Thursday, January 31, 2019

A Flag for People Like Us

The Chronicle is running a contest to design a new flag for San Francisco. Shown above is William Leidenthal's entry:
Fog (gray background)

Pacific Ocean (dark blue bar)

San Francisco Bay (green bar)

Cultural diversity of the people of San Francisco, where an inclusive society is the city’s pillar of strength (a four-color tower — Coit or Salesforce)

Gold Rush, which gave birth to a world-class city (gold stripe at the bottom).
The explanation is all well and good, but what's the first thing you see, dear reader? Right, and I wouldn't call it "cultural diversity".

The work is too phallocentric. That's not us, Mr. Leidenthal. Now, if you had depicted a mansion with poop, drug needles, a homeless encampment, and a vacant storefront right outside, that would be us.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

PG&E Bankruptcy as a Demo for Socialists

We held PCG for 20 years and sold it in 2005 for $37.75. It's now at $13.
We've long subscribed to the Peter Lynch principle "invest in what you know"; for example, if you know, like and use Apple products, buy AAPL because many people may think like you and you are Everyman/woman/other, right?

Pacific, Gas, & Electric (PCG) is a hard company to "like", but as a utility its captive customers provide a steady stream of cash flow and dividends. In 2005, when PG&E's raw materials cost became more volatile and customers were beginning to look at alternative sources of energy, we sold our shares after holding them since the 1980's.

We got out 13 years early. Now PCG is about $13, a precipitous fall due to the calamitous Camp Fire that began on November 8th, not coincidentally the 12-month high ($49.42) for the stock. The utility declared bankruptcy on Tuesday. One doesn't need an MBA, or even a calculator to figure out why: [bold added]
The company, which says there will be no interruption in gas and electric service, listed assets of $71.4 billion and $51.7 billion in liabilities....

“If the liability is anywhere close to the $30 billion estimate, they will lose market share tremendously because customers can in essence walk, especially the commercial and industrial customers,” said Terry Boston, the former chief executive of PJM, the power grid that serves parts of 13 states from Virginia to Illinois.
The lawsuit damages, plus existing liabilities, exceed PG&E's assets. To preserve what's left, and to continue to provide service to its millions of customers, declaring bankruptcy was the prudent thing to do.

IMHO, the PG&E bankruptcy is a tremendous opportunity for the Progressives who run California to show how much better Socialism is than Capitalism. The Government could buy the company for a pittance. Then, without having to deal with noisome shareholders and the Board of Directors, they can:
  • force the complete conversion to alternative energy from fossil-fuel sources
  • keep rates at current levels (or lower);
  • repair its aging infrastructure to prevent more San Bruno pipeline explosions
  • pay their unionized workers a fair wage;
  • bury more power lines both to prevent forest fires and to protect the public from downed lines. Sure, it'll cost a lot:
    A new underground distribution line across most of PG&E’s territory costs about $1.16 million per mile, according to data filed with state regulators during the utility’s most recent general rate case. That’s more than twice the price of a new overhead line, which costs about $448,800 per mile. Most of the difference comes from the expense of digging a trench for the cable.

    Prices rise within cities, where the work is more complex. A 2015 San Francisco report found that recent costs for moving power lines underground in Oakland had averaged $2.8 million per mile, while similar work in San Jose had cost $4.6 million per mile.
    Accomplishing all of the above shouldn't be too difficult since a government entity need not show a profit or pay dividends.

    Actually---and I'm being serious now---if Socialists can accomplish all of the above without losing money, they would have a much better chance of convincing the public that they could own and operate the health care system.
  • Tuesday, January 29, 2019

    Guess That's Why They're the Expert

    Sewer backup: one of the least
    disgusting photos on the Web.
    Roto-Rooter identifies 3 Signs a Sewer Backup is Coming: [bold added]
    1. A foul stench coming from drains.
    2. Slow draining bathtubs or laundry lines.
    3. If the use of other fixtures associated with your main line lead to water backup in places such as toilets or showers.
    Foul stenches, slow-draining washing machines, and toilet backups mean that a sewer backup may be coming. Brilliant. That's why they're the professionals.

    Monday, January 28, 2019

    Round and Round It Goes

    Composer Michel Legrand, 86, died on Saturday. Famous within entertainment circles, he won three Oscars and five Grammys. Speaking of circles, his "Windmills of Your Mind" is one of those songs that gives me an earworm ("a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person's mind after it is no longer playing").

    Round, like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel....

    Sunday, January 27, 2019

    A Good First Step

    First Amendment at Independence Hall (WSJ photo)
    Leaders and scholars from major religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, among others), universities, and politics combined to produce the American Charter of Freedom of Religion and Conscience, a project that has spanned years.

    More than a simple affirmation of the First Amendment ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...") the charter tries to deal with questions such as government constraints on religion:
    government must protect the peace and order of society. Freedom of religion does not give any faith community the right to hold a noisy revival meeting at 2 a.m. Nor does it give any community the right to engage in practices that violate core norms of any civilized society. Even if a faith group sincerely believes human sacrifice is essential for salvation, the state is obligated to forbid this practice and punish anyone who seeks to engage in it. Whenever government limits free exercise, it must be to protect a compelling public interest, and the means it employs must restrict free exercise as little as possible.
    While acknowledging that there must be some constraints in civil society, the document is clearly weighted toward limited government. It returns to the original worldview behind the founding: [bold added]
    the right to freedom of religion and conscience, rooted in the inviolable dignity of every human person, is not the gift of any government. It exists prior to governments, whose duty is to guarantee and protect this right. Though this thesis might seem tendentious, it is a restatement of the argument of the Declaration of Independence, which declares that people create governments to “secure” rights that governments do not create.
    Too often contemporary issues are framed as whether government should "allow" a religion to do something, when it is really government that must show a compelling reason to forbid a practice. The American Charter of Freedom of Religion and Conscience is a good first step in (re)stating a philosophical framework with which to defend all religions in the legal, political, and public square.

    Saturday, January 26, 2019

    Journalist in the Wings

    Little Peyton Burns interviews NHL All Stars, including her Dad Brent Burns:

    Friday, January 25, 2019

    If This Doesn't Work, We'll Try Beatings

    Retail vacancies are increasing in San Francisco: [bold added]
    In the Castro neighborhood (Chron)
    A 2018 study by the North Beach Business Association, Telegraph Hill Dwellers and North Beach Neighbors concluded that the commercial property vacancy rate in North Beach is 10.25 percent, double the rate recorded by the same group in 2015....

    According to the association’s study, many factors contribute to the sharp increase in vacancies, including seismic retrofits and numerous construction projects that keep pedestrians away. The study also reports that only two property owners control 21 percent of the vacant properties in the neighborhood.

    San Francisco’s cumbersome permitting processes and strict formula retail controls also make it difficult to find tenants, said David Blatteis, board chairman at Blatteis Realty,
    Progressive politicians don't think that the high cost of operating is the reason that spaces are empty but greedy landlords who are holding out for more:
    Supervisor Aaron Peskin sees another culprit: landlords who intentionally keep their properties vacant until they can extract higher rents from potential tenants. Now he wants to repopulate those storefronts by taxing property owners with consistently empty units.

    “This is by no means meant to be a revenue generator,” Peskin said Tuesday. “It’s meant to be a behavior changer.”
    The proposed fine is $250 per day per unit. Owners of hard-to-rent properties that have mortgages may as well kiss off their equity and turn the keys over to the bank. No way are they going to service the debt, pay property taxes, insurance, and utilities and pay the vacancy fine.

    Easily foreseeable: the banks will stop writing new loans, and the blight will spread.

    Also foreseeable: after more sections of San Francisco have been ruined, the politicians will say that the socialist experiment would have worked were it not for the greed of property owners.

    Thursday, January 24, 2019

    Still Going Strong

    "YES": the 3 leading currencies (Dreamstime graphic)
    In 2011 Standard & Poor's downgraded the U.S. credit rating from AAA to AA+. The rating agency cited government debt (then $11.4 trillion) and mismanagement of fiscal policy. Not following suit, Moody's and Fitch, the other two major rating agencies, maintained their triple-A rating on U.S. Debt

    7½ years later, outstanding government debt has nearly doubled. Citing this as his reason, Starbucks chairman Howard Shultz is running for President: "I think the greatest threat domestically to the country is this $21 trillion debt hanging over the cloud of America and future generations."

    Meanwhile, S&P, Moody's, and Fitch have not changed their respective ratings on U.S. debt since 2011.

    But what does the rest of the world think? WSJ -- Dominant Dollar Bests Challengers:
    after a drawn-out crisis in the eurozone, and a more recent slowdown in China, the dollar’s international pre-eminence looks safer than ever. Concerns that a U.S. administration with an America First platform would diminish the dollar’s global role haven’t been borne out, either.
    U.S. debt may be risky, but the dollar is still on top because currencies, which are an imperfect proxy for national strength, are graded on a curve.
    International use of the euro, once the dollar’s clearest challenger, has diminished since the eurozone sovereign-debt crisis raised the specter of default on debts previously believed safe. The euro’s share of global reserves shrank to 20.5% in the third quarter of 2018 from 28% in 2009...

    But to make the yuan an international force, economists and investors have long maintained, Beijing must permit freer movement of money across its borders.

    Instead, facing a flood of capital outflows in 2015-16, it clamped down on investment outside of China.
    You can't replace something with nothing, and the dollar is more something than its rivals.

    Wednesday, January 23, 2019

    Brush Your Teeth, Save Your Brain

    Tools to prevent Alzheimer's?
    The battle against Alzheimer's Disease has been frustrating because definitive causes haven't been identified. Genetics, trauma, depression, sleeplessness, and obesity have all been proposed.

    The most promising candidates have been amyloid plaques and tangles found in the brain tissue of deceased Alzheimer's sufferers. While suggestive, plaques and tangles have also been found in the brains of people who evidenced no Alzheimer's while they were alive.

    Some researchers are now looking into the bacteria responsible for gum disease:
    Multiple research teams have been investigating P. gingivalis, and have so far found that it invades and inflames brain regions affected by Alzheimer’s; that gum infections can worsen symptoms in mice genetically engineered to have Alzheimer’s; and that it can cause Alzheimer’s-like brain inflammation, neural damage, and amyloid plaques in healthy mice.
    Plaques, according to this theory, develop as a defense against the bacteria and are not the cause of Alzheimer's Disease. (Aside: if true, this would be a textbook example of correlation not equalling causation.)

    After reading this article, your humble blogger will floss more often and run the electric toothbrush for the full recommended two minutes.

    Tuesday, January 22, 2019

    Perhaps Now He'll Get His Due

    Albert Einstein called him “The greatest mind in American history”. In 1943 the NY Times science editor said he was “the most distinguished creative scientist this country has ever produced, yet...a man whose name means nothing to the multitude.”

    Josiah Willard Gibbs (1839-1903) was one of our greatest scientists, yet it's doubtful that one in a thousand Americans recognize his name. His accomplishments: [bold added]
    like Newton’s synthesis of celestial and terrestrial physics, Gibbs’s work on thermodynamics unified myriad seemingly unrelated concepts, bequeathing to future generations the challenge of developing each into its own field of study...

    Then came On the Equilibrium of Heterogeneous Substances. In this 1878 book-length paper, Gibbs provided what amounted to a unified theory for thermodynamics. Gases, mixtures, surfaces, solids, phase changes, chemical reactions, electrochemical cells, sedimentation, osmosis: Gibbs showed how thermodynamic principles can describe each of these seemingly separate phenomena...

    He enshrined his concepts in his second masterpiece, Elementary Principles in Statistical Mechanics Developed with Special Reference to the Rational Foundation of Thermodynamics, published in 1902, a year before his death. Statistical mechanics—a term he invented—was the methodology that would allow chemistry, almost alone among sciences, to make the transition from the classical era of cause and effect to the quantum universe of all probability all the time.
    Thermodynamics hasn't captured the popular imagination like cosmology (the origin and fate of the universe) or astrophysics (which has a lot to say about space travel, black holes, etc.), but perhaps with the resurgence of interest in alternative energy and energy efficiency Willard Gibbs will finally get his due.

    Monday, January 21, 2019

    Now, More Than Ever

    From a speech by a great American in 1963:
    (Washington Post photo)
    In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protests to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
    Push ahead determinedly but always peaceably, and dream of an America where "my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." I miss that guy.

    Sunday, January 20, 2019

    Still Relevant

    One Gospel narrative whose interpretation has undergone significant change over the centuries is the episode regarding Barabbas. Brittanica: [bold added]
    Christ or Barabbas? (Mitrushi)
    Historically, the release of Barabbas at the crowd’s behest, and their subsequent demands to crucify Jesus, have been used to justify anti-Semitism. Many have placed blame for Christ’s death on the Jews, commonly citing Matthew 27:25, in which the crowd shouts, “His blood be on us and on our children!” However, numerous modern Christian scholars and leaders, including Pope Benedict XVI, have explicitly denounced this position, claiming that the crowd on that fateful day consisted of Jewish Temple authorities and Barabbas’s supporters, not of the entire Jewish people. They have also maintained that, in the light of the New Testament as a whole, the crowd can be understood as comprising all of humanity and Jesus’ blood as effecting reconciliation between humanity and God, not as crying out for retribution.
    During the Easter season many denominations, including the Episcopal Church, read aloud the events of Holy Week ("the Passion of Jesus Christ"). While individuals are assigned parts in the drama (Pontius Pilate, Jesus, Peter, etc.), "Crucify him!" is said by the entire congregation. Everyone was complicit in Christ's death, not just the Jews on the scene. The violent criminal Barabbas was freed, and good, innocent Jesus was executed.

    The blood lust of the mob, and the fear that it engendered in Pontius Pilate, had seemed like an anachronism in Sunday School. Of course, individual people still behave emotionally, but society had progressed in matters that counted. The fiction that we grew up with, for example TV's Perry Mason and "To Kill a Mockingbird", promulgated the myth that sweet reason would prevail eventually. Those works turned out to be aspirational and far from reality.

    This weekend's trashing of boys from Covington Catholic High School showed how quickly knowledgable, educated adults could form the 21st-century version of a Southern lynch mob. The results weren't as murderous, but not for want of trying. Celebrities and "journalists" called for violence against a particular boy because he was "white, male, Christian, [wore a] MAGA hat" and appeared to smirk in an edited video. His accuser, one Nathan Phillips, checked the good-victim boxes--Native American, Vietnam war vet--and the media elevated him and piled on the boy.

    Other, longer videos and accounts revealed that the confrontation was more complicated and involved a third group, the Black Hebrew Israelites, who insulted the Covington tour group with prolonged profanity. Then Nathan Phillips, who was not part of the Black Israelites, walked up to the boys and also tried to provoke them.

    The real story turned out to be nearly the opposite of the original narrative. The Covington students were remarkably restrained, and Mr. Phillips repeatedly changed his story. No, the boys aren't Jesus, and Mr. Phillips is not as bad as Barabbas, but the crowd was as mistaken--deliberately or not--as it was 2,000 years ago.

    Many of the Catholic boys' vilifiers dismiss Christianity as irrelevant. They would have a stronger argument if human nature was improved from Biblical times, but they are living proof that it isn't.

    Saturday, January 19, 2019

    Strolling the Bay Trail

    Redwood Shores homes butt up to the edge of the protected area. Oracle is on the right.
    After the rains subsided, we walked the Foster City section of the San Francisco Bay Trail. It was only a two-mile stretch, but given our age and conditioning, it was enough to meet the daily exercise goal on our Apple Watch.

    We've been jogging, biking, and walking the Bay Trail for decades. Thanks to environmental restrictions, the marshes look nearly the same as they did 30 years ago.

    Someday, I imagine, the hundreds of thousands of people whom we make sit in cars, buses, and trains for hours each day will prevail and we Peninsulans will have to live with more housing being built. We will have to give up our beautiful swamp wetlands and bubbly home prices.

    Until that day, however, we will stroll the Bay Trail.

    Friday, January 18, 2019

    Tough Cookies

    Leaf Brands, LLC is trying to revive Hydrox, a chocolate sandwich cookie that pre-dates Oreos (1908 vs 1912). Leaf has complained to the Federal Trade Commission that Mondelez International "started hiding our cookies on shelves to get us discontinued." There are anecdotal accounts of Hydrox packages being moved or hidden.

    Big Cookie dominates.
    Curiosity piqued, I strolled to the local supermarket to check out the shelves. It was dominated by Oreo products. I asked the person who was stocking the aisles if there were any Hydrox cookies. The name sounded familiar, and she and another clerk looked in the area allotted to smaller brands. No luck.
    Mr. Kassoff says he won’t stop making Hydrox cookies, even if he has to sell them exclusively in bulk online. “We aren’t going to give up,” he says.
    If I see his product at any store, I'll buy a package. Here's wishing him well.

    Thursday, January 17, 2019

    Hard to Miss

    Ants once crawled all over these
    nasturtiums. Now they're gone,
    without any steps taken by me.
    Two months ago the NY Times brought attention to a phenomenon that scientists have been observing for years: vanishing insect populations.
    a whole insect world might be quietly going missing, a loss of abundance that could alter the planet in unknowable ways....

    a [2017] paper by an obscure German entomological society had brought the problem of insect decline into sharp focus. The German study found that, measured simply by weight, the overall abundance of flying insects in German nature reserves had decreased by 75 percent over just 27 years. If you looked at midsummer population peaks, the drop was 82 percent...

    the study brought forth exactly the kind of longitudinal data they had been seeking, and it wasn’t specific to just one type of insect. The numbers were stark, indicating a vast impoverishment of an entire insect universe, even in protected areas where insects ought to be under less stress. The speed and scale of the drop were shocking even to entomologists who were already anxious about bees or fireflies or the cleanliness of car windshields.
    Santa Cruz Monarch butterfly (Chron photo)
    Species extinctions get the headlines, but perhaps more worrisome is defaunation ("the loss of individuals, the loss of abundance, the loss of a place’s absolute animalness"). Insect populations are down more than 75% in places that have been studied, a likely factor in the observed declines in fish, birds, and other animals in the food chain. Some worry that the decline in insects will result in the sudden collapse of eco-systems.

    According to the article the primary reason for the "insect apocalypse", unsurprisingly, is man. Herbicides, pesticides, habitat destruction, and climate change have all been posited as causes. While some alarmists are predicting imminent disaster, most responsible scientists acknowledge that we are just at the beginning of understanding the extent and ramifications of the problem.

    Meanwhile, we can all mourn the loss of monarch butterflies.

    Wednesday, January 16, 2019

    Driving Conditions: Another Reason to Stay Away from SF

    Van Ness businesses will prosper--if they can
    survive until 2021. (Examiner photo)
    As most Californians know, traffic on the venerable north-south Highway 101 is dumped on to the streets of San Francisco because of the freeway revolts of the 1960's, when construction of the freeway through the City was halted.

    Your humble blogger does appreciate the aesthetics of not having an overhead freeway blocking the views of the bay, but he also sympathizes with the motorists driving through. One of the major surface corridors is Van Ness Avenue, and the City has finally undertaken the much-needed renovation. Not surprisingly, the project is behind schedule and over-budget.
    The $316 million makeover of San Francisco’s Van Ness Avenue is running a year and nine months behind schedule, according to the main contractor, with the completion date now pushed to late 2021.

    At the same time, contractors have submitted claims for cost overruns totaling $21.6 million, with more claims likely to come.
    The mismanagement of the Van Ness project is not an isolated phenomenon:
    Van Ness is the latest big transit project in the city plagued by delays.

    The massive Central Subway, which is to run between the Caltrain Station at Fourth and King streets to Chinatown, is a year behind schedule.

    The Transbay Transit Center opened months behind schedule after the budget for the huge transportation hub had climbed from $1.6 billion to $2.2 billion.
    Public transportation is a viable option for suburbanites whose final destination is close to Market Street. Otherwise, driving conditions, in addition to homelessness, sanitation, and the priciness of everything, are why many of us don't go into the City unless we absolutely have to.

    Tuesday, January 15, 2019

    Not Chipper

    In the 1970's your humble blogger worked as a junior analyst for a timber company. At the time the forest products industry was at, er, loggerheads with environmental groups that wanted to expand the national parks and halt logging activity. The environmentalists won, and today the California timber harvest is but a shadow of its former self.

    A conversation from those days: one of our executive vice presidents sat next to a Sierra Club officer on a return flight from New York. The Sierra Club person was extolling the beauty and majesty of forests. Our man's contribution: "The most beautiful tree is one that's lying on its side." (I don't know what was said, if anything, after that.)

    What recalled that tale: Here’s where California Christmas trees go to die
    (Chronicle photo)
    the [Fish and Wildlife] department’s “fish improvement shop” in Yreka (Siskiyou County) will sink 200 or so old firs and spruces into state-managed waters.

    It’s a move, ecologists say, that will create valuable fish habitat — and boost fishing, too...

    Bass fishing (Outdoor Life)
    any sort of sunken wooden object — from manzanita plants to huge pines — is appealing to fish. They lay eggs and nest underneath downed branches, then feed on the smaller creatures attracted to the security and shade of the structure. A large downed tree, according to the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, will degrade over the course of several hundred years and in that time attract a whole community of fish, with 15 or so species calling the thing home at any given time.
    Even greens applaud these trees that are lying on their side.

    Monday, January 14, 2019

    Depends on Who's Doing the Asking

    Fake census form--can you tell? (
    Too intrusive: A New York Federal judge has ruled that the census cannot ask about citizenship: [bold added]
    “Secretary Ross’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census—even if it did not violate the Constitution itself—was unlawful for a multitude of independent reasons and must be set aside,” wrote U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman, who had presided over a trial about the question last year.

    The decision comes as a result of two lawsuits filed by cities, states and left-leaning advocacy groups. The plaintiffs had argued adding the question ignored the Census Bureau’s own research, would lead to a significant undercount and was motivated by discrimination against immigrants.
    There's a lot of mind-reading going on here, because there are no direct quotes, audiotapes, or videos of Census officials being "motivated by discrimination against immigrants", but as one who deplores the government's intrusion into our lives I like the ruling. I am in favor of satisfying the Constitutional requirement for a census ("Enumeration") and no more:
    The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct,----Article I, Section 2
    Not intrusive: the Democratic Governor of Oregon wants officials to visit the home of every newborn:
    One of the more ambitious items tucked into Gov. Kate Brown's agenda for 2019 is a home-visitation program for the families of new infants.

    All new infants.
    Of course, it's for the welfare of the babies and their families.

    The census may not ask a question, but Oregon may enter your home. An intrusion is okay if the right people are doing it.

    Sunday, January 13, 2019

    In Short Supply

    One of the annual customs of our church is to turn over the pulpit to a high-school senior. Our students are not polished speakers or valedictorians (although once in a while one slips through). But they all speak from the heart.

    Cristina was no exception. After thanking her parents, she talked about what she learned from the church. Not only did she engage with the words but like the other kids, watched our deeds....very carefully. In recent years she has helped the less fortunate not only through our church outreach programs but has become a leader of such activities at her high school.

    I like listening to these annual reflections (unlike sermons and others in their generation, these young people never tell us what to do). They give me hope, a commodity in short supply.

    Saturday, January 12, 2019

    The Sweep of History

    These 20th century events all occurred in 1919: [bold added]
    (Image from
    The year 1919 began with catastrophe, a disastrous flood of raw molasses that swept through Boston’s North End on Jan. 15 when a huge tank of the stuff gave way. In a metaphorical sense, too, 1919 seemed to represent the turn of a colossal tide. It marked the end of World War I and the culmination of contentious campaigns for Prohibition and women’s suffrage. (The 18th Amendment was ratified in January and the 19th approved by Congress in June.) It was a year of labor unrest and massive strikes, of race riots and mob violence, of anarchist bombings and the Red Scare, and a baseball scandal that shocked the country, when the Chicago White Sox deliberately threw the World Series.
    So far in 2019 the headlines scream excitedly every day about what the stock market or personalities have done. But really, are any of them important enough to be remembered 100 years from now?

    Friday, January 11, 2019

    They Will Never Forgive

    In 2015 Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan donated $75 million to the SF General Hospital's foundation. The hospital was renamed the Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center.

    Sasha Cuttler, a nurse at SF General, has protested the name change because of Facebook's past mishandling of user data and alleges that his managers have retaliated against him.
    According to Cuttler, hospital managers pressured him to stop criticizing the addition of Zuckerberg’s name to the hospital. When he did not, supervisors retaliated against him by removing him from internal boards and denying him transfers and promotions, he alleges in the complaint. During this time, Cuttler also raised concerns about the hospital’s staffing and its reporting of data on patient falls.
    For some, money directed at a worthy cause will never buy expiation from past sins, though these "sins" were not illegal and may not even be sins in the eyes of many others. From Sasha Cuttler's Facebook page:
    Since the "Trumpocalypse" began I have helped SEIU to defend immigrants right to care, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. I have also led the effort to get the "Zuckerberg" off of San Francisco General Hospital.
    Facebook employee contributions are made overwhelmingly to Democrats, but progressive true believers will never forgive the social media giant for its perhaps-unwitting contribution to the election of Donald Trump. The revolution eats its own.

    Thursday, January 10, 2019

    Vast Benefits, Vast Risks

    Microsoft research head Eric Horvitz believes that computers will be able to tell if you're sick. They will know this before you do and before you ask them to look. [bold added]
    Eric Horvitz (Microsoft)
    He and Microsoft colleague Ryen White, along with co-investigators from Stanford and other universities, have examined anonymized data from hundreds of millions of users of Bing, Microsoft’s search engine. They initially looked at query terms—what you search for—and the time and date of searches. Then, they added IP addresses—your computer’s unique identifier—and other location information. Most recently, they have focused on motor movements such as keystrokes, clicks and mouse activity.

    This data can reveal critical diagnostic evidence. People confide intimate secrets about their health—yellow skin, odd-looking stools and other curious symptoms—to their search engine that they do not share with others, even physicians, Horvitz says. And the biometric and geographic information picked up by search engines may uncover secrets of which even users are unaware.
    Just because someone did a web search on symptoms doesn't mean that he or she has cancer, but that datum can be correlated with other information, for example, if the user comes from a region with a high incidence of cancer. Similarly, a change in mouse-click speed and accuracy may indicate sleeplessness or a budding neurodegenerative condition, relatively easy to determine from other indicia (age, family history, whether the cellphone was active at 3 a.m., etc.)

    We're not there yet, but we're nearing the point when computer networks will know each individual better than they know themselves. The benefits are vast, but so are the risks.

    Sodden afterthought--if the Graduate were remade today, the dialogue might well go something like this:
    MR. MCGUIRE: I want to say two words to you. Just two words.

    BENJAMIN: Yes, sir.

    MR. MCGUIRE: Are you listening?

    BENJAMIN: Yes, I am.

    MR. MCGUIRE: Predictive analytics.

    Wednesday, January 09, 2019

    Do it For Your Heart and Brain

    (Image from
    As if excess abdominal fat didn't have enough harmful effects--e.g., diabetes and heart disease--we may have to add declining brain function to the list:
    The scientists found that people with both higher BMI (defined as equal to or greater than 30 kg/m2) and higher waist-to-hip ratio measurements had lower grey matter volume in the brain compared to those who were leaner. This effect remained strong even after researchers accounted for other factors that might affect brain volume, including age, smoking history, education, physical activity and history of mental illness.
    Correlation is not causation, so the obvious explanation--obesity causes brain shrinkage--is not necessarily true. It's possible that the reverse obtains, i.e., lower brain function causes obesity, or that some other mechanism is the source of both.

    But what does your gut tell you, dear reader?

    Tuesday, January 08, 2019

    New Law Greatly Needed

    Los Angeles National Cemetery
    As expected, new California laws in 2019 expand progressive ideals and the regulatory state ("non-binary" can be the sex on driver's licenses, no pets from "breeding mills", at least one woman on public companies' boards, sexual harassment training required of 5-employee businesses, no plastic straws, etc.), but there's one new law that enlarges freedom:

    Los Angeles cemeteries that meet certain conditions can sell alcohol: [bold added]
    This bill would authorize the department to issue a special on-sale general license to the operator of a for-profit cemetery with specified characteristics, including that it be more than 100 years old, be located in, and designated a Historic-Cultural Monument by, the City of Los Angeles, and have an endowment care fund and a memorial care fund that are exempt from the payment of income taxes, as specified.
    The law's specificity may cause one to think that an LA cemetery must have bribed contributed to some legislators' re-election fund.

    It's easy to eliminate such suspicions: just grant liquor licenses to Northern California memorial parks, where a "stiff" drink is often greatly needed.

    Monday, January 07, 2019

    Clearing the Clothes Clutter

    (Clothing flowchart from WSJ)
    This year marks the 10th anniversary of my resolution to clear the clutter. We conduct periodic purges, but like weeds the mess grows back in the absence of constant vigilance.

    In 2019 I'm going to focus on just one area: the closet. There are too many ties and suits, some of which have never been worn this century.

    Other items can't be worn again unless I lose 25 pounds. Even if that unlikely event occurred, they're datedness will leave them hanging.

    Paring down one's clothes has become a trend:
    We’re collectively buying more, yet are continually confronted with the dilemma of what to wear, because these teeming closets often lack organization. The solution: Winnow down our existing wardrobes and then buy less, and with more clarity.

    Though challenging, the winnowing part of this strategy is hardly a radical move these days. As clothing consumption has ramped up, so has an equal and opposite movement toward austerity,
    On January 1st Netflix began a series hosted by de-cluttering guru Marie Kondo. (Her book is still, miraculously, visible on our crowded nightstand.)

    Ms. Kondo says the first place one should attack, before the books, papers, and kitchen, is the closet. These days saying banzai! will offend some ears, so we'll just say "onward."

    Sunday, January 06, 2019

    Epiphany (Reprise)

    From seven years ago:
    Today, January 6th, Epiphany, marks the official end of the Christmas season. Not too long ago Catholics, Episcopalians, and other Christians observed not only the twelve days of Christmas but also the eight days of Epiphany. ("The Octave of Epiphany" sounds like the title of Dan Brown's next book.) In the Internet age we can barely concentrate twelve minutes, much less eight or twelve days, on any endeavor.
    In a more observant time the Feast of Epiphany was celebrated in Church on January 6th, even if the sixth fell on a weekday. The children's Christmas pageant was held on Epiphany, rather than Christmas Eve, because that was when the Magi (three kings) by tradition visited the manger.

    Your humble blogger has childhood memories of dressing up as Gaspard, Melchior, or Balthasar and marching down the aisle holding a representation of gold, frankincense, or myrrh, all to the strains of "We Three Kings of Orient Are." It was hard to find boys to volunteer for the role, because each king had to sing his designated verse (e.g., "myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume, breathes a life of gathering gloom"); singing was not viewed as a manly activity. The girls had better voices, but they didn't want to do it either because that meant stepping out of their gender role.

    Yes, it was a different time.

    Saturday, January 05, 2019

    Often Wrong But Never in Doubt

    (Marijuana map from governing. com)
    In addition to taxes and regulations stunting sales, there may be another reason for business projections falling short where marijuana has been legalized: the public doesn't trust the enthusiasts who say it's no worse and may even be less harmful than alcohol.

    Headline: Marijuana Is More Dangerous Than You Think. Coincident with the rise of marijuana use has been an increase in the incidence of psychosis and paranoia, though we must be careful to state that marijuana has not been proven to be the reason because correlation is not necessarily causation. [bold added]
    And last September, a large survey found a rise in serious mental illness in the U.S. too. In 2017, 7.5% of young adults met the criteria for serious mental illness, double the rate in 2008.

    None of these studies prove that rising cannabis use has caused population-wide increases in psychosis or other mental illness, although they do offer suggestive evidence of a link. What is clear is that, in individual cases, marijuana can cause psychosis, and psychosis is a high risk factor for violence. What’s more, much of that violence occurs when psychotic people are using drugs. As long as people with schizophrenia are avoiding recreational drugs, they are only moderately more likely to become violent than healthy people. But when they use drugs, their risk of violence skyrockets. The drug they are most likely to use is cannabis.

    The most obvious way that cannabis fuels violence in psychotic people is through its tendency to cause paranoia. Even marijuana advocates acknowledge that the drug can cause paranoia; the risk is so obvious that users joke about it, and dispensaries advertise certain strains as less likely to do so. But for people with psychotic disorders, paranoia can fuel extreme violence. A 2007 paper in the Medical Journal of Australia looked at 88 defendants who had committed homicide during psychotic episodes. It found that most of the killers believed they were in danger from the victim, and almost two-thirds reported misusing cannabis—more than alcohol and amphetamines combined.
    What about predictions that legalization would reduce violent crime?
    The first four states to legalize marijuana for recreational use were Colorado and Washington in 2014 and Alaska and Oregon in 2015. Combined, those four states had about 450 murders and 30,300 aggravated assaults in 2013. In 2017, they had almost 620 murders and 38,000 aggravated assaults—an increase far greater than the national average.
    The broad effects of legalization---public health and mental illness, criminal justice, economic activity, taxation--will take years to make themselves known.

    But it's called a social experiment for a reason. We can guess at but don't know the results in advance. Possible harmful effects are already appearing. A little humility is called for, especially in the advocates, but I'm not expecting to see it.

    Friday, January 04, 2019

    Not On My Reading List Until 2020, Maybe

    Time says that one of the must-read books for January is the memoir by freshman Senator Kamala Harris.

    Oh, please. The Time reviewer's political motivations are transparently obvious. Kamala Harris' book is the first one of the eleven listed (in case you're a reader who drops out after 4-5 paragraphs). This "review" is pure public relations: [bold added[
    Her memoir highlights her dedication to public service, detailing her journey as a prosecutor out of law school to becoming District Attorney of San Francisco to her rise to the U.S. Senate. Democratic Sen. Harris’ passion for helping others is on full display in The Truths We Hold, where she shares her insights on leadership, problem solving and the power of speaking your truth.
    But Time is just echoing what the newspaper of record is trying to do. Law professor and blogger Ann Althouse believes the New York Times is writing disparaging articles on other Democratic candidates on "the path the NYT would like to clear for — let's be honest — Kamala Harris?"

    Politicians are always trying to recreate the past. Democrats constantly refer to JFK, who brought "Camelot" to Washington. Republicans compare their leaders to Ronald Reagan, whom they view as the greatest Republican President since Lincoln.

    IMHO, one of the reasons Hillary Clinton was nominated was to restore the glory days of her husband's administration, but Hillary did not have Bill's charisma or political skills.

    And Kamala, though attractive and black, so far has not shown that she's anywhere close to being Barack. I suppose, if she wins the Democratic nomination, I'll be picking up her book. So 2020, maybe.

    Thursday, January 03, 2019

    Lesson Learned

    I think they know that many long-time donors are unhappy with them. Wealthy private universities are getting it from all sides---not enough diversity in their students and faculty on one hand, and on the other too much identity politics and opposition to core values like freedom of speech and religion.

    Many donors don't care whether they're listed in the group that gives $500, $1,000, or $5,000. They also know that whatever they give makes absolutely no difference to a school with a $10 billion endowment.

    So how about being “loyal” or “true” to the tribe? Giving $100 to help a poor kid with her $40,000-a-year tuition: that message doesn't resonate. Well, I do have some admiration for the institutions as they used to be. What I learned back then is that I should give to the food bank or homeless shelter. Lesson learned.

    Wednesday, January 02, 2019

    Informative Diversion

    Chronicle columnist Kevin Fisher-Paulson composes an annual Holiday Quiz consisting of San Francisco-related questions. Obeying his admonition not to use the Internet, I got precisely none of the answers though the questions didn't seem so tough. Perhaps Undoubtedly you can do better, dear reader.
    1. What is the foggiest place in the United States?

    2. Who are Bummer and Lazarus?

    3. What is the original site of the Castro Theatre?

    (From opensfhistory)
    4. What was Zane Grey’s first name?

    5. Where is the Breon Gate?

    6. What do Lesotho, San Marino and the Vatican have in common?

    7. Originally called the Peacock Cafe, this restaurant reopened in 1963 and serves the best pizza in the city.

    O Henry (Britannica)
    8. Streets of San Francisco: Dore Alley, Cora Street, Jessie Street, Isis Street and Minna Street, all small corridors south of Market, have what in common?

    9. How did O. Henry get his pen name?

    10. Who was originally cast to play the role of Dirty Harry?

    11. By what means of travel did Al Capone arrive at Alcatraz?

    12. Streets of San Francisco, Part 2: What is the steepest street in San Francisco?

    13. What is the Feynman Point?

    14. Where is an exact replica of the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in San Francisco?

    Alameda Naval Air Station (airphotona)
    15. Dorcas Reilly passed away this year. What did she invent that affected the lives of 20 million people?

    16. What is the fastest way to walk from the county of San Francisco to the county of Alameda without crossing a bridge?

    17. You enter a dark house in the middle of the night. Inside are an oil lamp, a stove full of wood and a candle. You have only one match. Which do you light first?

    18. Which state is farthest south? North? West? East?

    19. Where is the tallest rotunda dome in the United States of America?

    20. Name a word in which all the vowels appear in alphabetical order?

    21. What do Doc Holliday, Casey Stengel and Zane Grey have in common?

    22. Streets of San Francisco, Part 3: Another of my favorite Chronicle columnists, Armistead Maupin, made this street famous. Where in the city can you find Barbary Lane?
    Answers below the fold:

    Tuesday, January 01, 2019

    Happy New Year, But Resolutions Start Tomorrow

    New Year's Day is a holiday, and we're on holiday, too, so resolutions start tomorrow.

    In Rocklin we ordered brunch at the Window Box cafe. The corned beef hash--sliced, not ground--was a coruscation of color.

    Reluctant to disturb its symmetry, I eventually relented. It tasted as good as it looked.

    The casino Food Court was crowded on New Year's Day.
    A family member wanted to try his luck at the nearby casino. It was a New Year, but for him it was the same old result.

    I spent most of the afternoon at the food court. The WiFi was intermittent, but I was able to do some work that didn't require an Internet connection. (Often without the Internet I find myself to be more productive, but that's just me.)

    Tomorrow I'll get serious. We'll see how long that lasts.