Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Day Before Departure

When returning home from vacation one usually worries only about re-packing a suitcase, but when visiting your original hometown there's a list of things to do when leaving. At the top: saying goodbye to the people over 90.

Helen, 95
On the day before departure I drove Helen to church. She's a member of the altar guild, the group that sets up and takes down the various paraphernalia--altar cloths, bread and wine, candles---used in Holy Communion. She needs extra time before and after the service, and sometimes it's difficult for her regular drivers to accommodate that schedule.

I enjoy exchanging pleasantries with the church members in the Parish Hall, where the table is always piled with food. She had several items for me to take back to California. That's why I bring a large suitcase on trips to Hawaii.

Doreen, 90, and sons
The boys brought a pot-luck dinner to Mom's assisted living apartment. She has a plan that serves nutritious meals, but she always declines to go the dining room when we show up. She says it's because of our company; more likely she'd rather eat the fatty, tasty dishes that she never gets downstairs.

Her doctor probably would frown on two consecutive nights of feasting, but how can one say no to someone who just turned 90?

Alfred, 94, and sons
We stopped by Dad's acute-care facility. He was looking better, the diuretics having reduced the bloating. He asked about the iPhone XR--he had been locked out after typing the wrong code; we were working on fixing it. As soon as the doctors give the green light, he could rejoin Mom. I said that I would stop by again tomorrow on the way to the airport. It had been a great trip.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Doreen at 90

Mom's 90th birthday party had 60 attendees. Half the people were from her generation, and the rest ranged in age from 2 to 66. As her oldest child I got to handle the microphone, while everyone else did all the work. In truth there was not much emcee-ing to do, since people were eager to catch up with those they hadn't seen for many years.

The kitchen at the Jade Dynasty served nine dishes in one hour as promised, and the total program lasted two hours, just right for the seniors who were looking peaked by the end.

I drove Mom back to the apartment and asked if she wanted to start opening her 20 cards ("no cards or gifts" is a request that is often ignored). Tomorrow. She was asleep in 10 minutes. As many at the party said, "We love you, Doreen," and so do I.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Homelessness: Leave it to the Next Guy

The streets look about the same--unkempt, cracked pavement, and tents every few blocks or so. Law enforcement has chased the homeless from the main thoroughfares and tourist areas, but the visible signs appear the same in the old neighborhood.

The two States, California and Hawaii, where I spend all my time, seem helpless to stem the tide.

From March: tents outside the neighborhood library
The solution is always more money, and yet the numbers keep growing. Other States, including those with warm weather, don't seem to have as great a problem. The answers are out there, but they involve single-minded dedication and reliable funding over a long-period of time, The problem-solvers won't get much credit for their work.

And so we ask for more money to paper over the problem. Leave it to the next guy.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Ala Wai Canal

It's a trickle compared to the Mississippi, but to Honolulans it's our Ol' Man River. Without the Ala Wai Canal, Waikiki would still be a swamp and the history of Honolulu, if not the State, would have been entirely different.

The Ala Wai is a two-mile drainage canal--separate from the sewage system, in case you're wondering--but chemical and heavy-metal runoff makes it unsafe for swimmers. It's also not recommended for canoers, but that recommendation is frequently ignored.

My late Uncle Jack, an excellent swimmer, swam across and back before the War. He and his brothers also ate the Samoan crab caught under the McCully bridge. One would be jeopardizing one's health by continuing those practices today:
People don’t swim in the Ala Wai anymore. Contact with its murky water—filled with bacteria, heavy metals, pesticides, and who knows what else—can be hazardous to your health. As the dedicated canoe paddlers who practice on the Ala Wai are well aware, even light splashes can cause rashes, boils and gastro-intestinal troubles.
I like to take a walk around the canal in order to meet the 10,000-step objective. On hot and breezeless days, however, it's best to keep one's distance from the noxious gases. Exercise is beneficial, as long as you're not crazy about it.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Impatient Patient

Travelers often break from their dietary regimen, and I'm no exception.

At Tuesday's pot-luck dinner there were dishes that I no longer eat--or should eat--but it doesn't count when you're over 2,000 miles away from home.

I only had one-and-a-half servings, a sign of diminished capacity, further strained by the chocolate cake.

The occasion was my father's birthday. Immediate-family members who live on the Islands showed up. I could tell that Dad was pleased, though as usual he didn't show it.

Recently he has suffered from infections that have required several visits to the emergency room. He's now on the mend at a "short-stay, high acuity facility," and we're hopeful that he can soon return to the assisted living apartment.

He does look much better and keeps asking when he can leave. Not until the doctors say so; we want to have a lot more birthday celebrations with you.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Stormy Weather

View from King Street: Mount Tantalus partly obscured by the rainclouds 
It's not going to be the best week for beach lovers.

Floods closed the Pali Highway temporarily, and lightning strikes injured two people at the airport and a boy in Kalihi.

I've got a few family errands to run, so there's not much time for R&R.

At least the car's working. My brothers and nephew have done a good job preventing a recurrence of the problem by running the car, parking differently, and installing an electronic keep-away device.

The advantages of being in a large family become manifest when one gets older, and you can't say that about everything.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Concentrating the Mind

Numbers whir on the analog water meter, buried
by the curb due to separated indoor and outdoor pipes.
Leaving town, even for a one-week trip, concentrates the mind. All the to-do list items that had been continually rolling forward ran into the wall of the departure date.

And so it was that I finally rewired the outdoor sprinkler system, which had been operated manually since the electronics stopped working in April.

A second and related task was to determine that there wasn't a leak in the system. I read the water meter after a 4-hour interval with all faucets turned off; the dial didn't move. Good, the grass won't die in my absence.

Now, off to Hawaii, where more implacable family-related deadlines await. Well, none of them are as bad as doing a tax return.

Moment Captured

Allie, the humpback whale, breaches with SF in the background (Susie Kelly photo)
In a photo reminiscent of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home a humpback whale breaches in San Francisco Bay.
Humpbacks have long pectoral fins and distinctive knobby heads and can grow to 52 feet long and weigh almost 80,000 pounds. The species, known for its acrobatic breaching, makes its north-south migration about this time every year, but unlike grays, which make a beeline to the arctic, a lot of them feed along the coast off San Francisco.

Humpbacks were first seen entering San Francisco Bay in significant numbers during the spring and summer of 2016. Since then, [Bill Keener of the Marine Mammal Center] said, 70 humpbacks have been identified feeding in the bay and many more congregate between April and November outside the Golden Gate, in Monterey and Bodega bays and around the Farallon Islands. This is the first one he has seen that isn’t healthy.
"Allie's" mottled skin shows that she's in poor health. Most humpbacks not only are in good condition, but their numbers are growing.

That's a hopeful sign that Star Trek's 23rd-century whale-extinct universe will stay fictional.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Long Games and Longer

22 years after the British left, the seemingly inevitable absorption of Hong Kong into China has paused temporarily: [bold added]
Hong Kong protests on June 16th (WSJ photo)
Beijing is being challenged not by a great military rival but by hundreds of thousands of students, doctors, factory workers, lawyers and civil servants, armed only with a seasoned defiance and a determination to defend their cherished liberties.

That they are unlikely to succeed in the end is not just the predictable denouement of the 1997 agreement returning Hong Kong to China. The fact is that, as an economic asset and gateway, the city now matters less to Beijing than ever before.
President Xi Jinping is willing to use China's military and economic power over many years to strangle Hong Kong into submission. He's playing the long game like other Chinese leaders of the past.

(Digression: Premier Zhou Enlai (1898-1976) famously said about the importance of the French Revolution, "It is too soon to say", though that now appears to be a mis-translation.)

Only the "soft power" of 21st-century communications to a watching world will give Mr. Xi pause, but can Hong Kong hold out until his regime leaves the scene? It is too soon to say.

On this Sunday Christians can reflect on a much longer narrative. A hymn written in 1974 has become the unofficial anthem of the Hong Kong protests.
on 11 June - a day before the protests turned violent - a group of Christians holding a public prayer meeting through the night started singing Hallelujah to the Lord.

The hymn was picked up by other protesters - soon even non-Christians were singing it.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

The Fire Next Time

California is inching its way toward a program for mitigating future damages by utility-caused wildfires. [bold added]
Paradise, 2018 (Chron photo)
[Gov. Gavin] Newsom has proposed extending a Department of Water Resources charge that was originally imposed because of the energy crisis in the early 2000s. The charge could be extended for more than a decade, netting as much as $10.5 billion.

Under the first financing option, known as a “liquidity fund,” the state would be able to provide a line of credit for utilities to pay wildfire claims. But the utilities would have to reimburse the fund.

The second option would work more like insurance, paying out claims directly. If all three utilities [Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric] participated, they would match the $10.5 billion charge by providing $7.5 billion up front and annual payments of $300 million to finance the rest, all with investor — as opposed to ratepayer — money. The insurance fund, which would be managed by the state, could take other steps — including buying reinsurance — to bring its total capacity up to about $40 billion, according to the governor’s office.
Ratepayers, taxpayers, existing bondholders, and stockholders will all have to contribute to the fund. In the 1980's PG&E stock was one of our first investments, using Peter Lynch's investment principles. We got out 15 years ago when the energy industry began to change, and it didn't look like PG&E had a handle on what was happening.

By the way, in the stampede toward solar energy the fire danger may be increasing due to higher geographic dispersion and more exposure to the atmosphere than a traditional power plant. Articles:

Fire Concerns with Roof-Mounted Solar Panels
(Photo from blfirerisk)
One of the many dangers to solar panels is how the panel and its mounting system impact the combustibility of the overall roof system. Some solar panels, for example, include a backing of highly combustible plastic.

In laboratory-based fire tests of roof assemblies, the maximum allowable fire spread is between approximately 20 and 40 ft2 (1.9 and 3.7 m2), depending on whether an A, B or C rating is desired. In actual roof fires with roof-mounted solar panels, fire damage has involved areas of between 1,000 and 183,000 ft2 (93 and 17,000 m2). In the most extreme case the fire spread to the inside and destroyed the entire building.
‘Avian Incident’ Knocks Out 84% of Massive California Solar Farm
An “avian incident” sparked a fire at one of California’s biggest solar farms, affecting 1,200 acres and knocking out 84% of the California Valley Solar Ranch’s [250 megawatt] generating capacity.
A Huge Solar Plant Caught on Fire, and That's the Least of its Problems
On Wednesday, May 25, [2016] Ivanpah's operator, NRG energy, confirmed the fire was indeed caused by mirrors that did not track the sun properly, which focused sunlight onto the wrong part of the tower [in San Bernardino County].

Friday, June 21, 2019

Politically Ignorant, Deliberately

Unless the playoffs include a local team, I don't start following the major sports until the final rounds, just before the championship game(s).

Similarly I haven't been paying attention to the preparation for the Democratic candidates' debates. This studied non-interest saves me a lot of time; I don't have to learn their political positions, much less their personal histories, until the primaries winnow the field down to 3 or 4.

How many faces can you recognize without Googling their names and images? (The NY Times helpfully appears to be running them in alphabetical order.)

Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren should be known to even casual observers. Senators Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar may be remembered from the Kavanaugh hearings. Senator Cory Booker became famous as the outspoken mayor of Newark, NJ, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend was on the cover of Time. I'm also aware of Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, my home state.

On the Republican side are President Trump, of course, and William Weld, former governor of Massachusetts. (Bill Weld was popular 20 years ago as a Republican who could command the respect and votes of Democrats.)

Beyond those names I'm drawing a blank and choose to remain ignorant. At my age one has to be careful what one puts in the attic:
(Image from
I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.
------Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle)

Thursday, June 20, 2019

An Old Guy Speaks His Mind Again

Willie Brown with Beach Blanket Babylon Producer
Jo Schuman Silver and scholarship judge Tracy
Chapman. June 3, 2019. (Chron photo)
California Democratic elder Willie Brown, 85, is no fan of President Trump. But he's also not afraid to speak up when he thinks the President is doing something right or when the Democrats are making a mistake.

In a recent interview President Trump was criticized for saying that he would "listen" to Russia, China, or other foreign sources if they said they had damaging information on an opponent.

Willie Brown said he would do the same.
No politician will admit it publicly, but I’d bet they would all say “yes” to a chance to look at any dirt dug up on their opponent from any source, foreign or domestic. I know I would have been tempted. At the very least, they’re going to have someone from outside the campaign, a hired gun, look at it so there are no fingerprints leading back to them.

Then, once they see what they have, they’re going to decide whether to call in the FBI — after leaking the dirt to the media, of course, assuming it’s true.

The curiosity of what the “dirt” may be is just too great a temptation.

Let’s be honest: If someone came to you with a hot inside stock tip, you might not act on it. But you would listen.

You would not say, ‘Hold on, I’ve got to call the Securities and Exchange Commission.”

And that is what Trump was saying.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Ugly American 2.0

The cover I remember (Amazon)
One of the most influential political books in the 50's and 60's was the Ugly American: [bold added]
The authors were disillusioned with the style and substance of U.S. diplomatic efforts in Southeast Asia. They sought to demonstrate through their writings their belief that American officials and civilians could make a substantial difference in Southeast Asian politics if they were willing to learn local languages, follow local customs and employ regional military tactics.
In the book the "Ugly American" was actually a praiseworthy character who "got his hands dirty" working with the natives---it's cited as one of the influences on JFK to start the Peace Corps.

Subsequently the term came to mean the reverse of a good guy:
"Ugly American" is a term used to refer to perceptions of loud, arrogant, demeaning, thoughtless, ignorant, and ethnocentric behavior of American citizens mainly abroad, but also at home.
One of the standing jokes through the 1970's was about how American tourists expected everyone to speak English, and, if the natives didn't understand, the solution was to speak louder. Later, American arrogance became chastened by Vietnam, Watergate, the Arab oil embargo, and political turmoil. The Ugly American stereotype receded, or so everyone thought.

Today Ugly Americans have not only come back, the arrogance on display--and it's all over the Internet--is even greater. Getting others to learn English is no longer the goal, they want non-English speakers to change their own language. We noted this phenomenon last year:
One source of amusement is the translation of gender-neutral English into Romance languages, where gender is all-pervasive.
(Gif from NBC News)
An example of this trend is the use of the term Latinx to replace "Latino" and "Latina".
If you follow politics closely, chances are that you have encountered the word “Latinx” in recent years. From freshman congresswoman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) to the DNC to left-wing outlet We Are Mitu, it has become a popular term among progressives who say it’s a more inclusive way to refer to people (like me) [writer Giancarlo Sopo] of Latin-American ancestry.
Another Spanish-speaking person responds:
Spanish is not a gender neutral language. There are feminine and masculine words because that is how it has been spoken and read for centuries.

Hispanics will not accept completely changing their language just to avoid possibly offending some Social Justice Warriors. In fact, what is truly offensive is non-Spanish speaking SJWs demanding to change and completely upend the language of Cervantes.
Spanish speakers are perfectly capable of defending their language against these latter-day imperialists.

I just hope that they understand that we're not all Ugly Americans v 2.0.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Mean Streets

The fact that one-third of San Francisco's homeless population of about 8,000 suffers from mental illness has spurred calls for free mental health care. A proposed November ballot measure [bold added]
would be a gargantuan undertaking meant to hit at the heart of the city’s homelessness crisis. But with no guaranteed source of funding, public health officials say it could also force the city to more than double its budget for those services.
The City already spends $400 million per year.

In other news about City services, San Francisco refuses to maintain 148 miles of City streets because they're "unaccepted,"
often because they’re on steep hillsides and were never paved or because they’re narrower than regular streets. The city, therefore, has no responsibility for maintaining those stretches. According to the city itself, of course.
The Chronicle runs a good-news story about how volunteers, with the help of charities, fixed up public lands that the City refuses to maintain in Bernal Heights (close to the intersection of Hwys 101 and 280):
Trees were uncared for and overgrown, making it dark and sketchy, even during the daytime. Homeless people set up camp. Drug dealers peddled their wares. Thieves dumped empty Amazon boxes, briefcases and backpacks after swiping their contents. The concrete staircase became broken and unsafe.

“It was disgusting,” explained Vicky Rideout, who lives near the stretch. “Full of weeds. Full of trash. Twenty years’ worth of trash had accumulated here because it was no one’s job to pick it up...It stank. That’s what I remember the most — how much it smelled. There was a lot of human feces, animal feces.”
In 2016
Kudos to the residents of Bernal Heights (Chron photo)
Andre Rothblatt, an architect, designed a gorgeous new staircase with zigzags of colored tile, getting approval from Public Works to redo the staircase and from the Arts Commission for the tile work. The neighbors also secured permission from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to close the stairs for repairs.

Yes, even though the city doesn’t want to care for the beleaguered street, it still put the neighbors who stepped up through the bureaucratic wringer.

“The structure of government right now is there are way more people whose job it is to slow you down and stop you than to help you,” Rideout said. “We did encounter challenges and slowdowns and obstacles and ‘No, you can’t cut these trees down’ and ‘You have to turn in these tile plans three times.’
That's San Francisco--it decides whether or not to "accept" street maintenance, a basic function of government in the rest of America--but still insists on controlling volunteers trying to remedy a problem that it won't fix.

Meanwhile, back to the proposal at the beginning of this post,
the city would be required to build a drop-in center, and create a new Office of Coordinated Care
How much of the hundreds of millions of dollars would actually be delivered to the mentally ill homeless population? Will another byzantine bureaucracy be created? Can you tell that these are rhetorical questions?

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Tune Hardly Changes

Instructions for 2019
Instructions for 2017

The doctor frowned when he looked at the blood test.

"Your A1C is 6.4. It was 6.3 last year. If it goes to 7, you'll have to take diabetes medication."

It was all related to the fact that I had gained 4 pounds instead of losing the 5 that had been my goal for this year. And no, the gain wasn't in muscle mass.

Dad in January
I mentioned that my father experienced a very painful shingles attack this year--to the point where hospitalization was required. Partial immunity to the disease--my own attack was in 2012--lessens over time. That factor, plus the improvement in the effectiveness of the Shingrix vaccine, put Shingrix on the list of doctor's instructions for the coming year.

The other instructions for 2019--2020 were nearly the same as 2017. Estimating that I'll be a 50% achiever, the doc upped the weight loss goal to 10-20 pounds.

My father's still looking out for me after nearly 94 years on this planet. Thanks, Dad!

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Father's Day, 2019

You know that it's going to be a good day when you order the Big Breakfast (without pancakes), and McDonald's gives you the pancakes by mistake.

That's 90 cents of value---ka-ching!

Happy Father's Day!

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Traffic Problems Have Peaked (?)

The cones come out on weekday afternoons.
In 2019 our City Council decided to make it more difficult for cars to use surface streets on the way to Highway 92 in the afternoon. The solution was to block from 4 to 7 p.m. the Foster City routes that the through-traffic takes.

Congestion has gotten worse from four years ago:
Because Foster City sits on the nexus between major highways 101 and 92 (the San Mateo Bridge), it's nearly impossible for residents to get into or out of the City in under 30 minutes during rush hour. (Compounding the problem, East-Bay commuters often use our surface streets when the freeways are jammed.)

Last week I spent 30 minutes on the offramp to Foster City in the late afternoon. And so it is on weekdays that I avoid going home between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m., nor do I leave between 7:30 a.m. and 9 a.m.
FWIW, your humble blogger thinks traffic problems have peaked:
1) Employment growth will be stunted from politicians' attacks on Big Tech;
2) The housing "shortage" doesn't exist, not at these prices which started to come down last year;
3) More people are leaving than coming to the Bay Area--even the Chronicle's "Bay Area exodus" reporter is moving away.

If you are retired and aren't in the process of leaving---despite your house being worth more than you ever dreamed, and despite the increasing misery of traffic, over-crowding, homelessness, and crime--than you'll probably never leave.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Strangely Comforting

All good things...(SI's 5/20/19 cover)
Like other bandwagon riders, I started following the Golden State Warriors again when they made the playoffs in the 2012-2013 season and had one player, David Lee, named to the All-Star team for the first time in 16 years. Under new head coach Steve Kerr the Warriors won the NBA championship in 2015, lost in the 2016 Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and signed superstar Kevin Durant after the 2016 loss.

Entering the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 seasons, they were prohibitive favorites to win the title and did. Kevin Durant's last committed season was 2018-2019, and, while the Warriors were again the championship favorite, most of the discussion around the NBA water cooler for the past year was about Kevin Durant and other free agents' next teams, changing the balance of power in the league and likely ending the Warriors era.

In Game 6 of the Finals last night, the Toronto Raptors dethroned the Warriors, who, beset by season-ending injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, refused to make excuses and praised the winners.

Though the final result fell short of pre-season expectations, the Warriors' performance during the playoffs displayed character and drive under great adversity, drive that few suspected was there after five years of continued winning.

Just as the loss in 2016 led to the signing of Kevin Durant and the disruption of the NBA, so will the Raptors' victory, the Warriors' loss, and the injuries to K.D. and Klay cause changes that no one can foresee. No one knows anything, and we find that strangely comforting.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

San Francisco: The Retail Blight Spreads

The empty storefront blight not only affects areas where pedestrians hesitate to go, it's spread to popular sections of San Francisco like North Beach. [bold added]
Grant Ave., North Beach (Chron photo)
The number of vacant retail properties in North Beach has jumped, alarming residents, business owners and City Hall.... Something deeper seems at play in North Beach, where the vacancy rate grew from 13% in 2017 to 21% in 2018, the sharpest increase in any San Francisco retail district.

North Beach now ranks fourth among the city’s 24 recognized neighborhood commercial districts by vacancy rate; the citywide average is 12%.

Among the reasons: Long permitting times and high construction costs, as well as the need for seismic retrofits, which account for a quarter of the neighborhood’s current vacancies. San Francisco’s high rents and labor costs have also hurt. There’s been bad luck, too: Two fires have gutted historic buildings that housed a half-dozen businesses.
As noted previously, politicians say the reason is greed:
Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who represents North Beach, blames landlords who have “unrealistic expectations of value” and “greedy brokers” who inflate those expectations.
Speaking as someone who spent over 20 years in leasing in a variety of industries, your humble blogger will state unequivocally that, greedy or not, a property owner should never hold out for higher rents if the property (unless it's taken off the market for improvements) will be vacant another month or longer.
There are no financial advantages for a landlord to intentionally leave a storefront vacant, said Said Kordestani, a partner and tax expert at law firm Farella Braun+ Martel. Property owners can declare a loss on a property if their operational expenses exceed their revenue, but there’s no loss that can be declared for rent that isn’t being collected, he said.

“Leaving a property vacant is mind-boggling to me,” he said. “There’s no tax benefit.”
Progressives like Supervisor Peskin say that more regulation and tax penalties will solve the problem.

Sure, that's the answer.

Meanwhile, sales tax receipts keep falling....

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Another Danger to Our Precious Bodily Fluids

(Image from
Health experts are always telling us to drink more water. And if you want to minimize microplastics in your body, drink more from the tap and eschew bottled sources.
If you live somewhere with clean, safe tap water, relying less on bottled water is a great place to start reducing your plastics exposure, [Univ. of Victoria Dr. Kieran] Cox says.

Bottled water was such a big contributor of microplastics that the researchers did a separate analysis; when people drink their water only from bottled sources, they ingest about 90,000 microplastic particles every year from that water, but people who drink only tap water get 4,000 of such particles a year.

“It’s a 22-fold increase in plastic consumption from a single lifestyle choice,” Cox says. “With these kinds of issues, small choices can make a big impact for you personally and for plastic pollution.”
When out and about, plastic bottles of water are convenient, cheap, and sanitary. At home, however, a tall glass of iced water from the tap is quite pleasurable, and for me fewer microplastics tip the balance.

It also helps that the Foster City municipal water supply meets or exceeds "all primary drinking water standards set by the United States Environmental ProtecƟon Agency (USEPA) and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH)."

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Out With the Lamb

The Queen served the Trumps lamb last week (Lipinsky)
Why do Americans favor beef, chicken, and pork over lamb?
As one theory goes, while awaiting deployment to mainland Europe during World War II, US troops were fed mutton — meat from older sheep — and told it was lamb. When they returned home in 1945, the story goes, they refused to touch lamb meat ever again.
I remember that Mom cooked leg of lamb during the '50's and '60's because it was cheaper than beef and, IMHO, tasted pretty good when accompanied by mint jelly. I also remember that Dad hated it for precisely the reason in the article--it reminded him of the horrible, gamey mutton that the Army served to GI's during and after World War II.

It took decades to remove Army mutton from Dad's memory, but he eventually grew to tolerate lamb. However, I don't think he'll be having any on Father's Day.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Two-Factor Authentication Not All It's Cracked Up to Be

(Image from
Not being a computer expert, I foolishly took comfort in the security of two-factor authentication (2FA).

I log in to the accounts at three different banks by typing the user name and password on my regular computer. When I try to gain access using a new device, such as another computer or an iPad, the bank sends a numerical text to my cellphone-of-record. Entering the numerical code on the new device causes the bank to be confident that it's me---I know the name and password, and I have physical possession of the phone.

Crooks have found several ways to hack 2FA. They usually exploit features that aid hapless consumers who have "forgotten" their passwords or have "lost" their phones.
Cathal McDaid, Adaptive Mobile: One very popular way of doing it is that you ring up the carrier and you say, “My name is X and my phone number is X. However, I’ve lost my SIM card or it’s been damaged or been destroyed somehow and I need to get it assigned to a new phone.”

Allison Nixon, Flashpoint: When the SIM swappers steal a phone number, for that very short period of time they own the victim’s phone number. Then they do a password reset against their emails until they take over the victim’s financial accounts and steal what they want.
To review, the first move by a thief is to transfer the phone number to a different cellphone by claiming that the equipment was "lost". The next step is to log in to the bank website with the victim's email account (some sites require that the userid be the same as the email, I actually prefer to have a user name--e.g., My3rdDogFido--that's harder for the hacker to know), and go through the "forgot password" routine. The bank will send a code to the stolen phone number, and the hacker now controls the bank account.

There are technical solutions, but they all involve inconvenience. For example,
Allison Nixon: if [banks’] policy required a period of time to pass [after a password was reset] before you could empty out an account, that would definitely prevent SIM swapping. The attackers can only hold on to a phone number until the victim gets it back—usually not that long. However, most of the time when people are doing password resets, it’s legitimate, and when you lock down an account for a period of time it makes people very frustrated.
A phone that doesn't need electricity
My solutions are old-school. For any account the theft of which would be very painful I have never allowed electronic transfers. (Setting up the capability for the first time in these accounts would take at least three days.) Yes, I have to wait to get a mailed check from them, but that's how we did it in the 20th century, kids.

The accounts that I use for electronic bill-paying each have a few thousand dollars, and their loss would make me angry but not cause permanent grief. Finally, the UserID's on all my accounts are not an email address.

If the hackers become too proficient, I can disable all outgoing electronic payments and go back to writing checks. Modern systems are complex and convenient, but you should have a back-up plan.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Pentecost 2019

"In Western Churches, Pentecost is usually represented with
the color red, which symbolizes the fire of the Holy Spirit."
(From 10 Things You Should Know About Pentecost Sunday)
I wore a red shirt, which, despite the color's ominous implications in Star Trek, has a meaning that predates sci-fi by millennia.

According to Acts 2 the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples with tongues of fire. And so it is that the church celebrates its birth at Pentecost, the most important Christian holiday after Christmas and Easter.

Being the hottest day so far this year, the priest told the usher (that's me) to leave the doors closed to keep the air-conditioning in. After the service I spent the rest of the day doing chores indoors.

It's a fiery day, but let's keep it metaphorical.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Agriculture: Everything Old is New Again

(Chronicle photo)
Two words - Heirloom chicken:
Based on an 800-acre Arkansas farm, Cooks Venture will begin selling its heirloom-breed, pasture-raised chickens in California on Wednesday at Golden Gate Meats in the Ferry Building. The cost is $3.98 per pound,
The feature that makes this chicken special is that it is raised according to the practices of "regenerative agriculture":
The basic idea behind regenerative agriculture is this: the more organic matter in soil, the more carbon it can sequester. Another added benefit is increased water retention, so that less irrigation is needed.
From 2015: an acquaintance raises
chickens in Hawaii.  She's ahead of
her time.
The premise: just go back to the way things were before industrial agriculture and chemical fertilizers were introduced, and we can save the planet from anthropogenic global warming.

Who knows, if latter-day puritans are successful in getting their blue green laws enforced by State power, maybe Thomas Malthus' 200-year-old warnings about over-population and widespread starvation will come true. Time to dust off your copy of "An Essay on the Principle of Population."

Friday, June 07, 2019

Give It a Rest

I peruse Accounting Today's Tax Fraud Blotter to keep up with the goings-on in accounting and tax. (I study these schemes to spot them, not to use them, of course---besides, the crooks got caught!)

The first item caught my eye for non-tax reasons:
Media failed to disclose that he's a Starbucks
customer, too (Providence Journal photo)
Pawtucket, Rhode Island: Former state senator and businessman James E. Doyle II, 47, has been sentenced to two years in prison for engaging in a $74 million dollar check-kiting scheme in which he wrote tens of thousands of worthless checks and failed to report more than $1 million dollars in income.

He admitted that as owner of Doyle Respiratory and Doyle Sleep Solutions he engaged in a fraud during which $74 million in worthless bank transactions were executed in check-kiting schemes through his accounts. He also admitted that for tax years 2013 through 2016, he and his wife failed to report to the IRS more than $1 million dollars in income and failed to pay $305,426 in federal taxes. Doyle executed the scheme daily, at times in excess of 50 transactions per day, including using ATMs to lengthen the time it took for checks to be presented for clearing.

He was also sentenced to three years of supervised release upon completion of his prison term, and ordered to pay $426,707.25 in restitution.
Was Mr. Doyle II another example of perfidy by a Republican businessman and ex-state senator? (Providence Journal: "Doyle, a Democrat representing Pawtucket".) The fact that his political party was never stated in the tax article or in AP/U.S. News is a clue. It's another example of "name that party".
every time a Democrat is caught in misconduct, the media will either “accidentally” forget to mention his party affiliation or will bury it at the tail of the article were [sic] fewer people will see it...On the other hand, when a Republican is caught in a crime his party affiliation either leads the piece or even appears in the very headline of the report.
Some media outlets have begun mentioning the party affiliation of every crooked politician, but just once I'd like to see such an omission for a Republican miscreant.

But back to the original article: "Doyle executed the scheme daily, at times in excess of 50 transactions per day." He seemed to be in panic mode, with checks flying between his accounts. Two years of rest in prison, away from the busy-ness of his world, may actually do him some good.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Book Club Advice

Its membership has turned over somewhat, but Barbara Lane's book club is still going strong after 32 years. What's the secret to its longevity? Excerpts:
Organizer of another book club.
  • First and foremost: You have to talk about the book....Once we sit down at the table, we talk about the book. And only the book...Once all agree we’ve exhausted the discussion and the book for the next meeting is chosen, we’re free to report on our own fascinating personal and professional lives and, more importantly, gossip.
  • The choice of book is another area where book clubs run into trouble...At the end of the evening’s book discussion, the host brings a pile of books (real books that can be passed around) to the table. He/she is supposed to read into the book a bit, 50 pages or so, to find out if it’s worthy of our attention.
  • a book club of more than 10 means fighting to get a word in.
  • There are intentionally no spouses.
  • Barbara Lane's advice is born out of hard-won experience that coincides with other small associations (not books) in which your humble blogger has participated. Long may her book club flourish.

    Here are the 258 titles that her book club has read.

    Wednesday, June 05, 2019

    New Job for a New Century

    Maya coaching "Bald Soprano" actors (Chron photo)
    A new job for a new century: Intimacy Choreographer. The Chronicle profiles Maya Herbsman:
    Her work, staging intimate scenes in plays, “could include a simulated sex scene, a kiss, a hug between family members, nudity, a first touch between ‘Romeo and Juliet’ … whatever feels vulnerable and intimate” ....

    Herbsman makes those scenes “specific, technical, repeatable and highly choreographed.” She compares her job to fight choreography, in its use of standardized practices to keep actors and everyone else in the rehearsal room safe — physically, emotionally and psychologically.
    In the era of the #MeToo movement, provoked especially by bad actors in the arts and entertainment industry, the Intimacy Choreographer fills a need that didn't seem important a few years ago:
    “But I find when I work with actors over the age of 40, it sort of takes on this whole new meaning, because they realize all that they’ve been putting up with for their whole career. In that moment they realize the things that they didn’t know how to say no to, they didn’t know they could say no to, they didn’t know they were allowed.”
    There are lots of choreographers on LinkedIn but so far no "intimacy choreographers." That omission should change in the near future.

    Tuesday, June 04, 2019

    Coals to Newcastle

    Thanks, but I'll pass: Rat-infested pop-up bar to open in San Francisco [bold added]
    (Chronicle photo)
    The pop-up is a ticketed event at $49.99 per person. Included in the purchase is a 60-minute live interactive show focused on the “the weird, twisted dark side” of San Francisco’s history, according to a press release. After the show, patrons will have 30 minutes to spend touching and picking up the rats before heading to an upstairs cash bar that will serve drinks like the Ama-RAT-O Sour, which is a riff on an amaretto sour, and non-alcoholic drinks.
    1) There are markets in everything.
    2) Novelty might make it successful....for one time and one place.
    3) Assuming the Health Dept okays "clean" rats, how would it know if a "dirty" rat sneaks in?

    Monday, June 03, 2019

    Chipper on Saturday

    It's been at least ten days since the tree has lain at the corner. Early Saturday morning the neighborhood woke to the grinding of heavy machinery.

    Your humble blogger immediately knew what it was. A wood chipper was taking care of business.

    Even if one has never seen a chipper live in operation, it's a familiar sound; the machine has become a clichéd method of disposal in movies and TV crime dramas.

    22 years ago in the movie Fargo.

    Sunday, June 02, 2019

    What Makes It Tick

    Scientists are devising ever-more-accurate methods to measure time:
    WSJ Gif: best if viewed
    with recreational substances
    Today’s cutting-edge clocks are based on measuring the vibrations of atoms and molecules. The most precise atomic clocks are so accurate that, over a period of time equivalent to the whole history of the universe to date, they would be off by less than one second.

    Today’s quantum horologists are looking to improve things further. For instance, it might be possible to monitor atomic nuclei, which vibrate faster than whole atoms.
    Despite the scientific advancements, we're no closer to understanding time's essence. However, there is consensus on several of time's properties: [bold added]
    Most physicists agree that time had a beginning, and that it is measured from, and indeed came into being with, The Big Bang some 13.8 billion years ago. Whether, how and when time might end in the future is a more open question, depending on different notions of the ultimate fate of the universe and other mind-bending concepts like the multiverse.

    (Image from
    The so-called arrow of time refers to the one-way direction or asymmetry of time, which leads to the way we instinctively perceive time as moving forwards from the fixed and immutable past, though the present, towards the unknown and unfixed future. This idea has it roots in physics, particularly in the Second Law of Thermodynamics, although other, often related, arrows of time have also been identified.
    Our extremely precise methods of measuring time are akin to counting the wrinkles in Einstein's brain. We can observe and record all the data we want, but we're no closer to finding out what makes it tick.

    Saturday, June 01, 2019

    Tempting, But I'll Pass

    According to Time:
    Costco is selling just the thing—a 27-lb. bucket of one of America’s favorite comfort foods. The big box retailer is offering a massive bucket of mac and cheese with a shelf life so long that you won’t need to venture outdoors until the year 2039.
    Your humble blogger loves food bargains like the above offering from Costco. At 50 cents per serving, it's tempting. However, I'll have to pass.

    1) Insufficient storage space;
    2) My cardiologist objects;
    3) Lactose intolerance;
    4) Expiration date beyond my own.