Monday, February 28, 2022

Bank of America: Not Optimal

Asterisks hide passwords from users, too
It's possible to have too much security on an internet bank account.

As many websites do, Bank of America's replaces password characters with asterisks (*) shortly after the characters are typed in. Because passwords now have numbers, special characters, and both lower-case and capital letters, the probability of a mistake has increased as passwords have become lengthier. But one can't see what has been typed.

Unlike all my other financial and shopping accounts, Bank of America does not have a "show" or "eye"(­čĹü) button that allows the user to turn off the asterisks.

After 3 password failures, Bank of America locks the account. And yes, that has happened to me, and I had to call the bank and spend an hour satisfying the person at the other end that I was not a scammer. The bank had me at its mercy, because the fee structure almost forces retail customers to cancel paper statements in favor of electronic access, which makes it impossible to check or reconcile with a locked account.

I've also gotten to the third and final login attempt several times, when my aging arthritic hands shook with trepidation (okay, some poetic license here).

Bank of America does allow FaceID to login on the iPhone, but the user can do it on only one account--I was locked out of one of the other two which required a typed password.

All the above is a protracted preface to a simulation that showed
that five was actually the optimal number—the sweet spot we were hoping to identify. When allowing five attempts, the number of lockouts were minimized, with no adverse effect on security.
Bank of America would make me a happier customer if: 1) the Password field had a "show" option; 2) the account would lock after the fifth attempt, not the third; 3) iPhone FaceID would work on every account, not just one. I would like all of those changes, but I am not expecting any.

Come to think of it, why am I staying with them?

Sunday, February 27, 2022

It's Tough to Labor On

Mosaic Law Synagogue in Sacramento has been without
a full-time rabbi for much of the pandemic. (WSJ photo)
Eighteen months ago our priest of 23 years retired. We were assigned an interim minister--who has been excellent but according to canon law cannot become a permanent replacement--and have been going through an extensive process, again dictated by canon law, of getting to the point where we could even post the job.

Meanwhile three other nearby Episcopal churches, two much larger and wealthier than ours, are also looking for ministers.

Every congregation who is choosing its leader for the next, perhaps 10, years must be thorough, but realistically how selective can we be? The decades-long nationwide decline in Sunday worship has been matched by a clergy shortage:
For eight years, Keith Mudiappa accepted the challenges of serving as pastor at his nondenominational Minneapolis church—the 70-hour workweeks, the low pay, the calls from parishioners at all hours—in exchange for the joy of seeing people come to the faith.

But the rewards of the job were tough to come by during nearly two years of online-only services. Late last year, Mr. Mudiappa quit and moved with his wife and children to Florida. He now works at a bank.

“I decided I wanted to take care of my family,” he said. “I don’t think I could do that in a church setting.”

In religious groups across the country, clergy members are stepping down from the pulpit.

They say the job, always demanding, has become almost impossible during the pandemic: Relationships with and among parishioners have frayed while meeting only over video, and political divisions have deepened, fueled by fights over Covid-19 protocols.

Though no national data about clergy resignations exists, an October study from the Barna Group, which studies faith in the U.S., found that 38% of pastors were seriously considering leaving full-time ministry, up from 29% in January 2021. Among pastors under age 45, nearly half were considering quitting.

In some denominations, resignations are exacerbating clergy shortages that began long before the pandemic. As the country has grown more secular, seminaries have closed and the pipeline of faith leaders has dwindled. The labor shortage within the clergy, which parallels shortages in other industries, is reshaping worship in some parts of the country as more congregations search for ways to operate without a pastor.

Leaders of the Conservative Jewish movement sent an email to synagogues in December, warning that at least 80 of the movement’s roughly 600 synagogues would be looking for a new rabbi this year; they expected at most 60 rabbis would be looking for new jobs. In the Reform Jewish movement, the country’s largest Jewish denomination, there are 5% to 10% more congregations searching for a rabbi than in a normal year, according to leaders.

Some 3,544 Catholic parishes in the U.S. lack a parish priest, up 25% from in 2000, according to Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. The Diocese of Buffalo, N.Y., recently launched a pilot program in which as many as six parishes share one priest.

In the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, at least 10% of its roughly 120 churches in Montana are looking for a pastor—and still more don’t have a pastor but can’t afford to hire one. Some are beginning to explore sharing a pastor with other mainline denominations, including Methodists and Presbyterians.

“Pastors are tired,” said Laurie Jungling, the ELCA’s bishop for Montana, who said the departure of pastors from their pulpits began accelerating in the summer of 2020. “They’re giving a lot of themselves to help folks deal with the trauma of the pandemic. They’ve had to face polarization in their own congregations, people’s anger and frustration about masks and vaccines, whether to have worship or not.”

In eight years as lead pastor of Rainier Avenue Church in Seattle, Peter Chin built the congregation from about 200 in weekly attendance to around 700 before the pandemic forced them online.

Over the past two years, the congregation has met almost exclusively over video. Relationships have suffered, Mr. Chin said. Staff have resigned, leaving more work for him, and finding replacements has been harder than it used to be, as the nation’s labor markets have tightened. There are disagreements over vaccine policy, politics and whether to gather in person.

“I love to see real change in people’s lives where they don’t feel hope or don’t feel community,” and then find it at church, he said. “I still find a lot of joy in that. But the scale of it, versus the controversy over mandates, political disagreements, expectations that come with pastoring even in the best scenarios—it feels lopsided now.”

Clergy leaving the pulpit now have more options than they did a quarter-century ago. In addition to those making wholesale career changes, some go into chaplain roles. Others are moving to nonprofits, which usually have more limited hours and emotional expectations.

Noah Farkas had expected to remain a pulpit rabbi his entire career. But after 13 years at a Los Angeles synagogue, he left to run the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the largest Jewish nonprofit in the area. It became hard to hold the community together during the trauma of the pandemic, he said.

“You get to a point where, after being in the place for over a decade, and you see your friends and parents of your friends dying, it takes a toll,” Rabbi Farkas said.

Some denominations say the pandemic hasn’t affected clergy staffing. A study last year from Lifeway Research found that evangelical and Black Protestant pastors were more likely than in 2015 to say they were frequently overwhelmed and on call 24-hours a day, but that the rate at which they were leaving the pulpit was effectively unchanged.

Still, more congregations around the country now are learning how to cope without an ordained leader. In the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in Montana, some pastors serve congregations that are 100 miles apart. Laypeople are trained to lead services when there is no pastor.

Mosaic Law Congregation, a Conservative Jewish synagogue in Sacramento, Calif., has spent much of the pandemic without a full-time rabbi since its prior leader of 25 years retired in 2020. A retired rabbi led services on Zoom from Montreal for months, and congregants filled in for events such as funerals and bar mitzvahs.

The congregation has hired a full-time rabbi who starts this year, but Executive Director Caren Rubin said she has warned members that they can’t expect him to remain another quarter-century.

“It’s like corporate culture,” Ms. Rubin said. “People don’t stay.”

Mr. Mudiappa said he works regular hours now in Florida and earns almost 39% more. His wife, who also worked at the church in Minneapolis, can stay home with their two children.

“I was always on the phone. You feel guilty spending time with your family, because there are a lot of other needs,” he said. “I’m enjoying weekends now. The weekends used to be chaos.”
Our church is looking for someone to fill that empty space.
Priests, like teachers, have characteristics--public speaking, leadership, integrity, writing ability, conscientiousness--that attract high compensation in private industry.

In many cases there would be less stress; being responsible for a parishioner's well-being is more soul-consuming than finishing a project.

Baby boomers embarked on second careers in ministry after finding their secular jobs unfulfilling. With some ministers leaving their initial calling, the pendulum is swinging back,

Saturday, February 26, 2022

They Didn't Measure Twice

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is above the fold in most newspapers, but in the Honolulu Star Advertiser the lead was yet another in a long line of stories about the troubled rail project. [bold added]
O‘ahu’s rail was supposed to carry commuters from West O‘ahu’s suburbs to urban Honolulu by now. Instead, the 20-mile, 21-station project is only about 63% complete.

Its costs have more than doubled since the City and County of Honolulu signed an agreement in 2012 with the Federal Transit Administration to build the project for $5.122 billion, and it’s now estimated the full system won’t be operational until March 2031 – 11 years later than promised in that agreement.
The latest snafu concerns a "mismatch" between the width of the train wheels and the tracks:
The gap between rail tracks is too narrow by less than one-eighth of an inch leading into at least five spots where the trains cross onto different tracks...

There are two main ideas to fix the mismatch, including unbolting the track that leads into the frogs and then “(sliding) them over slightly,” then re-bolting the track — a process that could take weeks, [CEO and executive director, Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Lori] Kahikina said.

Another idea would be to cut the problematic track, reweld and retest in a process that could take months and potentially cost “a couple thousand per cut,” she said...

But, Kahikina said, “Worstcase scenario, there could be a derailment,” but “there hasn’t been an issue.”

Board member Jade Butay, director of the state Department of Transportation, asked Kahikina how the problem was just discovered when the track was installed years ago.

“It could be all the way back from the design to the manufacture to the installation … and our own inspection,” Kahikina said. “Right now the main focus is, What is the extent of the issue, and how can we fix it? … Why wasn’t this found sooner? Very good question, and we’re asking the same thing.”
Matching the width of the tracks to the car wheels, and having the width be consistent over the entire system has been a basic principle of rail transportation for almost 200 years. The "gauge" is not a trivial issue, because the engineering needs to be precise and the gauge was not originally standardized. With thousands of miles of incompatible track, it took half a century for the American gauge to be fixed around the Stephenson standard of four feet, eight-and-a-half inches wide, which some claim dates back to ancient Rome(!).

And why does it cost "thousands of dollars" per cut to fix? Below is a video of welding tracks in Sweden.

Remember, dear reader, to measure twice, and cut once.

Friday, February 25, 2022

A Grand Time

Good old Disney days (2016): no masks, no social
distancing, and not having to break the bank.
It's cheaper to stay at Disneyland in Paris for a week, including plane fare, than Disneyland Anaheim.
a recent report from KTLA’s sister station shows that a trip to Disneyland in Anaheim is now nearly twice as expensive as traveling to Disney in Marne le Vallee, France.

This month, the outlet reported that...in June 2022, it costs a total of $4,571.50 for two people to stay at the Paradise Pier Hotel – the cheapest Disney [Anaheim] property resort available – for six nights with five days of park tickets included.

Meanwhile, at Disneyland Paris, the cheapest on-property hotel, the Hotel Santa Fe, was quoted at $2,173.66 for seven days of theme park tickets and a six-night stay (no meals were added on and no insurance was selected). Even with a $1,456.74 flight from Los Angeles to Paris included, the experience would still come out to a grand total of $3,676.06.

Overall, travelers in this scenario could save $895.44 by going to Disneyland in Paris instead of Anaheim.
The cost differential is even higher for Bay Area parkgoers, since we would have to drive to Anaheim. At current gas prices we would save at least a grand by going to Paris.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

It Stinks

The late, great Chronicle columnist Herb Caen called yesterday's paper today's fishwrap.

Events have proved everything about last month's headline ("U.S., Russia Agree", "Talks", "Defuse") as odoriferous as Herb Caen's descriptor. Russia, brushing off threats of sanctions and ignoring the blandishments of diplomats, bombed cities and invaded Ukraine today.

Although I did not vote for him, we only have one President and I suppose we have to support him in whatever action he takes. It's going to be three long, long years.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

California: Legislate First, Then Look at the Science

2012: Photo of an Indian beach (coastalcare.org)
A decade ago some scientists were raising the alarm about microplastics. In the intervening years, one would have thought, incorrectly, that there would be at least partial answers to these basic questions:
1) How harmful are environmental plastics to human and animal health?
2) What is the extent of the problem?
3) What is the cost of remedy?
But scant scientific progress hasn't stopped California legislators from considering laws to stop microplastics from entering the oceans: [bold added]
California is set to become the first state, and maybe the first place in the world, to try to limit microplastics at sea...

But there’s a problem with regulating this pollutant. Only so much is known about it — how it gets to the sea and to what extent it’s there. Also, standards for collecting and measuring microplastics are just emerging, and what level of the material may be safe to tolerate is still unclear.

We can’t sit around and wait for the science,” said Mark Gold, executive director of the Ocean Protection Council, noting the scale of plastic pollution. “There’s a lot of things we can do in the interim.”
Banning plastic grocery bags in 2007 didn't work out, so let's redouble our efforts.

By the way, legislating before all the science was in can make matters worse. Two major examples:
1) requiring MTBE to be added to gasoline for fuel efficiency, then finding out that it poisoned the water supply;
2) banning incandescent bulbs, thereby forcing the purchase of CFLs that poisoned people with mercury when they broke.
When you live in a one-party State, lawmakers don't suffer the consequences of rushed legislation.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

The Laws Don't Apply to Us Because We're the Good Guys

It was amusing when the town of Woodside attempted to forbid denser housing by declaring itself to be a habitat for endangered mountain lions. Unfortunately for those who enjoy a good debate, Woodside quickly caved in the face of a stern rebuke from the California Attorney General.

It's not a problem for UC-Berkeley to tear down this
112-year-old rent controlled building to build more
housing because the cause is noble.
In a similar manner California's strict environmental law has delayed the construction of faculty and student housing on or near State campuses. The delays have been so severe that UC-Berkeley has been forced to freeze enrollment. The Progressives' solution is not to repeal or amend the law for everyone but to carve out an exception for their own pet projects. [bold added]
State Sen. Scott Wiener says a housing and homelessness crisis on California’s college campuses has become so dire that the state needs to add a major exemption to its premier environmental law to speed up construction.

Wiener is expected to unveil a bill Tuesday that would streamline housing projects by allowing the UC, CSU and community college systems to skip the lengthy review process required under the California Environmental Quality Act.
Environmental laws are fine if they stymie greedy real estate developers and filthy industry. But if mountain lions get in the way of utopian dreams of denser housing in Woodside or if there's a little noise or smoke from developing land for public education (don't you dare try this, Stanford), let's get the Attorney General or a friendly judge or a veto-proof legislature to say the law doesn't apply to us Progressives.

We're the good guys!

Monday, February 21, 2022

Presidents Day, 2022

Still good enough for San Francisco schools (npr photo)
The recall of three San Francisco education commissioners last week has prompted different opinions about what it means for progressive political rule in California.

On one end is the Chronicle editorial board, which said the recall vote has no implications beyond dissatisfaction with San Francisco public education:
Tuesday’s vote was not, in fact, a broader referendum on progressive politics or mask mandates or the ills of a hyper abundance of wokeness.

It was a plea for basic competence and for politicians to listen to the needs of their constituents.
Peggy Noonan opines that the vote is a rejection of woke Progressivism by moderate Democrats:
This was a vote against progressive education officials in the heart of liberal San Francisco. It is a signal moment because of its head-chopping definitiveness, its clarity, its swiftness and its unignorable statement by parents on what they must have and won’t accept. It was a battle in the Democratic Party’s civil war between liberals and the progressive left...

While the board was failing to open the schools it was doing other things. It produced government by non sequitur. The board focused on issues of woke antiracism and oppression. The problem wasn’t whether the kids were getting an education, it was whether the boarded-up schools had unfortunate names. They spent months researching the question and proposed renaming a third of the system’s 125 schools. Many were named for previously respectable people like Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Francis Scott Key and Robert Louis Stevenson. Their names were “inappropriate” because their lives and actions could be connected with charges of racism, sexism and colonialism.
On this Presidents Day we reflect how San Franciscans believed that naming schools after all the presidents on Mt. Rushmore, plus a few other dead white guys like Robert Louis Stevenson, John Muir, and Paul Revere, was still "appropriate," or at least not objectionable enough to change.

It may not seem like much to the rest of the country, but last week's vote gives hope to those of us who care about the City by the Bay that it can yet be saved from self-ruin.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Pope Francis: His Own Man

(Politico photo)
Pope Francis has inveighed so often against capitalism and Western values that the Catholic Church appeared to be another institution conquered by the Gramscian Marxists' long march through history.

Not so fast.[bold added]
Pope Francis is a complicated man who doesn’t fit neatly into American left-right political paradigms. He made a fair number of decisions early in his papacy that exasperated conservative American Catholics, so he got tagged in the public mind as a liberal. Many progressive American priests cheered his reforms, but some went a step further. They began to portray their own revisionist agendas as the pope’s. Some even came to believe it.

Pope Francis hasn’t done all the things those progressives hoped he would. He was widely expected to allow married men to become priests in the Amazon region. Instead he called celibacy a “gift.” He was “supposed to” move forward on the ordination of women as deacons. Instead he has shut down the idea at least twice. While some progressives expected him to change Catholic teaching on sexual morality, he instead forbade priests to offer liturgical blessings to same-sex couples.
The "left-right political paradigm" is far too simplistic: for example, there are many Republicans who support gay marriage and many Democrats who support law enforcement.

It's good to see that the Pope--who ignores the existential threat of Marxism to the Catholic Church--is his own man.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Inflation: Everywhere You Look

Through most of the past 40 years there have been periods where it appeared that 1970's-style inflation was back. Each time, thankfully, the tide subsided.

But how long could we keep pushing our luck? Was everything we thought we knew about government debt and the printing of paper money wrong? (Hint: no)

At the beginning of the COVID-19 emergency two years ago we were alarmed:
Now the Fed is buying corporate debt--even some risky pieces that pension funds won't touch--and the debt of state and local governments. It has crossed a line and can't go back. ("Why are you letting [State name] go bankrupt?")

Eventually the tidal wave of government debt and paper money will cause an inflation that will dwarf that of the 1970's. Thankfully, with a life expectancy of perhaps 20 years, I won't have to suffer through much of it.
I was thinking about a ribeye roast for Super Bowl
weekend but I couldn't get a 2nd mortgage in time.
Well, we were wrong, not about inflation but that it's years off in the future. It's here now, and it's everywhere. [bold added]
inflation is increasingly widespread across the U.S. economy. Economist Mickey Levy of Berenberg has scrutinized data for more than 200 individual goods and services for which the government tracks prices. An increasing number of individual items are subject to higher rates of inflation, he warned on these [WSJ] pages in December.

His update based on last week’s data suggests the problem is growing worse. Some 73% of the items saw annual price rises of 3% or higher in January, and some 55% of items saw inflation of 5% or higher. Keep in mind the Federal Reserve’s inflation target is 2%.

This is the pattern that typified the inflation of the 1970s. The oil crisis was the “supply-chain disruption” of its day—the go-to, single-item political excuse for inflation. The OPEC cartel was blamed. But the oil-price surge was a response to monetary policy blunders that let inflation loose in the late 1960s and then fed it across the 1970s.,,

The lesson of the 1970s is that once inflation appears, it needs to be corralled with urgency, or it will become embedded and increasingly hard to rein in. We are long past the point where the Fed should have been tightening policy, and the task will be more painful now because of the delay. The evidence of the inflation mistake is everywhere you look.
In the late '70's and early '80's inflation was licked through a change in the political party that ran government, a change in Federal Reserve policy, and a lot of economic pain. Given the quality of our political leadership, a repeat of the '70's and '80's is the optimistic outcome.

Friday, February 18, 2022

A Day for Reconsideration

Questions and answers (Chron photo)
During the previous Administration Vice President Mike Pence provided enough reassurance to Democrats that they moved to impeach Donald Trump on two different occasions.

Now that Mr. Pence is unencumbered by the duties of office, he is free to speak his mind. His speech at Stanford yesterday - "How to Save America From the Woke Left”--was sold out.
Pence condemned what he called “cancel culture” in the Biden administration, criticized critical race theory in public education and applauded parents who are “starting to take our schools back, even here in California.”

....“This week in San Francisco, parents recalled three woke school board members who cared more about renaming schools than reopening,” Pence said to whoops and applause. “Those results, I gotta tell ya — those results are sending shock waves across the country. Democrats who supported cancel culture and school closures are starting to wake up. The truth is, many on the woke left have been spending years trying to agitate for a culture war. It looks like they might just get one. And they’re gonna lose.”
The surprise was not in the content of the speech but in Stanford's refusal to allow the assembly to be disrupted by protestors. The overwhelming majority of listeners, very few of whom were registered Republicans, gave Mr. Pence a respectful hearing.

If Stanford continues to stand up for freedom of speech, especially for people who do not parrot the Progressive narrative, I might have to reconsider my refusal to contribute to any more of its fundraisers.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Sad Postscript

Ellen Chung, Oski, Jon Gerrish, and Miju (Chron)
Last August we first noted the sad story of the young Gerrish family, whose bodies were found on a hiking trail in Mariposa County.

After investigating multiple, even highly improbable possibilities, the coroner's office ruled in October that the cause was "hyperthermia and probable dehydration."

A final unsent text message on Jon Gerrish's cell phone confirms the coroner's finding.
Shortly before noon on Aug. 15, with temperatures soaring above 100 degrees and the couple, their infant daughter and dog hiking up steep switchbacks with little shade, someone from the family attempted to send a final text from Gerrish’s cell phone.

“(Name redacted) can you help us,” the text started at 11:56 a.m. “On savage lundy trail heading back to Hites cove trail. No water or ver (over) heating with baby.”

The text never went through as the Savage Lundy Trail has notoriously poor cellular service.
It's easy to say that the victims should have known or should have done this or that. But how many of us really subject the dozens of decisions we make each day to that kind of deliberation? 999 times out of 1,000 nothing will go wrong.

There was every sign that each member of the family would have a long, happy, and successful life filled with the love of friends and family. Truly a tragedy.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Reaching San Francisco's Limit

Ousted: Alison Collins, Faauuga Moliga, and Gabriela Lopez
In 2020 the seven-member San Francisco Board of Education was preoccupied, not with re-opening classes safely, but with the renaming of 44 schools that bore the monickers of flawed human beings like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.

The school board in early 2021 removed merit-based admission for Lowell High, the crown jewel of the public school system, in order to make Lowell like the other 14 mediocre high schools in San Francisco. Again, there was little focus on re-opening.

Liberal San Franciscans had reached their limit and "overwhelmingly" voted yesterday for the recall of three Board members:
The landslide decision means board President Gabriela L├│pez and members Alison Collins and Faauuga Moliga will officially be removed from office and replaced by mayoral appointments 10 days after the election is officially accepted by the Board of Supervisors.
Supporters of the recalled commissioners blamed the usual suspects: whites, billionaires, and Republicans.
Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton slammed the recall as being driven by “closet Republicans and most certainly folks with conservative values in San Francisco, even if they weren’t registered Republicans.”

“Trump’s election and bold prejudice brought a lot of that out, even in our Democratic and liberal city,” he told The Chronicle in the days before the election. “There are a lot of people who do not want people of color making decisions in leadership, even though the voters said that is what they want.”
In the 2020 Presidential election Joe Biden won 85% of San Franciscans' votes to Donald Trump's 13%. According to Progressive politicians and educators, Donald Trump and "closeted Republicans'" exerted sufficient power in 2022 to win a San Francisco recall election.

The perspicacity of this political analysis is only matched by the competence of San Francisco's governance.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Valentine's Day Dinner

At $12.99 per pound the rib steak was 50% higher than pre-pandemic, but:

1) We hadn't splurged on this cut since last fall;

2) Home-cooked steak would still be cheaper than dining out, which is what we usually do on Valentine's Day.

COVID-19 and inflation seem to have caused long-lasting changes in the shopping and dining habits of Americans:
Americans continue to stockpile food and household goods.

Many are spending more time at home and remain uncertain about product availability. Some have moved from tight-spaced apartments in cities to more spacious suburban homes, and inflation is spurring a search for savings by buying in bulk.

After more than 20 years of steady but slow sales growth, sales at bulk retailers Costco Wholesale Corp., Walmart Inc.’s Sam’s Club and BJ’s Wholesale Club Holdings Inc. rose 26.6% in dollars and 18% in volume during the fourth quarter of 2021 compared with the same quarter of 2019
Though restaurants have reopened, Americans are eating billions (!) of meals more at home than before the pandemic:
At the height of the pandemic, Americans ate 88% of their meals at home, according to retail research firm NPD Group, up from 83% pre-pandemic. Meals eaten at home have since leveled off to about 85%, but the 2 percentage point increase from 2019 levels is equivalent to an estimated 2.9 billion meals and snacks per quarter, NPD says.
BTW, after two years of working on our skills in the kitchen, the steak turned out a perfect medium rare.

Monday, February 14, 2022

The Best Post-Season Ever

The four-game divisional round three weeks ago ("The Best Weekend of Football Ever") was followed by two closely contested Conference championship games: Rams 20, 49ers 17; Bengals 27, Chiefs 24.

The Super Bowl is often a letdown, but not this one:
The Rams beat the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20 in the 56th Super Bowl.

Los Angeles led 13-3 before falling behind 20-13. They survived a pair of interceptions thrown by Matthew Stafford, an injury to Odell Beckham Jr. and long stretches when the offense struggled to move the ball.

Yet with the game on the line, the Rams turned it around. That’s because they went for it.

Down 20-16 with five minutes left on their own 30-yard-line, the Rams faced fourth-and-1. In lieu of punting, Stafford handed the ball off to Cooper Kupp, the NFL’s most productive receiver this season, who ran seven yards for the first down. It was the pivotal play on a drive that ended with a barrage of penalties—before Stafford hit Kupp for a one-yard score.

The Bengals got the ball back with 1:25 to go, and when Joe Burrow is the opposing quarterback anything is possible. He began the drive with back-to-back completions that totaled 26 yards. But after Burrow helplessly threw the ball into nowhere as he was getting dragged down on fourth down, the Rams players stormed onto the field. The Lombardi Trophy was about to be theirs.
Not only were they all close, the final and winning score was made in the last few minutes, sometimes seconds, of each game.

The ancient Romans stupefied the masses with bread and circuses, but they were pikers compared to the NFL.

The half-time show wasn't bad either

Sunday, February 13, 2022

An Existential Danger to Keeping Our Interest

1966: shocking. 2022: Ho-hum.
In high school some friends of mine would fake-argue as they walked around the campus. One would shout "Essence!" and the other would yell "Existence!"

Nerd humor is what can happen after one takes a philosophy course about existentialism. At one time existentialism was all the rage among the cognoscenti. It was European. It provoked the straight-laced. It said God did not exist during a time when being an atheist probably meant you were a communist.

In the history of philosophy, essence preceding existence is a prerequisite for religion while existence preceding essence means that God ain't necessarily so. Existentialism is a serious matter.

But not in 2022.

Existentialism's power and meaning has been eroded to nothingness by the overuse of the adjective existential. [bold added]
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the other day that “climate change is the existential threat of our time.” The New York Times editorialized that Donald Trump and his supporters pose an “existential threat” to the Republic. Scientific American declared that wildfires are putting giant sequoias at “existential risk.” A Barron’s headline read, “Bitcoin is facing an existential crisis.” Bloomberg Law wrote, “Wall Street ends crazy year with existential angst.”

...The wordsmiths at Merriam-Webster report that “existential” began trending two years ago when then- Sen. Kamala Harris used the term in a vice-presidential debate with Mike Pence. Referring to climate change, she said it is “an existential threat to us as human beings.” According to Webster, lookups of the word spiked 8,000% that night.
(Sandberg image)
From your humble blogger's perspective it's easy to see why the adjective existential rose in popularity, and it has very little to do with philosophy. Existential is a short-hand way of saying it-endangers-the-very-existence-of ("the asteroid is an existential threat to life on earth").

To get people's attention in a world of sound and fury, dangers must be hyped, such as Kamala Harris' referring to climate change as an existential threat to humanity. As the writer noted, the word has been overused to the point where “French dressing faces an existential crisis.”

It's time to strike existential from existence.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Sherlock: Ahead of His Time

Piqued by the many references to the Great Detective, I read the first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, in eighth grade. I liked the story so much that I went on to complete the entire Holmes oeuvre.

(Image from boingboing.net)
One memorable (notice what I do here) passage that stuck was Sherlock's theory of memory: [bold added]
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.
             ------Arthur Conan Doyle, Study in Scarlet
From the vantage of the 1960's Sherlock's mind-as-an-attic metaphor was not correct. The prevailing theory was that the mind was like a tape recorder. Memories, particularly traumatic ones, were repressed; they could be retrieved by skilled psychotherapists and hypnotists.

Mind-as-tape-recorder fell into disrepute when "recovered" memories were shown to be false or at least questionable in infamous child-abuse cases.

The latest model of the mind is that [bold added]
Memory is more reconstructive than it is reproductive. That is, new details may be included into a memory each time it is recalled. Long-term memories become susceptible to change when remembered. This is because when you call to mind an event from the past, you bring the memory into your short-term memory. And in the process of recalling, new details may be attached to the old memory and reconsolidated with the memory.
Furthermore, the mind has limited storage capacity, and it is possible to have memories "jumbled up", if not lost altogether:
When a person tries to access a memory, their brain quickly sifts through everything stored in it to find the relevant information. But as we age, many of us have difficulty retrieving memories. In a review publishing in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences on February 11, researchers propose an explanation for why this might be happening: the brains of older adults allocate more space to accumulated knowledge and have more material to navigate when attempting to access memories.
Be thoughtful about how you arrange your attic. Sherlock Holmes, though fictional, was ahead of his time.

Friday, February 11, 2022

Enjoy the Moment

In two days it will be Super Bowl Sunday, and many couples will not be in the same moment together.

Some will gravitate toward watching the game, and others will revel in the social gathering. Perhaps everyone will intersect at the food table.

For the record last year's Super Bowl on February 7, 2021 in Tampa was not a super-spreader event. Hillsborough County chief epidemiologist Michael Wiese:
"While we didn’t really have a lot [55 cases] that was associated directly with the Super Bowl, we do know that the community kind of celebrated and got together in response to the events, which did show some increase in the transmission during the weeks afterward."
The transmission rate was low a year ago, and that was before vaccines were available.

Stay out of nursing homes, pop that Vitamin D, and enjoy the game.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Two Medicines with Off-Label Benefits

Metformin: two 500-mg tablets taken separately per day.
All prescription medications may have harmful side effects, and I'm lucky that the ones I've taken have manifested none so far. In fact, two may have "off-label" benefits.

The corticosteroid budesonide, which I inhale twice a day for asthma, speeds the recovery and lessens hospitalization of early COVID-19 patients.

Metformin, which I've been taking since August for type II diabetes,
affects a variety of age-associated cellular functions, including improving metabolism, tamping inflammation and boosting the mitochondria. It also has a long history of use in people, with a good safety profile.
In other words Metformin may extend my life, and not just because it treats diabetes. A six-year systematic study on its anti-aging properties is about to commence.

On rare occasions the treatment for a disease leaves the patient better off than he was before he contracted it. I may just be one of the fortunate few.

Wednesday, February 09, 2022

Say It So, Joe

(Variety photo)
Hearing about its growing popularity, I started listening to Joe Rogan's podcast, the Joe Rogan Experience, four years ago.

I didn't have the time to tune in regularly. Joe's interviews were long--over two hours--and conversational. They were free of pyrotechnics---no throbbing music, no quick cuts, and no obvious agendas. It had the pace of a C-Span book review.

The guest list reflected the host's interests and was weighted to stand-up comedy, martial arts, and health. He was curious about a wide range of subjects--neuroscience, technology, anthropology, space travel, entertainment, economics, religion, politics--and would invite participants in their respective fields to talk about them. It reminded me of college b.s. sessions, where one could talk about anything and propose crazy, sacrilegious ideas free of negative consequences.

Just by knowing my birth year, Spotify assumed that I
liked these geezers. How presumptuous (and accurate).
Joe Rogan hit the big time when music-platform Spotify offered him $100 million at the end of 2020 for the exclusive right to stream his podcast. His new shows stopped being available on Apple's podcast app. I haven't been listening since January, 2021.

Joe Rogan's podcast became the center of attention when 76-year-old rocker Neil Young said that it was spreading misinformation about COVID-19:
Mr. Young published an open letter in which he cited a podcast episode that featured Dr. Robert Malone, a virologist who worked on research into several mRNA Covid-19 vaccines but who is now critical of them. Among the claims made in the episode was the suggestion that hospitals have been financially motivated to falsely diagnose deaths as having been caused by Covid-19.
Neil Young and a few other musicians (none A-list so far) demanded that Spotify not carry their music unless Joe Rogan was removed from the site. Although the initial reason for the ultimatum was COVID misinformation, a second controversy arose when several episodes that used the "n-word" were re-discovered. Joe Rogan and Spotify have apologized, and 113 episodes were taken down.

Back when I was listening to him in 2020, questions about COVID-19 were on everyone's mind. Treatments, preventative measures, which population groups were susceptible, masking and social distancing in some circumstances but not others---all were the subject of dispute.

His podcasts were filled with anecdotes about how individual guests, friends, and family fared. These stories about how people coped, and the many and varied outcomes, were interesting and comforting in the way group therapy is helpful. He talked about hydroxychloroquine as a treatment, Vitamin D as a protective measure, and various types of masks. Occasionally he had medical professionals on the show, and Joe would pepper them with questions. I never heard him tell listeners not to follow official guidelines, though some of his guests might have. Even if he did (remember I didn't catch his 2021 podcats), you'd be crazy to get your medical advice from a comedian, as Joe Rogan and Scott Adams like to say.

Though I had an aversion to adding more apps to the home screen, I downloaded the Spotify app to the iPhone, then subscribed to the Joe Rogan Experience.

I had never intended to sign up for Spotify, but the politicization of everything forces one to take sides, and I'm not on the side of the cancellers.

Note: Spotify, Facing Pushback Against Joe Rogan, Reports Jump in Users

Tuesday, February 08, 2022

Barely Hanging On

Folsom Lake is at 54% of its 976K acre-ft capacity
The December rains gave way to a dry January, suspending hopes of an end to the drought. The somewhat good news is that reservoir levels are higher.
thanks to a little snowmelt, water levels were up for all reservoirs from December to January. Lake Mendocino, which has a capacity of 122,400 acre feet, saw the biggest boost from 17% of storage capacity in December to 35% in January. One acre foot is the equivalent of one acre of land covered in one foot of water. Trinity Lake, with a capacity of 2,447,650 acre feet, had the smallest increase from 29% in December to 30% in January...

[CA Dept. of Water Resources hydrology section manager David] Rizzardo said there was a “decent amount of flow into the reservoirs into January, even though weather-wise it was bone dry,” a result of lower elevation snow at 4,000 to 6,000 feet making it’s [sic] way into the reservoirs.
The seasonal storms were sufficiently high to raise California out of the worst drought conditions: [bold added]
For the first time in more than a year, all of California is out of the worst drought category as the state’s overall outlook shows major improvement since the start of the water year.

As of Tuesday, when the U.S. Drought Monitor released its latest map, 0% of the Golden State was experiencing “exceptional” drought — something that hasn’t happened since Dec. 8, 2020.
It appears that we'll make it through the summer but will again have to pray for rain next winter.

Beset by drought, COVID-19, inflation, and people with money and/or prospects moving away, California is barely hanging on.

Monday, February 07, 2022

And Just Like That It Was Over

Last week we were looking forward to the battle between the town of Woodside and proponents of denser housing.

What made this debate interesting was that it pitted two groups of Progressives against each other: those who hold the Endangered Species Act sacrosanct and those who push the urban-development-mass-transit model.

A scant five days later the urbanists won after California Attorney General Rob Bonta "sternly rebuked" Woodside:
Woodside announced that it has changed its stance and will immediately begin accepting housing applications as allowed under SB9.
Woodside's quick cave is unfortunate. We would have been entertained by the prospect of Progressives calling each other names, but that's not the main reason for disappointment.

It would have been interesting to find out whether Progressives would acknowledge any limiting principle to the Endangered Species Act. Meanwhile, we'll just have to be satisfied with AG Bonta's statement:
Land that is already developed — with, for example a single-family home — is not, by definition, habitat.
Openspace.org: "More than half of California, including most of undeveloped San Mateo
and Santa Clara counties, is prime mountain lion habitat."
Developers are now salivating over the prospect of subdividing a large parcel of land that has one or a few single-family homes. Not only will they have the backing of State law, they won't have to worry that the land is a "habitat" for an endangered species.

Your humble blogger on balance is glad that Woodside lost. There is a tremendous housing shortage in the suburbs and hinterlands as the population embraces working from more spacious homes.

Knocking down impediments to development will benefit everyone in the long run except cities who want to keep their tax base high.

Sunday, February 06, 2022

Regret: Making it Work for Us

(Illustration by Michael Glenwood/WSJ)
Now that I'm in the autumn of my life--and that's based on an optimistic timeline--the memories and regrets are mounting like the sand in an hourglass. There are people who I can never see again and choices that can never be unmade.

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood," said the poet, "yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back." Few of us can go back, and fewer do.

The old wisdom was not to dwell on past failures. Do better next time, and push regrets to the side of the road. Sad memories are negative; they keep us from moving forward.

The new wisdom: human beings are "hard-wired" to feel regret. Because regret is unavoidable, we may as well accept it and have it work for us.
Regret is not dangerous or abnormal. It is healthy and universal, an integral part of being human. Equally important, regret is valuable. It clarifies. It instructs. Done right, it needn’t drag us down; it can lift us up.
So how can we control regrets so that they don't overwhelm us, yet ponder them regularly to improve ourselves?

One ancient remedy that seems to work: going to church. In the Eucharist there is "quiet time" to reflect on sins, ask forgiveness, and think about how to make things right. Just by paying attention to the words in the General Confession, we confront our past missteps:
Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; in your compassion forgive us our sins, known and unknown, things done and undone; and so uphold us by your Spirit that we may live and serve you in newness of life, to the honor and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Simple, and in this humble blogger's case, sometimes effective.

Saturday, February 05, 2022

The New Wisdom is the Old Wisdom

Portrait of a Young Married
Couple - Jordaens, 1620
When the baby boomers became adults, the conventional wisdom--influenced by women's liberation--was revised: generally, women should wait until 30 before getting married.
The conventional wisdom is that they should get launched professionally in their 20s and wait until 30 or after to marry. Then they can establish themselves as independent adults before finding and pairing with an equally successful partner. This strategy is also supposed to maximize their odds of a lasting bond because the conventional wisdom also holds that early marriage increases the risk of divorce...

When it comes to divorce, the research has generally backed up the belief that it’s best to wait until around 30 to tie the knot. The sociologist Nicholas Wolfinger of the University of Utah found that women who got married “too early” (mid-20s or earlier) were more likely to break up than their peers who married close to age 30.
However, marrying young did not result in breakup for one group of women: [bold added]
there is an interesting exception to the idea that waiting until 30 is best. In analyzing reports of marriage and divorce from more than 50,000 women in the U.S. government’s National Survey of Family Growth (NFSG), we found that there is a group of women for whom marriage before 30 is not risky: women who married directly, without ever cohabiting prior to marriage. In fact, women who married between 22 and 30, without first living together, had some of the lowest rates of divorce in the NSFG.
The authors have found a compelling correlation between marrying young (without prior cohabitation) and marriage longevity. However, correlation is not always causation, as noted by philosopher David Hume nearly 300 years ago. More likely, both marrying young and marriage longevity are themselves the result of an underlying factor--namely the religiosity of the bride.

Pack this knowledge away in your life-navigation toolkit, dear reader. There's a lot of wisdom in there--e.g., if you get married stay married, happiness is over-rated, pay off your credit cards--but the important thing to remember is that all the advice is couched in probabilities. (For example, if you are vaccinated, you can still get COVID-19, and among the un-vaccinated some will escape the virus completely.)

There are no guarantees, just probabilities. In marriage and in life gather all the information you can, use your best judgment, then carry on.

Friday, February 04, 2022

San Francisco: Better and Harder

Chesa Boudin (KQED photo)
San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin has taken the heat for the explosion of crime ("San Francisco gun violence rose last year, with shootings up 33%") in San Francisco.

But leniency towards criminals was only one part of his campaign. Another promise was "holding officers accountable for wrongdoing."

SF Police Chief Bill Scott is now terminating an agreement to cooperate in police-use-of-force investigations with the DA's office.

Chief Bill Scott (Chron photo)
Chief Scott claims that prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence in the trial of Officer Terrance Stangel, who beat a man with a baton. [bold added]
Nicole Pifari, an attorney for Stangel, claimed that the District Attorney’s Office withheld incriminating evidence from police as they investigated the man Stangel allegedly beat, Dacari Spiers. That evidence — that Spiers was allegedly beating his girlfriend prior to the altercation with Stangel — may have helped lead to criminal charges against Spiers, Pifari argued.

In her motion to dismiss the case, Pifari said [Magen] Hayashi, the district attorney’s investigator, failed to inform the police department of a follow-up interview with a witness who reported seeing Spiers assaulting his girlfriend. The defense alleged that Hayashi then lied about it by saying she had no further contact with the witness when providing police with an update on the investigation.

Pifari claimed Stangel was justified in his use of force under the circumstances.

In responding to Pifari’s questions under oath Thursday, Hayashi said she was pressured to sign the affidavit against Stangel after removing exculpatory information.

Asked who pressured her, she said, “it was a general understanding in my experience in this office, if you don’t sign these things you’ll be fired.
Police are held to high standards of ethical behavior. The DA's office is also held to high standards and in its oversight role has allegedly broken them. Meanwhile, pity poor Magen Hayashi, who will be thrown under the bus because Chesa Boudin will act shocked to discover that anyone in his office would lie on an affidavit.

In San Francisco criminals, who are regularly released without bail, enjoy the bonus of law enforcement at loggerheads with itself.

Whatever his personal beliefs in what's going on in the once-beautiful City, your humble blogger is a believer in democracy. San Francisco is getting what it voted for, good and hard.

Thursday, February 03, 2022

It Wasn't Meant to Halt Construction That We Like

The list of billionaires and celebrities who live in Woodside, California is as long as your arm. The typical house is on a multi-acre lot, some on hundreds of acres.

Woodside is also politically liberal--Neil Young and Joan Baez are residents--and is home to supporters of Democratic campaigns. On his pilgrimages to the Bay Area President Obama often stopped at Woodside.

Not a lion come lately: ABC7 News from seven years ago
All the above is prelude to an amusing development, at least amusing to this humble blogger. Woodside is using California environmental law to halt a Progressive push to build denser housing in the Bay Area. [bold added]
A Woodside official said the city cannot comply with a new state law that expedites construction of two-unit housing in areas zoned for single family homes because of its mountain lion population.

On January 27, Woodside Planning Director Jackie Young released a memo explaining why the town cannot do its part to ease a chronic housing shortage. Young said no permits for accessory dwelling units (known as SB 9 Projects) would receive building permits so long as the mountain lion is a candidate for the endangered species list in the Central Coast habitat which includes Woodside.

A petition to list the mountain lion as threatened or endangered is under review by the California Fish and Game Commission. According to state law a species listed as a candidate is due the same protection as a species that has been declared threatened.
California prides itself on being stricter than the Federal Government on environmental matters. Ironically one Progessive law is being used to stymie a different Progressive dream. The reaction from those who want to force Woodside to allow denser housing is entertaining:
This is so absurd,” said Laura Foote, executive director of YIMBY Action, a activist group that supports construction of more housing everywhere. “It is an example of the extreme absurd lengths cities will come up with to evade state law.”

...You can build a McMansion and that somehow won’t hurt the mountain lion,” said Foote. “But if you build two units the lions will somehow fall over and die.”

State Senator and housing advocate Scott Weiner tweeted: “Woodside announced it’s exempt from state housing law because of … mountain lions. I’m all for mountain lions. I’m also for people. You know, the ones who need homes. Can’t wait for the lawsuit against Woodside for this brazen violation of state law.

Even San Francisco supervisors piled on. “The entire wealthy suburb of Woodside is claiming to be a protected mountain lion habitat to skirt state law allowing fourplexes. What shameless ridiculousness,” tweeted Matt Haney.
IMHO, advocates of the environmental law probably thought that halting all construction would be a good thing, but now that it's being used against them they don't like it, just as they don't like massive solar projects in the California desert being halted by an endangered tortoise.

As the Progressives who rule California battle it out, the rest of us can pass the popcorn.

Wednesday, February 02, 2022

Age is Only a Number

Tom Brady led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to
victory in Super Bowl LVII (CBS Sports)
Today is 2-2-22, which would be trivial, except that mark on the calendar made me think how I'll need some luck to make it to 3-3-33 and a lot of good fortune to be here when 4-4-44 rolls around. Age makes one more reflective.

Speaking of reflection, Tom Brady mused on life, family, and football after the Bucs lost in the playoffs last week. To little surprise he retired from professional football yesterday. It seems like he's been around forever, but his entire NFL career took place in the 21st century.
The span of his career is outrageous. There are plenty of Brady fans—plenty of recent teammates, too—who don’t remember the Michigan platoons, his flabby combine, the draft day demotion, the Drew Bledsoe injury succession, or the iffy Tuck Rule versus the Raiders in the snow. Lots of fans hopped aboard the Brady Experience along the way. Just as there are older Brady fans from New England who can recall the grisly, pre-Brady, pre-Belichick, pre-Bledsoe wilderness, there are young Bucs fans who will remember Brady strictly in pirate flags and pewter.
With his supermodel wife Gisele B├╝ndchen, three handsome kids (the first with actress Bridget Moynahan), hundreds of $millions earned from football, retirement relatively uninjured at the top of his game, universally admired and recognized, Tom Brady embodies the American dream: a man from humble beginnings, continually underestimated, who worked harder than anyone else and achieved unmatched greatness in his chosen profession.

Athletes are never as famous or accomplished after retirement, but don't bet against Tom Brady. The good news for me is that, if I do make it to 4-4-44, I get to watch him do it.

Tuesday, February 01, 2022

Happy New Year

(Illustration from Yale-China)
Today is the beginning of the lunar new year, the Year of the Tiger according to the Chinese Zodiac.

Ever since I was a toddler in Territorial Hawaii, adult relatives would give me red envelopes on Chinese New Year. Finding a dime inside was pretty good, and when I got a quarter--you could buy two DC comics plus five Bazooka bubble gums--I was rolling in it like Scrooge McDuck. A rich grand-uncle on my mother's side would give out one dollar bills, but I didn't get to go to his house often.

Now I'm the one that has to pass out the red paper, so Chinese New Year isn't as much fun. Nevertheless, subscribing to both the Gregorian and lunisolar calendars has its advantages. One gets to enjoy two New Year feasts, but more importantly one gets a chance to start again on resolutions that were already broken in January.

In other words we get a mulligan. Speaking of golf and tigers, it looks like an auspicious year for Tiger Woods to be making a comeback after his excellent showing in the PNC tournament in December.

Happy New Year (again)!