and worn, a blessing to those with hesitant hips and painful patellas. We were glad we had brought our jackets. The forest floor was dark and cool although it had been a bright 80 degrees in Sausalito.

The sun winked through the leaves. We craned our necks upward but couldn’t see the tops of the trees. We pondered the antiquity of a cross-section of a felled redwood, whose rings revealed that it had been born during the age of Charlemagne. No human eyes likely witnessed its birth, but its death had meaning that we memorialize.

We were invigorated; was the feeling due to the imagination or does the putatively higher oxygen content of the forest provide a scientific explanation?

People murmured softly, as if they were in a cathedral. Dwarfed by these giants, whose birth predated ours by centuries, perhaps they were. © 2007 Stephen Yuen

Saturday, March 10, 2007

All for Knot

The Four-in-hand, half-Windsor, and full Windsor sound like wresting moves--and to the uninitiated who struggle with them there's not much difference--but at one time every gentleman knew how to execute these with aplomb. My father taught me how to tie the half-Windsor when I was 13, and I gradually improved so that I could tie a symmetrical knot within a minute. Tying a tie, like shaving, became part of the morning routine.

Business casual has been de rigueur for over a decade, and I only get to practice my rusting skill a handful of times per year. But it's not all for knot; it appears now that ties, even the wide ones, are making a comeback. Good thing I didn't throw them away--maybe there's hope for my bellbottoms, too. © 2007 Stephen Yuen

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Fog City Dining

P lost his job at the end of February. I didn’t feel sorry for him; his employer gave him plenty of warning by notifying him last fall, and he’s getting a liberal severance package. P is a CPA who should have no trouble finding work in a hot job market for accountants. But that’s the left side of the brain talking.

We all hate being rejected. We may understand that in many cases separation may be best for the employee, especially if the company’s prospects are dim, but our emotions take time to be understood and controlled. I took him to lunch at the Fog City Diner, where we mourned for his lost job and reminisced over a couple of beers and plates of calamari, crab cakes, and moo shu pork.

We also hate uncertainty. P is thinking about a career change, even going back to school to get another master’s. That’s one of the problems we face in modern America---too many paths to satisfy too many wants beyond those of subsistence. Even at middle age (ahem), we still don’t know what we want to be.

I couldn’t give P any advice, just empathy, dessert, and coffee. As we strolled back to the Financial District, I had a sudden realization that I was in trouble, too; I had become feminized and metrosexualized. So, befitting the beginning of the lunar new year, I made a resolution. It was time to bring out my inner Pig, and I’ll work on that as soon as I get back to my desk. But first I have to finish moisturizing. © 2007 Stephen Yuen

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Go to Yale, Go to Jail

The grand jury system seems contrary to the principle of protecting the individual against the overwhelming power of the State. The American Bar Association prefaces its list of FAQs and answers about grand juries as follows:
In the federal system, the courts have ruled that the grand jury has extraordinary investigative powers that have been developed over the years since the 1950s. This wide, sweeping, almost unrestricted power is the cause of much of the criticism. The power is virtually in complete control of the prosecutor, and is pretty much left to his or her good faith.
But this is the system we have got. I agreed with the Clinton impeachment although what he lied about---having sex with a consenting adult---was not a crime. Scooter Libby was convicted of lying in connection with the investigation of the Plame incident, in which no prosecutable crime existed. I don’t see how one can support what happened in one case without agreeing with the other. “Blind justice” has multiple connotations, but the idealistic meaning is that justice shall be administered without regard to one’s race, gender, class,---and political views. The Libby conviction upholds that ideal. © 2007 Stephen Yuen

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Cleaning Up

This Google Maps shot was taken before the slide.

The Telegraph Hill landslide continues to garner local headlines. Early this morning work crews began to clear the debris and shore up the hillside. Although the slide seems like old news, it is remarkable that corrective action started within a week of the occurrence. If this were public land, we’d be dithering through the summer.

With rain in this week’s forecast, six property owners realized that immediate action was required.

"With another front of wet weather that looks to be headed our way by Tuesday, we need to make sure that we address this weak area of the hillside as soon and as fast as we can," [San Francisco Department of Building Inspection spokesman William] Strawn said.

More wet weather or another earthquake similar to the temblor that shook the East Bay Thursday could cause the hillside to further collapse, according to Strawn.
Of course, our capitalistic system has its drawbacks. Although the recalcitrant seventh property owner may have sincere motives, it is easy to suspect that he is the classic free-rider.

Dennis Chang, the owner of a three-unit apartment building at 1041 Montgomery St., was the only property owner who refused to sign the agreement, citing potential liability issues, Strawn said. Because Chang did not sign Friday evening's agreement, crews will likely need to use a crane that will tower over Chang's property this weekend to access the hillside, Strawn said.
Mr. Chang is the only property owner who is named in news reports. Public shaming is an effective instrument only if the affected party cares. © 2007 Stephen Yuen