Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Kinda True

A small donation to the Friends-of-the-Library renovation fund prompted their request for a commemorative inscription. With a 60-character limit, including spaces, it would have to be the picture of pithiness.

Two hours of Googling yielded hundreds of quotations about reading, knowledge, books, and libraries from the famous and not-so-famous. Since none inspired, I composed my own. 

Not finding happiness, I sought knowledge. Now I have both. 

Go ahead and mock, but it's kinda true (for me).         

Friday, December 25, 2009

Songs of the Season - Part 1

[Note: this post has been bumped to the top so video clips appear in order.]

In the 1990’s my employer had enough of a talent pool to put together a decent holiday choir. From ten years ago…

Songs of the Season - Part 2

An old chestnut, plus Santa cracks up under the pressure.

Songs of the Season - Part 3

An unserious musical history of the Twelve Days of Christmas. I like the Hawaiian lyrics myself ("a mynah bird in one papaya tree").

Songs of the Season - Part 4

Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas now.

Through the years we all will be together
If the fates allow...

But the fates do not allow. Our time together is too fleeting, gone in the wink of an eye. Like the ghostly watchers in Grover's Corners, we have an eternity to mull the regrets of moments unappreciated until too late.

On this Christmas and in the New Year, resolve not to let that happen.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Mellow Not Gone

I didn't go to the beach once. I never ventured outside the narrow corridor between central Honolulu and the airport. Yet it was a great trip. We visited family. We shopped. We ate all the ethnic cuisines. We wore T-shirts and perspired.

Now we're back in Northern California, where the temperatures are 30 degrees lower overnight. Lots of year-end busy-ness (reports, financial and tax planning, Christmas cards and gifts, etc.) to harsh my mellow, but the mellow isn't totally gone. I really must get back there more often---that's one New Year's resolution that it will be a pleasure to strive for.

The volcano beef at the Mini Garden on Beretania.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Price of Paradise

After doing battle with roaches, ants, and African snails—the downside of staying at a relative’s house—I came across a 2004 blog post that could have been written yesterday:
When people ask (in a nice way) why I don't move back to Hawaii, I cite familiar reasons: Honolulu's traffic, the sometimes oppressive humidity, and the lack of job opportunities. But that's the left brain talking. What I don't miss at all are the things that go squish.

As a child I was very careful to watch where I was stepping, especially at night. African snails made a distinctive wet crunch, and their dark slime was hard to clean from the ridges of one's slippers.
Hawaii’s humidity, warmth, and 2,000-mile distance from the nearest continent made it conducive to rapid evolution. Here there are hundreds of unique species, many of them endangered. Fecundity begat diversity, which is the benefit of living in a tropical environment where squishy things crawl underfoot.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Not So Sacred, Though It Came From the Sky

"I think the matter isn't ‘procedure, procedure, procedure.’... You can't just put forth some text from the sky," the representative said.
With the recent stories on getting to 60 [votes in the Senate], Medicare expansion, the public option, and 2,000-page bills that no one has read, one might think that the above quote came from an opponent of health care legislation.  But one would be wrong.

These words were spoken by a Chinese delegate to the climate conference in Copenhagen.

It's now impossible to hide the decline.   

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


I had been daydreaming through the service, when I heard the preacher quote John the Baptist: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the Wrath of Khan!” My estimation of John the Baptist rose immediately. Sure, he was a prophet with anger issues, but if he could foretell Kirk and Spock, not to mention the Eugenics Wars of the late 20th century, we should cut him some slack (more generous than Herod, who cut off his head). The Star Trek universe is fiction, but just you try distinguishing factual and fictional temporal vibrations from two thousand years in the future. Heck, PhDs in climatology can’t even tell fact from fiction from 40 years in the past; maybe working with mercury thermometers damaged their brains.

Just to verify what I had heard, I turned to the third chapter of Luke. John warned about the “wrath to come”, not the depredations of a genetically engineered superman named Khan Noonien Singh, who by the way aged into a graceful host on an island where dreams came true. (Ricardo Montalban died earlier this year and I like to imagine is looking down on us from his comfortable perch made of Corinthian leather.) The secret prophecies of John the Baptist would’ve been a great premise for Dan Brown’s next novel.

The preacher gave an old-fashioned stemwinder [19th century term derived from the superiority of the stem-wound over the key-wound watch, “battery powered quartz-er” doesn’t have the same ring] about how the masks we wear conceal our true selves. An old theme, no worse for the retelling in the 99-year-old church where we were wed over 30 years ago. © 2009 Stephen Yuen

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Our Own Private Marathon

The flight from San Francisco to Honolulu went smoothly. United's triple-7 was quiet and comfortable in "economy plus" ($57 per seat more expensive but worth it if you, um, need more room), and the 5½ hours passed quickly. We had our bags by six, just in time for dinner. We ticked off a few dining possibilities and then did the palm across the forehead.

Of course. Big City Diner, the original funky outlet in Kaimuki (that's on Waialae Avenue in Honolulu, malihinis).

One of us went for the kimchi fried rice (top), and another for the loco moco(bottom), a triglyceride-laden concoction beloved by Island natives. Showing restraint, we passed up dessert.

Thousands of runners, more than half from Japan, are here this weekend for the Honolulu Marathon. On Thursday we started our own marathon / moveable feast at Big City. Looks like we're going to need "economy plus" on the return trip, too.

My Only Comment on the Travails of Tiger Woods

I've always admired Tiger for the smoothness of his stroke and his controlled fade. But he seems to have lost the ability to get out of trouble or up and down.

His golf is pretty good, too.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Delusion of Progress

The good news: leaving the freezing cold, I'm off to Hawaii again this year to visit the extended family. The bad: a host of business and personal projects are in various stages of incompletion ("disarray" is a harsh term but may be more descriptive).    

I did bring the work to the land I first called home, but whom am I kidding? Nearly 40 years ago I hauled a suitcase full of textbooks from Connecticut to Hawaii and back. Over Christmas the only items cracked open were seeds, but somehow I managed to get through freshman finals.

Today, though, with smartphones, laptop computers, and the Internet, the physical burden of self-delusion is much lighter. Progress of a sort.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Unsettled Science

Waking to a cold house, I suffered a brief pang of guilt before I turned on the furnace. Burning natural gas to stop my shivering seemed so self-indulgent, but then I thought of the 1,200 limos ordered for the Copenhagen climate summit and decided that if our leaders can spew tons of CO2 going to a meeting, surely the atmosphere can tolerate a few more pounds from me.

Temperatures are near-freezing outside, and snow is dusting the hilltops. Yahoo's Weather Watches and Warnings breathlessly advises:
The National Weather Service San Francisco Bay Area has issued a frost advisory…which is in effect from midnight tonight to 9 a.m. PST Tuesday for coastal sections of the San Francisco and Monterey Bay areas.
More often than not, the Bay Area doesn't see any frost or snow throughout the year. But the frost is not a terrible inconvenience. We don't have to shovel snow as do poor souls in other parts of the country.

Speaking of shoveling, the Environmental Protection Agency is readying a raft of new regulations because carbon dioxide has been declared a dangerous pollutant. Such a conclusion to these concededly inexpert eyes is a gross and premature overreach. Much of the "science" has been discredited in recent weeks by the discovery that data had been massaged, destroyed, and cherry-picked. Computer models were coded to force certain results. Channeling Donald Rumsfeld, the rot is so widespread that we don't even know what we know and don't know.

So disgraceful has been the behavior of some global warming advocates that one is tempted to swing to the opposite extreme and claim that anthropogenic global warming doesn't exist or, at least, is unimportant. But everyone should resist seizing conclusions based upon an emotional response.

There are still credible arguments in favor of AGW, just as there are criticisms that have not been convincingly refuted. Today's WSJ has an excellent summary.

What is clear is that we shouldn't be passing laws when our knowledge is in such a state of flux. Great harm can come to our economy from some of the government actions being proposed. And no credible case has been made that inaction puts us in immediate danger, not with frost covering our lawn this morning in balmy California. © 2009 Stephen Yuen
CBS5 video: "We're in for a hard freeze tonight."

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Barack on the Brink (as a Comic Target)

In July I noted how comedians, like the mainstream media, continued to beat the dead Republican horse while ignoring the live braying donkey in front of them.
The leading comedians are overwhelmingly liberal. David Letterman, Stephen Colbert, and Jon Stewart still choose to joke about Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney's miscues but largely ignore the rich lode of material produced daily by this Administration. It will be interesting to see whether the comics and their writers can continue to hold their fire for four years and stifle themselves, to use Archie Bunker's phrase.
We just may be reaching the comedy tipping point. From last night’s Jay Leno monologue:
The Washington Post suggested today that this party-crashing couple may have had a long history of deceiving people. Well, no wonder they fit in at the White House!
The dam is about to break. Once the respect is lost, you never get it back.

Gas Rising

The Climategate scandal has surely halted, if not reversed, the movement toward reducing carbon emissions. One beneficiary of the change in the political climate may be natural gas producers, who have been beset by recently falling demand.
Natural gas stockpile levels rose again to a new record high last week, the government said Thursday.

The Energy Department's Energy Information Administration said in its weekly report that natural gas inventories held in underground storage in the lower 48 states grew by 2 billion cubic feet to about 3.84 trillion cubic feet for the week ended Nov. 27.
If human-caused ("anthropogenic") global warming turns out to be unimportant or a mistake or a hoax, the wind will be taken out of alternative-energy and nuclear-energy development. And of the two leading methods of generating electricity in the United States, natural gas produces far less pollution than coal:
The average emissions rates in the United States from natural gas-fired generation are: 1135 lbs/MWh of carbon dioxide, 0.1 lbs/MWh of sulfur dioxide, and 1.7 lbs/MWh of nitrogen oxides. Compared to the average air emissions from coal-fired generation, natural gas produces half as much carbon dioxide, less than a third as much nitrogen oxides, and one percent as much sulfur oxides at the power plant.
Recent estimates put U.S. reserves of natural gas at 2,000 trillion (!) cubic feet, roughly a 90-year supply at the current rate of U.S. consumption. Coal is the source for nearly twice as much power generation as second-place natural gas. Look for gas to rise in the coming years.

Chart from Department of Energy

[Disclosure: 1-2% of my portfolio is invested in natural-gas companies and ETFs.]

[Update - 12/4/09: today's Washington Post has an article on U.S. natural gas reserves and technological advances in the extraction thereof. It appears that the "90-year supply" above was a bit understated: "The United States is sitting on over 100 years of gas supply at the current rates of consumption" said British Petroleum CEO Tony Hayward.]

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

SOS for the Hungry

Four times a year our church serves a hot lunch to whomever shows up at the Redwood City community center. (Past posts are here, here, and here.)

The program, informally known as Sandwiches on Sunday ("SOS"), has been run by St. Pius Catholic Church for the past decade. Each week St. Pius parishioners faithfully make brown-bag lunches for the guests to take home. A number of Peninsula congregations, including ours, alternate responsibility for preparing the meal.

We normally prepare enough dishes to feed 40 to 60 people. Since the end of last year the numbers have risen starkly. Over 100 showed up last Sunday. Sensing that such might occur, our volunteers made extra, and we had enough to serve seconds.

Charities, like state and local government, have been squeezed by the double whammy of declining receipts and increased demand for services. Governments in extremis can compel receipts in the form of taxes; charities cannot.

December is the month when we make about 30-50% of our annual donations. Despite shrinking income, we are striving to maintain our level of giving. Maintaining donations in absolute dollar terms will be tough; we'll easily beat last year on a percentage-of-income basis.

One guiding principle this year is to direct contributions toward social services and away from educational institutions. University endowments have taken huge hits, but they have billions left. Helping people in dire straits is more important than capital projects and keeping tuition down for youngsters who have a bright future. © 2009 Stephen Yuen