Thursday, December 31, 2015

It Takes One to Know One

Donald Trump and Willie Brown, among others, in a
1996 episode of "Suddenly Susan" (Getty Images)
Former California Assembly Speaker and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown [bold added]:
Trump has nonetheless redefined what it is to be a candidate for office in the 24/7 media age.

Until now, every politician in America has had it pounded into their heads that whatever you do, “don’t offend.” We wouldn’t dare actually speak our minds. If we tried to, our internal mechanism would kick in and scream “steer clear, this could be a career killer.”

The game plan has long been to do your best to mirror and blend into whatever constituency has the most votes.

Trump, on the other hand, has torn up the game plan, declaring, “I am going to be me and you have to identify with me.” Instead of trying to sell the voters on Trump, Trump is demanding that voters buy into him.

It’s a total reversal of conventional political thought. And so far, it is working.
Willie Brown entered politics in 1962, long before there were "24/7 media", yet never seemed afraid to speak his mind. From his Wikipedia bio:
He nicknamed himself the "Ayatollah of the Assembly".

Brown was criticized in 1996 for his comments that 49ers backup quarterback Elvis Grbac was "an embarrassment to humankind." He was criticized in 1997 for responding to Golden State Warriors player Latrell Sprewell choking his coach P. J. Carlesimo by saying, "his boss may have needed choking."
Term limits may have seemed like a good idea when they were passed in California in 1990, but all they did was elect Democrats who are less knowledgeable and more ideological than Willie Brown.

Too bad he's not in Sacramento, the State was better run back in the day.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Disappointing Day-Trip

$12 bowl of noodles from the Boathouse.
For the third year running (see 2013 and 2014) our relative has visited Marin County during the holidays, and for the third year in a row we took her to the Graton Casino in Rohnert Park.

I looked forward to the 160-mile round trip. A nice, albeit overpriced, lunch at the casino's M.Y. Noodles restaurant, a couple of hours at the tables, and the remaining time sipping coffee and using the WiFi connection at the Marketplace food court.

Except...M.Y. Noodles closed last weekend. The disappointment was compounded when I ordered a bowl of noodle soup at the food court. The bowl cost $12 and only had a few bits of crab and no vegetables. Pathetic, but that's what happens when the casino knows that it's inconvenient to go for food elsewhere.

Graton also takes advantage of its local-monopoly position on the gaming floor. Slots were tight (no loud cheering, signaling large jackpots) and blackjacks pay 6-5, not the standard 3-2.

Our relative, though she said that she enjoyed herself, will be visiting San Jose in the first half of 2016. We'll try a casino in Central California the next time.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Power of No

(pinterest image)
Learning to say no is a healthy sign in a child's development:
If your toddler's favorite word is "no!" and his default position is defiance, relax. New research suggests that willful behavior in very young children is both normal and a sign of a healthy parent-child relationship.
For adults the reluctance or inability to say "no" is a major source of stress:
A prime reason for our modern busyness is, of course, our inability to just say no: no to the recurring, unproductive meeting, no to volunteering to be class parent, no to the endless demands on our time.
The WSJ writer suggests creating a set of personal policies (example: "I don't take calls on weekends") that reflect one's values, then broadcasting them to family, friends, and business associates. Saying "no" should become easier.

Further thoughts:
1) I'd rather do a few things well than a lot of things poorly.
2) The people doing the asking (e.g., salesmen) are often not my friends.
3) For both the employee and employer's sake it's important that written policies explain clearly the circumstances when after-hours work will be necessary. (For most of my career employers assumed that they could call on my services 24/7; in 2015 that assumption is no longer operative.)
4) It's nearly always better to get the "no" out of the way sooner than later.

Monday, December 28, 2015

It's Quiet, Too Quiet

The local Chipotle: no customers at 7 p.m., Sunday night
Two nights after Christmas
On the Chipotle floor
Not a patron was present
When we walked through the door

Talk of e. coli
Couldn’t scare us away
We love their burritos
With guacamole.

“I’m sorry,” the girl answered
When white rice, please we said
“The rice pot got burnt
How about brown rice, instead?”

Brown rice has more fiber
…and more arsenic than white
We do like being regular
But poison’s a fright.

With no choice we took brown
And paid the charges dear
If you like Chipotle, go soon
They may not be here next year.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

All Seeing, All Knowing, All Controlling (?)

More and more stuff is "free" but it does come at a price.

An Amazon Prime Membership of $99 per year is a bargain for the two-day free shipping alone, but Amazon has added thousands of free streaming videos, and now there's free streaming music. I gave Amazon Music a try this month for its Holiday library; the e-mail I received today is a reminder that Big Jeff is not only watching, but sifting, collating, and categorizing everything I watch, listen to, read, and buy.

Google, Facebook, Apple, and others are all trying to do what Amazon is doing. Each has access to different compartments of our lives, what we produce (photos, emails, text messages) and what we consume.

You know, Jeff Bezos kinda looks like Big Brother
Some say the objective of all this information-gathering is predicting what we will do next, but that betrays a lack of ambition. Control--for example, nudging our political views in a certain direction without us being aware--is the ultimate prize.

Christian theology teaches that though God sees and knows all, mankind has free will to follow or reject God. As our society rushes pell-mell to the brave new Big-Data world of the 21st century, that God seems a bit restrained.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Another Pleasure to Feel Guilty About

(Image from Doctor Oz)
The day I entered college to the day we had our first child---a span of 15 years---was the period when our freedom was at its maximum (though we didn't appreciate that fact at the time). Our jobs often demanded 60 hours a week, but we were free to leave those jobs if we didn't like the time-money tradeoff; besides, we could sleep in on Sundays and even some Saturdays.

Now scientists say that shortened sleep during the week, then catching up during weekends, is harmful to health (h/t Sarah Hoyt, via Instapundit) [bold added]:
447 people’s sleep patterns were tracked using sleep monitors attached to their wrists...participants' sleep patterns changed over the weekend, with many of the subjects staying up later and sleeping for longer. Worryingly, the researchers found an apparent correlation between this shift in sleeping pattern and the appearance of markers of detrimental health effects. The more dramatic the weekend shift was, the more likely the subject was to show lower levels of “good” cholesterol and higher amounts of triglycerides (other fatty substances) in their blood – precursors to heart disease in the long term.
Our younger selves thought that life was a series of sprints, and we could rest up in between. We should have treated it as a marathon.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

The crèche, barely visible from the pews, comes into view
as one approaches the altar on Christmas Day.
In "A Charlie Brown Christmas" Charlie Brown searches for the meaning of Christmas. All the familiar activities--card-writing, gift-giving, tree-decorating--are unfulfilling.

At the end of the half-hour special Linus simply reads seven verses from Luke that have been nearly obscured by the busy-ness of the holidays. 50 years after it first aired, its message is as relevant as ever.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Time for Nostalgia

In the late 1990's my former employer could draw on a talent pool of more than 200 people to put together a decent holiday choir. The grainy video (VHS tape) and monaural audio won't attract any hits today, but Christmas is a time of nostalgic sentimentality, nicht wahr?

Note: here are parts Two, Three, and Four.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Solution to an Annual Problem

(Photo from
A Time fitness writer suggests How to Avoid Weight Gain When Traveling for the Holidays:
When there’s free time....I like to fit in a short workout.
  • 1 minute of squat to left side kicks
  • 1 minute of squat to right side kicks
  • 1 minute of burpees
  • 1 minute plank
  • 1 minute of squat jumps
  • She knows what she's talking about (I won't detail how I know this): if you do these exercises while waiting in line, you'll be hauled away to a small boxlike room which serves non-fattening foods.

    Think of it as getting an early start to accomplishing your New Year's resolutions.

    Tuesday, December 22, 2015

    Now We're Just Lukewarm Fans

    2015 Comic-con: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and Harrison Ford  ( photo)
    Of the three leads in the Star Wars original trilogy, Mark Hamill is perhaps the least well known. In a recent conversation with Rolling Stone, his perceptive observations suggest that he should be interviewed more often. Excerpts:
    I call 'em UPFs: the Ultra Passionate Fan. 'Cause there's fans who like the movie and, go, "It was well done and I enjoyed myself. Now I wanna see the James Bond" — and then there are the UPFs. It's changed their lives: "I got into movies because of this," or "I met my wife online [because of Star Wars]"....And I understand obsessive-compulsive entertainment impulses. I have many, many, many, many of them.

    On Harrison Ford playing Han Solo again: "Why wouldn't he? I mean, that's sort of like the archetype of the modern, cynical, skeptical leading man. To me, there's no way to overestimate his contribution to the success of those movies – because the idea of the Force and this clueless farm boy who's uneducated, it's too bland. You need a little spice, a little abrasiveness ... somebody who's only in it for the money. When Han Solo is cynical, it takes away that weapon from all the cynics in the audience and allows them to enjoy it the way it should be enjoyed."

    On the disappointment of ending the tale just when Luke had become a Jedi: "I made the analogy it's like telling the story of how James Bond got his license to kill and then ending the story there. Because I just got to be what I wanted to be — and that's the end of the story? So yeah, there's that."

    I'll tell you another thing you should never say in front of a crowd of Star Wars fans – which I heard from George first on the set. The phrase that I used in front of like 5000 fans pumped to the gills, ready to see the trailer was, "It's only a movie."

    "I'm on the 'If it tastes good, don't eat it' diet." I mean, my trainer said you pick a day and you can cheat. And I don't like that; it just doesn't seem right. I was raised in such a strict upbringing. My father was in the military, he's staunch Roman Catholic, Nixon Republican ... you can picture it.
    We stood in line for Star Wars on the day after it opened at the Coronet in 1977. For The Force Awakens we're waiting until after the New Year, when the crowds have died down. In 38 years, just like Luke Skywalker, we've changed a bit.

    Monday, December 21, 2015

    Quirky City, Quirky Ranking

    Portland's Chart House has a view of Mount Hood.
    In reverse order the top 10 food cities in the USA consist of Charleston, Washington, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, New Orleans, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and, the number one food city in America, Portland! It's in the Washington Post, so you know it's authoritative.

    Portland is closer to his home, but at least the newspaper's owner, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, didn't make 'em pick Seattle (which is worthy of a top-ten rank, IMHO).

    More from WaPo restaurant critic Tom Sietsema:
    "You have really excellent examples of Thai, Spanish, even Italian," Sietsema said. "And then there's this quilt of quirk that goes over the city that I was just charmed by. And no one does breakfast as well as Portland."

    "I'm getting a lot of heat from Seattle, but it just wasn't their year, and I went there twice," he said. "Right now, I think Seattle would be 11th or 12th."
    Addendum: Guide Michelin gives only four restaurants on the West Coast three stars, its highest rating.
    Benu and Saison, tasting menu restaurants from chefs Corey Lee and Joshua Skenes, respectively, join The French Laundry and the Restaurant at Meadowood in the lofty three-star category.
    All are in the San Francisco Bay Area. Portland? Portland? Hello?

    Sunday, December 20, 2015

    The Journey, Not the Destination

    The Chartes labyrinth design
    The popular definition of labyrinth is maze. That venerable meaning harks back to Greek mythology, which describes how the Minotaur was trapped in the Labyrinth, a prison with branching paths and dead ends.

    There's another ancient meaning which is gaining purchase among enthusiasts worldwide. In a unicursal labyrinth the wanderer traces a meandering but singular path to the center, then exits by retracing the path.
    At its most basic level the labyrinth is a metaphor for the journey to the center of your deepest self and back out into the world with a broadened understanding of who you are.
    The traveler doesn't get lost in the unicursal labyrinth; he empties the mind of the world's concerns and "finds" himself in the center, then slowly returns to the world.

    (Your humble observer/truth-seeker has walked both labyrinths at Grace Cathedral but has found that the mere act of walking [but yes, I can chew gum at the same time] makes him too distracted to meditate. Labyrinths don't work for me, but perhaps they can work for you, dear reader.)

    The $500,000 labyrinth comes with a 300-ft-long fieldstone wall (WSJ Photo)
    In America, the land of going overboard, it's possible to spend up to $500,000 constructing a labyrinth on one's property. For homeowners on a budget The Labyrinth Company sells paver-brick kits ($4,000-$28,000) for the back yard.

    Happy Trails!

    Saturday, December 19, 2015

    Take the Cannoli

    The Economist's December 12th prediction [bold added]:
    If the Federal Reserve does increase interest rates on December 16th, very few investors will be taken by surprise. It will be the most discussed, most anticipated rate rise in history. [snip]

    the Fed usually increases rates when the economy is steaming ahead and investors can ignore the adverse impact of monetary policy in favour of the good news. This time is genuinely different. Global equities have been flat since the start of 2014 (in dollar terms) and Treasury-bond yields have fallen slightly over the same period. [snip]

    The more plausible risk is that America’s central bankers are acting too soon and the signs of a slowdown in the global economy may show up on their doorstep next year. If that proves to be the case, equities will suffer but Treasury bonds will do fine.
    The immediate result from the December 16th rate hike:
    THE BIRD IN THE HAND [about +2%] from boring bonds didn’t look so bad after the stock market did a second take on the Fed’s rate hike. An initial 1.5% relief rally in the S&P 500 on Wednesday gave way to an equal drop on Thursday and then another 1.8% plunge on Friday.
    That's why I buy the Economist for its financial and economics analysis, and ignore its politics. (Example: "Two front-runners [Trump and Cruz] for the Republican nomination seem ready to harm America to win.")

    Friday, December 18, 2015

    Crawl for Your Lives

    (ABC News Florida)
    More than once I've written about how my loathing of African snails is one of the reasons I haven't moved back to my home state.

    It turns out that they're headed our way. (They're already in Florida.)
    Two live giant African snails were found at the Port of Oakland this month — with a bunch of eggs — by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents who were inspecting the docks....The giant snail is considered one of the world’s most invasive pests — and has spread from the shores of eastern Africa across two oceans and onto the Pacific islands. It lays up to 1,200 eggs a year and carries rat lungworm, a disease that can cause a brain-eating form of meningitis.[snip]

    The big concern is that there has not been an effective method to curb the spread and that the snails have no known predators in the United States. “If they get in your yard and the climate is suitable, they can destroy every plant in sight.”
    Although eating invasive species has become increasingly popular, cleansing a wild African snail of toxins and disease for the purpose of human consumption seems to be more trouble than it's worth. Like the cockroach and the toad, these are creatures that Noah should have left off his ark.

    Thursday, December 17, 2015

    I Really Should Talk to This Guy More Often

    Recently I've acquired a touch of asthma. Addressing that bothersome condition has led to an unforeseen benefit: I now meditate in the gym sauna.

    10-15 minutes of quiet time in the steam room not only clears the lungs (and pores), it also settles the mind.

    Without distractions--especially from electronic devices--I've come up with a new approach to a complicated spreadsheet, a different priority for a committee that I chair, and a couple of thoughts to add to an essay. There haven't been any huge breakthroughs, but I wasn't expecting even little ones.

    Wednesday, December 16, 2015

    I'd Rather Sleep Well

    Barron's says that too many wealthy individuals rely on their CPA for investment advice that the CPA is unqualified to give: [bold added]
    Many high-net-worth individuals pick financial advisors that don’t have the expertise to back up their portfolio calls, claims AIG’s director of customer insights, Julio Franco.
    Point taken. Your humble observer is a CPA who is not a Certified Financial Planner. I would never dream of picking stocks or recommending an asset allocation for a client (if the client insisted on a recommendation, I may suggest a large index fund).

    But clients are not as stupid as Barron's makes them out to be. Trust and integrity are rare commodities. Clients, especially those who have been burned by slick financial salesmen, often value integrity more than a few extra basis points.

    The article again quotes from Julio Franco:
    The biggest culprit responsible for bad advice to affluent folks, according to Franco, are trusted CPAs who give the illusion they know more than they do. “We see a lot of [investment] advice coming from CPAs, when it’s not their strong suit,” he says. Clients often “have a guy,” who gives advice on everything including investment strategies, estate planning, wealth transfers, and college and retirement savings—when these accountants in fact lack the knowledge-base to provide the best input.
    Mr. Franco is from AIG, yes that AIG, which nearly caused the collapse of the world's financial system through widespread sales of credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations.

    So if you're a high net-worth individual, who would you trust, your CPA of 20 years or the fast-talking kid from AIG armed with computer printouts that prove judicious use of derivatives could make you 8% with no risk? In finance the choice is often between sleeping well and eating well. If you're of a certain age, you may place a higher value on a good night's sleep.

    Tuesday, December 15, 2015

    Tickets to Rise

    O Canada: Toronto carpool violator
    with two mannequins (
    Few "crimes" trigger as much outrage as carpool-lane violations. Like tax cheats and illegal immigrants, most carpool scofflaws don't actually cause death or serious injury to the law-abiding population.

    So why the anger? I suspect it's a combination of the following:

    1) Not respecting the cultural norm that everyone should obey the law, even the laws that they disagree with;

    2) Taking advantage of the high likelihood that they won't get caught (most of the law-abiding are aware of the probabilities, too);

    3) Resentment of the implication that the lawbreakers' time or money is more important than yours.

    Besides the above, there's this: cutting in line drives a lot of people crazy.

    As traffic has gotten much worse, it's now been documented that Bay Area carpool cheats are on the rise.
    multiple counts of vehicles in the diamond lanes [on Hwy 80 near Berkeley] between 8:15 and 9:45 a.m. found violation rates ranging from 18 to 41 percent. During most of the counts, a quarter to a third of the drivers in the carpool lanes appeared to be there illegally.
    While technology has improved to the point where cameras can spot cheaters with 95% accuracy, "California law doesn’t allow camera-based traffic enforcement other than for red-light running."

    If there are adequate safeguards against the technology being used as a government revenue-enhancer, the swelling anger will be irresistible. Look for the laws to change and both penalties and the number of tickets to rise.

    Monday, December 14, 2015

    Time's Person of the Year: Merkelvellian

    The Chancellor of Germany, given the importance of the country, is always influential, but each century there's at least one Chancellor who changes the course of history.

    19th Century - Otto von Bismarck

    20th Century - You Know Who

    21st Century - Angela Merkel, Time's Person of the Year. [bold added]
    Her political style was not to have one; no flair, no flourishes, no charisma, just a survivor’s sharp sense of power and a scientist’s devotion to data. Even after Merkel became Germany’s Chancellor in 2005, and then commanded the world’s fourth largest economy, she remained resolutely dull—the better to be underestimated time and again. German pundits called her Merkelvellian when she outsmarted, isolated or just outlasted anyone who might mount a challenge to her.

    Sunday, December 13, 2015

    Stormy Weather

    Going to church on Sunday morning the rain
     fell on both the just and the unjust
    Dozens of highway crashes! Falling trees! 55MPH winds! Flight delays! A rare phenomenon during the past four years....a bona fide winter storm.
    The weather system that rolled in Sunday was the second wave of rain to smack the Bay Area in recent days, as the rainy season appears to be well under way in drought-parched Northern California.
    O Heavenly Father, we pray for lots more rain and don't let it inconvenience us too much. Amen.

    Saturday, December 12, 2015

    "It's Humorous, Greatness Like That"

    The Golden State Warriors finally lost tonight, 108-95, in Milwaukee. Yes, they are human, but commentators are brimming with superlatives as the 24-1 Warriors are off to the best start of any team in NBA history.

    Sports Illustrated: How the Warriors evolved small ball and, in the process, the NBA.

    538 Sports: How The Golden State Warriors Are Breaking The NBA.

    CBS Sports: 5 things to know: Warriors' Stephen Curry is destroying everybody.

    ESPN: How the small-ball virus has infected the NBA.
    Perhaps the league is rushing to copy a model that can't be copied. Curry is a one has figured out the Warriors.
    The Warriors' dominance will end as it usually does in sports--age, injury, the competition's counter-measures, the rise of other young superstars--but for now and the next few years fans everywhere are enjoying the show. Back to the Chron's Scott Ostler:
    Pat Riley...said after watching Stephen Curry in a recent game, “He put up 20 points in a row and I just laughed. It’s humorous, greatness like that.”

    Friday, December 11, 2015

    Afraid of the Dark (Net)

    (Image from cryptocointalk)
    Your humble observer is a fan of network crime shows, and several times a week a plot point will revolve around the "Darknet," the section of the World Wide Web where all sorts of nefarious, untraceable activities occur.

    It turns out that one doesn't need to be a computer hacker to access the Darknet. All that's needed is the Tor browser.
    Tor lets you peruse the Surface Web, just as you do with Firefox or Safari, but it also allows you to surf Amazon and Silk Road. Using a regular browser like Firefox, you can be identified by your Internet Protocol (IP) address, the numerical code that can be traced to your unique device. But on the Darknet, your location — and the locations of the people overseeing the sites you search — remain hidden. Most people use Tor for law-abiding privacy purposes. In fact, according to the Tor Project — the government-funded nonprofit that maintains the browser — Darknet surfing accounts for only three percent of Tor usage. (And criminal activities are just a fraction of that.) But because the Darknet is so seemingly shadowy and mysterious, it has become ominous in the popular imagination, a creepy catchall that includes everything scary lurking online: terrorists, pedophiles, dope dealers, hackers-for-hire.
    Like other powerful inventions, the Tor browser can be used for good and bad. In fact it was invented--and has been maintained--by the U.S. Government.
    Paul Syverson, a 57-year-old mathematician at the U.S. Naval Research Lab, created Tor as a means for people to communicate securely online....In 1995, Syverson and his colleagues conceived a way to make online communications as secure as possible. The idea was to provide a means for anyone — including government employees and agents — to share intelligence without revealing their identities or locations. [snip]

    By using Tor in place of another browser, protesters and journalists can log on to Twitter or surf dissident chat rooms with far less risk of being tracked by a government that might imprison them or worse. "There are countries where browsing a political website about democracy can get you thrown in jail," says Jeremy Gillula, a staff technologist at the EFF. "That's the most life-and-death reason why Tor needs to exist."
    Yes, the bad guys want to keep hidden, but there are perfectly legitimate reasons why good guys should have secure hiding places, too.

    Hello darkness, my old friend...

    Thursday, December 10, 2015

    Stocking Stuffers, 2015

    Jill prepares for her annual "stocking stuffers" event all year. She stores boxes of donated supplies throughout her house. It all comes together on a Thursday in December with volunteers from the church, the Santa Clara Thunderbird Club, the Boy Scouts, and the Police and Fire Departments all lending a hand. By early afternoon most of the 1,300 bags had been assembled and taken to the ten local charities that serve elderly shut-ins.

    Thunderbird Club members' typical vehicle
    Now that Jill and her husband Jerry are empty-nesters, for the past couple of years they have talked about down-sizing and leaving the area. 1,300 seniors are glad that they're still around. So are we.

    Wednesday, December 09, 2015

    Bark, the Angels Sing

    Shopping malls are in secular decline, and so, it stands to reason, are employment prospects for mall Santas.

    But have no fear, whitebeards, there's hope if you're willing to think outside the box. Who says that your customers have to walk on two legs or that they must tell you what they want for Christmas?

    You may have to drop a few pounds before going down their chimney, however...

    Tuesday, December 08, 2015

    Cast Out the Convolution

    As a young graduate student, I liked to use big words to impress the teachers with my vocabulary (that strategy did work in college). A business-school professor quickly disabused me of that notion when he tore apart a five-page essay; he deleted whole paragraphs, crossed out footnotes, and replaced multi-syllabic words with the one- or two-syllable variety. Lesson learned: unless your name is William F. Buckley, simplify, simplify, simplify.

    Pointing to some great writers, the Economist's writing columnist "Johnson" agrees with this precept:
    Hemingway was a master of knowing how to make the fewest and simplest words tell. Churchill, who knew how to balance and measure out a sentence, said “short words are best, and old words, when short, are best of all.” (The Economist’s style-book editor once took this so close to his heart that he wrote a leader with only one-syllable words.) Orwell said “never use a long word where a short one will do.” Elmore Leonard, a novelist famous for his gritty and realistic style, made one of his ten rules of writing “Never use a verb other than ‘said’ to carry dialogue.” (His summary of the ten rules: “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”)
    One can go overboard, however. If a big word is the best word, use it. Don't give in to hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia!

    Monday, December 07, 2015

    Seven Who Changed History on December 7th

    A little-known act of heroism during America's worst defeat may have ultimately led to victory. A reprise from last year's post:

    Everyone who has a basic familiarity with World War II knows how on December 7, 1941 the Japanese destroyed the ships at Pearl Harbor and the combat planes at Hickam and Wheeler Fields in Central Oahu. Less well known are the 12 P-40 fighter planes in North Oahu and the pilots who counter-attacked. James Ho, historian, writes:

    The remains of Haleiwa Airfield
    The twelve P-40 fighter planes stationed at Kawailoa Airfield [near Haleiwa on the North Shore] were untouched by the Japanese war planes. Evidently the Japanese espionage agents failed to inform its military about this airfield....[T]his airbase runway was built with the help of my classmates and me, many of whom were Japanese-Americans--whose parents were Japan citizens.

    Flying high above the Japanese formation with the sun in back of them, the P-40's dove right through the first squadron of enemy Japanese planes and shot down six planes. As they dived through the Japanese formation and climbed up and under the next Japanese formation with their machine guns blazing, another six enemy Japanese planes were destroyed.
    The actions by these pilots averted a second attack that could have crippled America's ability to prosecute the Pacific war [bold added]:
    Supreme Commander Yamamoto, upon hearing about the air attack upon his returning aircrafts and the loss of so many [20 in total] planes in such a short time was convinced that the American carriers had returned to Pearl Harbor. Therefore, he gave the command to abort his original orders to rearm and refuel the returning aircrafts and issued a new order to withdraw.
    These actions by seven pilots, one of whom lost his life that day, likely changed the course of history.

    Sunday, December 06, 2015

    The Church That Used To Be

    As I wrote after the 2012 Newton shootings,
    I have never owned a gun. The last gun I fired was in high school ROTC, and I doubt that I'll use one again. For me owning a firearm carries too much risk of an accident, of it being stolen, or, in the worst case, of me or someone I love being tempted to use it in a moment of weakness.
    You, dear reader, might expect me to be in the gun control movement, which, let's face it, includes some who are in favor of the complete abolition of the private ownership of guns. But you would be wrong.

    We all could wish for a world where firearms didn't exist, but given that bad guys have them and we don't (thankfully) have police everywhere, I understand why many citizens acquire guns. Besides, the Constitution says it's their right.

    After the slaughter of innocents in San Bernardino this past week, the Bishop of my Diocese sent out this letter the day after [bold added]:
    Advent is the season of hope and expectation. With many religious leaders, I offer my thoughts and prayers for the people of San Bernardino, but I call on Christians to take up John the Baptist’s prophecy that one was coming, the one we follow, who doesn’t simply call us to repentance, important as that is, but to transformation.

    It is time to boldly stand up and say, as we know most Americans believe, that good gun control must happen now. And it is time to face up to the prison pipeline and the tragic lack of mental health care, two lapses from what it would mean to be a truly civil society, and act with compassion and courage.

    Here are some resources for us to use in becoming transformed and transforming people around gun violence and related issues:
    30 gun control actions you can take now
    Six gun control groups worth your time and donations
    SAVE (Soldiers Against Violence Everywhere) Oakland
    Diocese of California’s Gun Violence Prevention Taskforce resources

    You see, the massacre can be blamed on too many guns in society....except not.

    As we have learned this past week, the mass killings were perpetrated by an Islamic terrorist couple who acquired their guns legally in California, a state with some of the nation's strictest gun control laws. (They were also not on the no-fly list---prohibiting guns from those on the no-fly list was one of President Obama's suggestions in his December 6th speech.)

    But back to my Episcopal Church: the Bishop's message showed how wedded the church is to a progressive ideology that favors not only gun confiscation but wealth redistribution, alternative energy, and universal health care by an all-powerful State.

    I yearn for a church that rises above politics and talks to all people about their deeply held beliefs and choices.

    Why do some buy guns? Because they are afraid.

    Why do others want guns taken away? Because they too are afraid.

    The church that used to be had an Answer to fear. The church that used to be proclaimed the Answer from the rooftops. Now the Answer is to e-mail my legislator about tighter background checks.

    Saturday, December 05, 2015


    A few of the donations we're considering
    The year-end donations frenzy has started. Charitable solicitations arrive daily, and most go in the shredder.

    What does one say to a friend who makes a personal entreaty? If I value the friendship and the organization is not objectionable (a really low standard), I'll give $25. The amount is modest, but the friend is probably grateful to get any positive response.

    If he asks for repeated donations, Money advises how to say no:
    “I’ve run through my budget for charitable donations this year, so unfortunately I can’t make this a priority right now.”

    “I hope you understand where I’m coming from. For now I won’t be able to contribute any more to this cause, but thanks for thinking of me.”
    While we're thinking about the needs of others, the vast majority of whom are strangers, don't forget to help those closest to home.

    Friday, December 04, 2015

    Convenience UnLeashed

    This product appears to be real.

    The Portable Pizza Pouch allows "a pizza lover to have a slice with him or her at all times."

    As the blurb says, "consider yourself ready for anything"....except having a girlfriend.

    Thursday, December 03, 2015

    Honesty Unfiltered

    Joy will be released on Christmas and is certain to garner "J-Law" an Oscar nomination.
    Jennifer Lawrence is one of the brightest stars in the Hollywood firmament. At 25, she's already won the Best Actress Oscar in Silver Linings Playbook, had leading roles in billion-dollar Hollywood franchises X-Men and Hunger Games, and has appeared on Hollywood most powerful and highest paid lists.

    She's also known for her outspokenness. She's written about how Hollywood sexism may be responsible for her (astronomical) salary being less than that of popular male actors and how "If Donald Trump Became President, It Would Be the End of the World." Her blunt words do not appear to have damaged her popularity, even with those who disagree with her politics. Perhaps, as with her political bête noire, people are attracted to her by an honesty unfiltered by focus groups and handlers.

    From her Entertainer-of-the-Year interview with EW:
    Q: What comes after you've achieved success?

    A: I can speak from personal experience. People start to feel a lot less guilty when you become bigger or have more money. People feel less guilty taking from you because it's like stealing a Snickers from Duane Reade [drugstore chain now owned by Walgreens]. People forget about the personal drain or attack that you feel.

    Q: What does that do to you when it comes to your personal life?

    I have a very small circle. The moment I feel like someone is using me or is in it for the wrong reasons, I have zero guilt about just cutting them the f— out of my life. My bulls--- detector is phenomenal. None of my friends bulls--- me. Everything in my life has to be real.
    Jennifer Lawrence is beautiful, of course, but not in a supermodel sense. It's not her looks that have won her awards, and it's a safe bet that she will be acting long after her contemporaries have faded from the scene. Long may she rule.

    Wednesday, December 02, 2015

    It's Not Hopeless

    Sadly, a relevant and informative article: What to Do in an Active Shooter Situation.

    The obvious strategies, in order of priority, are run, hide, and fight.

    To increase one's chances of surviving involves a little study, though. Stop invading my safe space while I'm checking my Twitter feed!

    Tuesday, December 01, 2015

    The Battle for Seattle

    In a contest ignored outside of the airline industry and the State of Washington, Delta and Alaska Airlines are engaged in a fight for market share at the Seattle-Tacoma International (Sea-Tac) Airport.

    Alaska, a large profitable Seattle-based regional airline that has somehow escaped absorption by one of the mega-carriers, has perhaps surprisingly held its own against Delta, which views Sea-Tac as its gateway to Asia.
    You might guess that the mighty Delta is destined to crush the comparatively tiny Alaska. But so far Alaska has shown remarkable resilience. The company’s stock is up over 30% on the year, outperforming both Delta’s and the S&P 500.
    I have flown--and like--both airlines, though I haven't had much occasion to use them recently. It's easy to root for the smaller airline, however, which is one of the remaining few that emphasize customer service. Given a choice of carriers, I will opt for Alaska, even though it might cost a bit more.

    ALK (up 484%) has outperformed DAL (up 240%) over the past 5 years. Today both stocks sport similar
     fundamentals: their PE ratios are 14 and the dividend yield is 1%.

    Monday, November 30, 2015

    Short Conversation Between a Married Couple

    The old filter (bottom) still had life, but
    one shouldn't be cheap if one has allergies.
    The furnace manufacturer recommends that we change the filter every 12 months. The furnace is hidden behind an access door that is a magnet for boxes.

    I changed the furnace filter this morning. I had to move some things around the garage.

    "I noticed."

    I threw out some stuff we don't use and cleaned up the area.

    "That's so unlike you."

    Sunday, November 29, 2015

    Sandwiches and Chicken on Sunday

    Some of our kids have been helping since they were toddlers.
    The sun shone, unlike last year. We served lunch in the garden.

    The main dish was baked chicken and rice. My recipe is simple: 10 cups of rice, 10 cups of liquid---two cans of condensed cream of mushroom soup and the rest water, and about 30 drumsticks on top. Cover with foil, and bake for two hours at 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

    The flavor can be improved by marinating the chicken overnight in soy sauce and garlic, browning the chicken, and adding chopped onions to the rice before baking. Preparation would then take 45 minutes instead of 15, so I don't do this if I'm pressed for time---which often occurs on Sunday morning.

    Volunteers baked seven trays of chicken and rice, and, though we had only 50 diners this Thanksgiving weekend, all of it was spoken for. About a third of it was taken home by the diners, along with the brown-bag meals prepared by St.Pius of Redwood City. Some of the clientele really don't know where their next meal is coming from.

    We take turns serving Sunday lunches at the community center with four other churches. Our next date will be in January, which will arrive before we know it.

    Saturday, November 28, 2015

    Why I Respectfully Decline

    In 2009 the evening commute on the San Mateo Bridge was
    congested because the Bay Bridge was closed. In 2015 it's
    like this every day (cbs8 photo)
    The booming Peninsula economy and limited housing supply have yielded predictable phenomena: skyrocketing home prices and an awful commute.
    The five-year jump [in traffic between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m.] is 81 percent on the San Mateo Bridge, 61 percent on the Dumbarton and 43 percent on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.
    Because Foster City sits on the nexus between major highways 101 and 92 (the San Mateo Bridge), it's nearly impossible for residents to get into or out of the City in under 30 minutes during rush hour. (Compounding the problem, East-Bay commuters often use our surface streets when the freeways are jammed.)

    Last week I spent 30 minutes on the offramp to Foster City in the late afternoon. And so it is on weekdays that I avoid going home between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m., nor do I leave between 7:30 a.m. and 9 a.m.

    When prospective employers talk to me about 9-5 jobs, I respectfully decline. Life is too short, and commutes are too, too long.

    Friday, November 27, 2015

    At the Apple Store

    Black Friday at the Apple Store: the employees wear red.
    Attracted by Black Friday specials, shoppers crowded the stores today.

    Apple marched to its own beat.
    Though Apple is not promoting Black Friday savings this year, other retailers are advertising their Apple products to lure in shoppers — and boosting Apple's brand in the process.
    The main fears about Apple---whether its new iPhones would be well received and whether China's economic slowdown would dampen growth--have been allayed, at least for this year.
    Booming iPhone sales have propelled the company to a string of strong results while withstanding a slowdown in the global smartphone market. Apple followed up its first large-screen iPhones with a pair of new releases in late September.

    The iPhone continues to do well in China, where it has become a premium brand akin to Prada bags or Rolex watches. As more Chinese consumers enter the middle class with greater disposable income, they are embracing the iPhone.
    The term "Black Friday" originated, according to one legend, when merchants reported that the first day of Christmas shopping turned the year profitable, i.e., from "in the red" to "in the black."

    Apple, which reported $11.1 billion in net income from the September quarter, doesn't need more Black Friday business at the cost of lower margins. Managing the crowds, employees' overtime, and special pricing are significant expenses with uncertain benefits---perhaps the world's largest company is again starting a trend.

    Thursday, November 26, 2015

    The Food Isn't What Matters

    Coated with salt, garlic and spices, it's hard to go wrong
    There were no visitors this year; it was an opportune time to be non-traditional. When one contemplates the brining, basting, stuffing, roasting, turning and/or tenting, gravy-making, cutting, cleaning up, and storing---not to mention having to eat leftovers for the next week--a turkey for Thanksgiving seemed less appealing.

    The rib roast demanded much less preparation and supervision, though the cooking method was nearly the same: low heat for 4-6 hours, followed by 15-30 minutes of browning at high temperature.

    There was one tradition that we stuck with---going around the table and reciting what we were thankful for. The attitude of gratitude has a way of dispelling gloomy conversation.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Wednesday, November 25, 2015

    What to Eat on Thanksgiving Eve

    Pho and accompaniments from Little Saigon  (Yelp photo)
    Despite going to the local pho restaurant twice a month, this article revealed that I don't know much about the savory Vietnamese noodle dish:

    The North/South distinction:
    Northern pho is delicate and elegant, the broth more savory than sweet. It is not eaten with basil or bean sprouts or other herbs. Plainness is a virtue. The broth is the thing.

    The south evolved its own style, one rooted in its very different cooking traditions....Southerners love their accoutrements: basil, bean sprouts, sawtooth herb, a squeeze of lime, a shot of hoisin, a splash of Sriracha.
    American broth is superior to the broth in Vietnam
    because meat is more widely available, and that meat is also of a higher quality. More and better meat in the broth....means a more substantial, fuller-bodied soup.
    Onion and ginger yes, star anise no:
    what [some enthusiasts] love most in a broth are the hits of star anise and cinnamon. According to the experts, they most likely have been weaned on bad pho....charring the onion and grilling the ginger gives the broth both flavor and fragrance.
    "Never add a handful of beansprouts before tasting, the experts say."
    The sprouts are cold, and the temperature of the soup will drop precipitously.
    Blithely ignoring the experts, I slurped up a bowl of beef pho, with bean sprouts, on Wednesday night.

    Tomorrow's meal would be heavier, but I doubt it would be tastier.

    Tuesday, November 24, 2015

    Chill Tuesday

    All the leaves are brown
    And the sky is grey
    I went for a walk
    On a winter's day

    I'd be safe and warm
    If I was in L.A.
    California dreamin'
    On such a winter's day

    Monday, November 23, 2015

    Timetable Delayed

    Two years ago we first heard about Palo Alto-based Theranos and its revolutionary blood testing technology. With only a few drops of blood Theranos claimed that its machines could run hundreds of blood tests.
    Theranos tests at Walgreens: a fraction of competitors' prices.
    Theranos's processes are faster, cheaper and more accurate than the conventional methods and require only microscopic blood volumes, not vial after vial of the stuff.
    At the time we said that "It does seem too good to be true", yet why not? Multi-billion dollar businesses that didn't exist 15 years ago have arisen seemingly from nowhere, disrupting entire industries.

    In October serious questioning of Theranos' technology began [bold added].
    the Wall Street Journal ran a report that Theranos has overstated its technology’s reach and reliability. Theranos has attracted great acclaim because it claims to be able to perform a wide variety of tests by drawing a few drops of blood instead of using a full-sized needle to take larger samples; and because of its promises to make it cheaper and easier for consumers to get blood tests without having to go through a doctor. However, the Journal’s article argued that its tests are not reliable, and revealed that it does only a few tests with its own devices, using other firms’ technology for most of them.
    In response to the WSJ article and questions from scientists and regulators founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes says
    she would release data proving their machines work—the data academics, clinicians, and doctors have been asking to see for over a year, comparing Theranos’ tests to industry standards.
    Your humble observer knows nothing about the science of blood analysis or microfluidics. As a student of human behavior, however, let me make a couple of obvious points about why we latched on to this story so willingly:

    (SF Business Times photo)
    1) 31-year-old Elizabeth Holmes came along at just the right time to be declared the next Steve Jobs. Her oft-worn black turtleneck cinches the comparison, and the dearth of young, female self-made billionaires made her a rockstar.

    2) No patient enjoys the inconvenience and discomfort of drawing blood and the days waiting for results. When Theranos promised to be faster, cheaper, and better, everyone (except competitors) wanted it to be true.

    We'll defer judgment until after Elizabeth Holmes releases the information and it has been reviewed by experts. One result is certain: unless she has complete vindication the timetable for the IPO will be delayed.

    Sunday, November 22, 2015

    The Best of Humanity

    The Rev. Daniel Simmons, Cynthia Graham Hurd, Ethel Lance, The Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor,
    Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, The Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Susie Jackson
    and The Rev. Clementa Pinckney (Time photo)

    When I feel like patting myself on the back for some modest charitable endeavors, the world reminds me that there is a great distance between ordinary practitioners of faith and those who live and breathe the Word.

    On June 17th a declared white supremacist killed nine members of the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church at a Bible Study in Charleston, S.C. Nadine Collier, whose mother, Ethel Lance was one of the victims, said at the bond hearing:
    “I couldn’t remember his name,” she recalls of her one-way encounter with the alleged killer. But she remembers that she was “angry, mad” because her mother had “more living to do.” And the killer “took something away from me that was so precious.”

    At the same time, racing through her head were lessons she had learned long before: “You have to forgive people and move on,” she says. “When you keep that hatred, it hurts only you.”

    “I kept thinking he’s a young man, he’s never going to experience college, be a husband, be a daddy. You have ruined your life,” she recalls thinking.

    What she said at the podium, while choking back sobs, came out like this: “I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again—but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul … You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. If God forgives you, I forgive you.”
    Forgiveness is more than just saying the words. True forgiveness can be a long and painful process.
    Anthony Thompson essentially agreed with Collier’s statement, as far as it went. It was important for him to forgive as quickly as possible so that he could continue to live as God intended. Forgiveness, as he later explains, is like a Band-Aid that holds the edges of an open wound together long enough for the wound to heal. Though he cannot heal what happened to his wife [Myra], nor whatever is wrong with the man who killed her, he must attend to the wound inside himself. “I don’t know what happened in his life, and frankly I don’t want to know,” he says.

    Thompson did not want to leave the impression that forgiveness is as simple as speaking three words. For Roof to be forgiven by God, the young man had an awful lot of work to do.

    Thompson put it this way, speaking quietly: “I would just like him to know that—to say the same thing that was just said—I forgive him, and my family forgives him. But we would like him to take this opportunity to repent. Repent,” he repeated. “Confess. Give your life to the one who matters most, Christ, so that he can change him. And change your ways, so no matter what happens to you, you’ll be O.K.”
    How easy it is for us to advise other people to forgive wrongs, yet how fiercely we hold on to our own memories--and anger--over slights that are but pinpricks in the great scheme.

    On this Thanksgiving week I am grateful to the members of the Mother Emanuel AME Church for showing us how to walk a very narrow and difficult path. In their response to the tragedy they have shown the best of humanity.

    Saturday, November 21, 2015

    Reversals of Fortune

    From the penthouse to the outhouse:

  • Friday was the almost-certain end of Colin Kaepernick’s career as a 49er.
    On Saturday, the 49ers placed Kaepernick on injured reserve. He reportedly has a torn labrum on his non-throwing shoulder, suffered in Week 4 against Green Bay.

    His season is over.

    His 49ers career is likely over.

    It’s shocking because just three years ago, Kaepernick was considered the prototype for the quarterback of the future. The 49ers locked him up in what appeared to be a long-term deal to give the team stability at the game’s most important position.
  • Chipotle: the Centers for Disease Control named the restaurant chain as the probable source for a spate of E.coli.

    Chipotle's reputation for clean food is in tatters. Restaurant owners, you never want to see your name and E.coli in the same sentence.

  • From worst to first:

  • Microsoft and security:
    Microsoft was once the epitome of everything wrong with security in technology...“They’ve changed themselves from worst in class to the best in class,” [Finnish researcher Mikko] Hypponen said. “The change is complete. They started taking security very seriously.”
    Clichés that may apply to these reversals of fortune:
    What have you done for us lately?

    Anything's possible.

    People have short memories.

    History is bunk.
  • Friday, November 20, 2015

    Dropping Off the Supplies on a Friday Morning

    We brought the gift cards and food boxes to CALL Primrose when it opened at 9 a.m.

    Activity was already starting to pick up; three people were waiting in line for groceries. One of the volunteers helped us unload the car. The office appeared better organized than on previous drop-offs. Bill showed me the upstairs storage room, which was stacked to the ceiling with donated food.

    Never again will I lament my own difficulties with inventory.

    Thursday, November 19, 2015

    Counting the Cans

    Imbalance: 2 muffin mixes needed, while we had excess
    pasta, cans of tomatoes, and stuffing
    Thanksgiving is next week, which meant it was time to drop off food at CALL Primrose. Our church had signed up for four boxes, each containing sixteen (16) specified items. I took inventory; we were short a couple of packages of corn-muffin mix, which were purchased with five $20 gift cards on a trip to Safeway.

    Shopping is easy. Inventory is hard.

    Inventory for your humble accountant always has been one of the most challenging, if mundane areas of accounting. Whether there's a computerized or handwritten list, it always has to be checked against the physical inventory.

    Shortfalls occur because of mistakes, defalcation, or shrinkage. (Too bad shrinkage in other areas can't be remedied by a trip to Safeway.)

    Wednesday, November 18, 2015

    In the Nick of Time

    An app whose time has come: StoryCorps.
    StoryCorps is working with high school teachers across the country to ask students to interview a grandparent or elder over the 2015 Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

    Using the new free StoryCorps mobile app, participants will be able to upload their recordings to the StoryCorps archive at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. In one holiday weekend we will capture an entire generation of American lives and experiences.
    It's not a requirement that the maximum-40-minute conversation be uploaded to the Library of Congress. The interviewer can keep it for herself and/or edit it before uploading.

    The app is easy to use, and barriers come down quickly because a camera isn't stuck in the subject's face.
    There’s something about the presence of a microphone in a StoryCorps session that changes the dynamic between two people. It’s a license to say things that wouldn’t normally come up, and ask questions you don’t usually get to ask.....The generation that might not want to broadcast every whim on Facebook doesn’t necessarily have a problem sharing deeper knowledge. “We all want to know we are not going to be forgotten and that our lives matter.”
    Most of us regret not being able to hear again the voices of those who were precious to us.

    This Thanksgiving we have an opportunity not to add to those regrets.