Monday, September 26, 2011

Hale Nalu

Hale - home
Nalu - 1) Disappeared, lost; 2) Waves, surf.

One of the universal childhood experiences in Hawaii---at least when I was growing up---was camping underneath the stars. The mild temperatures and sounds of the ocean compensated for the lack of a mattress, and falling asleep was not difficult.

Not surprisingly, the warm climate also makes some choose homelessness as a rational response to the high cost of living, more than they would in other states:
As in other temperate places — like Santa Monica, Calif. — Hawaii’s climate is a draw to people looking to live outside. “I love it: free rent, free electricity,” said Sherri Watson, 43. “Who wants to stay in a bed-bugged shelter?”
I had a couple of hours to kill between my visit to the downtown government offices and a dinner near the University of Hawaii. Walking east ("Diamond Head" to Honolulu old-timers) along King Street, less than a mile from the Honolulu beaches, is a chastening experience. The sidewalks and roads needed repair, and many of the buildings could have used a coat of paint. But the most disheartening sights were the tents in the park.

One ray of hope is that the Hawaiian unemployment rate of 6% is well below the national average of 9%. Let's hope that the recovery of the tourist trade continues and the tents get folded up.

Along King Street I walked past two parks where the homeless pitch tents.

At King and Kaheka Streets

Honolulu Stadium Park

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Suddenly Important

September 21st has suddenly become an important date in the family scrapbook. My baby brother tied the knot today. Congratulations, Rich and Keli!

Risky Short Position

One of the drawbacks of getting older is the shrinking of body parts that we want to enlarge and the enlargement of those that we want to shrink. Muscles and neurons waste away, while cute button noses elongate to stalactite proportions. The overall effect is diminution: my old driver's licenses record the fact that I've lost nearly an inch in height over the past 20 years.

And, sadly,
The process accelerates with age, particularly after age 70. In one long-running study of more than 2,000 Baltimore residents, men lost an average of 1.2 inches between ages 30 and 70, and a total of 2 inches by age 80. Women lost an average of 2 inches between 30 and 70 and 3.1 inches total by age 80.
Above-normal height loss is an indicator of poor health.Osteoporosis increases the risk of hip and other bone fractures, and in men there is a correlation, as yet unexplained, between height loss and coronary artery disease. The future, more than ever, belongs to the thin, tall, and young.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Still Waiting

My Hawaii State ID card will expire in a few months, five years after I received it. Through no basis other than my incurable optimism I expected the renewal process to take much less time than it took to get the original ID. My expectations were misplaced.

One can fill out the original or renewal form online, but one still has to show up in person, after making an appointment, to take pictures and present documents; filing online will cut the wait time to about 90 minutes. However, this avenue wasn't open to me, since the earliest appointment was in two weeks and I would be traveling in one week. [Aside: this is one of the biggest concerns about government-run health care--the cost is nominally low but everyone would be forced into long queues, though individuals may be willing to pay more to cut down the wait. Rightly or wrongly, people generalize from their experiences at the Dept. of Motor Vehicles, the Post Office, the airport, or even at the Tax Collector and ask, why would government be more efficient this time?]

It may not look so bad, but there are another 30 people past the door.
I'll spare you the details, dear reader, and just say that I entered the line at 1 p.m. and left with my new ID card at 4:30. In a small sign of progress the ID card won't have to be renewed for eight years. (Watch for my follow-up post in 2019.)

After document inspection, another wait for the photo.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ah, Chew

Red Fox Casino lavatory sign, Laytonville, California

When you use a word that can be either noun or verb, make sure your meaning is obvious.

The greater grammatical offense may be the use of scare quotes around "Do Not." Scare quotes are meant to convey irony or a meaning opposite from the plain text; they are a distancing mechanism. Somehow I don't think the writer means to be ambiguous.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I'll Take It

I saw it on TV, like almost everyone else. I shuffled to the kitchen table with my cup of coffee and pushed the remote. The TV was set to Channel 11, NBC. It was 5:45 a.m. The Today Show was on; strange, normally it doesn't start till 7 a.m. on the West Coast.

The camera was fixed on the World Trade Center. Black smoke was pouring out of one of the towers. There were no jump cuts or commercials to distract the unblinking eye. Katie Couric's voice seemed dispassionate as she described how an airplane had crashed into the building. Surely it was a small plane and a horrible accident.

Then the second jet hit, another struck the Pentagon, and the towers fell. Other images are seared into our memories--the Pennsylvania field that became hallowed ground, the throngs who lustily cheered the deaths of thousands, flames and smoke everywhere, the weeping, the exhausted searching and the death of hope.

The fear gripped us for a long time. Not knowing has that effect. Who did it and why, how powerful were they, what's next, what should we do, what can I do?

Everyone--even those who were in charge of our government--can list major mistakes in the past ten years. All the criticisms have at least some plausibility: we waged war against the wrong people, maybe we shouldn't have gone to war at all, we mistreated prisoners, we had intelligence that was grossly wrong, we sacrificed too many of our civil liberties, we didn't pay the cost of the wars, and we are no farther along in being energy independent or securing the safety of Israel.

But if we are honest with ourselves, we will remember the worst of our fears:

1) we would be hit again and perhaps lose a major city; this event coupled with our response, could forever change the character of America;

2) if the attack were biological, we could lose much more than one city;

3) oil supplies would be disrupted, maybe cut off for a long time, and usher in a new Dark Ages;

4) Israel, surrounded by powerful enemies, could be destroyed.

5) A state of war would exist between the West and the Islamic world, which has over a billion people.

Ten years later none of these fears has been realized, yet victory, which we can't even define, seems as distant as it was in 2001.

I'll take it. © 2011 Stephen Yuen

Friday, September 09, 2011

Ala Wai Canal

Kapahulu Ave at 6:15 a.m
The early morning traffic has dropped off a bit since my last visit. Reduced congestion could be due to the slow economy or people taking off the week after Labor Day. Or it could be a mistaken extrapolation from a very limited obsevational sample.

Speaking of global warming, Wednesday night's debate was another attempt by "moderators" to pin the extremist tag on the Republican candidates for President. The candidates unanimously questioned the premises of the global warming crowd, making the Republicans non-scientific Neanderthals or, worse, Bible-thumping fundamentalists.

Fundamentalists of a different stripe say that I can't use incandescent bulbs because of the "settled science" that Edison's glowing invention will melt the ice caps. Reminiscent of the Middle Ages, only a specially trained priesthood can explain to the hoi polloi why a 60-watt tungsten is damaging to the environment while flying to a global warming conference in a corporate jet is completely okay. In a similar vein, the green geniuses at Google say that their data centers, which consume electricity equivalent to 200,000 homes, help the environment because otherwise people would drive to the library to look stuff up. Yes, that's the proper basis of comparison: think of the CO2 I would have emitted by driving to the library to research the Kardashians.

To clear my head I go for a walk along the Ala Wai Canal. This morning the waters were placid. Kayakers were suiting up near the Waikiki library. Homeless men were waking up on the wooden benches. Groups of tourists strolled leisurely, and I accelerated past them at 4 MPH. By the time I got to the intersection of Kapiolani and McCully, traffic was gridlocked. Maybe the economy is improving, after all.

Ala Wai Canal at 6:30 a.m.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Getting Out of Town

Tall Dango by Kaneko
Going on a trip focuses the mind. I finally tended to long-neglected tasks in the home office and the garden. There's still a lot left to be done, but both places are now a little neater.

I saw the doctor last week for a routine physical exam, eight months later than he had advised. Everything was okay, thanks for asking, but I needed to drop a few pounds. You're beginning to sound like a broken record, doc, and could you refill my prescriptions?

At SFO I chuckled like a pre-teen when I saw two eight-foot ceramic sculptures next to the Delta gate. Yes, we who have trouble making a bowl in pottery class can't possibly imagine the difficulty of constructing ceramics larger than a human being, but the artist gave away the show by naming it "Tall Dango," supposedly referring to a round shape like a Japanese dumpling. But we know what he really meant, don't we, Dr. Freud?

The Delta flight to Honolulu was uneventful. A wailing toddler a few rows in front didn't help the atmosphere aboard the crowded 757-300, but the passengers all seemed to take it in stride. There, but for the grace of God, go all of us parents.

The tuna sandwich bought at SFO hadn't been quite enough, and the land of plate lunches was filled with temptation. We headed off to Zippy's for a late night repast. The "Zip pac"--chicken, teriyaki beef, and spam (of course)--was not on doc's list of recommended foods, but that was what his pills were for. © 2011 Stephen Yuen

Friday, September 02, 2011

(Another) Saturday in the Park

Aug 29th: at the bottom of the 7th the score is Astros 1, Giants 1.
Beset by injuries to many of their key players, the San Francisco Giants stumbled into September trailing the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks by six games. This weekend's three-game series against Arizona has the potential to break but not make the season, and Giants followers are filled with trepidation. In a glass-half-full moment of reflection, most fans should realize that we are doubly fortunate to have a contending team in September. There are pleasures to be savored by experiencing baseball in San Francisco, regardless of wins and losses.

The previous February Saturday we spent at AT&T Park we were in shirtsleeves and sunshine while much of the nation was buried in snow. This time a storm named Irene visited her wrath on the Atlantic coast while our Pacific Ocean for the nonce seemed aptly named.

We arrived at 3:30, two-and-a-half hours before the game was to start. Already the lines at each gate were over a mile long. The prospect of getting a bobble head doll of Giant ace pitcher Tim Lincecum seemed problematic.

Meanwhile, away from the lengthy queues was a sidewalk ceremony honoring two retired Giants. Jason Schmidt and Marvin Benard were being added to the Wall of Fame, the 47th and 48th players who either suited up for nine seasons with the San Francisco Giants or played five seasons with at least one All-Star appearance.

The decision wasn't close: the youngster forsook our dwindling chances of getting a Lincecum bobble head in favor of hearing and seeing Jason Schmidt, one of the dominant pitchers in baseball during his Giants tenure from 2001 to 2006. The former ace spoke fondly of his San Francisco memories, and the youngster's day was made when Jason Schmidt autographed the back of his ticket.

View of AT&T Park from the line waiting to get in
It took us 20 minutes to cross the 3rd Street bridge to get to the back of the line. Over an hour later we entered the gate. Lo and behold, there were still bobble heads left, and we were handed two of the precious boxes (it doesn't take much to make us happy).

I said to the youngster that the only way that the day could be better was if the Giants were to win, which they did, 2-1, when a single by Jeff Keppinger drove home Mark DeRosa for the winning run in the bottom of the 10th inning. The entire day was filled with lagniappes--an autograph, bobble head dolls, and a walk-off win--which when added to the sunny weather and an afternoon spent with friends was a very grand gift to us indeed. © 2011 Stephen Yuen