Saturday, May 31, 2014

Everything Old is New Again

An activity that is simple and quick and that will improve the quality of my remaining years: "How to Spatchcock a Chicken." The chicken will be "super crisp outside, incredibly moist within"--the Holy Grill of cooking chicken, as it were.

From the WSJ:
1. Place whole chicken on a work surface, breast-side down, thigh end closest to you. Starting at thigh end, cut along one side of backbone with kitchen shears or strong scissors. Repeat along other side. Discard backbone or save it for stock.

2. Turn the chicken over, breast-side up, and splay it open it like a book on a work surface. Use your hand to press hard on the chicken, cracking the breast bone, to flatten.

3. And that is a spatchcocked chicken, butterflied and flattened for even cooking in the oven, on the grill or under the broiler.
Spatchcock is an 18th century term:
Alan Davidson explains in The Oxford Companion to Food: "The theory is that the word is an abbreviation of 'dispatch the cock,' a phrase used to indicate a summary way of grilling a bird after splitting it open down the back and spreading the two halves out flat." Davidson speculates that spatchcocked birds originated in Ireland. He has noticed them in Irish cookbooks that date to the 18th century.
Everything old is new again.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Still Salty After All These Years

Much as we've tried to shift our diet to fruits, vegetables, and other healthy fare, there will always be a soft spot in our stomach for Spam (we've expressed our fondness before).

The Spam display at Costco--$5 off an 8-pack!--was irresistible. Unfortunately, there wasn't an easy way to look up the inventory at home (the apps to track personal food inventory are too much trouble to set up), so I threw a package in the shopping cart.

It so happened that there were 18 cans already in the larder. No worries, half will go into the disaster provisions, and, as for the remainder, the Spam will still be edible long after your humble observer has passed from the scene. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Nearer Than We Think

(Telegraph photo)
The defense against cellphone theft continues with the theftie:
the mobile security firm Lookout is adding a new tool for tracking down bad guys: the "theftie," a covert snapshot of someone trying to steal your phone.

It's part of an app that alerts you to suspicious behaviors on your phone, like a screen password mistyped three times. You get an email containing your phone's location and a highly unflattering look at the person holding your phone—be they Samaritan or supervillain.
If your humble observer stole a cellphone, his first move would be to stick a piece of colored tape over the camera(s) before pressing any buttons, and the theftie would be an un-incriminating black square. But that maneuver is supposedly beyond the capability of most villains.

To balance the scales, simple four-character password-protection of cellphones is too much trouble for most owners.

The takeover by moderately intelligent robots is nearer than we think. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


According to Foster City ordinances beekeeping is against the law:
6.04.320 It is unlawful to keep any of the following:
A. Any fowl, reptile or animal which normally lives in a wild habitat and is a curiosity to the local community, whether wild or domesticated at the time of its keeping;
B. Domestic fowl; or
C. Bees. (Ord. 521 § 1 (part), 2005)
Unfortunately, no one told the honeybees, which found a small hole in our attic and began establishing a hive two weeks ago. One is advised not to kill them:
a) Bees have value as pollinators;
b) Wild bees are dying;
c) Melting beeswax, honey, and dead bees create problems, i.e., property damage, rats, and insects, that are costly to address.
The hive was removed before 21 days, when the larva mature
Yesterday we engaged a beekeeper and building contractor to remove the bees. An infrared detector allowed them to hone in on the hive's location behind the wall. They cut a 2'x 2' hole, removed the bees, sprayed a protective substance to dissuade another swarm from coming here, then repaired the opening.

The entire job took seven hours, and the final bill (not yet received) will be $1,000-$1,200. The bees will be taken to Half Moon Bay, where they will be rented to farmers to assist pollination.

Yes, it was bad luck that they picked our attic from the thousands to choose from in Foster City, but every homeowner can recount his own tale of woe. It is prudent to allow for contingencies, and foolish to expect them not to happen. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Good Advice

Chip Bergh, Levi's CEO (Slaq photo)
Levi Strauss CEO Chip Bergh recommends that blue jeans wearers not wash their jeans to make them last longer.
"These jeans are maybe a year old and these have yet to see a washing machine," he said of the pair he wore during a chat onstage. "I know that sounds totally disgusting."

He recommended spot cleaning jeans with a sponge or toothbrush and a bit of detergent, then air drying. He says you should very seldom machine wash.
Guys, just in case you were looking for another reason why girls don't want to be with you.....

These jeans were made for chillin' (HuffPo photo)
In a related story, a fad that you may have missed is jeans freezing to halt the growth of bacteria:
Jean freezing has become quite the craze in the past few years. It even comes with its own video tutorials and folding techniques posted online by bloggers around the country.
That's the ticket, kids. After weeding the garden or clubbing all night or even just riding the spotless Muni buses, throw your pants in the freezer next to the ice cubes and frozen burritos. Why not? It's your pad and it's obvious that you don't live with your momma any more. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day, 2014

In two months we will mark the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, aka the "Great War," aka the "War to End All Wars." (The latter description is now used ironically, because the casualties and destruction of the Second World War dwarfed that of the First.) To be sure, World War I introduced its own horrors, with machine guns, trench warfare, and chemical weapons forever dispelling any romantic notions of armed conflict between nations.

This month also marks the 99th anniversary of the widely known poem, In Flanders Fields. I first heard it 50 years ago when an upperclassman quoted the opening stanza from memory.
In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
By 1964 the 20th century was already the bloodiest in history; the Korean War stalemate, the American buildup in Vietnam, and the threat of mutually assured destruction promised a dystopian future--if we had one at all--of continuous war and police states. All Quiet on the Western Front portrayed the recent past, and 1984 and Brave New World the future.

It is with wonder and gratitude that we are still around to reflect on the sadness and beauty of Flanders Fields.

Flanders Fields (U of Texas NROTC photo)

Sunday, May 25, 2014


Thirty years after his passing--and two years after the Sam Wo Restaurant was closed ignominiously by the San Francisco Health Department--the legend of "the world's rudest waiter," Edsel Ford Fong lives on at AT&T Park.

The food at the eponymous restaurant is overpriced and nothing special: orange chicken, broccoli beef, fried rice, etc. But it does comply with the health code, an improvement over Edsel's former employer.

"This no good! Go to Derby Diner!" I imagined Edsel shouting, and so I did. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

Saturday, May 24, 2014

It's a Breeze

Pablo Sandoval's home run gave
 the Giants an early 1-0 lead.
AT&T Park is such an improvement over Candlestick that baseball fans easily forget that a) the two stadia are only seven miles apart, b) warm afternoons can turn into chilly nights everywhere along the Bay, and c) the cheap seats at AT&T are exposed to the wind, though not as severely as at Candlestick.

And so it was this Saturday night: we were shivering during the late innings despite our layers. The game was low-scoring and didn't have much tension until the ninth inning, when the Twins made it a one-run game. Reliever Sergio Romo survived some shaky moments, and the Giants held on to win 2-1.

To ward off the cold we had quaffed hot chocolate and wolfed garlic fries and sausages, all of which we had not planned to purchase. Tonight's tickets were only $23, but we spent double that on food, parking, and transportation. Compared to the hassle of attending the game, watching from home is a breeze. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

Friday, May 23, 2014

Dazzling Ensemble

Respected WSJ movie critic Joe Morgenstern gushes over a new comic-book-based action flick [bold added]:
the X-Men ensemble—Mr. Jackman, Ms. Lawrence and, among others, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult, Ellen Page, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart—constitute the finest repertory company in all of contemporary moviedom.
The longish review ends with "Everything is of a piece, and it's dazzling."

In the 1960's shy social misfits were embarrassed to admit that they read Spiderman, the Fantastic Four, and X-Men. 50 years later nerd culture has won over Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and Hollywood. The last shall be first, indeed.

Ensemble acting is well and good, but it can always be made better with explosions and time travel...

Thursday, May 22, 2014

And You Thought Fighting Over the Armrest Was Bad

In the "public" position.
The B-Tourist strip has an initial appeal to everyone who flies coach. The B-Tourist is
a portable curtain that silently screams “do not disturb.” The elastic curtain.....can be stretched between headrests to the back and the front of the passenger, thereby creating a cocoon of privacy around the passenger’s head.
The drawback: in the cattle-car seating that passes for economy flying, only true sociopaths will have the nerve to ignore the negative vibes emanating from fellow passengers. The curtain

a) shouts that the passenger wants nothing to do with the rest of humanity (one can feel that way, but one isn't supposed to say it),

b) uses the headrest of the passenger in front, and

c) makes it difficult for seatmates to ask to go to the bathroom.

Look for regulators to kill this idea in the cradle. Flight safety rules that prohibit obstacles in the footpath will certainly bar the erection of these barriers. Said the poet, "Good fences make good neighbors," but he wasn't thinking about airplanes. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

She Should Have Stopped But She Had to Go

The injured Dori Stolmaker
(NY Daily News photo)
92-year-old Arizona driver Persis Draper hit a jogger, Dori Stolmaker, then drove away because "she had uncontrollable diarrhea." The jogger was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.

Persis Draper was only charged with misdemeanor and civil offenses, probably because she returned to the scene after she relieved her physical distress, and the victim was going to be okay.

It's easy to make light of this event, but your humble observer has a measure of sympathy for Persis Draper. Aging greatly reduces the ability to react to unforeseen events, and in life s**t happens. In the future Persis should take care of business before she goes anywhere.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Control Your Greed, Aging Grasshopper

The stock market's fundamental gauges have been flashing yellow since the beginning of the year, and many market watchers have been urging investors to reduce their stock holdings. One bearish observer is Nobel Economics prizewinner Robert Shiller, whose "Shiller ratio" (roughly, the S&P 500's price-earnings ratio) is at "25, or 49% above its historical average."

The Shiller ratio is below its all-time high of 2000 but is above previous times the market turned down.
Your humble punter rarely sells stock winners because a) he is incurably optimistic, and b) he hates to pay taxes on capital gains. As full retirement approaches, however, he must face the fact that the limited remaining time allows fewer opportunities to recover from bear markets.

We will dispose of significant amounts of stock held in tax-deferred accounts (IRAs, 401(K)s). The gains will be preserved, but they won't be taxable until withdrawal. Greed is good, but from sad experience, too much greed can be one's downfall.

Bulls make money, bears make money, pigs get slaughtered.

One of the funds in the 401(K) has done very well and now will be sold.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Not a Myth

It's not a gambling myth: winning streaks do exist.
Using the power of the internet to round up a huge sample, the two researchers examined 565,915 bets made by 776 people on sports such as horse-racing and football. [snip]

The probability of a first bet winning was 48% and that of a follow-up winning again was 49%. After that, the streak took off. The third bet won 57% of the time. The fourth, if the third had won, won 67% of the time, the fifth, 72% of it and the sixth 75%.
The explanation:
as winners’ winning streaks increased in length they started choosing safer and safer odds, which led them to win more often, though less profitably.
This explains why your humble observer rarely goes home a winner--after a few wins he increases his bets, hoping to end with a big score. When you think you're playing with the house's money, you wind up losing it.

A lucky guy: Joe DiMaggio hit for 56 games in a row--a streak that has never been broken.
He also married Marilyn Monroe (SI photo)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

"Why Don't Underwear Come With Pockets?"

Danieal Cormier, 20, asked the titular question "while sitting around alone at home in his boxers one day." He
perfected the design, finding the best position for the pocket and strengthening the waistband to carry additional weight....orders have been pouring in from across North America.
His generation may be laughed at for sitting around the house in underwear and/or pajamas, but Danieal Cormier is laughing all the way to the bank. (H/T Tyler Cowen)

Items for sale at

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Aloha, Doris

Doris died peacefully in her sleep tonight, surrounded by her family. Vital until the end, Doris was eagerly anticipating flying back East to a family gathering when she suffered a stroke five days ago.

Most people don't consider the sudden death of a 97-year-old person who has led a full life to be a "tragedy," but to those of us who (still) struggled to keep up with her conversation it was. She had a lot left to give us, and so we mourn for our own lives that are now made poorer. R.I.P., dear friend.

Here is Doris at her 90th birthday.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Good Plan

No, I don't see how anything could go wrong with this scheme [bold added]:
NASA's bold plan to park an asteroid near the moon may also test out a new way to protect Earth from dangerous space rocks.

Last year, the agency announced that it intends to tow a near-Earth asteroid into a stable lunar orbit, where it could be visited repeatedly by astronauts for research and exploration purposes.
Oh, well, any worries about a catastrophic accident are probably the fruits of an overactive imagination. NASA can't fly to the space station without using Russian rockets, and tensions with Russia threaten to make even that relatively modest task an impossibility. 57 years after Sputnik, NASA can't get off the ground.

© 2014 Stephen Yuen

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Latest Real Estate Marketing Tool

Foster City overhead shot by Open Homes Photography
Drone aerial photography is the latest marketing tool in the real estate arsenal:
real estate photographers typically use small remote-control quadcopters (a helicopter with four rotors) with a camera - usually a GoPro - that takes stills and video.
Drone photographs are very affordable, especially when million-dollar properties are involved: Open Homes Photography "charges $225 for 1 to 10 still photos, $375 for a one- to two-minute video, or $525 for stills and videos combined."

The ointment on the fliers is the lack of rules [bold added].
The FAA lets hobbyists fly what it calls unmanned aerial systems for recreational purposes, but it bans their use for commercial purposes unless it grants an exception, which it has done only once.

"You need three things for a commercial operation: a certified aircraft, a licensed pilot and authorization from the FAA," says Les Dorr, a spokesman for the FAA.
Obviously, small drone operators meet none of the FAA's three requirements, but an NTSB administrative law judge has ruled "the FAA has no authority to impose or enforce regulations on small drones."

Look for abuses and accidents to occur as drones multiply. Confusion may lessen when the FAA promulgates rules in 2015, but the history of government regulation of rapidly changing industries does not augur well. © 2014 Stephen Yuen

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Final, Great Gift

Retirement expert John Wasik says that planning for our own death is one of the greatest gifts we can give to our loved ones [bold added]:
death planning will not only allow you to plan a dignified, meaningful and even splashy exit, but will provide guidance for those attending to your last moments and beyond. [snip]

Your written directions [resuscitation, organ donation, etc.] need to be as specific as possible and not stored with your estate planning materials; if they were, interested parties might not see them until well after your death. Let loved ones, friends or your trusted professionals know where your final intentions letter is, or hand out copies. Having them read and review it long before your death is also a good idea. [snip]

One cudgel to employ in having your intentions honored is to have a strong surrogate or family member. Drafting a customized living will and power of attorney is also important. You will need a strong advocate for your final wishes. [snip]

In the written directions you provide your family, you may also want to include grave site or mortuary information, funeral directions and provisions on how you want to pay for your memorial. Do you want specific music played or pictures displayed? Are there past events or accomplishments you want your survivors to remember?
The Internet has made death planning easier, with numerous sites that offer planning templates. My Directives and Best Endings have advance medical directive forms; Get Your Shit Together provides useful information (and may shock some into action by its title). Perhaps the most extensive is Everplans, which I am hesitant to trust because it is too comprehensive.

Your humble observer always packs for trips at the last minute and has done very little in the way of death planning. However, he is running out of excuses.

The scope of Everplans

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Didn't Get the Message

Time analyzes Vladimir Putin [bold added]:
Putin has developed a personal ideology, made up of at least one part personal theology and another part manifest destiny. Putin is Russian Orthodox, a deeply conservative faith with an ancient liturgy, ties to saints of the Middle Ages and an allergy to social change. [snip]

Then there is the geopolitical creed of Eurasianism, which holds that Moscow is a “Third Rome” that must form the core of a civilization distinct from a decadent and rotting West.
25 years ago Francis Fukuyama wrote in the End of History that western liberal democracy had triumphed over other political models. To be sure,
"it is not necessary that all societies become successful liberal societies, merely that they end their ideological pretensions of representing different and higher forms of human society."
Unfortunately, Russia, China, and the 80% of the world that does not live in North America or Europe didn't get the message that the West had won.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Nodding Off

In recent years scientists have documented how eight hours of sleep is necessary not only for performance at work or school but also for good health. And if one doesn't get enough sleep at nighttime it's possible to make up for the deficiency by napping during the day, with measurable improvement in quality of work.
pilots on trans-Pacific flights were instructed to nap for 40 minutes. They slept for an average of 26 minutes, which led to 34% improved performance and 54% improved alertness.
The "power nap" at work need only be about 20 minutes:
"Twenty minutes keeps you from upsetting your schedules, getting into deeper sleep, and waking up groggy and refreshing you enough to continue safely".
During my career, bosses disapproved of nodding off in the afternoon (or so I was informed). Now more employers are viewing napping at one's desk as the mark of the high-producer, another piece of evidence that your humble observer was born too soon.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day, 2014

That morning the church ushers presented each mother with a giant rose. After the service they served an assortment of tea and finger foods, beautifully laid out, on long tables bedecked with tablecloths. On Mother's Day there's a yearning to be civilized.

That afternoon the male residents of the house cleaned and vacuumed each room. The mother of the household applauded, though the results weren't up to her standards. Material things are no longer important to her, but time spent tending to her needs by people she loves are very much appreciated.

That evening phone calls were made to the grandmothers. They each sounded happy, on a day filled with calls, visits, and food. All was well.

Happy Mother's Day!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

On Lowering the Drinking Age to 18

Camille Paglia (Salon photo)
Camille Paglia says that it's time to repeal the 30-year-old National Minimum Drinking Age Act:
What this cruel 1984 law did is deprive young people of safe spaces where they could happily drink cheap beer, socialize, chat and flirt in a free but controlled public environment. Hence in the 1980s we immediately got the scourge of crude binge drinking at campus fraternity keg parties, cut off from the adult world. Women in that boorish free-for-all were suddenly fighting off date rape.
If college kids want to get high, alcohol is not only safer than marijuana, it promotes social interaction:
there are many problems with pot. From my observation, pot may be great for jazz musicians and Beat poets, but it saps energy and willpower and can produce physiological feminization in men. Also, it is difficult to measure the potency of plant-derived substances like pot. With brand-name beer or liquor, however, purchased doses have exactly the same strength and purity from one continent to another, with no fear of contamination by dangerous street additives like PCP.

Exhilaration, ecstasy and communal vision are the gifts of Dionysus, god of wine. Alcohol’s enhancement of direct face-to-face dialogue is precisely what is needed by today’s technologically agile generation, magically interconnected yet strangely isolated by social media.
Back in the enlightened 1970's your humble observer learned how to mind his manners--and hold his liquor--at the Friday-night mixers hosted by the residential college dean. [Camille Paglia: "Learning how to drink responsibly is a basic lesson in growing up."] Treat 18-year-olds like adults, and most will behave like them.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Wheat is to Rice as Mutt is to Jeff

Psychologist Thomas Talhelm hypothesizes that "rice theory" explains (of course he is generalizing) the personality difference between Northern and Southern Chinese. Over thousands of years southern rice farmers cooperated to build canals and dams and share water, while northern wheat farmers operated independently from each other.
Talhelm and his colleagues conducted psychological studies on 1,162 Chinese college students in the north and in the south, as well as on countries that straddle the borders of the rice-wheat divide [the Yangtze River]. The northern Chinese tested as more individualistic and analytic—similar to Westerners—while southerners were more interdependent, holistic-thinking and more loyal to their friends.
Not only is their analytic bent better suited to the 21st century, Northerners also tend to be taller than Southern Chinese. The wealthy get wealthier.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Adjusted Upward

The hard drive had stopped working, so I hurried to the Palo Alto Fry's to pick up a replacement. [The 2009 MacBook Pro was on the cusp of obsolescence, but a $70 one terabyte (1 TB) Seagate hybrid drive--if it worked--would keep the computer going for at least another year.]

I parked myself in a corner of the nearby Starbucks to change the drive. Starbucks has electric outlets galore, where I could plug the adapters for both the MacBook and the external drive that booted Mac OS while the hard drive was out of commission. Kudos to Starbucks also for leaving me alone; no one asked what I was doing with a mess of cables, screwdrivers, boxes, and parts strewn across a table meant for lattes and frappucinos.

Unfortunately, the new hard drive wasn't recognized by the computer. Next I'll try replacing the SATA cable (bottom left in the photo), which various tech sites suggest could be the problem. Also unfortunately, Fry's didn't have the cable, which had to be ordered from Amazon. Resolution (repair or replace the laptop) would have to wait a couple of days.

[Update - 5/10: the new cable worked. The total cost of the fix was $120, much less than a new computer. The latte and frappucino budget has been adjusted upward accordingly.]

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

A Little Extra Effort

Some of our regular volunteers were away, so I decided to put a little extra effort into dinner. I picked up a roast, rubbed it with seasoning, inserted a thermometer and threw the roast into the oven at 200 degrees (the low-and-slow method seems to turn out best). 30 minutes before it was done I turned up the heat to 350 degrees and added a tray of asparagus. Meanwhile, other volunteers came by to drop off bread, dessert, and risotto.

Everyone complimented the vegetable risotto (top)
Some of the diners enjoyed the medium-rare roast very much, but several had an aversion to reddish-tinged meat; their portions had to be heated further. The volunteer coordinator apologized, but the fault was mine.

In America we take food safety for granted (maybe we shouldn't, but that is a subject for another time). I had forgotten how people who had grown up in other cultures may have had poor experiences with food that is not thoroughly cooked. Next time I'll make a stew.

At least I got to hold the baby.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Trite, But True

Trite, but true: one can benefit more by giving than receiving (unless one believes that the measure of all things is material). After a frustrating day which saw several projects being stymied, I took the prepared dishes to the families at Home and Hope. After dinner I cleared the tables, put the dishes in the washer, and checked in on the guests.

The baby smiled and asked to be picked up. I held her for five minutes while she gazed at me with guileless eyes. Work seemed less important, and I became more ready to tackle those frustrating projects the next day.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Doomed to Repeat History

During the dot-com boom that ended in 2000 the Bay Area witnessed an extreme real estate bubble, evidenced by multiple bids on homes, final selling prices six or even seven figures over the asking price, and commercial landlords demanding and getting stock options from their startup corporate tenants. The stock market crashed, vacancies multiplied, and the financial crisis of 2008 shook out the remaining over-levered speculators in real estate.

We are in the midst of tech bubble 2.0. Greed has returned, with fear banished to the next room. One San Francisco landlord attempted to squeeze existing apartment tenants with new conditions: they must prove that they have a $100,000 minimum annual income and a minimum FICO score of 725.

[Update: The landlord, identified by tenants as Robert Shelton, apparently “rescinded” the letter on Tuesday. Mr. Shelton was probably advised that attempting to change the conditions on an existing lease would cause him legal problems, not to mention that the bad publicity he has already received will continue to grow.]

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Double Meaning

English is a confusing language, and no more so than in the use of contranyms - words that have meanings that are the opposite of each other. Wordsmith Ben Zimmer ruminates about the dual use of "sanction":
we are supposed to understand the verb "sanction" to mean "to impose a heavy penalty on," even though it can also mean "to authorize or encourage by approval."
IMHO, I think writers should avoid contranyms because they disrupt the flow of the piece; the reader must take a break to search the sentences before and after sanction, for example, to decipher which meaning the author intended.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if words like sanction were sanctioned? Now that would be sick.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

What Would President Obama Fight For?

One of President Obama's foreign admirers is worried about the widespread perception of American weakness. The Economist wonders What Would America Fight For?
Between the certainty that any president will defend America’s own territory and the strong belief that America would not fight Russia over Ukraine lies an infinite combination of possibilities.......But doubt has spread quickly in that middle ground—and it risks making the world a more dangerous, nastier place.
The President has said publicly that Americans in the past have been too eager to go to war and that by doing so the nation's interests have been harmed. Most Americans, even Republicans, would agree. But now the growing belief that he will not unsheathe the sword at all threatens the peaceful international order:
International norms, such as freedom of navigation, will be weakened. Majorities will feel freer to abuse minorities, who in turn may flee. Global public goods, such as free trade and lower cross-border pollution, will be harder to sustain. Global institutions will be less pliable.
Feelings and perceptions do not arise in a vacuum. Specific non-actions are the cause:
First, he has broken the cardinal rule of superpower deterrence: you must keep your word. In Syria he drew “a red line”: he would punish Bashar Assad if he used chemical weapons. The Syrian dictator did, and Mr Obama did nothing. In response to Russia’s aggression, he threatened fierce sanctions, only to unveil underwhelming ones. He had his reasons: Britain let him down on Syria, Europe needs Russian gas, Congress is nervous. But the cumulative message is weakness.

Second, Mr Obama has been an inattentive friend. He has put his faith in diplomatic coalitions of willing, like-minded democracies to police the international system. That makes sense, but he has failed to build the coalitions. And using diplomacy to deal with the awkward squad, such as Iran and Russia, leads to concessions that worry America’s allies. Credibility is about reassurance as well as the use of force.
Domestically the President has shown little reluctance to use the power of government (IRS, NSA, DOJ) to crush the opposition. I just wish he would display the same willingness to use that power in confronting the enemies of the country that he leads.

Friday, May 02, 2014


Before and after
Korean plastic surgeons have become so proficient that patients who come to Korea on "plastic surgery vacations" no longer match their passport photo:
South Korean plastic surgeons are among the best in the world. In fact they’re so good that people from other countries like China and Japan are actually having trouble getting back home.
It's too easy to deplore the vanity behind these surgeries, but we must stifle our criticism when we look at the transformative results. The beautiful have a much greater chance of being well-liked, wealthy, and happy---they just have to explain to their starry-eyed spouses why their kids don't look like them.

The Western standard of feminine beauty has been adopted by the Asian upper class.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Lei Day

(This is a partial reprise of a post about one of my favorite days.)

Today is International Workers Day, when injustice is remembered and revolution is celebrated. At the opposite end of the emotional spectrum today is also the National Day of Prayer. Then there's how they honor it in my home state.
Flower leis flown in from Honolulu. on Twitpic
Flower leis flown in from Hawaii
May Day is lei day in Hawaii
Flowers and garlands everywhere…
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 ones. © 2014 Stephen Yuen