Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day, 2010

On Memorial Day it's appropriate that we honor the forgotten:
We do not need to glorify war to give thanks for their sacrifice. Young men do not make wars, and no one needs remind them of the ghastliness or grisliness of war. Our obligation is to look at Arlington Cemetery (or any military cemetery, or at a local law enforcement cemetery of policemen who died to keep us safe) and respect what these men have given us. Most of the fallen are now forgotten. Their memory, their shortened lives, their mangled bodies laid into some distant grave -- these plain and awful data of history -- cannot hold the attention of a world in which only the last day's news cycle is real.
All those who serve in the armed forces make personal sacrifices that we office jockeys can barely imagine. Compared to their problems, ours don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, as Rick said to Ilsa. So let's take a moment today to remember them with gratitude, and by doing so put our own lives in perspective.

Today is also a good day to give thanks to those who returned from battle with lasting wounds.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Lost Needs Translation

Several members of my household are fans of Lost, the six-year television series that ended last week on ABC. A complicated multi-year story line requires a commitment to watch every week, a commitment I was unable to keep. After the second season I’d occasionally try to watch a few minutes of an episode, but quickly became, er, lost and quit.

The final episode was as comprehensible to me as a lecture in quantum mechanics. As I watched it with the family, I tried to fit Lost into one of the following templates: alternative universe, afterlife (heaven / hell / purgatory) , time travel paradox, dying man’s life-flashing-before-his eyes, and that last refuge of the impoverished imagination--everything was a dream. But the aficionados assured me that none of those explanations fully explained what was going on.

Don’t get me wrong, as a past follower of Eli Stone, Life on Mars, Star Trek: Voyager, Harry Potter, and Battlestar Galactica—all of which took years to reveal their central mysteries--I’m in no position to mock anyone else’s viewing obsessions. On my own cost-benefit scale this time the investment wasn’t worth the payoff.

But I could have miscalculated. If it turns out that future entertainments pay overt or subtle homage to Lost, if Lost has a lasting effect on pop culture--one clue will be if colleges start offering for-credit courses on the subject--then I’ll watch the full series on Netflix or iTunes just to keep plugged in.

Some contrasting reviews:

Negative: the finale was so disturbing because it disrespected the writers' own story.

Positive (comparing Lost, “24”, and Law and Order, all of which ended last week): To put all of these now-retired series in critical perspective, "Lost" is the qualitative winner, the series that will be admired and remembered for its reach. "24" will be remembered as a great idea gone hopelessly, cartoonishly wrong. And "Law & Order" won't have to be remembered at all. Some variation of it, rightly or wrongly, will still be on television.

Very Positive: Overall I thought it was the best final episode of a series I have seen, with close competition from The Sopranos.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Chirpy Miss(ive)

In lighter business news--although it does involve a crime--a Disney corporate communications employee has been charged with trying to sell inside information. According to the WSJ, she sent this chirpy missive to dozens of investment companies:
"Hi, I have access to Disney's (DIS) quarterly earnings report before its release on 05/03/10," the March 5 letter began. "I am willing to share this information for a fee that we can determine later."
Bonnie Hoxie and her boyfriend were in it together. She said that she wanted "an expensive Stella McCartney designer handbag available for $700 at Neiman Marcus." His response: "I may be able to (buy) u 2 of them." Her subsequent Facebook post: "I go shopping shopping shopping!!"

With jobs so hard to come by the shocking element of this whole story is that this person was hired by Disney over what must have been a slew of qualified candidates for a corporate communications job. Sounds like HR is in need of housecleaning, too.

Monday, May 24, 2010


Yesterday the altar was draped in red, the color of Pentecost. Less familiar than Christmas and Easter, Pentecost (“Whitsunday”) is the third great feast of Christianity and commemorates the Holy Spirit coming into the world on “tongues of fire.” From the second chapter of Acts:
Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Christians date the birth of the church to this event, when the Holy Spirit filled the disciples with an irrepressible urge to preach the Gospel. Today few in the staid Episcopal Church exhibit such missionary zeal. Most prefer to devote their energy toward good works, a commendable inclination to be sure, but not very useful in filling the pews over the long haul.

An altruistic individual doesn’t have to worship to help the homeless and the hungry. There are many effective non-religious organizations that are better at targeting specific social needs. The philanthropist can channel her charitable impulses elsewhere, so there needs to be something more.

The coffee hour, the youth program, or even how the buildings looked may have attracted her in the first place, but what keeps her coming back is the hope that she will find answers to life’s biggest questions, such as: why do terrible things happen to good people, why should I do the right thing when I might be hated for it—in fact how do I find out what the right thing is—and of course the big one, what if anything will happen to me after I die?

We often ask these questions in moments of suffering. Our plans and preconceptions meet the universe, and the universe wins. During our greatest vulnerability the Holy Comforter (another name for the Holy Spirit) comes to us and receives the pain that we cannot bear alone.

These words don’t resonate as I sip my coffee and get ready to leave the house on a Monday full of busy-ness. But the Spirit is patient and will be there when I need Him, and that is a source of comfort to me as I walk out the door. © 2010 Stephen Yuen

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Defiance of Gravity

Apple stock has corrected about 10%--right now it's $245--from its all-time high. One analyst says that the market is underestimating the greatness of the stock.
The P will be racing to keep up with the E in the P/E ratio. The most amazing thing about Apple is that its growth is still accelerating. The next 18 month’s of earnings look primed to propel Apple to become the largest market cap stock in the world.
Isaac Newton would never have come up with his theories if he watched this Apple's defiance of gravity. (Is my sarcasm coming through?) I was content to maintain my AAPL holding but commentary like this makes me want to lighten up.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Toe of Physics

The universe tends slightly toward matter---instead of matter and anti-matter in equal proportions--which is why we’re here to talk about such, er, matters.
Sifting data from collisions of protons and antiprotons at Fermilab’s Tevatron, which until last winter was the most powerful particle accelerator in the world, the team, known as the DZero collaboration, found that the fireballs produced pairs of the particles known as muons, which are sort of fat electrons, slightly more often than they produced pairs of anti-muons. So the miniature universe inside the accelerator went from being neutral to being about 1 percent more matter than antimatter. [snip]

The new effect hinges on the behavior of particularly strange particles called neutral B-mesons, which are famous for not being able to make up their minds. They oscillate back and forth trillions of times a second between their regular state and their antimatter state. As it happens, the mesons, created in the proton-antiproton collisions, seem to go from their antimatter state to their matter state more rapidly than they go the other way around, leading to an eventual preponderance of matter over antimatter of about 1 percent, when they decay to muons.

Whether this is enough to explain our existence is a question that cannot be answered until the cause of the still-mysterious behavior of the B-mesons is directly observed, said Dr. Brooijmans, who called the situation “fairly encouraging.” [snip]

Joe Lykken, a theorist at Fermilab, said, “So I would not say that this announcement is the equivalent of seeing the face of God, but it might turn out to be the toe of God.”
I have the same perplexed look that non-specialists get when they listen to financiers talk about credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations. I hope these scientists know what they’re doing and don’t blow up anything that they didn't mean to.
The Big Bang is passé, string theory’s played out,
Now Fermilab wears the cosmological crown
Until they explain what Lost's really about
It’s turtles all the way down.

© 2010 Stephen Yuen

Monday, May 17, 2010

No Beach Boy

Giants closer Brian Wilson saved the game against Houston on Saturday after an epic (hyperbolic adjective, but hey, I’m in sportswriting mode) 15-pitch battle against the Astros’ Kaz Matsui. Protecting a 4-3 lead on Sunday, Wilson again faced Matsui with two runners on and two out in the ninth inning. This time he only needed seven pitches to strike out the batter and earn the save.

Brian Wilson with his 95+ mile-an-hour fastball is a special pitcher. His postgame interview reveals that he also doesn’t think or talk quite like most other athletes:
Kaz Matsui had to be the last hitter that inning. It had to be 3-2. Luckily, it wasn’t bases loaded. You know, that’s going to happen. Not every game’s going to be 1-2-3. If that were the case, then every closer would be perfect. I’m not making any excuses at all. Obviously, I left a couple of balls in the zone, they got some good wood on it and got a couple of hits. The fact of the matter is, we came in today, we got the sweep that we needed. We won the series yesterday, we got a couple more runs for Z-pack [Barry Zito] today, and the bullpen was able to shut it down. Victorious.

Interviewer: You mentioned the sweep. How big was that? Just considering that you come off just getting swept by San Diego and you’re going to face San Diego tomorrow.

BW: Ultimately you want to win the series on the second day. But to get that sweep, you know, you count the games at the end of the year. And those are one of those games that’s probably going to help us push towards a playoff berth. Especially going into San Diego we needed our hopes up. We need to get rolling here. So it was a good win today.

Interviewer: this is the type of thing that can give you that momentum going into the next game?

BW: Exactly. You play like this at home, you can only aspire to do just as well on the road.
The text doesn’t quite capture his mental agility. He spoke quickly with the fingertips of his left hand pressed against his cheek. He would flick them for emphasis, which he did with the single “victorious” that ended the first paragraph. He’s too disciplined to say anything controversial, but he’ll throw in the occasional “aspire” to rouse us couch potatoes from our torpor.

The Giants look like contenders with their outstanding starting rotation. As the pennant race heats up this season, Brian Wilson’s media exposure should increase, and not just because of his fastball. © 2010 Stephen Yuen

Not to be Trifled With

As someone who’s been afflicted with hay fever all his life, I’ve often stifled sneezes while in public. But this behavior can be dangerous.
A 33-year-old former marathon runner is now confined to a wheelchair. Suzanne Aymeric suffered a stroke after she sneezed....The sudden violent movement of Aymeric's sneeze tore a major artery in her neck.

Doctors warn you should never hold a sneeze in, but if you think you've been injured after sneezing, seek immediate medical care.
Immunotherapy injections have worked for this allergy sufferer. The doctor has raised the serum’s potency to “maintenance” level, and I only have to go in once a month.

This spring the hay fever attacks have been milder and less frequent. Living with allergies is now tolerable, and I’m glad I finally found the right treatment in my middle age. As the story of Suzanne Aymeric has shown, sneezing is not to be trifled with.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Are You Talking to Me?

The WSJ gives tips on how to manage an introvert. First, of course, you have to recognize us them. Here are some identifying characteristics:
Introverts need and want to spend time alone.
Introverts think before they speak.
Introverts seek depth over breadth.
Introverts prefer writing to talking.
Introverts are quiet and reserved.
I’m five out of five—at least that’s what friends tell me--so it’s clear that I’m on the “I” end of the introversion-extraversion scale. Since I first took the Myers-Briggs personality test 20 years ago and became aware of this tendency, I’ve tried to become more sociable and verbally communicative. It will never reach the point where people will mistake me for an extrovert, but I do prefer to hang out with them rather than my fellow introverts at parties and other gatherings. They’re more entertaining, and it’s even kinda fun….as long as they don’t ask me to say anything.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

Thank you for drying our tears when we got hurt. Thank you for leaving work to take care of us when we got sick. Thank you for cooking our favorite dinners when we were feeling empty inside. Thank you for cleaning our room, feeding the pets, and doing other stuff that we promised we would do but somehow forgot about. Thank you for giving us a warm safe place to come to when the world seemed cold. Thank you for loving us no matter what. Happy Mother's Day to Mom and to mothers everywhere.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Grecian Burn

The monkey mind is bemused by the rat-tat-tat of events. As my portfolio melted down like a Himalayan glacier, I stared at the New York Time’s depiction of the Greek financial mess and how for want of a nail (billions of euros to one of the smallest members in the European Union) the kingdom worth multi-trillions may be lost. Beating the dead equine metaphor, the entry of Greece and some of the other weaker members was a Trojan horse in the Euro redoubt, about which there are many doubts.

But back to the NYT chart:

Doesn’t it remind you of this, fanboy?

Docking station from Star Trek.

Market watchers are always talking about a “flight to safety” when the going gets tough. Given the rumblings about the credit risk of the United States (Treasuries were risk-free assets when I went to school, which was a long time ago), there now appears to be no safe investment.

Perhaps the NYT artist has consciously or unconsciously conveyed a meta-truth: the only way to fly to safety from financial collapse, volcanic ash clouds, car bombs, and oil slicks is to slip the surly bonds of earth.

On that note the monkey mind wishes you a happy weekend. Oh, look, a butterfly! © 2010 Stephen Yuen

Thursday, May 06, 2010

E-mini's Kill the Mo'

Equity indices' recent upward momentum stuttered this week because of Greece' financial troubles, then reversed definitively when the Dow plunged nearly 1,000 points a little over an hour before today's close. But not to worry.
A human trading error at a major firm was the root cause of Thursday's sudden, 9 percent selloff in U.S. stocks, sources told CNBC.

Multiple sources said a trader entered the letter "b"-as in "billion"-when he or she meant to type "m," for "million," shortly before 2:47 p.m. New York time.
The Wall Street Journal seems to confirm this incredible tale:
Several market watchers said they heard a major firm may have accidentally released an errant program, where a trader accidentally placed an order to sell $16 billion, instead of $16 million, worth of e-minis, the futures contracts tied to equity indexes.
That happens to me all the time. Once your fingers start twitching on those keyboard zeroes it's hard to stop. As the fellow who left the iPhone prototype in the bar might have said, oopsie.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Sinking Arizona

Conflicted thoughts about Arizona:

Like most outsiders, I had a negative initial reaction to Arizona’s immigration law. I can see why—although I think such words are used purposefully to inflame--phrases such as police state and Nazi have been thrown around. A command from law enforcement to “show me your papers” even under restricted circumstances recalls the days when jackboots marched across Europe.

It also wasn’t that long ago that American citizens were singled out for incarceration because of their ancestry. Japanese-Americans, in fact all Asian-Americans, are acutely sensitive to any laws that hint of racial profiling. We’re concerned that it might happen again. (Parenthetical remark: and yet we chide the Jews for being paranoid when the leaders of nations call for their death and destruction. Some people’s worries are less valid than others.)

But I also identify with Arizonans who feel that they are being overrun by drug smugglers and violent criminals. The Federal Government has done a woefully inadequate job of sealing the borders. Large majorities of Arizonans wanted protection, and what were the local authorities to do? Let’s say that they hadn’t acted--if both Federal and State law enforcement continued to ignore the problem, the consequences could be far worse.

More people may begin to take the law into their own hands. The near-elimination of gun permit requirements later this summer already signals that the Wild West mentality is taking hold in Arizona.
the new law will allow people who have had no education about Arizona's laws and no training on the shooting range to carry a concealed gun.
Whether loose concealed-carry laws reduce crime is debatable. What is certain, however, is that the prevalence of firearms will cause some people to stay away from Arizona out of fear, joining others who will boycott the state because of its stance on immigration. An economic boycott, illegal immigrants, crime, guns everywhere, and an unemployment rate near 10%….let’s just pray for the safety and well-being of ALL who live in Arizona. © 2010 Stephen Yuen

Saturday, May 01, 2010

May Day in Hawaii

Flower leis flown in from Honolulu. on Twitpic
May Day is lei day in Hawaii
Flowers and garlands everywhere…
May 1st is the day of celebration for workers’ movements everywhere, but many people disassociate themselves from the festivities because of the date’s connection with communism. In Hawaii May Day is Lei Day, which everyone joins in without hesitation.

Leis can be simple or elaborate, multi- or mono-colored, expensive or free as the flowers from one’s own back yard. They are given at birthdays, airports, weddings, graduations, banquets, holidays, or sometimes just because. They are given freely without expectation of reciprocation, often to people that one has never met before. There’s supposed to be no lasting commitment—the flowers fade quickly even in a fridge; the receipt of a lei therefore usually “means” little. But sometimes we remember the occasions forever.

A lei is granted with a kiss. Many young boys, grimacing, receive their first kiss from a non-family member when receiving a lei. Later, for the cost of a few flowers it’s a good pretext for a young adolescent male to peck the cheek of a girl he’s long admired (if your mother made the lei, don’t tell the girls, they feel funny when you say that).

When I was growing up, every woman in Hawaii knew how to string a lei. It’s far from a lost art, but fewer people take the trouble now, much like baking bread or writing a letter by hand. But I’m not lamenting days that are gone, rather I’m happy that the tradition of Lei Day is continuing and appears to be getting stronger. Frankly, if I may say so, I prefer Hawaii’s version of May Day to the other one. © 2010 Stephen Yuen