Thursday, May 31, 2018

In Tim I Trust

The Apple Watch has already breached my defenses.
The inputs: a person's
  • internet searches,
  • driving patterns ("the number of trips taken, duration of trips, left turns versus right turns and time spent on the highway versus local roads"),
  • how he or she uses a computer mouse or touchpad.
  • the time it takes to fill out a weekly online health questionnaire.

    The black box: artificial intelligence and big data.

    The output: the probability that he or she has early-stage Parkinson's or Alzheimer's Disease .

    The above is a trend sweeping health care: the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to help better diagnose and treat patients. [bold added]
    A Duke University doctor working with Microsoft researchers sifted through data on the physical movements of computer users that came from millions of internet searches. Their study found links between some behaviors—such as tremors when using a mouse, repeat queries and average scrolling velocity—and Parkinson’s disease. They used artificial intelligence, or a computer analysis, to identify which of the metrics separated a control group from those searching for Parkinson’s disease symptoms.
    It used to be that family members were the first to notice that something is amiss. The machines that we touch every day--cars, phones, computers--are now more accurate, quicker, and smarter diagnosticians than loved ones. But what about individual privacy?

    I HOPE that Apple lives up to its standards.
    For those who are too cautious to buy a TV that can watch them, or a smart speaker that monitors what they're saying, the promise of real-time health monitoring may the lure that allows the Internet of Things(IoT) into personal space.

    As for me, it's too late. My Apple Watch, which has been tracking me for 1½ years, knows more about me than my doctor.

    In Tim Cook I trust (because I don't have any choice).
  • Wednesday, May 30, 2018

    Experience Trumps a Training Manual

    The cashier was also a barista who made my cold brew.
    Just ahead of me a 12-year-old girl tried to pay for a purchase using a credit card.

    The cashier peered at the proffered plastic. "What's the name on the card?" The girl looked and read the name.

    "Is this yours?"It's my Mom's. Because she had not answered quickly, there was a chance she was lying.

    "You can't use someone else's card." Holding the charge plate, the cashier pondered; I could tell that she was thinking about keeping it. Eventually she handed it back.

    The girl huddled with two friends who were giggling. If forced to guess, I would have said she was probably telling the truth about the card being her mother's, though I doubt she was given carte blanche as to its use. They walked away.

    The lady at Starbucks radiated the authority of someone twice her size. Perhaps she had been a teacher or an office manager, sticking to principles that no longer matter to most people. She taught these girls a lesson they won't soon forget.

    Millions of strangers interact with each other every day, and not all interactions are handled well. If Starbucks had hired people with life experience and good judgment, they wouldn't have had to close more than 8,000 stores yesterday for antibias training.

    Tuesday, May 29, 2018

    If You Won't Obey, You Just Need a Behavioral Change

    We've written before how the recycling racket is uneconomic to consumers, businesses, and the recyclers themselves.

    We have previously noted how Yale Law Professor Stephen Carter tried to comply but finds the recycling regime to be "heavy-handed, coercive, distant and thick with detailed rules."

    Composting (green bin) is different in SF than in my town.
    (Examiner photo)
    Now we discover that the residents of San Francisco, the Vatican of the green religion, are recycling less than half of what should be put in the green and blue bins. According to Debbie Raphael, director of the City's Department of the Environment, [bold added]
    a survey by the department showed people knew why they should recycle and how, but didn’t do it because “it’s too much trouble, it’s just too much work.”

    “Here, we have a system with the ultimate convenience. Everybody’s got the bins. We have signs to show you. We have outreach campaigns. And they still don’t want to do it because it is still not convenient enough” Raphael said. “Whatever that culture of convenience is here, we’re up against it in a big way.”
    The deplorable people are stubborn as mules. They do not think it's convenient to unwrap stale hamburger and throw the slimy meat into a maggot-filled green bin, the plastic film into the black cart, and spend a minute washing their hands with hot water and anti-bacterial soap. Yes, I'm speaking from experience.

    Because mere encouragement hasn't worked, the next step in the Progressive playbook is to force them to obey:
    Supervisor Hillary Ronen suggested The City ramp up enforcement. “It just seems like we should have been in the enforcement compliance phase a while ago,” Ronen said. “It’s pretty outrageous that 60 percent of what’s going to the landfill is still recycling and compost in San Francisco in 2018 after all of the work that both Recology and the Department of the Environment has been doing and I think it’s time to step it up.”

    She added, “We just need a behavioral change.”
    Bring out the cattle prods.

    Monday, May 28, 2018

    A Day for Respect

    We pass by the Golden Gate National Cemetery frequently but have never visited. Today, Memorial Day, it was time to rectify that omission.

    The San Bruno cemetery is the resting place for over 130,000 veterans and family members. At 161 acres its scale must be seen to be appreciated--rows upon rows of markers, each with a flag.

    To my knowledge our family doesn't have anyone here---not like Punchbowl, where over a dozen relatives are interred.

    The traffic leaving the morning ceremony was intense, with long lines of cars waiting to exit on the single-lane road.

    No one honked. Today was a day to show respect--both to the honored dead and the living.

    Sunday, May 27, 2018

    An American Story

    Ken Langone is a billionaire co-founder of Home Depot and has written an unapologetic paean to capitalism entitled, naturally, I Love Capitalism! An American Story. Like other self-made billionaires he had modest roots. [bold added]
    Ken Langone (WSJ photo)
    His father was a plumber and his mother a cafeteria worker. Mr. Langone worked odd jobs during high school, caddying and digging ditches...

    After graduating [from Bucknell], he sought work on Wall Street, but he says that his blue-collar Italian background prevented him from landing a job at the top firms. Instead he took an analyst job in the investment department at Equitable Life Insurance Society, an insurance firm, while serving in the Army and going to business school at night.
    He worked for small Wall Street firms, then helped found Home Depot, which went public in 1981.

    He wrote his book because young people hear few defenses of capitalism. Without much life experience they gravitate to the ideals of
    "socialism: Guaranteed income. Free college tuition. Single-payer health care. I disagree. Strongly.” He argues that such policies discourage people from bettering themselves. “I disagree with socialism not (as you might believe) because I’m a rich guy trying to hold on to my money,” he writes. “I disagree because socialism is based on the false notion that we should all be exactly equal in every single way.”
    I won't be buying Ken Langone's book because I doubt it will change my world view, and, besides, he doesn't need my money. But I do agree with him about capitalism and socialism.

    I look around at the most socialist-leaning state in the union, our California, where government failures abound in public transportation, education, health care, housing/homelessness and alternative energy. Despite having the highest income tax rate (13.3%) among states, collections are never enough; interest groups are always clamoring for more government spending.

    (Government does deserve credit for the vast State Water Project designed in 1957; completion of its initial phase in the '70s and '80s was crucial to the development of California's economy. Wikipedia: "The SWP provides estimated annual benefits of $400 billion to California's economy." However, even the first phase of the SWP couldn't be built today. Environmentalists have called a halt to all dam- and aqueduct building.)

    What has allowed California to stay afloat is capitalism, the wealth effect of having companies that are world leaders in their sectors. It's easy to tax and spend when you have a concentration of taxpaying and job-creating companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, Chevron, Visa, Wells Fargo, and Intel, all headquartered in the Bay Area and all on the list of the top-20 most valuable public companies in the U.S.

    But back to Mr. Langone. Peggy Noonan has teased out the "rules for living" inferred from his book:
    1. Take your religious faith seriously. His Catholicism gave him safe harbor in storms and left him “sensitive to the plight and needs of others.”

    2. Marry for the long run. He and Elaine have been wed 63 years. When things were good she cheered him on; when they weren’t she let him know “she would always be there for me—win, lose or draw.”

    3. You teach values by living them. Don’t say—do. People absorb eloquent action.

    4. “Pray at the feet of hard work.” Be ravenous in reading about your field, whichever you wind up in and for however long.

    5. Money solves the problems money can solve. Don’t ask more of it, and don’t be ashamed of wanting it. “A kid once said to me, ‘Money doesn’t buy everything.’ I said, ‘Well, kid, I was poor, and I can tell you right now poverty doesn’t do a very good job either.’ ”

    6. Stay excited. Don’t be sated.

    7. Admit the reality around you, then change it.

    8. When you’re successful you’ll put noses out of joint, even among colleagues who benefit from your work. Be careful about jealousy but in the end roll with it, it’s human nature. When you “piss off the old guard,” become the old guard—and help the clever rise.

    9. “There’s no defeat except in giving up.” You’re going to fail. So what? Keep going, something will work.
    These are old-timey sayings which are cliché-ish, but that doesn't make them less true. We won't be billionaires by following them, but we'll probably end up being happier.

    Saturday, May 26, 2018

    KISS Guy Shreds

    Current top-ten rock band Foo Fighters often calls audience members up to the stage to strut their stuff. The results are predictable---technique doesn't usually match the amateur's enthusiasm

    ...until last month in Austin. A fan made up as the young Gene Simmons climbs the stage and absolutely shreds the guitar.

    Band leader David Grohl's opening summons:
    Hey, KISS Guy! I’m lookin at you!

    Did you have a f****** sign thing that you were holding up? Let me see that sign. [“Let me play (1997 hit) Monkey Wrench”]

    What instrument do you play? This? [holds out guitar] Do you suck? Don’t f****** say “kind of”, cause I won’t invite you up here.

    Yeah, right now, Gene Simmons! Get you’re a** up here, KISS guy!

    Don’t get too excited yet. You might s*** the bed in front of your home town, brother.

    Ladies and Gentlemen, I’ve had to sit here staring at this m*****f****** all night long. Come here, KISS Guy.

    What’s your name, KISS guy? F*** it, I don’t even want to know.
    KISS Guy hits a chord, and the rest is astonishing and funny.

    Memorable quotes:
    He brought his own f****** pick!
    Dude, your face is falling off!

    Afterword: You can't scream into the mic (example at 6:15 in video) for over 20 years like David Grohl without training and practice.
    Screeching in a Metal Band Takes Lozenges, Tea and a Patient Vocal Coach

    Friday, May 25, 2018

    Second Life for Some TV Shows

    Two of the TV shows I watch regularly, Elementary (Sherlock Holmes in 21st-century New York) and Agents of Shield (part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe), have poor ratings.

    Under the old rules they would have been cancelled [bold added]
    But other factors are increasingly at play, including whether shows can generate revenue as reruns on streaming services and other digital platforms, or from international sales.

    Networks are also favoring shows they own—meaning those produced by their parent companies’ in-house studios—because the owner of a show can tap into those nonadvertising revenues.
    Elementary reasoning:
    Latter day Watson and Holmes (CBS)
    The show has been on for six seasons, and its ratings appear to be in an irreversible decline. It is the least-watched of all the network’s dramas. But revenue from a deal with Hulu plus the show’s success overseas has made “Elementary” a very profitable show for CBS, and it will be back next season.
    Concerning Agents of Shield,
    The show never lived up to expectations on ABC, but it does well on Netflix Inc. and has international appeal that justifies keeping it around.
    Not wanting to invest time in storylines that are cancelled abruptly, I don't watch new fall shows contemporaneously but record a dozen of them that seem promising. After a few weeks I'll check out the reviews and the ratings and delete those that do not pass muster. (In the future I'll have to look at international ratings and whether the network owns the show.) I'll watch the three or four that made the cut and after a month pare the list further based on my subjective taste.

    I don't always pick the right horse---for example, I've been watching Lucifer, which is about Satan living as a consulting detective in Los Angeles (yes, it sounds crazy). It played three years, only to be canceled by Fox this month, leaving the viewers dangling with a major cliff-hanger that would have been resolved next season.

    With two out of three favorites granted second life under the new rules, though, I can't complain.

    Thursday, May 24, 2018

    Yes, Talk Shows Were Better Back Then

    Two powerful, beautiful, funny women are completely comfortable talking about their own bodies, men, ethnicity, and work on national TV. There are no insults and no complaining, and most of the humor is self-deprecating.

    The clip was made 34 years ago, but it may as well have been another century (hey, it was!).

    Wednesday, May 23, 2018

    Crazy for Living Next to a Volcano? No, Just Insured

    Keli'i Akina of the Grassroot Institute, a Hawaii think-tank, says that Hawaii insurance laws encourage building homes next to active volcanos: [bold added]
    Lava nears a Pahoa house (Reuters/Japan Times)
    The destruction caused in the early 1990s cost private insurers millions of dollars, prompting them to stop insuring property in the most vulnerable areas, called Lava Flow Hazard Zones 1 and 2....

    the Hawaii state government stepped in. In 1991 the legislature created the nonprofit Hawaii Property Insurance Association, which provides policies to people who can’t buy them on the market. But private insurers are forced to join the HPIA as a condition of doing business in the state....In essence, Hawaii law requires all private insurers to pool their resources to subsidize policies in Lava Zones 1 and 2.

    Ordinarily, people would be hesitant to build homes in a place that’s too hazardous to insure, but here the Legislature’s actions created incentives. The result was a housing boom on the edge of an active volcano. By 2008 there were more than 2,400 HPIA policies in the area, providing more than $700 million of insurance to the highest-risk lava zones in Hawaii.
    This case is one example of moral hazard, in which an arrangement (insurance) meant to reduce risk encourages behaviors that increase risk. The writer, Mr. Akina, recommends that "Hawaii’s leaders should wind down the HPIA." On Hawaii it's been tough to breathe lately, but we're not holding our breath for that one.

    Tuesday, May 22, 2018

    Lightning Rod

    I don't think it's his main criterion for selecting officials, but if President Trump's appointees can drive his opponents barking mad, he probably regards it as a plus.

    Chronicle Saturday headline: Trump appoints new EPA head in SF who led ‘lock her up’ chants against Clinton. [bold added]
    (Chronicle photo)
    A Santa Barbara County attorney who has fought for farmers and fossil fuels and led the “lock her up” chants in opposition to Hillary Clinton was appointed by the Trump administration Friday to head the Environmental Protection Agency’s Pacific Southwest office in San Francisco.

    The appointment of Mike Stoker, a former county supervisor and GOP stalwart, infuriated environmentalists and further annoyed Bay Area Democrats and San Francisco power brokers reeling from what they view as assaults by the administration on environmental policies.
    Actually, when one looks past the political theatrics (I regard "lock her up" as of a piece with Democrats calling for Mr. Trump's impeachment) of the past two years, Mr. Stoker looks like a mainstream Republican:
    Business and industry leaders supported the hire.

    “To grow jobs in California, we need balance between our important environmental needs and diverse economy,” said Robert Lapsley, the president of the California Business Roundtable... “His qualifications as an agricultural law attorney, with an emphasis in environmental law, combined with his decades of experience as an appointed and elected policymaker ... will serve California well.”
    Mr. Stoker will be a lightning rod that will intercept some of the bolts meant for Scott Pruitt, the EPA head, and Mr. Trump, whom I did not vote for.

    The aftershocks of the 2016 election have furnished a lot more entertainment than I expected.

    Monday, May 21, 2018

    Lennon-ist, not Leninist

    St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle (Rutland Herald)
    The beauty of Anglicanism was on full display Saturday during the wedding of Harry and Meghan. Certainly there are larger, more magnificent cathedrals where the ceremony could have been held, but St. George's Chapel was just the right size for the number of attendees (or it could be that the guest list was pared to accommodate seating).

    The Most Reverend Michael Curry (Reuters)
    I'd like to put in my two cents about the sermon by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.

    Both admirers and detractors pointed to the novelty of having an African-American preacher speak to the royal family. How wonderful/how horrible that he brought up Martin Luther King and slavery at a wedding ceremony! They behaved as partisans who do not delve beneath surface appearances and the surface meaning of words. They rendered a quick verdict depending on whether black Americans are in or out of their tribe.

    In my humble opinion Michael Curry's sermon rose above politics. He spoke about the power of love, a phrase that was repeated nine times.
    “Jesus began the most revolutionary movement in all of human history. A movement grounded in the unconditional love of God and for the world. And a movement mandating people to live and love, and in so doing, to change not only their lives, but the very life of the world itself. I’m talking about power, real power to change the world.”
    He did not give social-justice proponents the red meat they want, i.e., there is no need to seek to overthrow hierarchies or resist repression if we focus on love, which is revolutionary enough. Nor did he let the powerful off the hook:
    Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce when love is the way. Imagine this tired old world when love is the way … unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive. Then no child would go to bed hungry in this world ever again. When love is the way we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.
    By speaking about love, by being Lennon-ist not Leninist, Michael Curry's sermon rose above politics.

    Note: another aspect that may have been disconcerting to English listeners was the use of elements of black preaching styles by Bishop Curry. He didn't use full-throated call-and-response or convicting the audience or vision casting (one of the best examples is Martin Luther King's I Have A Dream); even toned down, new cadences reverberated shockingly throughout St. George's Chapel.

    Simply reading the text of Bishop Curry's sermon doesn't capture the experience of listening and watching (video below).

    Sunday, May 20, 2018

    Pentecost, 2018

    Blessing the seminarian as he departs for the summer.
    On Pentecost Sunday half the congregation remembered to wear red. Less familiar than Christmas and Easter, Pentecost (“Whitsunday”) is the third great feast of Christianity and commemorates the Holy Spirit coming into the world on “tongues of fire, (Acts 2:1-4)” hence the red garb.

    Red has been on our minds lately--the red death of yet another school shooting and the red lava against which nothing can stand.

    Ancient Christians embraced the notion of an eternal Spirit as a symbol of hope for a life that was nasty, brutish, and short. While our lives are undoubtedly better than in Hobbes' 17th century, there are still many things that we do not control, and physical death, though postponed, still claims us all.
    Come down, O Love divine,
    seek thou this soul of mine,
    and visit it with thine own ardor glowing;
    O Comforter, draw near,
    within my heart appear,
    and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.

    O let it freely burn,
    till earthly passions turn
    to dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
    and let thy glorious light
    shine ever on my sight, and clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

    Saturday, May 19, 2018

    The Perfect Princess for A Hashtag World

    Still sparkling (her not him) after the wedding
    vows (Daily Mail)
    at thirty-six...Meghan is not only three years older than her husband-to-be, she is a fully-formed adult who has already had a successful career...

    One of the reasons that Meghan has settled so quickly into royal life is that she already knows what it’s like to look down the barrel of a dozen telephoto lenses and smile as if she hasn’t a care in the world. Anyone who has worked the red carpet for years will be inoculated against the spiteful tabloid comments about a glimpse of cellulite, or a stray gray hair.

    Not many civilians can adjust seamlessly into the rigors of working for ‘The Firm’, as the Royal Family is sometimes nicknamed. But as a successful television actress, Meghan already knows what it is like to be in the public eye, and how to say the same thing over and over again as if she means it.
    As if it were professionally arranged, Harry has picked the perfect princess for a hashtag world.

    Friday, May 18, 2018

    Gentlemen Songsters Off on a Spree

    50 years after Yale College admitted women (they were in the Class of 1971), a woman will join the Whiffenpoofs:
    Sofía Campoamor ’19 auditioned and was tapped for the 2019 Whiffenpoofs. “To have a year to sing semi-professionally and tour around the world is an amazing opportunity,” says Campoamor. She is currently music director of the all-gender group Mixed Company, for whom she has also composed and arranged music.
    Baa, Baa, Baa.

    Thursday, May 17, 2018

    How You Get Another Proposition 13

    Using math to persuade--good luck with that. (Chron photo)
    In December we noted how residents of high-tax states were early-paying their 2017 state income and property taxes because their Federal deduction would be limited in 2018. (The Milton, MA treasurer said, "Thank you, Mr. Trump, for solving my cash flow issues.")

    Your humble blogger joined the check-writing spree by making payments to the State of California and San Mateo County one to four months before they were due. It's not hard to imagine that I was joined by millions of Californians who itemize their deductions and engage in a modicum of personal financial planning.

    Five months later, the State of California has collected $8.8 billion in "unexpected" tax revenue. The surplus has been attributed to "boom times" and not to voluntarily accelerated payments prompted by the new tax law (heaven forfend that President Trump or the Republicans were responsible). We will soon have a better understanding of the reasons if tax collections rise or fall in a strong 2018 economy.

    Governor Brown (to his credit, IMHO) wants to set aside most of the $8.8 billion for a rainy day fund:
    “We’re nearing the longest recovery in modern history, and as Isaac Newton observed: What goes up must come down,” Brown said. “This is a time to save for our future, not to make pricey promises we can’t keep. I said it before and I’ll say it again: Let’s not blow it now.”

    The surplus will be fiercely fought over in the Legislature during the next month of budget negotiations for the fiscal year that starts July 1. Brown is proposing to stash $7.6 billion, with $3.2 billion going toward the state’s budget reserve for unexpected expenses like wildfires and floods, and $4.4 billion into a rainy-day fund that would be used during a recession.
    Various interest groups, of course, are holding their hands out for "badly needed" housing, education and health care. The tax windfall parallels the 1970's, when the real-estate boom caused tax revenues to soar (property taxes were based on the market value of homes). Despite the pauperization of seniors living on a fixed income, the government refused to adjust the calculation or refund the excess. The consequence was the crude, flawed, effective Proposition 13 which severely limited increases in property taxes.

    Sacramento is riding high now, and the single-Party state seems impregnable, but the grasping behavior 40 years after it was enacted is how you get another Proposition 13.

    Wednesday, May 16, 2018

    Plenty Good Enough

    Old iPhone 6 and "new" iPhone 6 Plus
    The screen on my iPhone 6, though protected by a case, had acquired three hairline cracks. The risk of breakage had increased. Would I succumb to that new phone fever?

    I had gone half a year without buying an 8 or an X, so my head was telling me to wait until fall for the new models. Normally I would give in to my heart (buy a new phone now! what are you saving it for?) but what swung the decision to wait was the presence of a bent-but-working iPhone 6 Plus that no one had been using since August. The cost of repair, including a new battery, was $215.

    I have an upgrade that techies would sniff at. But the screen is gorgeous, and the 6 Plus is plenty good enough for me.

    Tuesday, May 15, 2018

    Tripping Again

    (Image from Live Science)
    One Sixties trend that petered out quickly was the use of psychedelic drugs. While LSD use could be mind blowing, there were many credible reports of "bad trips that sent people to the psych ward". (Whether or not it influenced their behavior, LSD became associated with the Manson Family serial killers.)

    New research into psychedelics, however, has shown that they could have powerful positive effects: [bold added]
    a single guided psychedelic session can alleviate depression when drugs like Prozac have failed; can help alcoholics and smokers to break the grip of a lifelong habit; and can help cancer patients deal with their “existential distress” at the prospect of dying. At the same time, studies imaging the brains of people on psychedelics have opened a new window onto the study of consciousness, as well as the nature of the self and spiritual experience. The hoary ‘60s platitude that psychedelics would help unlock the secrets of consciousness may turn out not to be so preposterous after all.
    Brain imaging and other techniques not available to Timothy Leary show how psychedelics may work:
    When scientists at Imperial College began imaging the brains of people on psilocybin, they were surprised to find that the chemical, which they assumed would boost brain activity, actually reduced it, but in a specific area: the default mode network...

    Our ego defenses relax, allowing unconscious material and emotions to enter our awareness and also for us to feel less separate and more connected—to other people, to nature or to the universe. And in fact a renewed sense of connection is precisely what volunteers in the various trials for addiction, depression and cancer anxiety trials have all reported.

    This points to what may be the most exciting reason to pursue the new science of psychedelics: the possibility that it may yield a grand unified theory of mental illnesses, or at least of those common disorders that psychedelics show promise in alleviating: depression, addiction, anxiety and obsession. All these disorders involve uncontrollable and endlessly repeating loops of rumination that gradually shade out reality and fray our connections to other people and the natural world. The ego becomes hyperactive, even tyrannical, enforcing rigid habits of thought and behavior—habits that the psychedelic experience, by loosening the ego’s grip, could help us to break.
    As is often true in science, something that we thought we knew about can turn out to have surprising, new, beneficial applications.

    Peripherally related: writer Tom Wolfe, 88, died today.
    Mr Wolfe was also on the cutting edge of the so-called New Journalism that exploded onto the scene in the 1960s along with sex, drugs and rock and roll. Mr Wolfe travelled with Ken Kesey, one of the apostles of psychedelic drugs, and captured the experience in “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” (1968).
    TEKAAT is an acclaimed depiction of Sixties phenomena that according to admirers helps us to understand what is going on today.

    Monday, May 14, 2018

    Homelessness and State Politics: Just a Coincidence

    HUD 2017 Annual Homelessness Assessment: Total homeless pop. on Jan. 2017 was 553,742.
    Additional color on California's "skyrocketing" growth in homelessness is provided by excerpts from Politifact's post in March: [bold added]
    A December 2017 report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is considered the authority on state-by-state homeless counts....

    California’s homeless numbers jumped nearly 14 percent in 2017 as nationwide levels remained nearly flat...

    Meanwhile, the report showed two other states, Hawaii and New York, have a higher per capita homeless rate than California’s.

    Finally, it shows California, indeed, has the highest total homeless population at 134,278, far more than second place New York.
    The states with the highest homelessness rate per 10,000 people are: 1) Hawaii - 51; 2) New York - 45; 3) California - 34.

    The Democratic Party has a hammerlock on all Statewide political offices (Governor, Senators, Attorney General, etc.) in all three states.

    I suppose that truth-seeking journalists and academics would have investigated this perfect correlation between homelessness and party politics, so the whole thing must just be a coincidence.

    Update: the District of Columbia homelessness rate is 110 per 10,000 people, more than double the rate of the worst state, Hawaii. The three elective offices of DC--the Mayor, Attorney General, and District Council Chair--have always been Democrats throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Just another puzzling coincidence.

    Sunday, May 13, 2018

    Mother's Day

    This Sunday we experienced a rare sight in the 2018 Episcopal Church--a fully staffed, all-male altar crew. It was only fitting, since the mothers who serve as celebrants and lay Eucharistic ministers (they serve the bread and wine at Communion) should not be working today.

    Happy Mother's Day!

    Saturday, May 12, 2018

    Time to Put Them Up

    Encampment by Angels Stadium, Anaheim (WSJ photo)
    1½ months ago we commented on Orange County's homelessness conundrum: OC residents don't want the homeless living in tents and they don't want to build homeless shelters in their cities. (The obvious answer, which politicians seem to be reticent to voice out loud, is to move the homeless away--far, far away.)

    Homelessness seems to be worsening more in California than in other states: [bold added]
    Last year California’s homeless population jumped 13.7%, compared with 3.6% in New York and 1% nationwide, according to an annual survey by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Most homeless people around the country live in emergency shelters or public transitional housing. But in California they camp outside in public spaces.
    Southern California's year-round temperate climate is one reason for the encampments. (There's a similar phenomenon in Hawaii.) Two other factors make it worse.
    What’s causing the surge? For one thing, skyrocketing rents have made it harder for low-income people to find affordable quarters. Because of regulatory restrictions on development, the demand for housing hugely exceeds the supply. The stock of public and rent-controlled housing is especially limited.

    Another apparent culprit is Proposition 47, a 2014 ballot initiative that reduced jail sentences for nonviolent crimes, including shoplifting, theft of less than $950, and drug use. Police officers have reported that they no longer arrest thieves and drug users, since offenders now often get released in short order.

    People who once would have been locked up, including those with drug addictions and mental-health problems, have been left to the streets. Many steal to feed their habits. Since Proposition 47 passed, property crime has soared in many California cities even while falling nationwide. Between 2014 and 2017, larceny increased by 9% in Anaheim, 22% in Los Angeles and Santa Ana, and 44% in San Francisco.
    Leaders in our one-party State exude confidence about how progressive goals (e.g., open borders, carbonless energy, high taxes and high services like universal health care) will lead to a glorious future. If they can solve the homeless problem, they'll have a lot of credibility with many, including me.

    Friday, May 11, 2018

    Another Five Years

    Five years ago, a year and a half after Steve Jobs' death, Apple's stock was in the doldrums. A post from April, 2013:
    There's no question that the past year has dissipated the aura of coolness that surrounded the ownership of Apple products or Apple stock. Last year's "new" product releases represented incremental improvements--some features were impressive, to be sure---but, alas, the revolutionary, industry-changing devices that were supposedly in the pipeline when Steve Jobs died appear to be a figment of the biographer's imagination.

    Your humble observer is a long-time holder of AAPL and, like other investors, has been disturbed by the stock's 28% drop in price over the past year and 42%(!) fall from the $705 all-time high of last September.
    When the above lament was written, AAPL was selling for $406.13 per share, the equivalent of $58 after 2014's 7-to-1 split. Over the next five years Apple has tripled to close at $188.59 last Friday. The biggest company in the world has substantially outperformed the S&P 500 and NASDAQ indices (see chart below) during that period.

    Before the May 1st earnings announcement the analysts were saying the same thing as they did in 2013: Apple is a hardware/iPhone company, it hasn't come up with anything revolutionary since Steve Jobs died, and its growth prospects are lower than those of tech giants Google, Amazon, and Facebook.

    As expected, iPhone sales did fall from the December quarter, though they did manage to increase from the same quarter last year. However, three bright spots more than made up for any disappointment from the iPhone.

  • Cash returned to shareholders.
    Apple’s $100 billion share-repurchase plan is the largest ever announced by a U.S. company, according to data from research firm Birinyi Associates. Apple said its board also approved a 16% increase in its quarterly dividend. That put it on track to spend $14.82 billion a year in dividends, making it the largest dividend payer, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices.
  • Services revenue.
    The services business has become one of Apple’s biggest growth engines, with revenue in its last fiscal year rising 23% to $30 billion. Apple aims to lift that number to $50 billion by 2020.

    The company has 1.3 billion iPhones and other devices in active use and earns an estimated $30 per device on music subscriptions, app store purchases and other services, according to Morgan Stanley, which expects services to account for about 60% of Apple’s revenue growth over the next five years.
  • Berkshire Hathaway bought more shares.
    (CNN Money image)
    75 million--That’s how many more shares of Apple that Warren Buffett bought in the first quarter of this year, adding to the almost 170 million shares that Buffett-run Berkshire Hathaway owned at the end of 2017. “It is an unbelievable company,” Buffett said in a CNBC interview, and investors responded by pushing Apple up about 4 percent Friday, closing at a record $183.83.
    Apple's still growing, and its cash-generating ability has risen with the 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act. If the 87-year-old Warren Buffett can buy more shares, then I'll show a little faith by holding on to mine for another five years.
  • Thursday, May 10, 2018

    Stepping Up

    Camping in a classroom: good thing I've lost my
    fear of toys and stuffed animals coming to life at night.
    Note: sleeping by the altar is different.
    "Aging out" of activities not only happens to kids, it also occurs with middle-aged adults. At Home and Hope, which provides short-term shelter to families, older volunteers eventually find it too difficult to sleep on the floor, even helped by the cushioning of air mattresses and sleeping bags. So we're shorthanded.

    I actually look forward to these overnight stints. It's a chance to reconnect with friends at the Lutheran church, which is in a wooded area in the Belmont Hills. At night the classroom is quiet, bereft of electronic distractions. I usually get 5-6 hours, but they're good hours.

    The rotation says we're not on the shelter schedule until Thanksgiving. If a church has to drop out, as sometimes happens, we'll do our part and step up.

    Wednesday, May 09, 2018

    "I can't go that high....It must have been God or something."

    Dwight Clark makes The Catch over
    Cowboy DB Everson Walls (SI photo)
    Dwight Clark is dying of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, aka Lou Gehrig's Disease). He is 61.

    On January 10, 1982 Dwight Clark made one of the most famous plays in football history. With less than a minute to go in the game The Catch propelled the young San Francisco 49ers into the Super Bowl over the perennial powerhouse Dallas Cowboys.
    a dynasty was born and a dynasty ended. The 49ers went on to win the Super Bowl - the first of four in nine years for [QB Joe] Montana and five in 14 years for the Niners - and the Cowboys slowly deteriorated, which led to the legendary Tom Landry getting fired in 1989.
    During the pre-salary-cap 1980's owner Eddie DeBartolo spent lavishly to create and maintain the 49ers dynasty:
    A real estate scion from Youngstown, Ohio, he put his fortune, and his heart, into the 49ers after buying them in 1977. To play for the team was to have your wife receive flowers on her birthday, to fly to Hawaii on team trips, to bring your kids to the Christmas party and find real, live reindeer there to greet them. To be treated, as [Hall of Fame safety Ronnie] Lott puts it, as part of an ever-growing family.
    18 years after he gave up his team and 36 years after The Catch, Eddie DeBartolo still looks after his "family."
    “Like a guardian angel for us,” says [running back Roger] Craig, citing how DeBartolo has helped dozens of former players with medical expenses, eventually launching the Golden Heart Foundation with a million dollars of his own money (challenging the Yorks, who succeeded him as owners, to match it, which they did), providing a fallback for retired players who slip through the cracks.
    Last month 49ers of the '80's and '90's (and a few others) gathered at Eddie D.'s Montana ranch to say goodbye to Dwight Clark. To non-football fans most of the names will be unfamiliar. For those of us who were followers, especially if intimations of our own mortality have become louder, the chronicle of The Last Huddle is an emotional read. Bring Kleenex.

    Front row, L-R: Carlton Williamson, Lindsy McLean (49ers trainer), Huey Lewis, Dwight Clark, Eddie Debartolo, Michael Zagaris (longtime 49ers photographer, seated), Carmen Policy, Ronnie Lott, Gary Plummer, Fred Formosa (former 49ers director of security), Kirk Reynolds (former 49ers PR man)
    Middle row, L-R: Rick Winters (friend of Clark’s), Paul Hackett (former 49ers assistant coach), Garrison Hearst, Eric Wright, Mike Wilson, Roger Craig, Dwight Hicks, John Faylor, Lawrence Pillers, Russ Francis, Guy McIntyre, Ron Ferrari, Harris Barton; Third row, L-R: Dwayne Board, Dr. Ken Kenyhercz, Charles Haley, Kirk Scrafford, Kevin Gogan (SI photo)

    Note: articles like these are expensive to produce and are likely to have a limited audience. I've come around to the belief that professional publications, including those whose politics are not the same as mine (wall-to-wall partisanship of any kind I won't countenance, however), should be supported. After a long hiatus I restarted my subscription.

    Tuesday, May 08, 2018

    It's All About Them

    Clara and Diane have been cooking and serving for 15 years.
    Just like 2½ months ago, it was another full night with four families and 15 beds occupied. The good news was that all the faces were new, meaning that the previous families had all found housing.

    We had to adapt to our guests' work schedules--they arrived between 6 p.m. and midnight--by setting up plates with reheating instructions. We had to leave the final clean-up, normally done by 8, for the overnight crew (sorry, Hank and Phil)

    One rule of volunteering: if you can't be adaptable, then stay out of the kitchen.

    Monday, May 07, 2018

    The Last Natural Disaster

    Former Vice President Al Gore's 2006 best seller, An Inconvenient Truth, popularized the notion that human activities were at least partly responsible for "natural" disasters: [bold added]
    Hurricanes, floods, drought, tornadoes, wildfires, and other natural disasters have caused these [insurance] losses. Many can be linked to factors that are worsened by global warming. These natural disasters can be economically--as well as personally--devastating. Hurricane Katrina alone caused an estimated $60 billion in insured losses.
    A new moral philosophy can therefore be divined:
    1) Most natural disasters can be attributed scientifically to human activities (see table below). Disasters are not "natural" but manmade.
    2) Disasters can be prevented, or at least mitigated, by changing human behavior.
    3) Certain human behaviors lead to natural disasters that lead to death and destruction.
    4) Therefore those behaviors should be stopped, and people who resist change are evil.

    Below are disasters and their causes, as gleaned from media reports.

    Hurricanes/typhoons      Man-made climate change
    EarthquakesHydraulic fracturing (fracking)
    Drought Man-made climate change
    Wildfires Man-made climate change
    FloodsMan-made climate change (see a pattern?)
    Really bad floodingBad levees and dams

    If the new science is true, Kilauea's eruption may be the last true natural disaster.

    There's no fracking within thousands of miles of Hawaii, so human activity didn't cause the Big Island's eruption or earthquakes. Greenhouse gases are a by-product, not a cause of the disaster.

    People are not in immediate danger from the lava flow, but it has emitted tons of toxic gases that threaten the medium- and long-term health of thousands. For once there are no human villains, and we can get on with helping the victims.

    The lava moves slowly but inexorably, destroying everything in its path.

    Sunday, May 06, 2018

    No Rest From Politics

    In 2006 Diocesan Bishop Marc Andrus lay in front of the
    Federal Building to protest the Iraq War. (Episcopal archives)
    Since 2012 we have commented on the outspoken advocacy of leftist politics by the Episcopal Church. So far, most priests we know have not crossed the line where they claim to be speaking for the church. (Admittedly, it is difficult for casual observers to discern the difference when priests wear collars to political events and demonstrations.)

    The 2015 Diocesan Convention noted signs that the half-century decline in church attendance has bottomed out. Other mainline Protestant churches have experienced the same leveling, even an uptick in attendance. [bold added]
    Galvanized by opposition to Trump administration policies, these congregations, which typically are theologically liberal and historically white, are turning themselves into hubs of activism. For some congregations, that shift has prompted a surge in attendance—especially among young people—something mainline Protestant churches haven’t seen in decades.

    Liberal churches are organizing rallies, taking on racial issues and offering sanctuary to undocumented immigrants. Some clergy have returned to the front lines of protests, where they are playing more prominent roles than any time since the Vietnam War.
    Arguing against church involvement in progressive politics is a lost cause, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area.

    I will just say that it's very sad that leaders of the religious left have adopted the worst traits of the religious right: 1) Blaming others (Trump, Republicans, racists, etc.) for the world's problems instead of looking into their own hearts and actions; 2) Being self-righteous about it.
    Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?---Matthew 7

    Saturday, May 05, 2018

    More Cheese

    Cinco de Mayo was a big holiday in California BT (before Trump), but the then-candidate made it h-u-u-u-g-e-r two years ago with his tweet. In its honor we are reprising our 2016 post below.


    May 5, 2016

    Donald Trump wishes everyone a happy Cinco De Mayo, digs into a taco bowl, causes millions to have indigestion.
    I don't like the guy's style or much of his politics, but I do love the way he knows how to provoke a reaction--he drives his opponents barking mad--in people who are already angry all the time. Deep breathing, folks. If you're Hispanic and reject his "love," think how unhappy he must be that you don't return his affection!

    Already the deconstruction has begun on this supposedly innocuous Tweet.

    The taco bowl is round and the dishes are square. Symbolism? Of what?

    That's a horribly unhealthy-looking taco bowl, with cheese, beef, and sour cream all smushed together. The kitchen could easily have lightened it with more vegetables of color. Here again Mr. Trump is thumbing his nose at the sensibilities of the East and West Coast elites.

    Speaking of thumbs, his left thumb is pointed up. Does it mean agreement, Tr(i)ump(h), or something else?

    That "something else" could be related to the half-hidden picture of his bikinied ex-wife Marla Maples in the bottom right of the picture.

    There's a lot of serious news out there, but the Donald knows how to suck all the oxygen out of the media room.


    Note--here's another remembrance: The Taco Bowl That Saved the World

    Friday, May 04, 2018

    The Opposite of That Which Was Intended

    The Taurus will soon go the way of the Studebaker
    and the Packard (Motortrend photo)
    Its decision is no surprise if you've been following the car business: Ford to stop making all passenger cars except the Mustang.
    Faced with plunging demand and declining profits from its passenger car lineup, Ford will shift its resources to the booming side of the market: pickups, SUVs and crossover-utility vehicles, said CEO Jim Hackett late on Wednesday.

    ...the real surge is on the utility vehicle side where traditional, truck-based sport utility vehicles and newer crossover-utility vehicles like the popular Ford Escape now account for half of the overall American new vehicle market. Add pickups, vans and other light trucks and that jumps to 65 percent, with sedans and coupes continuing to lose momentum.
    Americans want SUV's, "cross-overs", and trucks, not sedans.

    The factor behind this market shift is fuel availability, driven by the explosion in fracking. Gas being under $4 a gallon, Americans select big, fast, comfortable, and powerful transportation. Drivers may emit concern about carbon footprints and climate change, but their purchasing choices speaks a lot louder than words. As some bloggers are fond of asking, have you hugged a fracker today?

    Note: WSJ auto columnist Dan Niel says that Ford's decision has been given a push by a change to fuel-efficiency measurements.
    The “footprint rule”—which refers to the area within the perimeter of the four wheels—calculates a vehicle’s fuel economy as a function of its size. The rule change effectively incentivizes building larger vehicles by holding them to progressively easier standards. As a result, the largest and most profitable vehicles also enjoy the lowest relative costs of compliance.
    Car manufacturers that only make large cars and trucks have a much lower--and easier---MPG target than those who sell a lot of sub-compacts. The result: more large vehicles on the road. As is often the case, rules that are not carefully thought through result in the opposite of that which was intended.

    Thursday, May 03, 2018

    Cheese Names Stand Alone

    Wisconsin's Bel Gioioso found that its "American Grana"
    was illegal because of Italy's Grana Padano. (WSJ photo)
    Sartori Co. is a family-owned Wisconsin cheesemaker that has been in business since 1939. The company makes its own versions of Asiago, Parmesan, and Romano. However, due to European Union naming restrictions on imports,
    Sartori had to trademark new names, leading to the birth of “Sartiago” and “Sarmesan."
    Moreover, EU trade agreements will soon force changes to the names of American cheese exports to Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, and Mexico, among others.

    In America we are accustomed to companies protecting their names, formulas, and logos through trademark, patent, and copyright law. Europe seems to be putting a wall around words for geographic regions and whole industries; it is also trying to extend the moat worldwide through trade agreements.

    Europe's position is somewhat understandable---Americans wouldn't like it if Chinese winemakers labeled their product as Sonoma (Sino ma?) white. Nevertheless, this principle could be taken too far. What if 100 cheese names were off limits? What about 1,000?

    The unintended consequence to Europe would be if this barrier induces American suppliers to change what consumers value in cheese, for example, what the cows are fed (e.g., organic corn, organic grass), the breed of cow (e.g., Guernsey, White Holstein), or manufacturing process (no mold!, no anaerobic bacteria! made with sea salt! ).

    Protectionism often boomerangs on the industries being protected.

    Wednesday, May 02, 2018

    The Economist: Korean Peace Will Be Kim's Doing

    Peace is threatening to break out on the Korean peninsula, and the Economist credits....Kim Jong Un. [Bold added for laudatory phrases]
    Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in
    (South China Morning Post)
    Even six months ago, no one imagined Mr Kim capable of leading a diplomatic dance that has drawn in not just South Korea but America and China. He is proving to be an adept young dictator....

    Yet right after the test, and little remarked, Mr Kim declared the fulfilment of a sacred national goal, the completion of a “state nuclear force”. The flurry of launches suddenly ceased. Mr Trump claims that his sanctions and threats brought Mr Kim to the table. But since that declaration it is Mr Kim who has set the diplomatic tempo and selected the mood music—literally so, when he invited K-pop bands from South Korea to Pyongyang, his capital...

    Given such canniness, a reassessment of the rest of Mr Kim’s rule is overdue....Mr Kim, says Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University in Seoul, is a deft dictator: “smart, calculating and cruel—yet not sadistic for the hell of it.” (That must be scant comfort for all the innocent prisoners being beaten with hammers in his gulag.)...

    he needs the summits, and to keep Mr Moon, Mr Trump and Mr Xi dancing. It is unclear how the dance will end. But what is certain is that he will have rehearsed the steps more carefully than they have. After all, Mr Kim has more at stake.
    He executed his girlfriend by machine gun in 2013.
    That Kim!
    The Economist contends that Mr. Kim had been planning rapprochement ever since he came to power in 2011. The assassinations and purges (he executed five government officials with an antiaircraft gun) were just, we suppose, necessary steps on the road to peace.

    Had Barack Obama known what a good guy Kim Jong Un was, he and Secretary of State Clinton could have negotiated peace in 2013, which would probably have cinched the 2016 election for Mrs. Clinton.

    Added bonus: she would have gotten a Nobel Prize, too. Coulda, woulda, shoulda....

    Tuesday, May 01, 2018

    Lei Day, 2018

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

    Today is International Workers' Day, when marchers champion workers everywhere. In France marches turned violent.
    (Photo from CNN)
    More than 100 people remained in custody in Paris Wednesday after annual May Day protests turned violent, police said...

    An estimated 1,200 masked and hooded protesters dressed in black took part in the violence, Paris police said. At a news conference, officials said three people were detained for throwing projectiles and another four for carrying prohibited weapons.

    Some 1,500 police were deployed to the streets to protect buildings and peaceful protesters, French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said on Twitter.
    In other words, burning, looting, rioting, and lots and lots of anger.

    In contrast here's how May Day is honored in my home state.
    May Day is lei day in Hawaii
    Flowers and garlands everywhere…
    (Photo from
    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