Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Halloween, 2018

Two bags were needed.
I had a feeling we needed more, so I bought two 150-piece bags of candy from Costco. 132 (!) trick-o-treaters showed up tonight, more than double the typical turnout. About a hundred were pre-teen, and half were Asian, reflecting the changing demographics of Foster City. We overheard some goblins and witches tell new arrivals, "That's a good house." Praise from business colleagues is one thing, but that's a good house from a kid? It doesn't get better.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Dread Disease

(Image from hyperactivz)
Progress towards a cure for Alzheimer's is slow, in good part because scientists have not found a definitive cause for the dread disease. For years researchers had focused on the high correlation between Alzheimer's and amyloid plaques ("a type of protein which is often found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients after they die"), but experimental drugs that reduced the plaques in mice did not reduce their Alzheimer's symptoms.

There is, however, significant evidence that factors that are associated with good health--a balanced diet and regular sleep and exercise---do reduce the risk of Alzheimer's.

Diet: [bold added]
the best evidence for nutritional prevention of Alzheimer's disease is through foods rather than vitamin supplements. Many of the foods that are good sources of vitamin E are also rich in n-3 fatty acids and unhydrogenated, unsaturated fats — the dietary components with the most convincing evidence of neuroprotection to date. Among these foods are oil-based salad dressings, nuts, seeds, fish, mayonnaise, and eggs. Patients should limit their intake of foods that are high in saturated and transunsaturated fats, such as red meats, butter, ice cream, commercially baked products, and some margarines that contain partially hydrogenated oils.
Impaired sleep has been associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Studies suggest that sleep plays a role in clearing beta-amyloid out of the brain. Moreover, lack of sleep has been shown to elevate brain beta-amyloid levels in mice.
New research shows that physical exercise can “clean up” the hostile environments in the brains of Alzheimer’s mice, allowing new nerve cells in the hippocampus, the brain structure involved in memory and learning, to enable cognitive improvements, such as learning and memory.
A healthy lifestyle is no guarantee that one won't contract the dread disease, but I think of it this way: it increases the odds of my hanging around until a cure is found.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Front Runner, C'est Moi

I thought I was a sports fan, but it's become clear that I'm a front runner, aka bandwagon-jumper (on when my teams are winning, off when they're losing).

I followed the 49ers and Raiders through the 1980's and mid-90's, after which both became perennial losers (the Raiders somehow made it to the 2002 Super Bowl but were blown out 49-21 by the Buccaneers). I didn't regularly watch football again until Jim Harbaugh coached the Niners to three straight Conference championships and one Super Bowl in 2010-2014.

Klay Thompson and fan in 2014
I first went to see the Giants in the Oughts to see Barry Bonds hit home runs in the new AT&T Park. I continued to attend games during the championship runs in 2010, 2012, and 2014 but gave up on the Giants after 2016.

As the football and baseball teams faded, the Golden State Warriors picked up the slack by winning an NBA title in 2015. After losing in the 2016 finals, the Warriors astounded the basketball world by signing Kevin Durant, one of the top-three players in the NBA.

The Warriors were champions in 2017 and 2018 but this year seem to have found another gear. Their two superstars and shoo-in Hall-of-Famers, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, have regained their MVP-level form.

Tonight the team's third- or fourth-best player, Klay Thompson, set the record for three-point shots by making 14 in a game against the Chicago Bulls. Sports Illustrated: Klay Thompson Scores 52, and Now the Warriors’ Death Star is Fully Operational
Thompson’s 52 shows what the Warriors can do when they are singularly focused on maximizing their talent on a night-to-night basis, and not taking a long-term view about saving it for the postseason. We aren’t even two full weeks into the NBA season, and we’ve already seen top-level performances from Curry, Durant and Thompson.

The Warriors appear to be fully living up to the hype placed on them in 2016, and at a more sustained level than we’ve seen in the past, at least during the regular season, and certainly never this early. We don’t even need to discuss what that means for the rest of the league. It’s the same as what they feared the moment this team was put together.
Experience has shown that I can't be a fan the entire year; work and family (sigh) have their own demands. Thank you, Warriors,--and 49ers, Raiders, and Giants, too-- for allowing this front-runner to strike the right balance.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Great Divide: Thoughts and Prayers

Tree of Life synagogue (Chronicle/AP photo)
The shooting started at 9:50 AM Saturday. The first 911 call was at 9:54. At 11:13 the gunman, Robert Bowers, was taken into custody.

Eleven worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh were killed, and four police officers and two others were wounded.

Newspaper and television commentators immediately looked at the massacre through the prism of politics--gun control, anti-Semitism, whether inflammatory speech triggers violence, and what effect the event could have on the mid-term elections. While your humble blogger does have political opinions, politics is not the be-all and end-all of existence.

Cannot the families be allowed to mourn a terrible loss that is far more important to them than who wins the seat in their Congressional district?

As for me they will have my thoughts and prayers.

Note: the above is one more example of the world-is-divided-into-two-groups trope, in this case those who believe "thoughts and prayers" are worthwhile and those who believe that they are useless. To the former, prayers are meaningful because there is a Deity who is listening (how or whether prayers are answered is a different question, but the fundamental premise is that Someone is receiving them at the other end). In the latter group it's possible that there are a few who believe that there is a God who is totally uninvolved in the Universe, but I suspect that most members do not believe in God.

The Great Divide is about much more than which party should be in office or the correctness of a court decision, it's about whether human life has meaning beyond death, in fact beyond the existence of the human race itself. It's about thoughts and prayers.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Apple Knows Me Too Well

The iPhone 6 had served me well for four years, but it had become too slow, froze when running some of the new apps, and exhausted its battery after 3 hours. Also, pictures were grainy, especially in low light.

Last month I sprung for the new iPhone XS Max. The reviewers say that non-power-users like me should wait for the iPhone XR, which offers nearly the same features for hundreds of dollars less.

Cleverly, Apple delayed the cheaper iPhone XR by a month after the release of the XS and XS Max, the latter ensnaring buyers like your humble blogger who lack impulse control (or for whom deferred gratification is no longer important). I did try to buy the biggest 512 GB model, but only a 256 GB phone was immediately available. The young Apple salesperson sized me up quickly: "What do you need 512 for?" I could have said I needed to store a lot of videos but sheepishly admitted that it couldn't be justified. (As of this writing, I've only used 45 GB--less than 20%--of the storage.)

The new iPhone's screen resolution and colors, speed, sound, camera, and battery life are so much better than the iPhone 6 that I would have paid 50% more than the $1,200 I actually spent.

My younger, frugal self would have waited and probably bought the iPhone XR, but Apple knows me too well.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Friday in San Bruno

Dropping off the Car
Having disposed of the 1997 Dodge Caravan in 2015, I hadn't seen Jack, our trustworthy mechanic, for at least three years. When I drove up in the 2004 Camry, he instantly placed me: "How's the van?" Well, I had to junk it because problems were occurring nearly every month. Re the Camry: he wouldn't be able to get to it till the late afternoon, even for routine maintenance. No problem, I could hang out at the mall.

The Wait for Plates
The dealer where we bought a Toyota RAV4 was a quarter-mile away, and it was my first stop after Jack's repair shop. After two months we still had not gotten the license plates. We had bought four new cars over the years, and the wait for plates had always been less than 30 days. Of course, those experiences were all in the previous century. The dealer told us that receiving the plates from the Department of Motor Vehicles can now take up to 90 days. As we've written before, if the DMV is an example of our government at work, why in the world are so many people eager to embrace socialism, where we would have DMV-like grocery stores, hospitals, farms, airlines, etc.?

The Panhandlers
The female panhandler was ensconced at the median strip by a stoplight on El Camino Real. She was of indeterminate age; years of hard living on the streets wore her body down. She darted across the street, trying unsuccessfully to avoid a police van. The two officers grabbed her brown paper bag, and after sniffing its contents, poured the liquid on to the sidewalk. They continued to talk to her as I walked past; my guess is that they weren't going to arrest her but try to chase her out of San Bruno.

Two other panhandlers were seated by the freeway exit ramp by the shopping center. Both middle-aged, the Asian man and the Caucasian woman did not appear to be a couple but chatted like they knew each other. They were dressed neatly but inexpensively and appeared to practice better hygiene than most homeless whom I have observed (indeed, they may not have been homeless). In fact, in my worn jeans, flannel shirt, and Nikes I could have fit right in with them. We avoided eye contact, and they didn't approach during the four minutes it took the light to change. When the walk signal came on, I handed them each $20, much to their surprise. I like giving money to non-aggressive panhandlers and do enjoy confounding expectations.

The shopping center was built on the Tanforan Park racetrack.
At the Mall
Several homeless people wandered the Food Court. One went upstairs and, after shouting for a while, assaulted a worker at Burger King. Three security officers eventually subdued and carried him from the building.

A pretty blond girl sat at a nearby table and was engrossed in her phone. A non-white man (I could be but won't be more specific) approached her and asked if she would come with him. She politely declined, and he went away. A few minutes later, she got up and left, too.

Picking Up the Car
The Camry was ready at 4 o'clock. Jack looked tired. I asked him how long he planned to keep the business going. This stretch of San Bruno Avenue is pretty run down, I said, and given the development occurring all over the Peninsula the whole area could change in the next ten years. Everything's so expensive, he said, the taxes and regulations are killing him, and two houses on his block sold for over $1.2 million! Are you thinking of leaving the Bay Area? Not just the Bay Area, California.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

You Gotta Have Balls

It's old technology that we've just adopted: Tennis balls reduce drying time.
They move around between the items in the dryer, allowing the warm air to circulate more freely and thus reach more surface area of the drying items. They also seem to reduce static electricity in the finished load.
There's an optimal number of tennis balls that will minimize drying time and maximize "fluffiness", however it's defined.

In my younger geekier days I would have worked the puzzle, but now that I'm older (and lazier) 2-3 balls seem good enough, so that's what we'll use.

In many, many areas of life having more balls is helpful.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

An Environmental Problem to Worry About

From top: lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic (Slideshare)
Consumer Reports has a "troubling" report on heavy metals in American food:
CR bought 50 popular packaged foods intended for babies and toddlers, and tested them for arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury. What we found was troubling. Every food had measurable levels of at least one of the four heavy metals.
Heavy metals have been linked to a host of medical conditions, including cardiovascular, kidney, and bone disease, cancer, and diabetes. The toxins aren't flushed easily, meaning that frequent ingestion at "safe" doses may lead to harmful accumulations. CR has advice on what consumers can do:
While you might not be able to eliminate heavy metals from your food, adults and children can follow these steps to minimize risks:
  • Limit consumption of foods that tend to be higher in heavy metals...
  • Eat an array of fruits, vegetables, and grains. "That helps you avoid overconsuming any one type of food, plus a varied diet has many other health benefits," says Amy Keating, R.D., a Consumer Reports nutritionist. And getting enough calcium, vitamin C, selenium, and certain other nutrients may offset some of the harm from some heavy metals.
  • Rethink rice prep. To help reduce arsenic content, rinse rice, cook it in a lot of water (as you would pasta), and drain it afterward.
  • Your humble blogger stopped eating brown rice five years ago. The benefits of higher fiber weren't worth the cost of higher arsenic consumption.

    Another piece of advice: avoid eating food imported from China. The potential toxicity of imported foodstuffs is due to decades of rapid economic development: 20 percent of China’s farmland is polluted with heavy metals.

    My hunch is that this environmental problem is more likely to kill us than climate change.

    Tuesday, October 23, 2018

    Performance and Success: Not the Same

    Reams of pages have been written on how to improve performance and achieve success.

    But performance and success are quite different, according to physicist and network scientist Albert-László Barabási.
    “Performance is deeply linked to the individual,”.....Success, on the other hand, is “the collective response of the community to your performance and how well it acknowledges or rewards you for that.”
    In many occupations performance is increasingly amenable to quantifiable measurement (e.g., jobs completed, sales completed, papers published), while success is still largely a social concept.

    One famous example of the difference is Emily Dickinson, who was unknown--unsuccessful!--during her lifetime but became recognized as one of the greatest American poets after her papers were published posthumously.

    Professor Barabási has different advice for both performers and those who evaluate them (the ones who determine "success").
    “If you’re good at something, that’s like having loaded dice,” says Prof. Barabási. “If you only roll once, you’re wasting your chances. You have to roll over and over again!”
    In other words, keep writing, keep auditioning, keep inventing.
    if your company brings job candidates in for interviews, each member of your team should speak to them in a different order or on separate visits...You should review potential investments in random order, lest you be influenced by whether they come toward the beginning or the end.
    If you are an evaluator, these are structural aids to eliminate bias.

    Come to think of it, it's not surprising why top performers often make poor managers.

    Monday, October 22, 2018

    Peak Real Estate, Part 2

    (Note: part 1 here)

    National housing sales have been falling for four straight years:
    A combination of rising mortgage rates and high home prices, a dearth of inventory and a new tax law that reduces incentives for homeownership have weighed on the housing sector this year.
    (CNN image)
    People think that the red-hot Bay Area housing market is immune, but even last March I doubted such a pollyannish outlook:
    The Tax Cut and Jobs Act reduces the deductions for state and local taxes and for mortgage interest. The elimination of these tax subsidies may well cool off the overheated real estate market in New York and California.
    Now it looks like more shoes are dropping. All the factors mentioned in February are now at hand:
    The warning signs are widespread. I don't know what may trigger the fall; perhaps it will be rising interest rates, dropping tech stock prices, or fed-up tourists, but it would not be surprising to see a collapse, and an exodus of individual and business taxpayers, in San Francisco's near future.
    If I could short Bay Area real estate (no, I'm staying in my paid-up house) as easily as I could short a stock, I would.

    Sunday, October 21, 2018

    Pride and Pressure

    I first noticed variations of the guilt-inducing question at the Costco and Whole Foods checkout counters:
    "Would you like to donate a dollar to XYZ charity?" or
    "Would you like to donate to XYZ instead of claiming a bag credit?"
    Under the watchful gaze of the cashier and the people in line, I usually decline the invitations, but sometimes I succumb to social pressure and say yes.

    (For the record--and realizing that this is defensiveness and pride talking--I have always itemized our deductions, thanks in part to charitable donations that are high for our income, at least that's what the IRS says. Furthermore, why must I give to Costco's XYZ when my donations to ABC also address the same need, for example, children's health?)

    Now similar social pressures are being applied at takeout counters, where pay screens are becoming common. The pay screens come with tip suggestions.
    Tapping "no tip" requires courage.
    Consumers face that disconcerting ritual at bakeries, coffee shops, food trucks and other businesses that use tablet credit-card readers such as Square. The devices often ask customers to make tipping decisions on the fly—with the person who just served them looking on, along with everyone else waiting in line.

    “It guilts you into it,” said Thom Kenney, a patron at Squeeze Juice Company in Boston on a recent morning. “It absolutely does, because they are standing there. You want to make them happy.”
    Now that I see what the tech manipulators are doing--nudging me to doing their version of the right thing under social pressure--I will steadfastly decline to tip or donate at the pay screen, unless I've received table service. Yes, I will probably experience the disapproval of strangers whom I'll never see again. (Actually, I will try to avoid those establishments altogether.)

    It's an ancient lesson, all but forgotten: one does not acquire virtue by trying to appear virtuous in front of others.
    Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
    But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:

    That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
    -----Matthew 6:2-4

    Saturday, October 20, 2018

    Just Suck It Up

    Brain scientists are figuring out the biological basis for fear--and courage:
    (from neuroscientifically challenged)
    Most of the science focuses on the amygdala, the almond-shaped structure deep in the brain (one on each side) that generates such feelings as fear and anxiety...Indeed, taking the amygdala entirely out of the picture can virtually eliminate fear. Justin Feinstein, a clinical neuropsychologist at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research at the University of Tulsa, works with three women, known in the literature just by their initials, who have Urbach-Wiethe disease, a rare genetic disorder that destroys the amygdala. One of them, SM, has never experienced fear in her adult life.
    Scientists also think they can explain why meditation works:
    cells called OLM neurons produce theta brain waves, which are seen during meditation and when you feel safe despite a threat in the environment. By manipulating those cells in laboratory mice, the scientists were able to dial up a mouse’s willingness to venture into unexplored areas and tamp down its indications of anxiety, even when smelling a cat. Nicotine also stimulates OLM neurons in humans, a reason that some people chain-smoke to relieve stress.
    Your humble blogger prefers to manage fear in a traditional way...

    (Image from

    Friday, October 19, 2018

    California: The Government We Deserve

    The Bay Area tops another list, one not to be proud of: [bold added]
    In 2017 potholes closed Highway 101 by Palo Alto (NBC)
    The Bay Area has the worst roads in the nation, according to a new report by TRIP, a Washington, D.C.-based transportation research group, that seeks to bolster a campaign by California transit officials to preserve the state’s recent gas tax hike.

    Seventy-one percent of the streets in San Francisco, Oakland and nearby cities are dilapidated, and the average motorist loses $1,049 a year in repair costs from driving on the bumpy pavement, the report said. The San Jose area has the second-worst roads, with 64 percent in poor condition.
    Last year California raised its State gas tax to the second highest in the nation (53.5 cents per gallon). Coupled with our unique, expensive gasoline formulation, California is neck-and-neck with Hawaii, which has to ship in its petroleum, for the country's most expensive gas.

    In two weeks we'll vote on Proposition 6 , a measure that would repeal the gas-tax increase. Naturally all the powers that matter want to leave the taxes in place to fix the "worst roads in the nation", but the real question, of course, is how come we have paid so much and the results are so abysmal?

    The one-party State says it's my way or the broken-down highway. We keep voting them in, so I guess we're getting the government we deserve.

    Thursday, October 18, 2018

    The Ear Knows

    Years of studying English vocabulary and grammar will only take a student so far.

    Here, for example, are four unofficial rules that native speakers know but "don't realize they know". They can be illustrated by example:
    Right: my brother's car      Wrong: the car of my brother
    Right: abso-freakin'-lutely      Wrong: absolute-freakin'-ly
    Right: what did you say he ate?   Wrong: what did you shout he ate?
    Right: I cheered up my friend.      Wrong: I cheered up her.
    (but "I cheered her up" is okay)
    I suspect that many of the rules of proper English will fall by the wayside, buried under an avalanche of words, images, and videos that come at us unceasingly; tut-tutting the misplaced modifier or antecedent is not worth the effort.

    At one time educated English speakers were fluent in French and Latin, both important now only to a few. And so it will go with the Queen's English.

    Wednesday, October 17, 2018

    Let the Sound Prolong

    Entrance to the assisted living wing

    An HDMI cable was missing, so I picked one up from the store and connected Dad's monitor to his computer. Dad has a large monitor that displays oversized icons and letters; does it say anything about me that I liked it better than my own computer?

    I selected the retirement home's WiFi secure network and typed in the password (no, its network isn't the first name on the list).

    Walking around the facility, I passed by the lounge where ten (10) seniors had gathered for karaoke. The final number was America (My Country 'Tis of Thee). They rose from chairs, leaning on their canes and walkers. They turned to look as I sung along, since we younger folk don't usually join in.
    Let music swell the breeze,
    And ring from all the trees
    Sweet freedom's song.
    Let mortal tongues awake;
    Let all that breathe partake;
    Let rocks their silence break,
    The sound prolong. (verse 3)
    The lounge at mid-morning.

    Tuesday, October 16, 2018

    Time Well Spent

    At the International Marketplace in Waikiki
    One Bay Area Japanese shopping center that we frequent is Mitsuwa Marketplace in San Jose.

    At each Mitsuwa location is a Santouka restaurant, also one of our favorites.

    Your humble blogger is partial to Santouka's tonkotsu ramen.

    From the website (the Engrish is charming, no?):
    Tonkotsu ramen, San Jose
    Under the original production method, the white tonkotsu (pork bone) soup was produced from repeated trial, error, and improvements. It has a mild, gentle flavor and was dedicated it to be delicious to the last drop...

    Moreover, in order to create a mild tasting soup, we have boiled pork bones for long time. When the white colored soup is complete, we do not re-boil them to protect its taste and smell.

    Santouka Waikiki has the same menu
    In the coming years I will be flying more often to visit family, and it's good to know that some of my preferred eateries have a branch in the Islands.

    Also, note the "we have kamaaina 5% off" sign.

    The time spent waiting in line for my Hawaii resident ID continues to pay off.

    Monday, October 15, 2018

    Moving to Assisted Living

    The dining room
    Today was frenetic. The movers took the large pieces--recliners, desks, and beds--while we took the smaller items sorted into 20 containers. There are a host of to-do's that will have to be handled later, particularly the unpacking and installation of TV, phone, and computer.

    At the top of the list were the sleeping arrangements and the bathroom. If those are comfortable, then we can be confident everything will work out. It took two days, but we got it right eventually.

    Sunday, October 14, 2018

    Mass at Home

    Preparing for communion.
    The ministers from the church paid a visit to my parents this week. The ladies didn't wear their collars, but a lifetime of spirituality makes the raiments unnecessary; churchgoers know they have it, just as informed listeners know that a musician is talented after a few measures.

    Mom and Dad are going through the changes that are inevitable with aging. Soon they will move from a home they have lived in for over half a century to a place that will provide the help they need.

    One of the oldest traditions of Christianity is pastoral care, part of which is bringing communion to the home. Much as it has changed over the millennia, I like to think that Peter and Paul still see something recognizable in the church they founded.

    Saturday, October 13, 2018

    Fancy Designs

    Beans are roasted in the facility and shipped to other locations in Hawaii.

    Honolulu Coffee Company is the latest resident of the site formerly occupied by Coco's, the 1960's 24-hour coffee shop at the corner of Kapiolani and Kalakaua.

    Their fare is pricier than Starbucks or Peet's, but if you are a 93-year-old customer, why count a few pennies?

    Besides, Starbucks or Peet's don't bother sculpting the foam into fancy designs.

    Friday, October 12, 2018

    Jordan and Camille

    I missed this conversation the first time around.

    Two public intellectuals, Jordan Peterson and Camille Paglia, engage in a wide-ranging discussion about postmodernism, history, culture, radical feminism, and the academy. They level broadsides against the ideology that has dominated American campuses since the late 20th century, and, yes, the conversation is more interesting than I've made it sound.

    Thursday, October 11, 2018

    The Wallet is Still Closed

    International Market Place
    2005:  the way it used to be
    The International Market Place used to have a bazaar-like feel, with open-air stalls containing clothes, knickknacks, jewelry, leather goods and art all crowded together.

    It was one of the more colorful stops in Waikiki. If one had cash and was willing to haggle, it was possible to acquire an item at a lower price than on Kalakaua Avenue.

    2018:  trying to keep the feel at much higher prices.
    In the new International Market Place there's no bargaining. High-end stores abound, and it's a safe environment to have a drink and gawk at the other tourists.

    Tonight I had a good time wandering about the three levels, the Apple Store across the street, and the Tesla dealership next door.

    One thing hasn't changed, though; I kept my wallet closed.

    Wednesday, October 10, 2018

    If a Road Opens in the Forest, but Google Says It's Closed...

    Mariposa roads are now open on Google Maps
    The economy of Mariposa (pop. 2000) depends on tourists stopping by on the way to Yosemite National Park. After fires and floods closed not only Mariposa but also Yosemite, just as tourist dollars have started flowing again, yet another problem has surfaced:
    Google Maps. The popular navigation app is regularly showing that roads to and from Mariposa are closed, when really they’re not, making it appear as though the region is still gripped by disaster.

    At least four such errors have occurred in the past two months, according to numerous reports from residents. Efforts by retailers, county leaders and even the National Park Service to prevent the misinformation have been unsuccessful, meaning only more lulls in tourist traffic — and an emerging sense in the community that a small town is of little concern to big tech
    . Sad observation from a Mariposa businessman:
    “It’s not like people say they don’t believe you when you tell them the road is open,” Shaw said, recalling countless back-and-forth with potential guests. “But they’re essentially saying Google is more believable than you are.”

    Tuesday, October 09, 2018

    Was She Lying?

    In the birthplace of free speech and the land of no-question-is-too-dumb, it's the one question that will get you fired, kicked out of school, and ostracized from social groups: Was She Lying?
    Someone here is lying.

    In Washington, to the contrary, senators managed to spend three weeks on Ford’s and Kavanaugh’s diametrically opposed, impossible-to-reconcile versions of events without confronting this critical, seemingly unavoidable fact. Instead, after watching, first, Ford’s trembling rendition of an atrocious attack and, then, Kavanaugh’s forceful denial, the Senate decided not to decide who was telling the truth.

    It is a psychobabble default: We are to believe that Professor Ford is completely earnest, that she was undeniably subjected to a harrowing sexual assault, but that she has somehow misidentified her assailant — notwithstanding that she says she knew who Kavanaugh was before the attack and is “100 percent” certain he is the culprit.

    Cowed by the “survivors must be believed” hooey — as if there were a link between X chromosomes and truth-telling — Republicans blithely went along, as if this preposterous mistaken-identity scenario were incontestable. Loud, aggressive hard-left activists had them afraid to confront Ford’s story … so they didn’t — and now they wonder why the media and Kavanaugh’s other critics keep pronouncing that the unconvincing, uncorroborated allegations against him are “credible.”

    On the other hand, Kavanaugh is very persuasive in his indignant denials, and there is — if we may again mention this inconvenient fact — no support for Ford’s account, just her say-so. Just as no one in the Senate dared suggest that Ford might be lying, no one wanted to call Kavanaugh a liar to his face, either. As a result, we got more psychobabble: Kavanaugh occasionally drank beer to excess as a teenager, so maybe he tried to rape Ford in a drunken stupor (in front of a close friend of his) and, since no one mentioned it to him for 36 years, he can’t remember doing it.


    It’s absurd. What happened here is simple. Either Ford is lying about being assaulted by Kavanaugh, or Kavanaugh is lying in denying it.
    Asking the question is like questioning the existence of God a hundred years ago. Kids, stay away from this person.

    Monday, October 08, 2018

    Columbian Exchange

    (Image by Sutori)
    The Columbian Exchange is a term coined in 1972:
    Christopher Columbus introduced horses, sugar plants, and disease to the New World, while facilitating the introduction of New World commodities like sugar, tobacco, chocolate, and potatoes to the Old World.

    The process by which commodities, people, and diseases crossed the Atlantic is known as the Columbian Exchange.
    One of the most impactful transplants was "Isabella's Pigs" (Kenneth C. Davis. America's Hidden History):
    Isabella is credited as the one who encouraged Columbus to take some pigs aboard ship, along with dogs and horses.

    Once introduced to the New World, Isabella’s pigs became one of the staples of Spanish armies and colonists. Able to forage for themselves and remarkably fertile, the pigs provided a valuable source of easily transported and self-perpetuating protein. For the conquistador on the move, the pigs offered many advantages, according to historian Charles Hudson: “Pigs are the most efficient food producers that can be herded…. A pig’s carcass yields 65 percent to 80 percent dressed meat…. A four-ounce serving of pork yields 402 calories…. Pigs are unusually fecund. A female as young as nine months may become pregnant, and she can give birth to as many as twelve in a litter…. Thus a herd of pigs can increase prodigiously within a few years.”

    Along with the side benefit of producing fertilizer in the form of manure, these pigs offered one other very estimable advantage to Spanish Christians, as Hudson points out. “They ate pork not only for sustenance but also to remove any suspicion that they were Jews.”

    Perhaps the greatest unintended consequence of this mobile mess hall may have been the waves of disease that are credited with wiping out so much of the native American populace the Spanish encountered.....Charles C. Mann fingers the pigs, the “ambulatory meat locker,” as the possible culprit behind the deadly epidemics that swept the New World’s original inhabitants. “Swine, mainstays of European agriculture, transmit anthrax, brucellosis, leptospirosis, trichinosis, and tuberculosis. Pigs breed exuberantly and can pass disease to deer and turkeys, which then can infect people…. Only a few…pigs would have to wander off to contaminate the forest.
    In honor of Columbus Day I had some bacon this morning.

    Sunday, October 07, 2018

    Blessing of the Animals, 2018

    The chairs, table, and sign were set up promptly at the announced start time of 12:30 PM, but there was nary a soul--no animals, no owners, and no priests. Not to worry, both persons of cloth drove up a few minutes later, and groups leaving the Dog Park saw the little gathering and walked over for a blessing.

    Today we celebrated the annual Feast of Saint Francis (officially October 4th on the Church calendar) by blessing pets and their owners. One lady said that her dog was an atheist, but I said that if St. Francis didn't ask or care, why should I?

    Special prayers of healing were administered to those afflicted with ailments. Whether the sufferers were two- or four-legged the priests didn't discriminate.

    Festivities begin at the morning service.
    One owner--not a member of the church--said she looks forward to our annual event and has been stopping by for five years.

    The lady who had her Camaro blessed in 2014 also came by, this time for a conventional prayer for her dogs.

    One regular asked the whereabouts of the Project Bay Cat representatives, whom we normally ask to join us. I explained that the spaying, neutering, and feeding of the feral cats in Foster City have been so successful that the cats no longer pose a danger to waterfowl. Project Bay Cat has been disbanded. That's happy news, I suppose, but I did enjoy talking to the PBC volunteers.

    By two o'clock we were done. If the prayers work* as hoped, we'll see everyone back at the same time next year.

    *Hey, I'm no theologian.

    Saturday, October 06, 2018

    Difference of Opinion

    I say it's more proof we're descended from fish.

    Friday, October 05, 2018

    50 Years Old and Still the Greatest

    Amidst all the 50th-anniversary celebrations (and mournful remembrances) is the release of Bullitt, whose car chase scene has been hailed as the "greatest":
    it’s the nine minutes and 42 seconds in “Bullitt” that changed the landscape....The duel between Bullitt’s Ford Mustang and the 1968 Dodge Charger R/T driven by the villains, in which the hunted (Bullitt) becomes the hunter, took three weeks to film. An Aeroflex 2C, a portable movie camera that had been used by the military during World War II, was mounted by suction cups across the back seat to give moviegoers the driver’s perspective.
    The car chase is all real, i.e., it was filmed before computer generated imagery (CGI) had been invented. The entire movie, except for two seconds added post-production, was filmed in San Francisco.
    When [Director Peter] Yates and [film editor Frank] Keller were editing the film, they felt something was missing in the chase. Finally, they came up with an answer: Just as the chase revs into high gear, one of the villains fastens his seat belt. Yates and [cinematographer William] Fraker filmed it in a studio in Los Angeles. It lasts all of two seconds.

    “There’s a ‘click,’ and then you know something big is about to happen...Then you know you’re in for a ride.”
    I liked the chase scene when I saw it in the 1970's and '80's, but I enjoy it even more now that I know San Francisco well and get a chuckle out of watching the cars instantaneously appear in different locations around town. And what's with the all the green Volkswagens?

    Thursday, October 04, 2018

    Peak Real Estate?

    San Francisco Real Estate Item 1:
    Booming SF hits new high for office rent, beating dot-com record
    Rents for new offices in the city’s central business district reached $81.25 per square foot in the third quarter, according to brokerage Cushman & Wakefield. The previous record of $80.16 per square foot was recorded in the fourth quarter of 2000, as the previous tech boom was ending.
    After the 2000 dot-com crash resulted in unplanned vacancies, and with a raft of new construction coming online, prime ("Class A") SF office space in 2001 could be had for about half today's rate.

    San Francisco Real Estate Item 2:
    New report finds overlooked earthquake vulnerabilities in some SF high-rises
    Between 50 and 65 San Francisco high-rises used specific types of steel welds that were later found to fracture during the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles.
    I'm always in favor of more knowledge, but in this case I'm grateful that I didn't know that for 20 years I was working in a highrise that was in any danger--it survived the 1989 Loma Prieta quake just fine.

    With office rents at all-time highs, with pending fixes that are going to cost beaucoup bucks, and with the Bay Area experiencing a mass exodus, it sure feels like we've reached peak real estate in this cycle.

    Wednesday, October 03, 2018

    I Would Buy That Book

    (Image from the Weekly Standard)
    Your humble blogger has so far resisted commenting on Brett Kavanaugh because:
    1) much more has been said--and better--than I ever could;
    2) there's much we don't know, and new information could instantly upset any carefully thought-out narrative;
    3) expressing an opinion can be dangerous to social relationships that are much more important to me than the success or failure of this nomination, or, for that matter, what happens in the mid-term elections.

    One of the best pieces I've read has more to do with the listening audience than with Brett Kavanaugh or Christine Blasey Ford. It concerns our motivated reasoning.

    Let's assume that, before Dr. Ford's allegations became known, you supported Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court Justice.That should not have meant that you necessarily believed that he was innocent of her charges. Similarly, you could have been opposed to Judge Kavanaugh without believing he was a sex abuser. Yet...[bold added]
    One of the most striking aspects of the debate over the sexual assault accusations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is the extremely high correlation between what people think of the allegations and whether they believe Kavanaugh should be confirmed aside from them. Conservatives Republicans who like Kavanaugh's jurisprudence tend to dismiss the accusations. Liberal Democrats who oppose Kavanaugh on jurisprudential grounds tend to think the accusations are true (or at least highly likely to be so). A similar pattern emerges when it comes to the issue of burden of proof, with conservatives often claiming that it rests on the accuser and that Kavanaugh is "innocent until proven guilty," like a defendant in a criminal trial. Liberals, by contrast, tend to argue that the situation should be treated as more a "job interview" than a legal process, and it is up to Kavanaugh to prove that he is fit to be a Supreme Court justice. Some even contend that we should presumptively believe the accusers.
    I tried to keep an open mind during the hearings last Thursday. This meant suppressing defensive thoughts when a witness or questioner challenged what I wanted to believe. It meant empathizing with each witness, trying to imagine myself in his or her shoes and assuming what he or she said was true.

    Even after it was over, I didn't see how anyone could say that they were "100% sure" that one of them was lying. There are possible scenarios where both could be telling the truth as they knew it, for example, where he was so drunk he failed to remember the incident or she had a false memory by assigning a face and name to a shadowy figure in a long-ago traumatic event.

    Whatever happens to this nomination I hope a major media organization will continue to look at what may have happened 36 years ago. If that investigation is done in good faith, that is, by not trying to drive to a conclusion, I would buy that book.

    Tuesday, October 02, 2018

    So Bad in Their Execution

    Ribbon cutters included SF supervisor Jane Kim, Nancy
    Pelosi, and Mayor London Breed (3rd from right).
    Success has a thousand fathers and mothers. August 10:
    Thousands jam new Transbay Transit Center for its open house
    Thousands of visitors jammed the new Transbay Transit Center for its grand opening party Saturday...Lines stretched the length of the Grand Hall as people tried to get into the $2.2 billion multistory transportation hub.
    But that was then.

    This is now. September 28:
    Salesforce Transit Center to remain closed after crack in second beam discovered
    The $2.2 billion Salesforce Transit Center is expected to remain closed at least through the end of next week after inspectors found a second cracked steel beam beneath the center’s rooftop park, officials said Wednesday.
    Flashback to 2015, after spending $6 billion:
    Plague of problems puts Bay Bridge seismic safety in question

    Flashback to 2009: SF Officials Knew About Sinking Millennium Tower

    For a City that likes to lecture the rest of us against pushing Nature too far, it's astonishing that it: 1) proceeds with multi-billion-dollar construction projects on top of landfill next to major earthquake faults, and 2) is so bad in their execution.

    Monday, October 01, 2018

    Not All of Them

    A few years ago I had a short-term need for $90,000 (don't we all?). There were drawbacks to raising the money through stock sales or IRA withdrawals; the $90,000 would be replenished in three months, and these methods would result in income taxes--about $20,000--that did not have to be incurred. So I decided to borrow using margin from Charles Schwab.

    Under a margin loan account holders can borrow up to 50% of the value of their stocks. It's risky to borrow the full 50%, because the borrower would be subject to a maintenance call if stocks go down, as they sometimes do 😀. (The broker would sell enough stock to pay down the margin loan so that the ratio was back to 50%). In my case $90,000 was safely under 50% of the stock value, so a margin/maintenance call was not a worry.

    These changes to 0.075%-1.825% don't look so bad
    The borrowing rate that Schwab charged was about 7%, so when I got back the $90,000 in 2½ months I paid off the margin loan immediately. (Aside: margin loans are a form of secured borrowing--as are home mortgages--where the lender has the right to sell assets to recover its loan. IMHO, a secured loan backed by publicly traded stocks should bear a low interest rate because of the low risk to the lender, but that's just me.)

    until you notice the Base Rate is 7.75%
    Anyway, I've taken steps to ensure that I won't be using margin debt any time in the future.

    A couple of months ago we noted how the interest that Schwab pays on its cash deposits was well under 1%. So you lend them cash at 0.2%; they lend it back to you for more than 7.75%.

    I like the services and products we get from Schwab, but not all of them.