Monday, July 31, 2023

Family Time at the North Shore

Overpriced shrimp plates, horse flies, wild chickens
underfoot: gotta love the tourist experience.
I've done the North Shore drive several times in the past ten years, but only if family members request it. When traveling alone, I'm content to spend my time at the family digs near Waikiki. From 2018:
Is the shrimp truck experience worth the trip to Haleiwa? Maybe once, but unless I’m playing tour guide I wouldn’t go up there again, and certainly not on a weekend.
Commitments to oneself are easily broken. With many first-timers here for the 100th-birthday celebration, we agreed to meet them at Giovanni's Shrimp Truck in Kahuku around 1 p.m. on a Sunday.

Arriving from disparate morning activities, all four parties managed to find parking in the general area. After lunch and surprisingly pleasant conversations with interlocutors born after the moon landings, Vietnam, and Watergate, I was done with tourist-ing for the day.

Family time is enjoyed like a good meal: in small bites.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Sandwiches on Saturday and Sunday

The six volunteers--Janis, Elliott, Daniel, Valerie, Mary and Elliott Jr. (the latter two not in the picture)--gathered at the Parish Hall on Saturday to assemble the sandwiches and drop them in the brown bags.

It took 90 minutes from start to clean-up, a little longer than usual. Janis advised us that we were not slathering on enough peanut butter and jelly.

Previously we had been making the layers too thin; in other words we were too skimpy on the Skippy, and now we had a real PB&J.

I took the 80 brown bags to the Fair Oaks Community Center on Sunday. About 40 people were in line. They were happy that more diners had not showed up because each was now able to receive two bags and two bottles of water.

Deborah Orler from Hearts for Humanity drove up in her van and passed out more bags to the clientele. She then sped off to other food-distribution centers on the Peninsula.

Within half an hour everything was given away, and I packed up the empty containers. Setting aside a portion for tomorrow is normally a virtue, but not for Sandwiches on Sunday.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Liliha Bakery, the Original

The family had had breakfast at the Liliha Bakery expansion sites on the Nimitz Highway and the International Market Place, but they had never dined at the original Liliha Bakery on Kuakini Street. Having never eaten there myself, I wasn't 100% sure that a restaurant was even at that location until we drove there on a Thursday.

We arrived at noon and waited for three seats to open at the counter (top left). After 30 minutes, and several parties of two leap-frogging ahead of us, one waitress asked if we would like a table in the back. Well, that's a pleasant surprise. Sure.

Through the double doors were three small tables next to bakery operations (top right). A few feet away were racks of pastries and pies. No one was looking; we could easily have snitched a few items, but your humble blogger is imbued with the highest ethical standards.

I ordered a loco moco on fried rice. The hamburger patty was seared perfectly on the outside, and done to a tender medium-rare on the inside. The gravy was flavorful but not salty, and its texture was neither too-thick nor too-watery.

The verdict was unanimous: the expansion locations had more seating and modern d├ęcor, but the original restaurant had the best food. It's worth the trip if one has the time.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Recovery Confirmed

Returning to the Bay Area, I went to Costco to buy the ingredients for the sandwich assembly tomorrow.

However, I did take a moment to stop at the Spam display to celebrate the sale. Hormel and Costco used to have a semi-annual promotion, which stopped in March, 2019. After a 3½-year hiatus the markdowns resumed last October . There had not been a sale this year, and I feared that the spam recovery signal was false.

Not to worry, the sale is back on in July, and all is right with the world.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Foster City's Day in the Sun

Our sleepy suburb has received recognition in the local fishwrap (Herb Caen's term for his employer, the Chronicle):
Foster City, a small commuter town in San Mateo County of approximately 34,000, is the most expensive rental market in the Bay Area, according to the latest Apartment List data as of June 2023. Nestled along the bay coast, Foster City is known for its quality schools and near-absence of violent crime (the city has recorded just two homicides since 2010).
It may be boring to live here, but at my age I like boring, and apparently many renters agree.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Between the Cracks

My brothers and I have areas of responsibility (e.g., paying bills, gardening, taking out the trash) for Mom's property, but items often fall between the cracks. When we arrived in Honolulu, the weeds had been sprouting for some time in the car ports and asphalt walkway.

On the second day I applied Roundup to every spot where green shouldn't have been. Because Roundup's glyphosate is a possible carcinogen, I wore gloves, a mask, and goggles. After one week the chemical had done the trick (before and after photos above).

There were a few other minor items that I took care of, but none detracted from our vacation.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Cute Kid

After picking up a morning coffee near the International Market Place I sat in the circular garden dedicated to Queen Emma.

A family of seven stopped to play. From their clothes and accessories, but more noticeably their self-assuredness they exuded an aura of wealth. The lady was a beautiful blonde, tanned and athletic. If I had not seen her kids I would not have believed that she was a mother five times over.

The father, who was about the same age, chased after the boy, 5, while the mother looked after her toddler daughter. The two eldest and the baby they left alone.

I was particularly amused by the baby. His head turning rapidly, he would assess his surroundings, then crawl to another spot and repeat the process. At intervals he would take a bite out of the malasada that he held tightly in his left hand. His parents clearly weren't worried about him ingesting harmful bacteria or rolling around on the heavily trafficked artificial turf.

They probably weren't Americans. and that was too bad.

Monday, July 24, 2023

Cooler Than It Ever Was

(WSJ illustration)
Nearly 30 years my junior and living a third of a world away, writer Aatish Taseer and I were deprived of air-conditioning during our respective childhoods. As adults we both appreciate AC and can't get enough of it:
I remember seeing a car air-conditioner for the first time....After years of long car journeys, in which a hot desert wind called the Loo blew through open windows, leaving us desiccated as pieces of smoked ham, it felt almost sinful to be cool in a car...

There is something magical about the effect of air conditioning in a hot country, letting those who can afford it enjoy the dignity of going about their day without being made wretched by the heat.
When I visit Hawaii I stay at my parents' now-air-conditioned house and use their air-conditioned car. Having a place to cool off after a sun-filled, sweaty day of activity makes for a pleasant vacation indeed.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Charity Isn't Easy

Your humble blogger has helped with local food programs for 20 years. They are much cheaper to operate than government programs, which screen for need and regulate food safety. (These are tradeoffs that even the most ardent private-charity advocates will acknowledge.)

Two other factors: the charity people will say that volunteers are more motivated than government workers who are in it for a paycheck, while the regulatory-minded point to the costs to the surrounding areas from an influx of charity-seekers. Both elements are visible in the food distribution program run by St. Augustine-by-the-Sea in the heart of Waikiki. [bold added]
[Honolulu Mayor Rick] Blangiardi said the administration’s latest public safety effort in Waikiki goes back to the summer of 2021 when he brought his entire Cabinet to walk the district to hear the concerns of retailers and hotel owners. One of the hot spots identified during the walk and in later meetings with Waikiki stakeholders, he said, was St. Augustine, where groups of homeless people were camping outside of the church, which is across from the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort and Spa and near residential housing.

The mayor said he approached Akiona in June 2022 and was told that the church needed help because it had been overwhelmed by people who were urinating and defecating in the shrubbery, taunting parishioners and doing other bad things.

Blangiardi said the chief of police and several other officers accompanied him to the meeting to provide support for the church. He said the city took responsibility for the sidewalks around St. Augustine, but noted that a criminal element persisted.
Adding security and keeping out the criminal element raise the cost prohibitively if the charity has to absorb it.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Old Favorite in a New Place

View of the wait list from our comfortable table
Early in the trip we hoofed across the Ala Wai Canal to have breakfast.

No longer do we amble about aimlessly hoping to stumble across an unknown (to us) gem; simply typing "breakfast" and "Waikiki" into Yelp produced dozens of candidates.

We picked a small eaterie ¾ of a mile away. People standing for a table spilled onto the sidewalk, and it looked like an hour's wait. Unfortunately tourists have Yelp, too.

Creature of habit: I had the same breakfast in 2018.
No more wandering: it was 80 degrees and humid, and we settled on the new Liliha Bakery on the third floor of the International Market Place, a mile away. The Liliha Bakery on Nimitz was a favorite, and we were optimistic that the food and ambience (and air conditioning!) in the Waikiki branch was up to that standard.

Having to wait 20 minutes, we were not disappointed. All dishes were proclaimed excellent, and the morning was rescued.

Friday, July 21, 2023

He Captured a Feeling

The first time I heard Tony Bennett's signature song was on the radio, just after the first time I visited San Francisco.

Millions of Americans knew that it was a classic the first time they heard it, and it captured a feeling that remains to this day despite the City's current problems.

Thanks for the memories, Mr. Bennett.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Unappetizing Beginning

Looks like chicken (gizzards)
One of the running jokes in our family is how my Caucasian brother-in-law, who grew up eating beef and potatoes, has taken a long time to become acclimated to Asian cuisine. His problem is not so much the spices and flavors but the parts of the animals used in the dishes; when visiting Hawaii he has been taken by surprise more than once.

He let his guard down this week at the popular Side Street Inn near Waikiki. Offered a deep-fried appetizer, he tore into it with gusto...until it was revealed that he was consuming chicken gizzards.

By coincidence we were invited to dinner at the same restaurant tonight. Now eager to try the gizzards, we ordered a plate. To be honest, they were just so-so. The crust was excellent--crispy and not oily--but the insides were a little chewy.

Gizzards are tough and muscular, and I like to simmer them for an hour in garlic, ginger, and soy sauce. My brother-in-law was right to turn to the salads and beef and fish dishes, which were tasty and well-prepared. But I'm not going to admit it to him.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Point of View

Diamond Head rises sharply from the Waikiki flatlands.
While the rest of the family was at the Waikiki Aquarium, I walked around Kapiolani Park. I have walked in and through the Park to get to the Zoo or family picnics but never took the time to stop and smell the coconuts.

Few people were around today, a few joggers and parents pushing strollers. Gone were the long see-saws and high swings made of rusty iron that creaked when I played on them. They were bigger and more dangerous than the playground apparatus in my own neighborhood, but danger is what made Kapiolani Park fun to five-year-olds who were lightly supervised back in the day.

I didn't make it around the entire circumference because the family was done at the Aquarium in 45 minutes. It was time for a late lunch at Rainbow Drive-In, less than a mile away off Kapahulu Avenue. In the contest between burning and consuming calories on this trip, I'm losing...or winning, depending on one's point of view.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Collateral Benefits

At least they got rid of the termites.
When fire ravages a house, there sometimes is collateral damage to other properties. In the case of my sister-in-law, who lives across the street from a burnt-out home in Kailua, there are collateral benefits.

An episode of Magnum P.I. had a scene with a burning house, and the neighbor's misfortune had a silver lining. The husk was needed by the TV show--flames to be added later through special effects--and Magnum will help defray some of her out-of-pocket costs for the rebuild.

A lot of work for a hole in the ground.
The collateral benefits? A plot point had a character burying something nearby, so my sister-in-law was paid $2,000 to shoot the scene on her property.

The production dug the hole, filled it later, and re-sodded the surface in addition to clearing some weeds. My brother-in-law says the area looks better than before.

Although Magnum has been cancelled by NBC, their house is now frozen in time as long as Magnum P.I. reruns are shown.

Related: another relative's house was used regularly in Hawaii Five-0

Monday, July 17, 2023

Helen, Going Strong at 100

I first met Helen 55 years ago. At the time she was 45, so yes, she turns 100 this year, which happens to be today.

She's remarkable. She is able to walk up and down the 50 stairs to her house from the street level every day. She is fully engaged in conversation and even remembers everyone's names.

She didn't want a big celebration, and her daughters agreed. They scheduled three events, each consisting of 15-30 people so Helen could spend time with each person. On Saturday there was a barbecue at one daughter's house. Today was a two-table luncheon at a restaurant in the Chinatown Cultural Plaza. On Wednesday there will be another luncheon with people coming from the Mainland.

We're exhausted, but she's going strong.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

What's in a Phrase: "Undue Hardship"

Gerald Groff (WSJ photo)
Given the controversies surrounding recent Supreme Court decisions on free speech, affirmative action, and student-loan forgiveness, it's easy to overlook their unanimous statement on a religious accommodations case.

The 9-0 decision in Groff v. DeJoy is likely to affect thousands of workers and their employers. The facts:
[Gerald] Groff began working at the U.S. Postal Service in 2012, delivering mail in rural parts of Lancaster County, Pa. In 2013, the Postal Service contracted with to deliver Amazon packages, including on Sundays.

Groff eventually transferred to a small Postal Service facility in Holtwood, Pa., to avoid Sunday work. But in March 2017, the Holtwood facility also began Amazon Sunday delivery service.

His supervisor attempted to find other carriers to cover his Sunday shifts, saying that such shift swaps were the only accommodations that wouldn’t affect operations.

Groff never agreed to work on a Sunday. He received warnings, suspensions and other sorts of discipline short of termination for declining Sunday shifts assigned to him. The Postal Service said that these disciplinary actions were corrective rather than punitive, and that his pay was never docked.

In 2019, Groff resigned, saying he had no choice but to quit, and sued the Postal Service for failing to reasonably accommodate his religious practice.
The lower courts referred to the statute and a 1977 case, Trans World Airlines v. Hardison, to reject the lawsuit. They said that his employer, the USPS, didn't have to reschedule Mr. Groff because it would incur more than a de minimis cost.

The Supreme Court said that interpretation of Hardison was wrong, that "undue hardship" for the employer means that the USPS had "substantial increased costs", not just something above the minimum. To be clear, the Court did not say Mr. Groff was correct but told the lower courts to apply the substantial-burden criterion to his case.

While applauding Gerald Groff for standing up for his beliefs, I also sympathize with the employer, who in the end may well end up proving that it experienced substantial increased costs ("Groff was hired as a part-time, flexible carrier at a four-person post office, and he refused to show up for 24 Sundays of work.”)

I can also see many employers being bombarded with claims that employees can't work Sundays or other Holy Days because of their religion. Not all of these claims will be from true believers, and companies may well conclude that it is better to give in than risk a bigger loss in court.

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Proprioception Drills

Surf-stance balance squats
Balance exercises and strength training are normally separate, but Maui trainer Suzie Cooney has come up with six (6) exercises that do both:
A strong core helps keep us steady on our feet. This group of muscles—the abdominals, plus the muscles along your spine, pelvis, glutes and sides of the torso—drives power to our limbs while stabilizing the body.

When Cooney trains athletes like 2022 Stand-Up Paddling world champion Connor Baxter, she complements core training with proprioception drills. Proprioception is the body’s ability to sense its orientation in a constantly changing environment.
This WSJ article not only provides the strength-and-balance exercises that your humble blogger has been looking for, it also illustrates each exercise with a .gif.

GIFs, like the one that shows surf-stance balance squats, both convey much more information than a still photo and are more efficient than a video.

Note: Not every one will have access to a white-sand beach to break their fall, so most people will have to add a rubber mat to the shopping list.

Friday, July 14, 2023

Fits and Starts

July, 2023: lots of progress (viewed from Kuhio Ave.)
The fits and starts of construction since 2020 have been mirrored in this Waikiki property that I walk by on my semi-annual trips.

In 2020 tourism slowed to a trickle, unemployment in Hawaii reached 15%, and construction halted not only for economic reasons but also because it was a non-essential business during the pandemic.

In 2021 tourism picked up slowly, some Mainlanders exploited the working-from-home craze to move to Hawaii, and construction resumed.

Nov., 2022: Building on Kalakaua & Kalaimoku
In 2022 rising inflation caused the Federal Reserve to take the punch bowl away by dramatically increasing interest rates. Speculative projects were postponed, if not killed.

The opposite effect occurred on construction-in-progress. Delays were costlier, and it was urgent to finish them to make them revenue-producing. The property I've been watching is on pace to be completed by year-end.

That's good timing. Tourism is almost fully recovered, and this is the only sizable building coming on line in Waikiki.

Thursday, July 13, 2023

On Vacation

After arrival at HNL, the first outdoor sight is the apron (don't call it tarmac) where the airplanes park. Today there were more cargo containers stored near the gate than I had ever seen before.

The image was an echo of last year's shipping-container pile-up at the port of Long Beach.

Could air shipments through Hawaii be struggling like the whole logistics business? When an industry experiences declining demand and responds with layoffs, imbalances occur.

It will take a few days for my mind to realize that it's on vacation.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

FICO Score: Shrinking Like a Lot of Other Things

Unofficial FICO score from one of our credit cards. Others show
scores in the 700's. Nice, but we're not applying for loans anyway.
ID crooks not only steal from bank and brokerage accounts, they also take out new credit cards and loans in victims' names.

As a protective measure we froze our accounts at the credit-reporting agencies in 2015; a thief could apply for a loan under our ID but the agency will not give a credit report to the prospective lender--hence, no loan.

Since 2015 we've had to "unfreeze" the Equifax, Experian, and Transunion accounts temporarily when we took out car leases and added a credit card. In general, however, we've been simplifying/consolidating our accounts and reducing debt obligations.

Reducing debt is commonly viewed as a virtuous activity, but it does lower one's credit score. Why do credit scores matter if we, like many retirees, don't intend to take out loans? [bold added]
Even people with pristine records of on-time payments can expect their scores to slip after they stop working. While stopping work doesn’t ding your credit directly, living on a fixed income and paying off old loans can lower a score, said Ethan Dornhelm, vice president of scores and analytics at FICO.

Credit scores matter to millions of retirees even if they are less likely to apply for mortgages, loans or other debt, financial advisers said. Scores are used in a range of insurance and healthcare decisions, from setting your premiums to whether you are accepted to an assisted-living facility.
We do have enough set aside for assisted living, if that indeed is our destiny, so keeping a high credit score is not important for that purpose.

The ego had already been crushed when the IQ score started shrinking and there was nothing I could do about it.

As we go gently into that good night, the high (IQ, credit, energy) shall be made low and the low (weight, A1C, blood pressure) shall be made high.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

A Lighter Touch

As a kid I read how Louis Pasteur was a hero-scientist who saved many thousands of lives by making milk safe to drink. "Never drink raw milk" was food advice as sound as "never eat wild mushrooms."

A growing movement that touts its health benefits has caused regulators to lift bans on unpasteurized ("raw") milk:
Public health authorities and major dairy industry groups oppose the practice, saying such milk can be tainted with dangerous bacteria, including E. coli, salmonella, and listeria. But in state after state, those warnings have been overwhelmed by testimonials from fans of “raw milk,” who contend pasteurized milk is more difficult to digest because the process alters enzymes and kills helpful bacteria.

Federal experts say there is no proof that pasteurization makes milk less healthful. People on all sides of the issue say the rising interest in raw milk is fueled partly by distrust of public health authorities, which grew during the covid-19 pandemic.
Many health discussions require the weighing of risks and benefits. For me the benefits of drinking unpasteurized milk aren't compelling, nor are the risks small. (Maybe I'm still influenced by childhood hagiographies of Louis Pasteur.) So raw milk is a hard pass.

Nevertheless, your humble blogger supports the right of adults to make their own decisions after they've been given the information. I applaud regulators' removal of bans on raw milk but won't drink the stuff myself. Government should have a lighter touch.

Monday, July 10, 2023

Hawaii Not So No Ka Oi

Most of the California public artworks that use water have gone dry, a casualty of the multi-year drought that ended last winter.

In Hawaii, the State Capitol pools have been turned off for a different reason, faulty design. It's a tale to be savored by connoisseurs of ambitious ideas gone wrong: [bold added]
Pool maintenance challenges, according to DLNR [Department of Land and Natural Resources], have existed since the Capitol opened. And in response, government leaders have tried or contemplated myriad corrective plans without effective or lasting results, including use of chemicals, fish, fountains and prisoner labor.

The Capitol was designed by a predecessor to local architecture firm AHL and San Francisco-based John Carl Warnecke and Associates. The two pools totaling 80,000 square feet were lined with a waterproof membrane topped with stones, and had a plumbing system that included the airconditioning connections as well as circulation jets ringing pool sides where water spurted from openings shaped like hibiscus flowers.

Complaints about unpleasant odors from dying algae in the pools arose soon after the building opened, and were met with an early effort by DAGS [Department of Accounting and General Services] to treat the water with copper sulfate, which didn’t help.

According to a Honolulu Star-Bulletin report in 1971, adding enough chlorine prevent algae growth would be prohibitively expensive, while using fresh water also would be more costly.

The air-conditioning aspect of the pool design worked only briefly, according to DAGS, and was disconnected because of corrosion issues.

By 1976 it was costing taxpayers $30,000 a year to manually clean the pools after use of a nitric oxide compound to kill algae was discontinued because it ended up in the ocean.

A rogue attempted fix also was made in 1976 when then-Sen. Anson Chong and others dumped tilapia into the pools despite concern that waste from the fish, which can live in brackish water and feed on algae, might give rise to more algae. [Blogger's note: Anson Chong was a distant cousin and a great guy, but this wasn't his finest moment.]

Bad smells, leaks and corrosion persisted over the next decade along with vast multiplication of tilapia in the pools, one of which served as the site of the Aloha United Way keiki fishing derby in 1988 where then-Gov. John Waihee caught the first fish out of the Ewa pool.

A year later, lawmakers approved funding to turn the smelly pools into a freshwater garden where taro, giant lilies, water grass, koi, snails and mosquitoes would become a “living filter” to maintain the pools fed by rainwater channeled from Capitol grounds.

Architects Hawaii Ltd., now known as AHL, produced this plan with local engineering firm RM Towill. “People will come from all over to see this thing,” Joe Farrell, AHL’s late senior principal, said at the time.

The freshwater garden plan never bloomed.

In 1993, workers rid the pools of tilapia, around 16,000 fish, that were making pool conditions worse, and transferred them to Paradise Park in Manoa after fines were threatened for initial removal work where fish were being left to die.

Then DAGS in 1998 tried to reduce algae using machines producing chlorine dioxide, ozone and radical oxygen. But this also proved not too effective. A couple of years later, $90,000 was spent on an ozone treatment system, but pumps couldn’t distribute the ozone enough to sufficiently combat the algae.

In 2004, DAGS hired Architects Hawaii to produce a study on controlling the algae and improving the appearance of the pools.

The study was to explore a reverse-osmosis system that would use a membrane to convert brackish water to fresh water, and relieve the need for state workers to scrub and siphon away algae, a weekly task that also involved applying an enzyme spray and was assisted by Oahu Community Correctional Center prisoners.

“Whatever we end up implementing, we want it to be a long-term solution,” Russ Saito, then-director of DAGS, said at the time. “We don’t want to come back in five years and say, ‘That didn’t work.’” It’s unclear what became of the study, but by 2007 the annual pool-cleaning cost had risen to $72,000 including supplemental prisoner labor.

After DAGS requested money from the Legislature to fix the pools every year from 2005 to 2008 without success, another selfcleaning proposal was floated in 2016.

Nine lawmakers proposed adding fountains that would boost water circulation and also feature light displays choreographed with Hawaiian music, making the pools a visitor attraction.

“The construction of water fountains in the reflecting pools would make the pools essentially selfcleaning by circulating the now-stagnant water,” read the bill, which didn’t receive a hearing. In 2017 a bill proposed $100,000 for DAGS to study alternatives to rehabilitating the pools, but this measure also didn’t get a hearing.

In years since then, DAGS delayed its own efforts to improve the pools because it had higher-priority projects at the Capitol, and only more recently has the agency pressed the Legislature for urgent funding as leaks got worse and annual maintenance costs hit $120,000.

DAGS requested $30 million in 2021 to repair and renovate both pools, saying the situation required immediate attention because occupants in offices beneath the pools were being exposed to leaks and noxious fumes.

“DAGS understands the current budgetary constraints that the State is facing over the next five years but the health and safety of the Hawaii State Capitol tenants and employees is our top priority,” Curt Otaguro, then-director of the agency, said in written testimony to the Legislature. “This situation requires immediate action.”

Otaguro’s plea wasn’t well embraced. Seven House members introduced a resolution asking DAGS to defer its pool improvement plan, and the Legislature in 2021 fulfilled only $9.8 million of the $30 million DAGS request, effectively setting back improvement work.

Meanwhile, the pools had been drained and surrounded by construction barriers in 2020 so a contractor could work on soffit panels overhanging the pools.

The barriers have stayed up since then, according to DAGS, because the shallow, empty pools pose a hazard for people who might fall or jump in.

Still, leaks persist. In the Senate data systems office, sometimes smelly water that once dripped down onto a conference room table has been diverted in the false ceiling to a small trash can in the hallway.

In one basement hallway Friday, a dozen containers were positioned to catch water from the ceiling, including a 50-gallon recycling bin about half full with water.

Lawmakers got on board with a request by DAGS this year for $33.5 million to repair and renovate the pools, which the agency said has a disproportionate cost given the extent of leak damage that includes electrical conduits and circuits along with the air-conditioning duct system. There have even been power outages at the Capitol reported due to water infiltration.

The current repair plan includes installation of new water circulation and treatment systems, though Regan told lawmakers that an alternative without water in the pool basins would be a better long-term solution.

“Ultimately, when you have water, water will find eventually its way through,” he said during a House Finance Committee briefing in January.

State Rep. Betrand Kobayashi (D, Kahala-Kaimuki-Kapahulu) replied to Regan that he appreciated the waterless concept.

“The money we have put into this building has been frankly embarrassing,” Kobayashi said. Regan explained to the committee that an alternative to water could be something similar to what was done at the Hawai‘i State Art Museum, where a swimming pool in the historic former downtown YMCA building was partially filled in to create a sunken seating area with a pool-like look in 2010. “It still kind of keeps with the original theme and the intent, but it will help us to ensure that we won’t have water issues like what we’ve experienced here lately,” Regan told a pair of Senate committees at a January briefing.

Regan told the Senate committees that his sense is that SHPD will be amenable to such a change based on discussions.

Alan Downer, SHPD administrator, said no decision has been made on the desired change, and that discussion is continuing.

”The reflecting pools are an integral feature of the Capitol building,” Downer said in a statement. “They symbolize the volcanic island (the building) in the ocean. They are a critical (element to the) defining historic character of the building.”
It's easy to mock Hawaii politicians for cost overruns on trophy projects like the Capitol pools and the recently opened Skyline rail ($12 billion for 20 miles).

But my adopted state of California is much worse with its $90 billion high-speed rail system that isn't even operational after 12 years with the modest initial goal of connecting Merced and Bakersfield. And we're all holding our breath when California forces us to buy electric cars in 12 years and plug them into a solar- and windmill-powered grid.

All in all, I'd rather be in Hawaii, and that's where I'll be going later this month to visit family.

Sunday, July 09, 2023

Pink's Comeback

The Annunciation by Fra Angelico (1400-1455)
It seems etched in stone tablets that pink is for girls (and blue is for boys), but pink's association with femininity only began in the 20th century: [bold added]
The European attitude towards pink was influenced by Christianity. The Renaissance artist Fra Angelico, an early innovator in color symbolism, gave his angels robes of pink, the color of flesh, and wings of gold, the color of light, to illustrate how the Holy Spirit transcended the boundary between heaven and earth.

Gentleman in Pink (1560)
Pink’s association with divine power made it popular in royal circles, especially after the discovery of more potent dye sources such as the South American brazilwood tree. For some, there was no such thing as too much pink: The famous 16th-century portrait “The Gentleman in Pink,” by Giovanni Battista Moroni, depicts an Italian nobleman named Giovanni Gerolamo Grumello dressed head to toe in salmon pink....

It wasn’t until the 20th century that pink lost its masculine overtones and became indelibly feminine. As late as 1918, the British Ladies Home Journal advised mothers to dress their little boys in pink, “a more decided and stronger colour,” and their girls in blue, “which is more delicate and dainty.” In 1937, the avant-garde designer Elsa Schiaparelli challenged such color norms by packaging her new perfume, “Shocking,” in a bright pink box.
During the suit-and-tie decades your humble blogger's closet was filled with white and blue shirts. Occasionally wearing stripes, I donned pink when I really wanted to change it up. It was perfect for Fridays before they were designated casual.

Pink is about to come full circle.

Centuries ago it represented the divine and powerful, then was stuffed into the children's corner during the 20th century.

Pink will be everywhere when Barbie is released on July 21st. Get ready for the comeback.

Saturday, July 08, 2023

Mystery Buyer

(WSJ map)
Flannery Associates has purchased 52,000 acres of land near Travis Air Force Base, which is off Interstate 80, roughly halfway between San Francisco and Sacramento. Flannery's owners, sources of funds, and investment objectives are mysterious, at least publicly:
Acquisitions around Travis Air Force Base have raised security concerns among Solano County officials, who have been trying to determine the investors in Flannery and their plans for the land for years, said Bill Emlen, the county administrator.

County supervisor Mitch Mashburn said if Flannery intends to develop the land, it would make sense for the group to engage with local officials—but it hasn’t.

“The majority of the land they’re purchasing is dry farmland,” he said. “I don’t see where that land can turn a profit to make it worth almost a billion dollars in investment.”
Congress and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) have raised the alarm over the land's proximity to Travis AFB and Flannery Associates' changing story about its motives: [bold added]
Flannery has offered various explanations for its purchases over time. In 2019, Flannery attorney Richard Melnyk said in an email to a Solano County official that Flannery planned to work with local farmers and might explore “new types of crops or orchards,” he said, ruling out any cannabis operations.

In its May price-fixing lawsuit, Flannery said it planned to use the land for renewable energy and related projects. The entity has allowed many sellers to continue farming or remain on the land and collect income from wind turbine leases for the remainder of the lease, according to court filings.

In a June 5 email to Emlen reviewed by the Journal, Melnyk said Flannery was considering leasing “a substantial portion” of its land to olive growers, including some near Travis Air Force Base.
Personally, I think that the land purchases have been too extensive ($800 million) to be for a spying operation. More likely the ultimate goal is development; residential costs in Vacaville and Fairfield are all much lower than in the San Francisco Bay Area and expansion near there makes sense.

It also wouldn't be surprising if the buyer was a tech giant which has long-range plans to build a "company town" complete with offices, manufacturing, and houses. Far from being a concern, proximity to Travis AFB would be a plus if the hypothetical tech has aerospace elements.

Finally, it is preposterous to believe that government agencies don't know what's going on. All financial transactions that go through the banking system can be traced, and $800 million of land purchases cannot be opaque for long.

Curiosity makes it fun, but we'll know who's behind the whole thing soon enough. (And if we don't hear officially, then at least we'll know it's someone on our side, not a foreign actor.)

Friday, July 07, 2023

The Limits of a Golden Goose

(Chronicle photo)
I first drove across the Golden Gate Bridge in 1974. The 75¢ toll seems paltry now, but it was pricey enough to this starving student who thought 50¢ for the Oakland Bay Bridge was already steep.

For the next half-century the Golden Gate Bridge District ratcheted up the tolls to fund its deficits. Higher revenue always resulted, because the number of crossings never decreased until the COVID lockdown. The problem for the District is that traffic has not recovered to 2019 levels. [bold added]
The Golden Gate Bridge saw roughly 85% of pre-pandemic traffic levels crossing its toll plazas as of the end of May, according to agency data...

To stay financially afloat, the Golden Gate district has slashed bus and ferry service, gradually restoring trips as ridership demand inches upward. The district also raised fares by a quarter, as well as bridge tolls, which now cost many drivers $9.75. The district has also leaned on employee attrition to prolong reaching its fiscal cliff.

“What we’re doing right now is controlling our expenses to make our one-time federal COVID relief money last as long as possible,” Mulligan said. “We’d be running out of money, probably in the next couple of months, if we didn’t scale service.
With more Marinites working from home and the exodus of businesses and people from the Bay Area the decline in bridge traffic appears to be permanent. It took them 86 years and a $9.75 toll, but the Golden Gate Bridge District has finally found the limits of its golden goose.

Thursday, July 06, 2023

Don't Hold Them Back Became Let's Give Them an Advantage

Katherine Johnson (1918-2020) received
the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The 2016 film Hidden Figures was based on the true story of African-American women mathematicians who were crucial to the success of NASA's early missions. They had to overcome extreme race and sex discrimination, accompanied by condescending attitudes, to be taken seriously.

By the end of the movie their skill and reputation became so widely known at NASA that John Glenn insisted that the numbers be checked manually by Katherine Johnson, one of the "hidden figures," before his historic flight. She also performs emergency calculations to bring John Glenn home when one of his capsule's heat shields broke loose.

It's a popular theme in fiction and real life: the talents of a person who is discriminated against are so outstanding that the powers-that-be must call on the person to solve an important problem. Anti-discrimination narratives appeal to both the heart and the head: the former because the victims are treated unfairly and the latter because society's potential is unrealized by holding back skilled people.

60 years later the pendulum has shifted too far in the other direction. Anti-discrimination has given way to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) quotas. DEI is especially damaging in the technological contest with China: [bold added]
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute reported this year that China leads the U.S. in research on 37 of 44 critical technologies, including advanced aircraft engines, electric batteries, machine learning and synthetic biology. In a recent essay in Foreign Affairs, Dan Wang, an expert on China’s technology landscape, wrote that “China now rivals Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan in its mastery of the electronics supply chain.” In 2007, the Chinese added less than 4% of the value-added costs of iPhones made in that country. Now it’s more than 25%...

Given this challenge, you might imagine that America would re-emphasize the principles of objectivity and merit that made it the world’s leading scientific innovator. You would be mistaken.

Where it once was taken for granted that expanding knowledge was more important than a scientist’s sex or skin color, anyone adhering to that approach in the U.S. now must fend off charges that it is racist, patriarchal, colonial, or a tool of oppression. As a group of 29 scientists and academics contended in a recent paper for the Journal of Controversial Ideas, scientific progress in the West “is being hindered by a new, alarming clash between liberal epistemology and identity-based ideologies.”...

The U.S. will only find it harder to compete with China if activists and administrators are allowed to bully scientists into caring more about artificial diversity goals than about their work. To quote the 29 authors who stood up for merit, “for science to succeed, it must strive for the non-ideological pursuit of objective truth.
In the liberal arts and social sciences, the DEI crowd can advocate for individual revealed truths and personal lived experiences. By contrast, those who work in STEM fields believe that there are objective truths, and the goal of science is to discover these truths. I am 100% sure that the mathematicians who worked for NASA would agree.

Wednesday, July 05, 2023

When the Lemons Don't Line Up, Make Lemonade

I hit a $5,000 jackpot once on a Downtown Las Vegas slot machine. I didn't take a selfie, because smartphones had not yet been invented.

The casino manager gave me a check and a Form 1099. I quit playing, and that was the only time I walked away from the slots as a winner.

Brian Christopher and fan Sue Leahy (WSJ)
In the age of social media, some avid slot players are winning by losing: [bold added]
A new class of niche celebrities have turned the once-solitary experience of gambling at casino slot machines into a spectator sport with millions of viewers and fan camaraderie. Using monopods or videographers to film the action, the players spend hours talking audiences through the highs and lows of jackpots and losses...

Nongamblers, and some who have given up the pastime, also are among [Brian] Christopher’s audience of 612,000 YouTube subscribers and 707,000 Facebook followers. “They get their fix by watching someone else play,” he said.

Christopher has built his particular brand of stardom into a full-time business with 10 employees—including his husband and Senior Vice President of Operations Marco Bianchi—who pack merchandise, such as T-shirts and shot glasses, manage social-media interactions and help secure enough deals and partnerships to fund the enterprise. Christopher declined to provide his total revenue, but said he makes enough to turn a profit after paying his staff and the $300,000 in gambling losses.
Fans visit the locations where the gambler-celebrities play, and the casinos have noticed, and adapted:
Casinos long banned patrons from filming to avoid distractions and to protect the privacy of other customers. They have warmed to the idea in recent years, influencers say, and often give special permission for filming, or make promotional deals with the social-media stars.
Gambling commercials only show winners. In the 21st-century world of streaming video people watch losers....and like it.

Tuesday, July 04, 2023

Independence Day, 2023

Hillsdale Blvd. was closed after 5 p.m. (2022 photo).
The Foster City fireworks have become more popular among Peninsula residents.

The empty parking lots at banks, retail establishments, and commercial buildings are blocked off. The City patrols these areas and charges a steep $15 in the lots close to Leo Ryan Park.

The crowds began appearing at 11 a.m., when food trucks opened for business. Rock and country music bands, as well as kids' activities, started at noon.

As for me, the fireworks are too close to my bedtime. I strolled across the street to the shopping center and watched for a few minutes.

Happy Fourth of July!

Good night.

Monday, July 03, 2023

Chronicle: Affirmative Action in Crime Reporting

Noe Valley and Alamo Square are 2 mi apart.
Muggings don't normally make news, but an outbreak that targets a particular group of victims in a formerly low-crime area of San Francisco does merit the front page: [bold added]
Multiple women walking in San Francisco’s Lower Haight neighborhood reported being violently robbed of their smartphones last week, a series of frightening encounters echoing another recent string of similar attacks in Noe Valley.

Three women who spoke to The Chronicle about their encounters described being physically attacked while walking alone near Alamo Square on different nights last week. In each case, thieves forcibly took their cell phones before disappearing in a waiting getaway car, the women said.

At least three assaults and robberies took place during evening hours in the Lower Haight beginning on June 26, the same day similar incidents unfolded during daylight in Noe Valley.

It was unclear if the attacks were carried out by the same group of teenagers that police believe assaulted and robbed at least 11 women in neighborhoods throughout the city last week, including in Noe Valley. Police arrested one juvenile in connection to the Noe Valley attacks but continue to search for up to four others...

Supervisors Rafael Mandelman and Catherine Stefani have asked for increased police patrols to counter the assaults in which young thieves appear to be targeting women walking alone with smartphones.
The Painted Ladies on a normal day (Times of India)
Alamo Square is famed for the "Painted Ladies" Victorians on Steiner Street. (Zillow currently values them from $2 million to $5 million.) It's a nice neighborhood with children playing in the park, one of the few areas that resembles "normal" American suburban life. Bad publicity like this ensures that the police will likely catch the culprits soon.

1) One victim, Victoria, hesitated to talk about her violent mugging not only because of her fear of retribution by the gang but because
she was hesitant to share her experience, she said, because she does not “want to fuel the narrative that San Francisco is a crime-ridden hellscape,” noting that she had previously felt safe walking alone in the city.
She sounds like one of San Francisco's residents who is worried that her experience would be used to bash San Francisco's political leadership. She's probably right, and good on her to want to sweep her experience under the rug to not damage Progressive policies even more.

2) The police know a lot about the suspects. They're teenagers who operate in a group and drive stolen getaway cars. The police know where they operate, who they target, and what goods they want to steal. But the Chronicle is strangely silent when it comes to further information. (Hint: if the suspects were white males, the Chronicle in other stories would disclose that fact in the first paragraph.)

Democracy dies in darkness, indeed.

Sunday, July 02, 2023

Strength in Numbers

In the world of sports it sometimes happens that the son outshines the father, for example, Bobby Bonds / Barry Bonds and Del Curry / Steph Curry.

In world history former colonies are more powerful than their mother countries, for example, Great Britain / United States and Portugal / Brazil. In these cases the story is over.

Worshipers at an evangelical Christian service near Lagos, Nigeria, 2021 (WSJ photo)
In real time we can watch this ascent / descent occur in Africa: [bold added]
Owing to population growth and the intensity of their religiosity, Africans are now one of the more important constituencies of both Islam and Christianity worldwide, and sub-Saharan Africa is one of the world’s most active and contested religious markets. The region was 59% Christian and 30% Muslim in 2020, according to the World Religion Database. “There is a new scramble for Africa,” said Sheikh Ibrahim Lethome of Jamia Mosque in Nairobi, Kenya, drawing an analogy with the colonization of the continent in the late 19th century. “Christianity is growing, Islam is growing, and there is competition.”
The story is about the (peaceful) competition between Christianity and Islam in Africa, but the story as it affects the West and the United States in particular, is the Africanization of Christianity:
On a continent where indigenous religions dominated just a century ago, Christian missionary efforts, associated with European colonization, have borne fruit in massive conversions. By 2020, there were 643 million Christians in sub-Saharan Africa, a quarter of the world total, up from 7.4 million in 1900. By 2050, it is projected that there will be 1.3 billion Christians in the region, or 38% of all the Christians in the world.
In the worldwide Anglican communion the numbers in Africa (43 million in 2008) are overwhelming the influence of the (United States) Episcopal Church:
leaders of African churches that are among the largest and fastest-growing....refuse to join progressives, led by the U.S. Episcopal Church, who support marriage or blessings for same-sex unions and the ordination of openly gay clergy...
The Episcopal Church numbers two million members. It has shrunk to a husk of its former self. The African converts embraced what the Episcopal missionaries told them half a century ago, that Pride is a sin, that homosexuality is a sin, and redemption can be found by accepting God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. A 180-degree turnabout from supposedly fundamental doctrines seems desperate and frankly crazy to African eyes. Kenyan Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit:
“We make a humble request to these churches: Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead.”

Saturday, July 01, 2023

Hot Take

It wasn't my preferred way to start the unofficial July 1 - July 4 long weekend, but I had an appointment near Sacramento. Traffic on I-80 was stop-and-go most of the way, and the outside temperatures reached 110°F in the Central Valley. I turned on the car's AC to full, ignoring that it was a spare-the-air day; hey, I'm already doing my part by driving a hybrid.

Where I was going there was no air conditioning, and I won't sleep well.

Already I'm looking forward to the drive back in the cool cabin of the car and the relatively cooler environs of the mid-Peninsula.