Thursday, August 31, 2023

P or Not P

Dr. Nirao Shah
Stanford researchers have found the specific cells in the brains of male mice that activate sexual desire. They were able to manipulate desire through the application of a protein called "Substance P."
[Nirao] Shah and his team found buried in mice brains, a bit above the roof of the mouth, tiny neural connections that are tasked with processing information from the outside world.

They tell a male mouse whether another mouse is female, and feeling flirty.

If so, this good news is relayed to an adjacent set of brain cells, located on the same circuit. Then a small protein, called Substance P, issues a call to action — like a Marvin Gaye groove.

The team focused on a set of genetically distinct neurons in the amygdala that do something special: They secrete a small and slow-acting peptide dubbed Substance P.

Then the scientists watched a different set of neurons in the preoptic hypothalamus that had receptors for this Substance P. Those two groups of neurons work together, like lock and key.

When Substance P binds to these receptors, it gradually sensitizes the neurons so they become increasingly active...

Normally, male mice are slow to warm up, taking 10 to 15 minutes before mounting. Afterwards, they take a five-day break before regaining interest.

But when the researchers directly infused Substance P into mice brains, the animals turned into love junkies.

Rather than waiting to mate, the mice were ready instantaneously. They even fell in love with lab equipment, mounting plastic tubes adorned with the tail end of a toy mouse bought on Amazon.

They could also become prim, proper and prudish. When researchers silenced the neurons and switched off the circuit, dialing down production of Substance P, the mice lost desire.
We're years away from determining if there's a similar mechanism in the brains of human males and whether the human version of Substance P can be administered (or turned off) safely. If that can be achieved, the control of man's biggest sex organ, the brain, is around the corner.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Pickleball: a Danger to San Francisco's Way of Life

Presidio Wall courts near Pacific Heights (Chron)
First world problem: the exploding popularity of pickleball has caused some San Francisco homeowners, bothered by the noise, to petition to shut down pickleball courts. [bold added]
In the petition, [Holly] Peterson argues the sound of yellow-plastic-ball-meets-paddle “isn’t just grating” but that it’s “altering our way of life and the wildlife of our cherished Presidio.”

She and another neighbor, Mary Tesluk, demand that the city suspend all pickleball play until a full environmental study can be completed on the sport’s impact on everything from wildlife to parking.
It took only a few mouseclicks to discover that Holly Peterson lives in an 8-bedroom, 11,320 sq. ft. mansion that's being listed for $36 million. The twist is that her home has a private pickleball court.
There is custom millwork throughout as well as bold colors. The kitchen, for example, has a blue La Cornue range as well as matching blue cabinets and blue leather stools. The primary suite has a balcony and two large dressing rooms. Off the kitchen and family room is a deck with an outdoor kitchen. A steel staircase connects the deck to a large garden terrace and a pickleball court.
The super-rich are different: disco balls and private pickleball (WSJ photo)
Personally, I admire her nerve for trying to suspend pickleball for San Francisco's little people, that is, those who don't have their own courts. I also appreciate the petition's argument that pickleball is antithetical to wildlife and the environment. (It's reminiscent of the City of Woodside trying to halt housing development because of the danger to mountain lions.)

It's really noisome when environmental rules that were meant to stymie evil industrialists are used to thwart what supporters of these rules want for themselves. That's not what we meant!

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Cheaper for a Reason

School Chromebooks awaiting repair in NYC (WSJ)
In 2020 I bought an Acer Chromebook for web-surfing at public WiFi spots. In 2022 I found that there was a good reason the 2½-year-old $175 Chromebook had been so cheap: updates were free only for five years from the date of manufacture:
Why did I get only 2½ years of software updates? Because when I bought it from Amazon in 2020 it had been sitting in inventory since 2018, according to the sticker on the back.
Now schools are learning my sad lesson on a much larger scale:
Low-price, easy-to-use Chromebooks were once a boon to cost-conscious schools. Educators say the simple laptops are no longer a good deal.

Models have shot up in price in the past four years. Constant repairs add to the cost. Google imposes expiration dates, even if the hardware still works. This year, Google ceases support for 13 models. Next year, 51 models will expire...

Chromebooks have no second life. When they expire, they become e-waste. By contrast, Macs and PCs can run apps even after their native software is no longer supported. They can even be repurposed into Chromebook-like devices.
Apple still provides free updates to my 2014 MacBook Air. Though it cost $1,000 at the time, the MacBook was a much better value.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Shell Shock

CDC tweet
From the age of 4 to 17 I always had one or more pet turtles and/or tortoises in the house. Somehow I made it to adulthood without this warning from the CDC:
The federal agency is telling pet owners not to “kiss or snuggle” their turtles, or eat and drink around them, to avoid possible [salmonella] infection.
Turtles can't catch you, but you can catch something from turtles.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

The Benefits of Babble

(WSJ illustration)
We have lamented before the diminishment of organizations, e.g., Elks, Kiwanis, Freemasons, where people can mingle with others outside of work and family.

The last significant redoubt is religion, but even churches have already experienced and are likely to continue to experience significant declines in attendance.

Baptist pastor Ryan Burge touts a benefit of going to church that's unrelated to increasing the chances of going to heaven. [bold added]
In 2022, 30% of people with a college degree and an income of at least $60,000 a year attended services weekly; among those with a high school diploma making less than $30,000, only 20% did.

This development has implications beyond religion itself. One of the strongest predictors of increased economic mobility is whether an individual has access to economically diverse social spaces. People at the lower end of the economic spectrum benefit greatly when they can build personal relationships with those who have higher incomes.

In an article published in the journal Nature last year, a team of researchers examined the Facebook connections of over 70 million users to find where they were most likely to encounter people with a higher income than their own. Neighborhoods, schools and workplaces turned out to offer very little economic diversity. The one venue that did was houses of worship.
Although Pastor Burge means well, I think it's a little unseemly to view church as just another network that can improve one's secular fortunes.

On the other hand I suppose it's okay to do it for the kids, i.e., for them to have playmates that are more likely (but not invariably, of course) to be raised with good character.

Well, these are desperate times for churches, so maybe it's time to host events with a promise not to proselytize:
Why not set aside a portion of the annual budget for purely social gatherings? Cook-outs, carnivals or back-to-school bashes are ideal events to welcome a diverse cross section of the community. At Ravenswood Covenant Church in Chicago, for example, a weekly farmers market for local vendors features live music and activities for kids as a way to create opportunities for social interaction.

Such events are primarily about the horizontal part of religion (individuals building relationships with each other), not the vertical part (individuals strengthening their relationship to God). They create space for people to get to know each other and create social bonds, without any real agenda or time constraint. The theology can (and should) come later.
I'm so old that I remember that one of the main criticisms of churches was that they were social clubs where people came to gossip during coffee hour. Perhaps a little social-clubbing wasn't so bad after all.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Local Boys' 15 Minutes of Fame

I drive by the Hawaiian Rent-All sign nearly every day when I go back to the Islands. On the corner of Beretania and McCully, it's on the way to the H-1 on-ramp that's closest to my parents' house.

Long known for its silly puns (think Dad jokes), the sign recently has included political humor. The latest Hawaiian Rent-All sign went viral this week when it criticized President Biden for his Maui speech (representative tweet at bottom).

The store's owners, the Jung brothers, get a chuckle out of me when they're at their best. I suppose I'll now have to treat their humor with more respect.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Not a Sinister But a Hopeful Sign

(WSJ map)
Seven weeks ago we posted our take on the mysterious Flannery Associates that had bought 52,000 acres near Travis Air Force Base.
Personally, I think that the land purchases have been too extensive ($800 million) to be for a [Chinese] 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.
My predictions were close to the mark.

Tech Leaders Emerge Behind Plan to Build New City Near California Air Base
A group of high-profile Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors emerged Friday as backers of a group that plans to build a new city in Northern California, after its purchases of land around an Air Force base had raised national-security concerns among U.S. officials.

Flannery Associates said Friday it planned to construct a new housing development in the area...

The group’s investors include a high-wattage list of technology entrepreneurs and investors, according to a person familiar with the group. They include LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman; former Sequoia Capital partner Michael Moritz; and venture capitalists Marc Andreessen and Chris Dixon, who are general partners at Andreessen Horowitz.

Other investors include Patrick Collison and John Collison, co-founders of Stripe, a payments processor to internet companies; Laurene Powell Jobs, a philanthropist and the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs; and Nat Friedman, the former chief executive officer of GitHub.
The $1 billion spent so far is small potatoes compared to the combined net worths of the billionaires named as purchasers. That said, it will take multi-billions more, plus a time horizon of at least two decades to see just the initial returns from this project.

We will likely find that the investment is being made by trusts for the benefit of the billionaires' children and grandchildren, with the development profits escaping estate taxes.

Additional comment: California is not totally lost if some extremely wealthy people still regard California as a place to make money from very long-term investments.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

The Limit of Advance Planning

Costco members buck the trend toward last-minute purchasing. Easter and Halloween products go on sale 1-2 months in advance, and the customers snap them up.

However, a full Christmas display (except for trees) four months ahead? That's pushing the limit of advance planning, and no, I didn't buy anything.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Oakland Zoo

Diana, 44, seems to like being hosed down.
After nearly 50 years of living in the Bay Area I visited the Oakland Zoo for the first time.

The initial impression was favorable.

The Zoo looks well-designed and well-maintained. Wherever we wandered on the 100-acre property a staff member or volunteer was always in sight. On a Wednesday afternoon most of the customers were families with children.

It needs to be mentioned that the Zoo is in the Oakland hills. The Zoo is close to regional parks and golf courses; it's only ten miles from crime-ridden downtown Oakland, but it may as well be in a different world.

Though we (try to) exercise regularly, we had enough after a couple of hours in the 88°F heat and the hilly terrain. In contrast we have spent the entire day in the flat, cool, sometimes foggy environment of the San Francisco Zoo.

We wanted to see more, so we upgraded to an annual family membership. We'll come back in the fall.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Scientific Grounds Are Not Yet Settled

LA pilot Luis Rios likes to be grounded
Mainlanders are finally catching up to what Hawaii residents have always known:

Stand Outside Barefoot for Better Health [bold added]
Grounding is what proponents call the process of connecting to the earth’s natural electric charge, often by physically touching it or connecting to the grounding system built into most U.S. homes.

The wellness practice is gaining, well, ground, among alternative-health fans, who claim it cures headaches, helps them sleep and reduces inflammation. Some go basic by simply standing barefoot in their yards. Others try more complicated, do-it-yourself approaches to maximize time spent grounding—even while indoors.

Luis Rios, a pilot based in Los Angeles, says grounding, also known as earthing, helps ease joint pain in his knees after long flights.
Skeptics point to perceived health benefits as rooted in the placebo effect, getting away from the screens, and being outdoors communing with nature. But what do these experts know?

Hawaii has the highest life expectancy of all 50 states. Coincidence? I think not!

Monday, August 21, 2023

Summer Days, 2023

Unlike last year, our church did not set up a booth at the Summer Days festival (August 18-20) in Foster City. I did reserve a space with the City last month but eventually sent our regrets.

Our usual volunteers were on vacation, and the energy from 2022's re-opening had dissipated, not just for us but for the community as a whole. There were fewer booths, both business and non-profits, than 2022.

Foot traffic wasn't overly heavy on Saturday afternoon.

There were decent lines at the food trucks, the rides, and other attractions.

Organizers thoughtfully set up tables, chairs, and tents for diners and fair-goers who just wanted to sit in the shade. The festival was kid and elderly friendly, which would have gone without saying 20 years ago but is now a rare sight in the Bay Area.

For a glimpse of gatherings as they used to be, see the photo (right) from three years ago, February 8, 2020, at the Punahou Carnival in Honolulu just before everything was locked down. Sometimes things really were better in the old days.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Swan Song

Today was the last Sunday for our long-time organist, Frank Saunders, and choir director, Maureen Fromme. Frank is slowing down a little physically--but not mentally or musically--and is going to spend more time with his expanding crew of grandchildren. Maureen is moving on to a teaching position at a private school. Both have served long and nobly.

A new organist and choir director perhaps half their age will start next week. Yes, new blood is necessary to keep organizations invigorated, but as an old-timer myself I worry about the loss of institutional knowledge. Here's another bit of geezer wisdom: know the benefit of keeping your trap shut.

Below is Frank playing the last minute of On Eagle's Wings this morning.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

When You Want Everything, You End Up with Nothing

(Images of class action lawsuits against HE)
After its 2019 bankruptcy resulting from wildfire liabilities, PG&E enacted procedures to cut off electricity preemptively when fire danger is high.

Now similar class-action lawsuits have been filed against Hawaiian Electric for not shutting down Maui's power lines.

Utilities may not be as legally responsible in Hawaii as they are in California. [bold added]
The company noted that there is no precedent in Hawaii, as there is in California, for property owners to receive compensation for damages caused by a private party such as an investor-owned utility, or from a government entity.
Hawaiian Electric also cited the dangers of shutting down electricity in the midst of a fire:
“Preemptive, short-notice power shut-offs have to be coordinated with first responders, and in Lahaina, electricity powers some of the pumps that provide the water needed for firefighting,” the company wrote. “A power shut-off can jeopardize the health and safety of the elderly, the disabled and those most in need.”
Hawaiian Electric management no doubt bears some responsibility, but IMHO government is at least equally culpable. Government regulates utilities because utility monopolies are free to set prices without being restrained by competition. The WSJ says that Hawaiian Electric and PG&E are simply following their State governments' orders:
If Hawaiian Electric’s lines did ignite the fires, it would echo the problems of PG&E, the California utility that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2019 after getting sued for tens of billions of dollars for damages from fires caused by its equipment. The 2018 Camp Fire killed 84 people and razed the town of Paradise.

What both utilities have in common is that they prioritized growing renewable power to meet government mandates over hardening their systems and reducing fire risk. In 2015 Hawaii lawmakers required that 100% of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2045. California and some other states followed with similar mandates.
Hawaii and California share another characteristic: the Democratic Party has held all state-wide offices and controlled the state legislature for over a decade. This means that the priorities of regulated businesses are the priorities of the Party: eliminating fossil fuels, promoting DEI (diversification, equity, and inclusion) and corporate ESG (environment, social, and governance) all supersede such mundane activities as hardening infrastructure and operating profitably.

The voters of Hawaii and California are getting what they wanted, and the victims of Paradise, CA, and Lahaina, HI paid the tragic price.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Just Maintaining the Status Quo is Hard

Whatever one's views on abortion, there's no question that its reduced availability has made it riskier to be an obstetrician gynecologist who has to worry about running afoul of the law, even if he or she strives to be compliant.

Surveying the legal landscape, medical students may decide that being an OB/GYN is too tough because of regulatory requirements. The coming decline in the number of doctors who provide pregnancy, childbirth, and women's health services (not abortion) is probably not what pro-life lawmakers intended.

Now comes another blow: Hospitals Shutter Maternity Wards Amid Falling Birthrates
The closures are broadening a swath of America without maternity units, commonly communities that are sparsely populated or aging. The trend threatens to worsen infant health and maternal death rates that have hit the highest level in decades.

Hospitals that are closing maternity units said they can’t recruit enough staff to safely operate. Hospitals with fewer births are less attractive to doctors and nurses, executives said. Births at OSF HealthCare St. James-John W. Albrecht Medical Center in Illinois declined to 120 last year from 184 in 2019.
It's a sad state of affairs in 21st century America that, whether a woman wants to see through or terminate her pregnancy, she has to travel a greater distance to ensure a healthy outcome for herself.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Patient in my Circumstances

In a wheelchair this ride would have been perfect.
My outpatient procedure was scheduled from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., and, because general anesthesia would be used, the clinic would not allow me to drive home. Coincidentally, for the first time ever, I couldn't hitch a ride with anyone because of various calendar conflicts.

No problem, I told them, I'll just take a cab or Uber or Lyft. That won't do, they said, you will have to use a licensed medical transportation company.

And so it was that I Uber'ed to the appointment at a cost of $18 plus tip and hired a medical van to take me back for $100. The vehicle was equipped for wheelchair passengers and was overkill for a patient in my circumstances.

I could work myself into a lather about liability insurance, government regulations, and one-size-fits-all safety requirements. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude is better: I have the means to pay the bill, and the procedure was quick. Besides, anger often hurts the person expressing it as well as its object.

The driver made sure I got to the front door okay. There's a reason there are a dozen businesses like his in the area, and some day I may genuinely need his services.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Winning by Losing

After the acquisition fell apart in 2016, NEE and HE's stock prices diverged, even before the Lahaina fires.
(This post is related to yesterday's about the collapse of Hawaiian Electric Industries' stock price.)

Seven years ago Florida-based NextEra Energy (NEE) failed in its attempted acquisition of Hawaiian Electric for $2.63 billion. The deal was rejected by Hawaiian regulators.

The ostensible reason was that NextEra did not provide enough details about whether its green-energy plans were sufficiently compliant with Hawaii's own goals. In truth there was a local element that would have resisted any takeover of HE, a Hawaiian institution that was more than 120 years old.

NEE, with a current market cap of about $137 billion, must be thanking its lucky stars that the deal fell apart. With a wealthy Mainland parent company who would be convenient to blame, the Maui victims and lawyers would try to extract $billions in damages from HE's parent.

In NextEra's case the failure to make a deal was the best deal.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Hawaiian Electric on the Brink

The Lahaina fires began on Tuesday, Aug. 8.; HE stock took over a 50% hit this Monday and Tuesday.
Whether justified or not, Hawaiian Electric Industries is now accused of bearing major responsibility for the Lahaina fire:
The selloff continues in shares of troubled utility Hawaiian Electric Industries.

The stock fell another 24% on Tuesday after Monday’s plunge, on fears the utility could be held liable for the wildfires that have devastated Maui.

The stock recently traded around $16.

Wells Fargo analysts cut their price target to $25 per share on Monday. “While it remains unclear if any of HE’s equipment directly caused any of the wildfires, we believe it prudent to account for the risk,” they wrote.

All told, the stock has dropped about 50% so far this week, according to FactSet; that’s the stock's worst two-day selloff on record dating back to 1983, according to Dow Jones Market Data.
Honolulu: as power needs grow, the tangles get worse.
In 2017, as California wildfire liabilities drove PG&E into bankruptcy, I wrote:
Telephone poles and overhead power lines have been a ubiquitous part of the Honolulu landscape ever since I can remember. They're still in every neighborhood a half-century later despite the danger and poor esthetics. The cost of burying infrastructure (electricity, trains) is enormously expensive, so little has been done.

In Napa and Sonoma counties Pacific Gas and Electric faces similar costs to Hawaiian Electric and did not bury most of its power lines.
At today's close, HE had a $1.6 billion market cap, and there's not much flesh to scavenge from its bones. Any substantial recompense will have to come from Hawaii ratepayers.

Monday, August 14, 2023

The Official Name is the Speaker Nancy Pelosi Federal Building

2007: I didn't care for the appearance of the Federal Building then,
but at least it didn't have today's open-air drug dealing outside.
When the Federal Building opened in 2007, it was hailed as a model of "green" architecture. Through a process still mysterious to this observer, the building would reduce power consumption in the summer by an airflow design that didn't require air conditioning. To encourage exercise most elevators stopped every third floor and forced employees to use stairs. I didn't like the look or the nudge, but going green isn't always pretty.

Wikipedia: [bold added]
In 2010 the GSA commissioned a survey of employees in 22 federal buildings nationwide, to determine employee satisfaction with their workplaces....the lowest ranked building for employee satisfaction was the San Francisco Federal Building, with a rating of just 13 percent; the next-lowest was considered twice as satisfactory, at 26 percent.
Headline, August 11, 2023: Crime is so bad near S.F. Federal building employees are told to work from home, officials said
Officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services advised hundreds of employees in San Francisco to work remotely for the foreseeable future due to public safety concerns outside the Nancy Pelosi Federal Building on Seventh Street...

Dozens of dealers routinely plant themselves on, next to or across the street from the property, operating in shifts as users smoke, snort or shoot up their recent purchases. The property’s concrete benches are an especially popular site for users to get high, socialize or pass out.
The locale is dangerous, the employees are miserable inside, the building is ugly, and the green design doesn't even work. Forget about statues, if San Francisco wants to tear down monuments this would be a good place to start, and I'll bet even Nancy Pelosi wouldn't mind.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Leap of Faith

(Image from Christian Faith Guide)
This morning the lady minister spoke about Luke's Gospel lesson, the one where Jesus walks on water:
And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
The lesson, the lady minister said, was that we should get out of the boat and take a chance.

During sermons I often daydream. I thought of the Lahaina woman who spent seven hours in the water to save herself. Boats were catching fire, and cars were exploding, so people saved themselves by exiting their vehicles, some jumping into the harbor.

I also thought of the 1972 disaster movie, the Poseidon Adventure, where one of the fateful decisions occurs near the beginning: do the passengers wait for help in the dining room or try to climb to the top of the now-upside down ship? The leader of the "climbers," an annoying preacher played by Gene Hackman, turns out to have made the correct decision.

Sometimes the leap of faith is the only one that will save your life.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Everyone Was Affected

The Chronicle published before and after pictures of the fire.
It's not an exaggeration to say that everyone who's lived in Hawaii for at least a few years is affected by the destruction of old Lahaina. I've visited Maui often (though not this century) and know people who were born there and live there.

To them Lahaina is special, much like San Francisco is special to its region. Lahaina and San Francisco each have roughly 10% of the population of Maui and the Bay Area, respectively, but punch way above their weight in cultural and economic influence.

Sarah's diary, circa 1917
My maternal grandmother moved from Honolulu to Lahaina to stay with her older sister Ruth before Ruth went off to Boston to study nursing.

According to her diary Sarah, then an 8th grader, was "the pianist, the office helper, and the sewing assistan[t] to the pupils" at King Kamehameha III elementary school, which did not survive the fires this week.

Benjamin O. Wist (1889-1951), then principal of the school, helped my grandmother transfer to McKinley High in Honolulu. He later became the President of the University of Hawaii and wrote "A Century of Public Education in Hawaii, 1840-1940." Wist Hall on the UH campus is named after him.

Friday, August 11, 2023

Once a Decade, Whether We Need to or Not

Grand Marnier Soufflé: not as flame-boyant as 2005.
We celebrated our anniversary yesterday by going to the Iron Gate restaurant in Belmont. The French cuisine is très expensive, but we allow ourselves this indulgence once a decade (2016 and 2005).

When we're in the nursing home, we won't be able to come here. From the looks of the other white-haired clientèle, Iron Gate should worry about its diminishing customer demographic, but somehow it has survived for half a century.

We each ordered a three-course meal ending with the Grand Marnier Soufflé. The waiter did not serve it as spectacularly as his counterpart of 18 years ago, but it was excellent nonetheless.

Maybe we'll visit the Iron Gate next year, whether we need to or not.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Lahaina No Ka Oi, Hopefully Again

As of this writing (4 p.m. HST) there are 53 confirmed dead in the Maui wildfires that started on Tuesday. 1,000 people are unaccounted for, historic Lahaina town is completely destroyed, and basic communications and infrastructure are heavily damaged. Flames are 80% contained.

The videos are similar to those that Californians saw during the 2018 Camp Fire that leveled the City of Paradise. In Maui too we watch residents given only seconds to flee, trees burning on both sides of the road, and winds spreading flames faster than people can run. In California people jumped into rivers and lakes, in Maui they leaped into Lahaina Harbor.

Before the Camp Fire Paradise was a city of 14,000 homes and 27,000 residents. 4½ years later Paradise is less than half what it once was: "more than 1,400 homes have been rebuilt and now nearly 10,000 people call Paradise home again."

Because of the importance of Lahaina to the State of Hawaii, your humble blogger hopes that Lahaina's restoration will be faster and more complete than California's rebuilding of Paradise. And, selfishly, it will raise the probability that I can visit Lahaina one more time before age and infirmity prevent me from doing so.

Wednesday, August 09, 2023

The Sad Tale of a San Francisco Art Gallery Owner

Collier Gwin (right) and his attorney Doug Rappaport
outside a San Francisco courtroom (Chron photo)
Collier Gwin, 72, achieved notoriety in January when he sprayed a homeless woman who was camping in front of his San Francisco art gallery. He was vilified on social media, arrested, and in July was sentenced to 35 hours of community service.

Follow-up reporting revealed that there had been many interactions between the woman, Quorum Davinc, and merchants in the "posh" Jackson Square neighborhood.
Davinc was known to drift through North Beach and the Financial District, eating restaurant handouts, sleeping in doorways and vexing merchants who regarded her both with pity and mounting frustration.

During the two weeks leading up to the hose video, Gwin said, he and his neighbors ramped up their efforts to seek help for Davinc. He said his irritation with the woman built up over time, as he witnessed her toppling garbage cans, acting hostile and scattering possessions on the sidewalk.
Collier Gwin has repeatedly apologized for his action but doesn't accept all the blame. In the WSJ he writes:
For weeks we had done the right thing. We called the police and social services 50 times over 25 days—exactly as instructed by Mayor London Breed. Everyone who showed up told us they couldn’t move the woman, no matter what she was doing to herself and the community.

In my city, shoplifting, drug dealing and drug abuse aren’t treated as crimes, but my act of frustration earned me 35 hours of community service. This is another reminder of how broken San Francisco has become and how inhospitable the current laws are to small business owners and taxpayers.

My frustration was no excuse for what I did, but does anyone realize how dire the situation is in San Francisco? People have attacked me on social media, threatened my life, and flooded my phone with profane calls. I’ve struggled to maintain my business and personal health. Yet, within the confines of our city, I’ve received overwhelming understanding because people are equally frustrated at what our San Francisco has become.
The late, great columnist Herb Caen occasionally referred to San Francisco as the City That Knows How. Lately there have been too many instances of the City that doesn't know how to do even the basic things.

Tuesday, August 08, 2023

W&M Bar-B-Q Burgers

With one day left on our Hawaii trip I asked the crew about lunch. There was only one item left on the to-do list: get hamburgers from W&M Bar-B-Q Burgers in Kaimuki.

W&M is a small family-owned hamburger joint founded in the post-war era. It is one of the very few survivors of the Mainland fast-food onslaught (the first McDonald's in Hawaii opened in 1968). W&M burgers taste like those made at a backyard barbecue and are piled thickly with cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes.

I do like the product, but we get "gourmet" burgers in California that IMHO are superior (and pricier). One drawback of going to W&M is that parking is very limited, and more than half the time I have to park at the City Mill hardware store next door. And did I mention that the wait is usually half an hour in the summer humidity?

I brought eight hamburgers, fries, and macaroni salad back to the house. Everyone enjoyed the food; I did, too, but not enough to go back when I return to Hawaii in a few months.

Monday, August 07, 2023

Reducing Nuisances with Technology

When spending time with your kid gets tiresome, just give him an iPad.

Technology has also come up with the solution when grandma-with-dementia is too demanding.

Sunday, August 06, 2023

Too Far Away

Gallup data confirms the decline.
Church attendance continues to decline for all age groups, "more dramatically" for Generation X (born 1965-1980): [bold added]
Americans in their 40s and 50s often identify with a religion, but they’re also in the thick of raising kids, caring for aging parents and juggling demanding jobs that spill into the weekend. During the pandemic, many got out of the habit of going regularly to religious services and didn’t resume. Some had been drifting away before or became disillusioned by church scandals or positions on social issues in recent years.

The percentage of people ages 39 to 57 who attended a worship service during the week, either in person or online, fell to 28% in 2023, down from 41% in 2020, according to a survey this year. This was the largest percentage-point drop of all age groups examined in the survey of 2,000 adults conducted by the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University.
COVID-19 caused the re-prioritization of everything, especially among middle-agers who tend to be the most pressed for time. Post-pandemic, if many people are willing to give up their jobs because they'd rather stay home, it's no surprise that the enthusiasm to bestir themselves to go to to voluntary worship services has also fallen off.

There appear to be no tangible rewards for going to church, or penalties for not going, and deep down a majority seem to believe that tending to bank accounts is more important than accumulating credits in a heaven that may not exist. The Reaper is too far away to be taken seriously, but as he looms larger look for priorities to be reset again.

Saturday, August 05, 2023

Not a Joke, Which Makes it Worse

The Honolulu Star Advertiser's lead story is about traffic fatalities, with the emphasis on speeding as the primary cause:
Over the year, the average number of traffic-related fatalities on Oahu generally ranges between 55 and 60, he said.

So far this year, HPD has issued 13,869 speeding tickets and roughly 2,300 tickets for excessive speeding, 300 for reckless speeding and 200 for racing.

Police said neither of Thursday’s H-1 collisions involved speeding, alcohol or drugs as factors, but both are still under investigation.

However, the majority of traffic related fatalities so far this year involved either speeding — which [HPD’s traffic division commander Stason] Tanaka said is definitely the case with motorcyclists — while others are due to either alcohol or drug impairment. On Friday he urged motorists to observe speed limits, particularly with students returning to school in upcoming weeks, and not to get behind the wheel impaired.
From personal observation Oahu's roads are poorly maintained and too narrow for today's trucks and SUV's. Speed bumps have been added recently and often took me by surprise at nights. Lest you think me reckless, dear reader, they appear on 40 MPH "highways" to force the traffic down to 25 MPH.

There is a paucity of practical solutions, so HPD is appealing to the goodwill of the drivers:
“Just drive with aloha,” he said. “I mean, we share the road with our friends, our family and co-workers, so a decision that you make when you drive — these are all things that affect others on the road.”
At first I thought "driving with aloha" was partially a joke headline, but they were serious. Uh-oh.

Again from personal observation: there's not as much aloha spirit around these days.

Friday, August 04, 2023

Nico's Pier 38

On Wednesday night there's still a 20-minute wait
After a week of non-stop eating, my traveling companions asked that first-world question, "Where are we going for dinner?"

They don't come to Hawaii as often as I do, so we had different perspectives on opportunity and opportunity costs. (I'm being too subtle, so let me be clear: I'm fine with skipping a meal, they weren't.)

I suggested Nico's Pier 38, a fine-dining bar and restaurant with an open-air informal atmosphere. It's a favorite of the tourists because there's a nice view of Honolulu Harbor during the day.

The locals go there because there's plenty of free parking on the dirt lot. I like but don't love Nico's as many reviewers do, but if one is okay with high quality and small portions it's a good place to go.

I got an appetizer while my tablemates ordered fish and shrimp entrees. Table service was slow due to staffing shortages, but on the bright side it gave everyone an opportunity to put down their phones and talk to each other.

I took another look around the room: generously spaced tables, live music, enough ambient noise to keep every group's conversations private, a broad selection of drinks. It's a place where Mainlanders, the majority this evening, felt comfortable.

In the right context I can see why people give it five stars.

Thursday, August 03, 2023

The Last Summons

Waiting room, 2017: won't get fooled again.
Three months ago I received a summons for jury duty. Unable to attend because of our Hawaii trip, I rescheduled the appearance to August 1st. A pre-recorded message on the night before said that my group, 1003, was excused and won't be summoned again for at least 12 months. Meanwhile, questions.

Is there an age ceiling for jury duty? Being too old is not among the list of San Mateo County's disqualifications.

A slightly different slant: is being too old a sufficient excuse for not serving? No. [bold added]
YOU MAY REQUEST TO BE EXCUSED IF YOU ARE UNABLE TO SERVE AS A JUROR BECAUSE...You are 70 years of age or older and have a medical condition. We excuse ONLY for the medical condition, not for age. There is NO age exemption in CA. This is not a permanent excusal.
Elsewhere the SM County website states that a medical excuse for a potential juror must have "a supporting letter, memo, or note from a treating health care provider."

One would have to be a very careful reader of government-ese to wonder why the "70 years of age or older" medical passage was written, if oldsters had to get a doctor's permission slip like everyone else.

The Orange County website explains the mystery: [bold added]
There is no age exemption for jury service. If you are 70 years of age or older, the California Rules of Court allow you to be excused due to a medical condition without a doctor’s note. You must inform the court that you are not able to serve.
San Mateo County is being highly misleading, if not dishonest, by not clearly stating that a 70+-year-old does not need a doctor's note. I vote, answer summonses, pay parking tickets and taxes, trying to adhere to both the letter and spirit of the law. No longer: I am not inclined to help them out because of this dishonesty.

My lumbago is getting worse, and it attacks suddenly without notice....

Wednesday, August 02, 2023

There's Always Room for Malasadas

Only a half-dozen people ahead of me at 3 p.m.
After the 7-course luncheon celebrating Helen's 100th birthday the participants began making plans for dinner at a Waikiki restaurant. Meanwhile, what were they going to eat during the five hours between meals?

It was time to buy malasadas at Leonard's Bakery. I picked up a half-dozen originals and a half-dozen "puffs" that were filled with custard.

Covered with powdered sugar, malasadas are somehow able to squeeze into the gastrointestinal tracts of people who thought that they were stuffed.

It's one of the rules of Hawaiian vacation eating (e.g., wear loose-fitting clothes like muumuus and aloha shirts, picking up food with the hands isn't rude, adding kim chi is acceptable no matter the cuisine): there's always room for malasadas.

Tuesday, August 01, 2023

MIscellaneous Thoughts on Twitter X

I liked them better when they were Twitter and Comcast
1) For all its baggage "Twitter" had widespread brand awareness. It's puzzling why Elon Musk would abandon the valuable name for the nondescript "X."

2) The new "X" icon is easily confused with the Xfinity logo.

3) The Musk haters seem to rejoice with every report about how much Twitter's value has fallen from the $44 billion purchase price. His own stake is about $26.5 billion--$20 billion cash plus $6.5 billion of loans guaranteed by Tesla stock.

4) Elon Musk's current net worth has been estimated at $241 billion. His purchase of Twitter was, IMHO, for both investment and personal enjoyment, and he seems to be deriving immense pleasure from seizing control of the Progressives' playground and reminding them daily that he has it. Losing 11% of his net worth on something that interests him is not the best outcome, but he can afford it.

5) Installing the flashing "X" sign atop the Twitter building resulted in squeals of protest. It bothered residents at night and was put in without a permit. (Related: San Francisco required a permit for Twitter employees to sleep in the office.) Elon Musk took the sign down a few days later.

The satyrical Babylon Bee has the fake-but-true report:
In an ongoing dispute regarding the new illuminated "X" sign installed atop the former Twitter headquarters, city officials have now demanded Elon Musk have the sign removed because it is distressing to the people who are pooping on the sidewalk outside.

"The sign makes public defecation far too stressful," said San Francisco Mayor London Breed. "Our citizens have the right to feel totally at ease when they are dropping their pants and laying cable in the streets. That infernal ‘X' sign is causing them too much stress to have the peaceful public pooping experience they deserve."

...San Francisco's leaders continue to maintain the presence of Musk's new sign is "highly disturbing" and disrupting the city's normal flow of public defecation, unprosecuted theft, and randomly discarded drug syringes. Removal of the sign, officials say, will allow the city to return to the status quo.