Friday, May 31, 2019

Inflation and Deflation in the Face of Desire

Inflation and deflation are not just monetary phenomena.

College grade-point averages have been inflating for decades. Today's students may be on average better prepared, more motivated, and more intelligent, therefore more deserving of A's. Then again, it's also possible that "It’s about [professors] helping 'succeed.'" by boosting resumes.

(EOnline image)
Conversely women's dress sizes have undergone deflation. In 1958
a star like Marilyn Monroe—with a 35-inch bust and 22-inch waist, might have worn clothing marked as a size 12 or larger at the time. But based off her bust size in modern times, she'd be about a size 6 or less now.
Clothing industry term: vanity sizing.
“Sizes are shifted down,” said Debra J. Klensch, chair of ASTM International’s subcommittee on body measurement for apparel sizing,.... a size 8 now has a bust that is 5.25 inches larger than it was in 1958, a waist that is at least 4.5 inches larger, and hips that are at least 6 inches larger.

In 1958, that would have been closer to a size 16.
"Immutable" standards become highly flexible in the face of desire.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

One of the Season Highlights for the White Sox

The Chicago White Sox employee-of-the-month threw out the first pitch last night. "Unfortunately, it didn’t exactly go well."


1) Actually, the pitch had a decent velocity and was thrown level and straight; the direction needed work.

2) The throw looks like my golf drives--not much arc and way off line.

3) Prediction: this will be one of the season highlights for the White Sox, currently 25-29.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Eschew the Chewing

Eat, Play, Love: Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner.
Hallmark movies not only have predictable plots, likable characters, and happy endings, often they give us a chance to see nearly forgotten actors from our youth.

In Eat, Play, Love, there's no question that the two attractive young leads will end up together.

The bonus was seeing two 1970's TV stars, Lee Majors (the Six Million Dollar Man) and Lindsay Wagner (the Bionic Woman), whose characters sometimes had guest appearances on the other's show. At the end of their series' runs, they became a bionic married couple.

In the 2017 Hallmark movie Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner's characters also end up together. Hallmark plots may be pablum for the mind, but as we get older we don't have the strength for chewing.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Fakery Around Us

One of the latest tempests-in-a-Washington-teapot is about whether President Trump retweeted a doctored video of Nancy Pelosi slurring her words. Complicating the matter is that there are several Pelosi videos circulating the web, some "more fake" than others. Also, there is little consensus about where the line is crossed, for example, whether it includes editing out context or slowing the speed.

IMHO, this Trump-Pelosi contretemps is tiresome and will blow over soon.

The far greater issue is the advancement of "deep-fake" video technology.
Deepfakes first entered the public eye late 2017, when an anonymous Redditor under the name “deepfakes” began uploading videos of celebrities like Scarlett Johansson stitched onto the bodies of pornographic actors...

Celebrities are the easiest targets, with ample public imagery that can be used to train deepfake algorithms; it’s relatively easy to make a high-fidelity video of Donald Trump, for example, who appears on TV day and night and at all angles....

The concern is that a cleverly crafted deepfake of a public figure, perhaps imitating a grainy cell phone video so that it’s imperfections are overlooked, and timed for the right moment, could shape a lot of opinions.
You and I, dear reader, may take comfort in that we are not public figures; there are relatively few pictures and videos of us that can be used for nefarious purposes. But are we deluding ourselves?

Samsung's "deep fake" algorithms can create a video talking head from a single photograph. Below is a demonstration using a well-known portrait.

(Gif from )

One silver lining is that the subjects of embarrassing revelations can plausibly claim that the "evidence" is made up. If some of it is untrustworthy--and we don't know which part--then all of it is. And maybe, just maybe, this will lead the viewing public to do more thinking for themselves.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Memorial Day, 2019

The Star Advertiser reports on the 21st-century Navy:
(Lockheed Martin rendering via the Star Advertiser)
The Pearl Harbor-based USS Preble will be the first destroyer to be equipped with a high-energy laser to counter surface craft and unmanned aerial systems. [snip]

The Congressional Research Service said in a May report that the Navy is developing three new ship-based weapons: solid-state lasers, an electromagnetic railgun and a gun-launched guided projectile that “could substantially improve” the ability of Navy surface ships to defend against surface craft, unmanned aerial vehicles and, eventually, anti-ship cruise missiles.
The HELIOS (High Energy Laser and Integrated Optical-dazzler With Surveillance) System has been developed to counter the threat from drones.
The Modern War Institute at West Point wrote in late 2018 that drone swarm technology is a growing threat. The report said China is interested in swarm technology as a method of attacking aircraft carriers.

Iran’s Defense Ministry, meanwhile, announced in March that it had conducted an exercise in the Persian Gulf involving 50 combat drones.
Swarms of small attackers, laser defenses, and no time to think---it sounds like an arcade videogame from the 1970's.

Your humble blogger could last over an hour on a single quarter. Born 50 years too soon, I coulda been a defendah.

Happy Memorial Day!

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Jean Vanier

(WSJ drawing)
Words of wisdom from philosopher Jean Vanier (1928-2019), founder of L'Arche: [bold added]
Mr. Vanier was asked what could be contributed by those unable to devote themselves full time to serving others. “Try and find somebody who is lonely,” he said. “And when you go to see them, they will see you as the messiah. Go and visit a little old lady who has no friends or family. Bring her flowers. People say, ‘But that’s nothing.’ It is nothing—but it’s also everything.”
Appalled by conditions in a French mental asylum, Jean Vanier invited two inmates to live with him in 1964. His house became the first L'Arche (inspired by Noah's Ark), and the charity "has spread to more than 150 communities in 38 countries, providing homes for about 5,000 people."

Those suffering from mental illness or mental disability require attention for hours every day over a long period of time. Solutions are not easily "scalable", and treating everyone who needs help is frankly impossible. Another quote:
The great thing about people with intellectual disabilities is that they’re not people who discuss philosophy. What they want is fun and laughter, to do things together and fool around, and laughter is at the heart of community....What I’m trying to live and trying to say is that people with disabilities are important—in themselves but also they have a message to give to humanity.
Once in a while we chance upon a profile, a biography, or obituary that gives us hope for humanity. R.I.P.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Not Too Affordable

Grateful it's not closer: the nearest Jollibee is 15 miles away.
Rule to live by: “I’m very healthy, but when fried chicken is there, I eat it.”

The WSJ reports on New Yorkers' latest food craze: Asian-style fried chicken.
Dining spots specializing in fare from South Korea, Japan and other Asian countries are offering their version of the fowl favorite—and they are finding a hungry market....But it is the Korean iteration of fried chicken, known for its extremely crispy exterior, that has become the true sensation throughout the city over the past decade. Dozens of Korean restaurants offer it.
Chinese-style fried chicken-as well as chicken karaage and katsu in Japanese restaurants--has been available in the Bay Area for at least 40 years. I do remember New York's Cantonese restaurants serving such fare when I was in college, so the WSJ article seems belated. Undoubtedly the Internet has helped generate these rapid ascensions in popularity; back in the 1970's there was a paucity of publicity for all but a few non-Continental restaurants.

The chicken from KFC is now too greasy and salty for your humble blogger. My chain of choice is the Philippines' Jollibee, which has several outlets in the Bay Area. Jollibee serves only crispy drumsticks and thighs, spicy or mild, with a side of gravy. Once every three months is all that I can afford, and we're not talking about price.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Not So Beautiful

The felled tree hasn't moved for three days
One of my timber-company bosses 40 years ago said,

"The most beautiful tree is one that's lying on its side."

We know that's not true. It's never pretty if you're blocking traffic.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Nervousness is Receding

Good news for California water users and skiers, disappointing news for global warming alarmists: [bold added]

Tahoe on April 2nd (Chron photo)
Late-season snow gives one last chance to ski Tahoe this Memorial Day weekend
As of Thursday morning, Tahoe City had received 239 inches of snow since Oct. 1 — 129% of the usual snowfall for the water year, said Mark Faucette, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
The wet, snowy weather has been experienced in the mountains throughout the State, not just Tahoe:
Three hours south of Tahoe, Mammoth Mountain has held onto a monstrous 155-inch base at its 11,053-foot summit. Weather allowing, the mountain is skiable top-to-bottom.
Due to warnings of "permanent" drought conditions we were nervous about re-sodding the lawn two years ago. The nervousness is receding.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

And the Company's Name is Great, Too

Naomi Granger, founder of Dope CFO, on how she found her niche:
Naomi Granger (WSJ photo)
I picked professional athletes at first, and would go on LinkedIn trying to connect with players. The ones who were actively playing seemed to be bombarded by different financial advisers.

Then I decided to try real estate because I already knew a few agents, but realized most didn’t make enough money to hire an accountant.

That’s when I stumbled upon cannabis. It’s such an underserved industry, facing these huge problems because of the changing laws and massive growth. Most banks won’t serve cannabis companies, and large accounting firms and accounting software providers don’t want to serve the industry either because it’s still an illegal business, federally speaking.
The debits and credits of cannabis accounting don't cover new ground. However, the ethics issues are difficult to navigate, since CPA's are not supposed to be associated with businesses that knowingly break the law (marijuana is still illegal under Federal statutes).

Good luck to Ms. Granger, an entrepreneurial millennial accountant to keep your eye on.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Why of Donald

Former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan is by no means a supporter of President Trump. As a TV commentator for CNN, ABC, and NBC, she is a "Georgetown" Republican who is often the object of conservative ire.

Nevertheless, in last week's WSJ column Ms. Noonan exhibits a genuine understanding of Trump voters: [bold added]
Democrats unveil charges and accusations—the president is a liar, he’s a tax dodger, an obstructor of justice. But in a way Mr. Trump’s supporters accounted for all this before they elected him. They are not shocked. They didn’t hire him to be a good man. Their politics are post-heroic. They sometimes tell reporters he’s a man of high character but mostly to drive the reporters crazy. I have never talked to a Trump supporter, and my world is thick with them, who thought he had a high personal character. On the other hand they sincerely believe he has a high political character, in that he pursues the issues he campaigned on. They hired him as an insult to the political class, as a Hail Mary pass—we’ve tried everything else, maybe this will work—and because he agreed with them on the issues.

Supporters give him high marks for not looking down on them as they believe most members of the media, who are always trying to “understand” them, do. Their attitude is: “Don’t try to understand me, like you’re the anthropologist and we’re the savages. I’m an American, what are you?” They factor the cultural animosity in. When they jeer the press during rallies at the president’s direction, they don’t really mean it. They’re having fun and talking back. They’d be happy if their kids became reporters—an affluent profession, and half of them are famous. The president doesn’t really hate the press either, he wants their love and admiration. You don’t need the admiration of people you truly disdain.

Trump supporters now are looking around and thinking: Things are looking up. The economy is gangbusters, everyone can get a job, good people are on the courts. Something good is happening with China—it’s unclear what, but at least he’s pushing back. As for illegal immigration, he at least cares about it and means to make it better, though no, it doesn’t seem improved.

To take all Congress’s time right now and devote it to attacking the president, or impeaching him, will be experienced as a vast, disheartening insult by half the country, and disheartening. It will simply damage the country and be seen as extreme and destructive. It will keep good things, such as an infrastructure bill, from happening.
His supporters view Mr. Trump as a highly imperfect vessel who at least is sailing in the right direction. The various Democratic candidates, save for Joe Biden, have moral characteristics and personal behaviors that most Americans believe are superior to Mr. Trump's, but Democrats seem to be sailing the ship toward a world where one can be arrested for sipping on a plastic straw, grilling a steak outdoors, or stopping a man from entering the girls' restroom. Worse, if one is a member of a victim group, one need not obey any of these stultifying laws.

Your humble pollyanna still holds out hope that Americans will come together eventually--probably in January, 2021 or January, 2025 after Mr. Trump leaves office.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Protectionism Doesn't Stink for Everyone

Experts caution that trade wars have no winners, but don't tell that to this local company:
Ken Christopher gets emotional about tariffs
Christopher Ranch, the nation’s largest commercial garlic grower,....stands to gain from a 25% tariff the Trump administration imposed on Chinese garlic and other goods this month. [snip]

Before the 10% tariff enacted in September, Chinese garlic cost $15 to $20 per box, while California garlic was about $50 to $60 per box, according to [CEO Ken] Christopher. Now, with the 25% tariff Chinese garlic will be $40 to $45 per box, he said.
Despite its higher price, your humble blogger always buys Gilroy garlic. "Made in China" means low prices and acceptable, sometimes above-average quality, but I'll admit to being biased against imported Chinese food. From 2015:
"Food from China is frequently found to contain alarming levels of heavy metals (arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury) and other contaminants." That's why some of my new neighbors left their homeland---who wants to raise kids in that environment?
Saving a couple of bucks on a package of garlic isn't worth one's health.

Also from 2015: note how this Asian-market's display advertises the non-Chinese sourcing of its meat.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Christianity Today: Everyone Wins a Trophy

St. Peter and St. Paul (El Greco)
One of the most significant events in European and world history could have occurred because of a misunderstanding over a single word in the New Testament.
These ["New Perspective on Paul"] scholars begin with the contention that the Protestant reformers mistakenly read 16th-century debates about grace and works into the writings of Paul.

When Paul insisted that no man is justified by “works” or “works of the law,” they insist, he wasn’t criticizing the Judaism of his day as a legalistic or works-based system of earning divine favor.
It's impossible to understate the importance of Martin Luther's 95 Theses, posted on the door of Wittenberg Castle church in 1517. Luther questioned the Catholic Church's use of indulgences, the purchase of which would result in sins being forgiven. (Indulgence purchases were a form of "good works" through which one could enter heaven.)

Martin Luther (Smithsonian)
Martin Luther declared sola fide ("faith alone") based on his reading of Paul's letters to the Romans and Ephesians. According to Luther indulgences were unnecessary to "justification" (right-standing before God). The authority, not to mention a source of funding, for the Church was challenged, and the Protestant Reformation began.

Some modern scholars, however, now say that Luther's interpretation of Paul's view on good works was over-broad:
Messrs. [James] Dunn and [N.T.] Wright contend he was talking about cultural “boundary markers” separating Jews from gentiles. These include rituals and practices such as sabbath observance, circumcision and food laws.
Whether or not their view is correct, WSJ columnist Barton Swaim opines that the new Perspective allows Christianity to de-emphasize not only the faith-good works debate but also heaven, hell, sin, and faith:
My own suspicion is that the New Perspective achieved popularity mainly because young Protestant ministers would rather talk about inclusion and breaking barriers than about the guilt of sin and the pointlessness of trying to erase it by a regimen of good deeds.
I am not definitively persuaded about priests' motivations ("Judge not, that ye be not judged."-Matthew 7:1), but in a society where everyone wins a trophy it makes a lot of sense.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

A Cheery Weekend

5-10 year-old non-functioning electronics
Bye-bye old tax returns
Foster City holds free e-waste and paper-shredding events at City Hall on a semi-annual basis. And so it was that we piled broken-down electronic equipment and old tax returns and medical files into the car this morning.

First was the disposal of documents, which we watched enter the shredding truck. Next was the equipment, from which we had removed any memory devices that could have contained sensitive information.

I had also been concerned that the recyclers wouldn't accept the mercury-containing fluorescent and compact-fluorescent bulbs, which many hardware stores now refuse to accept. No worries, they took everything.

It only took a few hours on a rainy Saturday, but the stress-relieving effects of clearing the clutter made for a cheery weekend.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Less Argument There

Marshland in Foster City
Finally, a common-sense response to a putative danger of global warming:
Blueprint to battle Bay Area sea-level rise focuses on natural solutions
Why "common sense"? Because making improvements to San Francisco Bay has benefits that appeal to those who don't buy into the entire warming credo, which in 2008 we outlined as follows:
  • Temperatures are rising worldwide.
  • This phenomenon is attributable to an increase in “greenhouse gases”.
  • Greenhouse gases, in particular carbon dioxide, are largely produced by human activity.
  • Rising temperatures are bad (I guess that’s why everyone goes north for the winter--sorry, couldn't resist).
  • Therefore, we should overhaul our daily activities, whatever the cost, in order to forestall the catastrophic consequences of global warming.
  • Every one of the above statements is debatable. However, there are remedies that are worthwhile without necessarily buying into all of these assertions. For example, we can spend limited resources converting to wind and solar power (without adding to the supply of energy), or we can spend the same resources protecting the Bay from floods. Coastal properties can be flooded from melting glaciers caused by global warming, but rising seas can also result from storms and seismic activity.

    The study, the San Francisco Bay Shoreline Adaptation Atlas, recommends projects that
    would in many cases replace or bury seawalls, rip rap, culverts and other crude fortifications that experts say won’t hold up as the climate warms and water rises.
    Hydroelectric dams and replanting forests have value whether or not one believes in all the tenets of global warming. So does protecting the Bay and coastal properties. If we pursued these, we would spend a lot less time arguing and more time accomplishing something.

    Thursday, May 16, 2019

    No "Yes, But's" Allowed

    At Northeastern University computer-science majors are required to take a course in theater and improv.
    (GIPHY Image)
    The course requires public speaking, lecturing on such nontechnical topics as family recipes. Students also learn to speak gibberish—“butuga dubuka manala phuthusa,” for instance.

    The class is a way to “robot-proof” computer-science majors, helping them sharpen uniquely human skills, said Joseph E. Aoun, the university president
    All the world's a stage, nerds, so you'd better get used to it.

    As for liberal arts majors, laugh it up, fuzzballs, but a little science, technology, engineering, and math will get you on the good side of our future robot masters.

    Wednesday, May 15, 2019

    So, Do Something

    Hetch Hetchy water and power system (Water Educ. Fdn)
    Hydroelectric power checks a lot of boxes:

  • Plentiful source of energy;
  • No burning of fossil fuels;
  • Low operating cost;
  • Water storage.

    An updated version, pumped storage, can also provide wind and solar energy storage without the drawbacks of chemical batteries.

    One such project has been proposed in "a remote canyon in the towering eastern Sierra."
    (Chronicle diagram)
    The proposed “pumped-storage” project would essentially bank solar and wind energy by pumping creek water uphill when the power sources are plentiful, say during sunny or windy times, and conversely, send the water back down through power-producing turbines when the energy is needed.

    “It’s a great way to manage the intermittency of renewable energy,” said Frank Wolak, an economics professor at Stanford University and director of the school’s Program on Energy and Sustainable Development, who called pumped storage “ideal” for helping the state scale up its clean power.
    Construction would occur mostly on Federal land. At risk would be
    a landscape known for its brown trout and bighorn sheep, unparalleled alpine vistas, and pristine rivers and lakes.
    Politicians must weigh the habitat of sheep and fish and "vistas" which only a few people have the time and money to see, against the millions of Californians who would benefit from increased water, electricity, and alternative energy storage.

    The choice is obvious, but I don't give it much of a chance. The very influential people who say the planet is doomed unless we do something don't seem to want to do something (or they don't really believe the planet is doomed).
  • Tuesday, May 14, 2019

    Que Sera, Sera

    Apr 03, 1922 - May 13, 2019 (Time image)
    Blonde and blue-eyed, Doris Day wasn't sexy in the same fashion as Marilyn Monroe, but she was perfect for pre-1964 America, girl-next-door beautiful.

    Though her public persona never strayed from what we would call "traditional cultural values," her movie characters were articulate and spirited. With the benefit of hindsight we can see how she was the precursor of the ideal professional woman who is assertive, talented, and feminine.

    Her personal life was no Doris Day tale:
    Her 1976 tell-all book, “Doris Day: Her Own Story,” chronicled her money troubles and three failed marriages, contrasting with the happy publicity of her Hollywood career.

    “I have the unfortunate reputation of being Miss Goody Two-Shoes, America’s Virgin, and all that, so I’m afraid it’s going to shock some people for me to say this, but I staunchly believe no two people should get married until they have lived together,” she wrote.
    In my humble opinion, Doris Day is under-rated as a singer. Her music is part of the American songbook--Sentimental Journey, It's Magic, By the Light of the Silvery Moon--often producing an I-didn't-know-that-was-her-song reaction.
    Born to a music teacher and a housewife in Cincinnati, she had dreamed of a dance career, but at age 12 suffered a crippling accident: A car she was in was hit by a train and her leg was badly broken. Listening to the radio while recuperating, she began singing along with Ella Fitzgerald, “trying to catch the subtle ways she shaded her voice, the casual yet clean way she sang the words.”
    Her hit Que Sera, Sera, (Whatever Will Be, Will Be) from Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much" is a throwback to old-style performing--perfect intonation, clear projection, vocal control, feeling without emoting, and erect posture. She knew how to get on and off the stage. R.I.P.

    Monday, May 13, 2019

    Saturday in the Park

    Good reasons to see the Giants vs. Reds on Saturday:
  • Beautiful afternoon weather, with great views of the bay.
  • High quality, albeit pricey, food.
  • The fancy, new scoreboard--now fully operational--chock-full of information for baseball junkies and casual fans alike.
  • Free bobblehead that depicts Pablo Sandoval's pitching:
    [On May 6] Sandoval became the only other player besides Hall of Fame pitcher Christy Mathewson in 1905 with a homer, steal and scoreless pitching outing in the same game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
  • Reason not to go the park on Saturday: Giants baseball. The Giants lost to the Reds, 5-4, in a desultory performance by the home team.

    Sunday, May 12, 2019


    Nob Hill or Knob Hill?
    Reported by the Chronicle:
    “I like to have sex before I come to church. That way, if anything happens, I’m covered.”

    Man to man, overheard at Grace Cathedral by Alexandra Morgan
    Making Episcopal Great Again.

    Happy Mother's Day!

    Saturday, May 11, 2019

    Let’s Plan to Make a Plan Dept.

    James Harden, after the Houston Rockets were eliminated from the playoffs by the Golden State Warriors:
    “I know what we need to do," Harden said. "I know exactly what we need to do. We'll figure it out this summer."

    Slip Me a Slug of the Wonderful Mug

    Perhaps you missed the latest tempest-in-a-latte-cup when Sunday's episode of Game of Thrones showed what appeared to be a Starbucks drink next to one of the leading characters. (Starbucks, not to mention electricity and paper cups, does not exist in the Game of Thrones fantasy universe.)

    The accidental product placement has garnered free social-media publicity for the Seattle-based coffee company:
    Plenty of brands would like to find a way into an ad-free smash TV show like HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” On Sunday night, Starbucks Corp. seemed to have lucked its way there...the apparent anachronism handed Starbucks a big share of the voluminous “Game of Thrones” social-media conversation that follows every episode.
    In the middle of its final season, over 17 million viewers (across all platforms) have been watching Game of Thrones. That's a lot of eyeballs.

    Note: in an alternative universe it's possible that the Starbucks cup could have existed, for example:
    After a day of slaughter, Daenerys really needed to stop at a bathroom. Her code of ethics forbade her from using the Starbucks facilities without buying anything--though she didn't have to (cut to image of the Philadelphia 911 incident)--so she ordered the venti, triple-shot non-fat latte, no sugar. When the barista asks if she needed a cardboard sleeve, the camera pans to her calloused hands, toughened by the fire of dragons that she rides all day. Daenerys smiles faintly and takes the cup without the sleeve and pops in the green swizzle stick that seals the top for transport. She enters the gender-neutral bathroom. Fade to black...
    Note: at last night's Warriors-Rockets game actress Emilia Clarke, the subject of all the social-media fun, was spotted by the mascot. You cannot escape, Daenerys!

    Friday, May 10, 2019

    Killing the Goose

    (Economist illustration)
    Jean Baptiste Colbert:
    The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest possible amount of feathers with the smallest amount of hissing.
    The City of San Francisco imposes a multiplicity of business taxes. Some supervisors want to add an IPO tax to grab some boodle from individuals who benefit ("stock-based compensation") from an initial public offering.

    The San Francisco Chronicle thinks this is A Tax Too Far:
    IPOs by their nature are one-time shots, meaning the revenue isn’t dependable. Firms already hampered by the high cost of operations here will have another reason to expand or relocate elsewhere. Tacking on a tax needs more explanation than righteous anger over lopsided incomes. The need for a two-thirds ballot box approval is a major obstacle.

    San Francisco should take a long look at itself. The city’s budget is due to pass the $11 billion mark, an ever-rising number fueled by tax collections from sales, real estate transfers and payrolls, much of it from the tech industry. The jobless rate is 2.1%, a figure never reached before. A big-business tax to improve homeless services and expected to yield $300 million annually won an overwhelmingly majority, though it’s under legal challenge. Throwing on a new tax makes no sense in a roaring economy and atmosphere of awareness and change.
    San Francisco isn't just plucking the goose, it's killing it.

    Thursday, May 09, 2019

    Nice Little Business You Have Here

    (Image from
    Consumers value lower prices more than they do "corporate social responsibility (CSR)" policies--for example, green initiatives or workplace safety. So why do companies sometimes voluntarily restrict their actions more than the law requires? According to a Stanford study [bold added]
    Firms may exceed regulation in order to reduce support for stricter regulations among key stakeholders, thereby forestalling future implementation of these regulations.
    Another finding--breadth is more important than depth:
    We found that self-regulation can be an effective corporate strategy, but the breath [sic] of self-regulation (the number of companies participating) mattered more than depth (the extent of self-regulation). In some simulations we conducted, we find that in the absence of self-regulation, pro-regulatory forces dominate in 68% of cases. If companies implement broad and deep regulations, this number drops to only 4%. However, companies can get it to as low as 16% by implementing broad but shallow regulations. In contrast, deep and shallow regulations only slightly reduce the chance of pro-regulatory domination.
    Poll responders are displaying common sense; for example, it's better for everyone to cut their energy use by 10% than for a few large users to switch 100% to alternative energy.

    It's also clear that companies are strongly incentivized to adopt CSR policies not because of innate altruism but because of the unspoken threat of regulation, i.e., "nice little business you have here, it would be a shame if anything happened to it."

    Few approve of extra-legal coercion, especially if it's done to them, but it's better than imposing strict laws that nearly always have unintended consequences.

    Wednesday, May 08, 2019

    Crazy Rich Asians: New World, Familiar Plot

    At the wedding of a secondary character the church is converted
    to a jungle and the aisle becomes a pond (the bride wore boots)
    I missed seeing Crazy Rich Asians in the theaters last year. When the disk finally made it to the top of the Netflix queue, I popped it in the player.

    Nearly every Asian actor on American television had a part, and, as the title promised, there were over-the-top scenes of billionaires showing off their wealth.

    But pictures of the lifestyles of rich and famous Asians---specifically, Singaporean Chinese---do not a story make, so the writers basically stole the plot of a dozen "royal-loves-commoner" Hallmark movies:
  • Handsome prince of a small European country comes to America--for college, for life experience, or to visit friends.
  • He falls for a girl, who along with every other American, has no idea who he is. He loves her because she appreciates him for himself, not for his title or money.
  • He has to reveal his identity because he needs the blessing of his mother, the Queen. (The King died long ago; in this movie he's merely absent.)
  • He can't put off the revelation because he has to go home to be coronated; in many Hallmark movies he also must have named his future queen.
  • The Queen and her aides disapprove of this American who has no training in royal duties and manners.
  • However, the common folk and low-level palace workers come to love her.
  • The middle part of the story is about how she tries to navigate the treacherous shoals of palace intrigue, not only the Queen's machinations but also a rival of noble blood, often someone who has known the Prince since childhood.
  • The Prince's love never wavers, but near the end of the movie she returns to America to save him from more damage to his status and authority.
  • The Queen, remembering how in her own life she chose duty over passion, sees the misery in her son. She realizes that the girl loves the Prince so deeply that she will give up her own future happiness for his sake.
  • The Queen welcomes her future daughter-in-law to the kingdom, and they all live happily ever after.
  • The would-be "princess", Rachel Chu (played by Constance Wu), is the everywoman / Luke Skywalker / Harry Potter character through whose eyes the audience discovers a vast new world. She's a NYU Finance prof whose skill at gaming and game theory later proves useful.

    But Crazy Rich Asians is really about the business matriarch, Eleanor Young (played by Michelle Yeoh), who is transformed from disapproving Queen to another mother who wants her son to be happy. (Though Rachel and "prince" Nick Young get most of the screen time, one hint that the movie is about Eleanor is the opening scene, a flashback to 1995, in which Eleanor must assert herself against snooty London hotel staff.)

    The movie is rife with references that ABC's (American-born Chinese) will appreciate, e.g., the frugality of the elderly regardless of their wealth, how everyone knows how to play mah-jongg, and how every woman knows how to cook.

    I liked the movie because of its glimpses into how the non-American overseas Chinese .001% live, and I also like Hallmark movies. But if the latter are not your cup of tea, dear reader, then you may wish to give this one a pass.

    Tuesday, May 07, 2019

    Kaimuki nō ka ʻoi

    "Lintherine" is a fictional security
    company in Five-O.
    I've never visited my second cousin's home, but I see it occasionally on TV. One of Hawaii Five-O's newer characters, Officer Tani Rey, "lives" in my relative's house in the old Kaimuki district of Honolulu.

    Many of Kaimuki's original homes have been torn down:
    Houses in the 1950s and 1960s began to change to the boxier styles, and ‘ohana zoning & rules requiring attached ‘ohana dwellings altered the character of the older bungalows if they were spared the wrecking ball.

    The 1970s and 1980s saw an increase in bungalows replaced by residential “boxes.” By the end of the 1980s and 1990s, more of the classic Kaimuki homes were replaced by McMansions and “Garage Mahals” which continue to plague the area.
    My cousin, with an assist from the TV show, keeps the '50's property in great shape. Let's hope that Tani--and Hawaii Five-O (in its ninth season)--stick around for a few more years.

    Monday, May 06, 2019

    Oh, the Humanities

    (WSJ illustration by Loris Lara)
    American poet and literary critic Adam Kirsch advises:

    Stop Worrying About the ‘Death’ of the Humanities.

    These worries apparently "stem" from the decline in the number of humanities majors and the concomitant rise in enrollment in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

    Mr. Kirsch's argument is that the university is the wrong place to gauge the health of, and interest in, the humanities.
    The real action takes place outside the classroom, in theaters, concert halls, art galleries and libraries, or simply in the living rooms where people read and think. Being a successful literature or history or art major requires different skills than the ones needed to make these things a part of one’s actual inner life. Students are judged by what they can readily articulate, but in life, it is what we don’t know how to express that draws us to read, think, listen to music or look at art.

    When the university comes to be seen as the sole custodian of the humanities, both the humanities and the university suffer. Most scholarship in the humanities is directed solely to other scholars and has little or no effect on the culture at large...

    Certainly there is a hunger in the U.S. for engagement with ideas and culture that isn’t mediated by universities. The Center for Fiction recently opened a beautiful new headquarters in Brooklyn, where it houses readings, workshops and a massive library; the Poetry Foundation does the same for verse in its home in Chicago. The NEA’s Big Read program, which encourages cities and communities to read and discuss a chosen book, has attracted almost five million people to its events since its launch in 2005. And the past decade has seen the emergence of several important intellectual journals, from Jacobin on the left to American Affairs on the right, which keep alive the tradition of the independent “little magazine.”

    But the habit of seeing universities as the main or even sole custodians of humanistic culture isn’t just inaccurate; it is bad for universities themselves. When we consider the university the only place where society can explicitly formulate its visions of truth, beauty and justice, it’s no wonder that campuses become fierce ideological battlegrounds—for students, faculty and outside observers alike.
    The History and Political Thought reading
    hasn't changed much (click to enlarge)
    When humanities courses are not "ideological battlegrounds", they can make for a rewarding educational experience.

    Your humble blogger, a social sciences major, regards his freshman acceptance into a coordinated humanities program to be the best decision he made in college. Philosophy, Art, History, and Literature had parallel curricula, all starting with the ancient Greeks and ending in the 19th century (e.g, Nietzsche, Impressionism, Metternich--Literature was the exception because the professor insisted on covering Waiting for Godot).

    Being in a rush to graduate in less than four years, I exited the program in favor of courses that imparted more useful knowledge.

    Only later did I come to understand that what is useful is not necessarily important.

    Sunday, May 05, 2019

    Cinco de Mayo: It Never Gets Old

    We checked, but the President hasn't (yet) tweeted about Cinco de Mayo. So we are reprising our 2016 post below.


    May 5, 2016

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

    Already the deconstruction has begun on this supposedly innocuous Tweet.

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

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

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

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

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


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

    Saturday, May 04, 2019

    Real Masculinity

    The San Francisco 49ers drafted Arkansas linebacker Dre Greenlaw in the 5th round--his roster spot is far from assured--but he's already made the first team of life, according to the father of a college classmate. [bold added]
    [Gerry] Daly, a 52-year-old husband and father of two, shared a story about the Razorbacks’ team captain on Twitter that resonated widely....

    In 2015, Greenlaw and Meghan Daly were both freshmen at Arkansas who had become casual friends at Fayetteville High. At the party, Meghan, who hadn’t been drinking heavily with her group of friends, was acting erratically and told Greenlaw at one point she thought a pill, a date-rape drug, had been slipped into her drink.

    Gerry Daly said Meghan’s friends later told her that Greenlaw stopped a man from leaving the party with her. On Thursday, Greenlaw recalled stepping in when a man began acting aggressively toward Meghan. Greenlaw helped Meghan find her friends, from whom she’d become separated, and they took her to the nearest emergency room.[snip]

    This is a guy who literally could have screwed up his future by doing this,” Daly said. “If the guy that’s trying to take Meghan away throws a punch and it ends up in a fight, who knows? He could end up getting arrested or thrown off the team. It was one of those things.

    “The more I thought about it, the more I realized what he could have been putting at risk for my daughter. The more the shock of the event passed, the more the gratitude set in.”[snip]

    Daly appreciated why Greenlaw might want to downplay his role, given he was a freshman on the football team who was at a party where there was underage drinking.

    For that reason, Daly didn’t share the story publicly until Saturday, when Greenlaw officially landed in the NFL.
    And what does Dre Greenlaw have to say? “At the time, I was just looking out for a friend.”

    Friday, May 03, 2019

    Unless It Happens to You

    Teenaged carjackers crashed into a house in Castro Valley: [bold added]
    The car hit the home of two elderly women at 12:30 am, destroying the garage and narrowly missing their bedrooms...A neighbor helped the two residents retrieve some items so they could go stay somewhere else. The crash severed the gas line and knocked out the power.
    Pictures of the Castro Valley incident reminded me of the damage (photo, right) to a house a block away from our home in 2004. Teenagers (is there a pattern here?) crashed at high speed into the garage. Fortunately, no one was home.

    Since then the house has been repaired, a brick-and-wrought-iron barrier (at waist-high it's barely a fence) now protects the property, and flashing crosswalk signals have been added nearby. Everyone would say such a freakish accident won't happen again---unless it happens to you.

    Thursday, May 02, 2019

    Ducks: Enjoy Them at a Distance

    The ducks that have long frequented our neighborhood have returned to Foster City.

    Idly curious about how the two resting on the grass would react, I turned on the sprinklers manually. They rose to search and peck the ground, as if they knew that the water would cause earthworms and insects to surface.

    They add to the color of the community, but resist the temptation to feed them, unless you want to clean your driveway, sidewalk, and patio more often. Enjoy watching a distance.

    Wednesday, May 01, 2019

    May Day, 2019: Getting Better

    Portland May Day ICE protest.
    May Day is a day devoted to worker solidarity and protest. Often the demonstrations and marches spread to include other causes, such as immigration (see photo right) or the environment.

    It seems to this humble observer that the original focus on the worker seems to have been lost, for on the jobs front there is less to complain about than ever.
    Despite war and recession jobs are at an all-time high (BLS).
    The U.S. private sector added 275,000 jobs in April, according to the ADP National Employment Report released Wednesday, a far greater number than analysts expected.

    Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal expected the private sector to gain 177,000 jobs.
    The mighty U.S. economy has created jobs under two Democratic and two Republican Administrations. Neither war, financial collapse, automation, or political rancor has knocked it off its stride.

    May Day is marked by complaining about how bad things are. I prefer to celebrate how they're getting better.