Susan's Musings

These musings—blog entries—are for the year 2017. Other years can be accessed from the blog's home page, use the link in the upper right.

Amtrak derailment, wrapping up
The NTSB is wrapping up its investigation into the derailment. I revised my document on this. (5-30-2019)

Amtrak derailment, possible explanation
Here is a video by Dr. William Mount of his explanation of the cause of the Amtrak derailment. It is certainly interesting and as worth considering as anything else. He makes some good points. What is his theory? A bomb ("explosives"), either on the tracks or the bridge. I think it fits the description that survivors have told and it fits the way the train cars were thrown around willy nilly, reminding me of pick-up sticks. Furthermore, he doubts the train was traveling as fast as 80 mph. (12-31-2017)

1-4-2018 After studying photos for evidence that supports Mr. Mount's claims — and failing — I disbelieve his theory. Instead, I think the results of the derailment — the final position of the cars — is a function of simple mechanical physics: momentum, friction, centrifugal force, gravity. I have worked out how this happened in a way that supports the final position of the cars. So I am left with excessive speed as the causal agent of the derailment. (1-4-2018)

Amtrak derailment revisited after more research
In the beginning was a train and a town.

The train was the Northern Pacific Railroad, chartered in 1864 by President Lincoln to connect the mid-west, Washington, and Oregon by rail — what became the Northern Pacific Transcontinental Railroad. That rail road was completed in December 1873 when the Prairie Line met the saltwater of Tacoma's harbor on Commencement Bay, making Tacoma the terminus of the NPTR. The timing of this achievement secured the NPRy's charter, which was due to expire at the end of 1873 should the railroad fail to connect to a salt water terminal by then.

The NP's Prairie Line was originally a mainline extending from Tenino to Tacoma. In Tacoma, it cut across that city's south downtown hillside, thus traversing the steep drop at an angle that was sustainable by a large, heavy locomotive. The line started northeasterly from Tenino, went through Yelm and Roy, crossed the location of today's I-5 by the McChord Air Force Base, and eventually ended at the water in Tacoma.

In 1873 Tacoma was a rugged little town, not much more than a sawmill, a few cabins, and a businessman hopeful that a train connection would fuel a development boom. A developer named the town Tacoma City based on the Indian name of nearby Mt. Rainer. The city was incorporated in 1875. Tacoma is today the second-largest city in the Puget Sound area and the third largest in the state.

Railroad mergers did not spare the NP. In 1970 the NP merged with three other railroads to form the Burlington Northern Railroad (BN). In 1996 the BN became the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF).

Growth of the city of Tacoma and environs is monitored by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). The Amtrak Cascades passenger train service is jointly owned by the state transportation departments in Washington (WSDOT) and Oregon (ODOT), with Amtrak running the service as a contractor and maintaining responsibility for day-to-day operations; the Cascades brand began in 1994 while passenger rail service in that corridor had been run by three railroads since before the 1970s. Population growth has been creeping up on highway capacity to the extent that the WSDOT has long planned rail solutions that would permit more round trips to Portland and more on-time service.

Since 1995 WSDOT planned for a new inland train route to enable faster Amtrak speeds. They called that route the Point Defiance Bypass Route. In 2006 they issued a Long Range Plan, in 2008 they issued a Mid Range Plan. In 2009 they obtained $800M in federal stimulus funds from grants administered by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) under the terms of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

Point Defiance is a projection of land into Puget Sound at the far west of the city of Tacoma. Point Defiance Park began as a military reservation in the 1840s. In 1888 it was authorized for use as a public park. In 1914 BN built a mainline from south of Nisqually north to Tacoma that traversed the coast between the two areas and a tunnel under Point Defiance. That mainline went into service in 1943; it connects Tacoma and Olympia with both freight and passenger service. (In 1943 Tacoma's shipyards experienced a rush of shipbuilding, mostly in response fo WW II.) This line is primarily a freight line, it has a mix of single and double track, some tight corners, and the tunnel. These "features" have resulted in slow and delayed passenger rail service over the route.

WSDOT's Point Defiance Bypass Route was planned to run directly between Tacoma (in Pierce County) and Nisqually (on the border with Thurston County) through Lakewood. It used existing rail lines from two separate rail projects. The line between Tacoma and Lakewood was originally part of the NP Prairie Line. The line between Lakewood and Nisqually was originally the NP American Lake Line; it was built in 1893 as part of the Grays Harbor Line project (Grays Harbor is on the Pacific coast of the Olympic Peninsula, due west of Olympia). Nisqually, for purposes of this discussion, is an informal name for the location of the intersection of the mainline with the American Lake Line near the Nisqually River and the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge; it was never a station.

WSDOT set about acquiring right-of-way on its Point Defiance Bypass Route, building a new station in Tacoma, arranging for track and signals to be replaced or upgraded, and training train crew. Amtrak ordered new equipment: new locomotives and new passenger cars. December 18, 2017 was set as the first service day of the new route.

And then disaster struck. The first Amtrak train to follow the Bypass Route derailed just past the small town of DuPont and less than one mile before the track intersected with the BNSF mainline at Nisqually. Three passengers died. Everybody on the train was hospitalized. The Bypass service ended in pain, horror, and conjecture.

The determination of the cause(s) of the derailment belongs to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), they expect their research to last 1–2 years. At first glance, it seems obvious that the train was traveling too fast for the conditions. This suggests that both the crew and the WSDOT were negligent. The train crew may have been negligent for driving too fast. The WSDOT may have been negligent for leaving a 30-mph curve on a line selected and improved for 79-mph trains — in complete violation of the justification for the project.

It is deeply unfortunate that some "news" stories focus on the notion that excessive speed could have been curbed by technology, in particular by Positive Train Control (PTC) which was not active on either the track or the train at the time. PTC is at best a concept, it has never been successfully put in service. To claim that it could have prevented the derailment is crass and lazy.

Details The Point Defiance Bypass Route follows the original NP Prairie Line south from Tacoma to Lakewood as double track, one for Amtrak, the other for Sounder (the commuter light rail). The Sounder line stops at the Lakewood station while the Amtrak line continues south, parallel to and a little to the west of Pacific Highway SW. When that highway ends, the Amtrak line continues adjacent to I-5. In DuPont, just south of the Mounts Road/Nisqually Road SW overcross, the tracks turn southerly and cross I-5 (still a divided highway) on two bridges. That puts the tracks on the south side of I-5, where they continue on to merge at-grade with the BNSF mainline less than a mile away near the Nisqually River.

The Bypass route through the DuPont area follows the roads. The original road was the Military Road, built in the 1860s between Fort Vancouver, WA and Seattle. As that road was paved in 1916, it became the Pacific Highway; in 1926, it became US Highway 99, although with a slightly different alignment. The first railroad bridge was built in 1937 over US 99, it was replaced in 1967 when US 99 was upgraded to Interstate 5 (which involved a slightly different alignment, separating the directional lanes, and adding a second bridge). The bridge was built in lieu of at-grade crossings because the vehicular traffic was too heavy to avoid accidents.

The curve that precedes the southbound I-5 rail bridge at DuPont was not upgraded with the recent modifications on the American Lake Line for high-speed (79 MPH) passenger train travel. It remained a 30-mph curve. Furthermore, that curve is on a slope: six tenths of a mile before the derailment location, a continuous 1.6% descent begins at an elevation of 250 feet; the intersection at Nisqually is at an elevation of 100 feet.

There has been a crossing in the same location since 1893 (when the American Lake Line crossed the Military Road).

Freight was the principal cargo on the American Lake Line. In 1917, Tacoma donated 70,000 acres of land to the federal government for use as a permanent military installation that became Fort Lewis. In 1927 Tacoma established an air field just north of Fort Lewis, in 1938 that air field was transferred to the federal government and named McChord Field; in 1947 it became McChord Air Force Base. The fort and the air field have needed equipment and supplies which are and will continue to be delivered via rail. The weight of some cargo, like an M1 Abrams tank, affects the design of the rail-highway interchange, to the extent that efforts to enable high-speed passenger trains could require re-routing I-5. This re-engineering was clearly beyond the original ARRA funding. (12-31-2017)

Northern Pacific's historic Prairie Line
ADMISSION - ERROR AHEAD. I admit to pleasure at the indignation I achieved with this account of my perceived mis-use of the Prairie Line. I was in error in that it was not the Prairie Line that first followed a route between Lakewood and Nisqually — it was the American Lake Line, built in 1893 as part of the Grays Harbor Line project.

There is a lot of history going unremarked during our attention to December 18's Amtrak derailment. It's worth taking a moment to honor our past.

The last section of the Northern Pacific Transcontinental Railroad was laid in 1873 by the Northern Pacific as its Prairie Line. Its terminus was Tacoma, Washington. Nearly 100 years after the NP had been chartered by President Abraham Lincoln, it merged with three other railroads in 1970 to become the Burlington Northern Railroad. In 1996 the BN became the BNSF.

It is a shame that the carelessness of Washington state officials has besmirched the name of the historic Prairie Line in such a horrific manner as the derailment.

The Bypass route is the latest incarnation of the westernmost section of the Northern Pacific Transcontinental Railroad and has been in 144 years of rail service. As the NP's Prairie Line, it provided transcontinental service to Tacoma until 1943 when the BNSF adopted the Point Defiance route built in 1914. It has continued as a route for the few trains that service businesses in South Tacoma and Lakewood, and for the military at Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base. (12-26-2017)

12-18-2017 Tacoma train derailment
Early on the morning of Monday, December 18 Amtrak Cascades Train 501 began its inaugural run on the Point Defiance Bypass, just south of Tacoma, Washington. This route is a key feature of the Cascades High-Speed Rail Capital Program of the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). The program was intended to reduce the elapsed time of the Seattle-Portland train sufficiently to add two additional daily trips. WSDOT claimed the Point Defiance Bypass Project will improve passenger train reliability and speed by reducing congestion with freight trains and eliminating travel on tight corners and tunnels. The project began in 2006 and was funded by grants administered by the Federal Railroad Administration under the terms of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

At 7:34am (after the train left Tacoma 32 minutes late) the train conductor phoned BNSF dispatch and informed them the train had derailed as it traveled the bridge crossing over southbound highway I-5 during the morning commute; this was at the eastern boundary of the the city of DuPont, near the Nisqually area. Of the 14 cars — 12 passenger cars and two locomotives — all but one car was derailed (the rear locomotive remained on the track). One car dramatically hung down from the bridge over the highway itself, giving news reporters an eye-catching lead.

Amtrak and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are charged with identifying the causes of the derailment. Early speculation has focused on the speed of the train. Claims are the train was traveling at 80 mph, which was fine for the track north of the bridge, but the curve to cross the highway was rated for 30 mph. This as-yet-to-be-confirmed fact is interesting for two reasons: (1) WSDOT explicitly stated the goal for the Point Defiance Bypass was to eliminate slow curves and (2) Amtrak crews were said to have been operating this segment for at least two weeks prior to the accident with nonrevenue trains. [Surely they would have noted speed limit issues?] (12-20-2017)

Guns and repression
The gun lobby continues to promote the notion that Americans need personally-owned guns to protect themselves from some end-of-democracy apocalypse scenario. And the all-too-frequent mass murder is the price we must pay. Am I the only one who now sees that the current President could singlehandedly foment an end-of-democracy apocalypse? But wait, if he does, I'll have the guns to fight back. (12-17-2017)
Thoughts on Abraham Lincoln
I began today by creating a text time line of the 1860s to show the sequence of events: Abraham Lincoln is elected president, eleven Southern states secede before he can take office. A month later an impetuous South Carolina population interprets a resupply of Fort Sumter as an invasion and attack the fort, which act becomes the opening act in the American Civil War. Lincoln continues to affirm that he is not an abolitionist. He sees his official duty as saving the Union. The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 was issued under the president's authority to suppress rebellion (war powers), and was not universal. The War ended a month after Lincoln's second inauguration and he was dead five days later. At the end of that same year, 1865, Congress had ratified the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude.

That is a powerful story. And very poignant today, as it illustrates the courage, conviction, political perspicacity, and leadership of President Lincoln. What a contrast with the current president.

I keep thinking that we Americans have lost understanding of leadership, political cooperation, and democracy. Yes, we dislike the status quo, which rarely improves our lot, but voting for someone solely on the basis of their claims to change the status quo — without any track record of leadership et al — is unlikely to end well. (12-12-2017)

December 7th
December 7th is a day I try to stop and reflect on the Japanese attack on Honolulu. My uncle John, a Navy sailor, was there, having just arrived on a submarine from a long test “drive.” After so many days at sea with diminishing stores of food and water, the crew was anxious to get on shore and eat real food. Most left the submarine at the dock, leaving maybe five men on board, including John. And then the Japanese planes began flying over, firing their guns and dropping bombs. John and his fellow sailors broke into an armaments closet on the sub to get guns. They shot down one plane with hand-held rifles. The sub crew survived, my uncle died in 2010 of old age. I keep his bronze star on my mantle to remind me. (12-7-2017)
Washington state considering 'X' gender option for birth certificates
This is the title of a recent news article. It got lots of attention on Facebook. Here's my response:

I realize that this story, especially the title, threatens our binary understanding of sex. It is true that the hospital where a baby is born has to declare the sex of the baby for its official state birth certificate. The difficulty here is that not all babies are born with obvious male or obvious female genitals. Some babies are born with some of each, some with none at all. Historically babies have been subject to surgery to force the issue. This is rough on the medical staff and, ultimately, the child.

However what the State of Washington is considering is allowing individuals to petition the state to change their existing gender identification from M or F to X. The article did not mention if there was a minimum age requirement for the petition. The change has nothing to do with a baby's birth.

Interestingly, a different news article told a different story. It stated that parents would be allowed to choose the X gender identification on the original birth certificate.

A third news article had a third story: Transgender individuals could petition the state to change the sex on their birth certificate to represent their gender identity. "It would also allow those who don't identify as either strictly male or female to choose a third option, X." This article also stated that Washington already has a process allowing an adult to change the sex listed on their Washington birth certificate, but that the request has to be approved officially by a doctor or court order.

Frankly, I am getting tired of people being so publically vocal on their gender identity. It does not qualify as suitable for public exposure. Sure, tell your family, friends, and co-workers. But leave the rest of us out of it. (12-7-2017)

Antarctic Ice
Is it increasing or decreasing? Lately my Facebook feed has included claims of each.

The Antarctic is a continent, that encompasses the South Pole, surrounded by ocean. Sea ice surrounds the continent, it is measured in surface size (aka extent) and depth (thickness). The continent itself is mostly covered with snow, ice, and glaciers (except for the summits and dry valleys of the mountains), and has rivers, lakes, and mountains with the highest point just short of 15,000 feet. Two active volcanoes are known!

The Antarctic sea ice grows in some areas and shrinks in others — the entire ice ring does not expand and shrink uniformly.

In 2014 NASA reported the extent of sea ice surrounding Antarctica reached a record high, the highest since measurement began in the 1970s. NASA said they are not surprised, that in a time of worldwide warming, not every location will have a downward trend in ice extent.

In Fall 2017 it was reported that ice shelf thinning has accelerated in recent decades. Scientists are developing theories, but have no firm explanations.

Icebergs can split from the ice shelf. This happened most recently in July 2017 to the Larsen C ice shelf. The size of the iceberg has been compared to the state of Delaware. The calving had begun in 2006.

In conclusion, scientists are observing and proposing and evaluating theories about the sea ice, but have no firm determination that the overall sea ice is changing substantially in size or depth. Claims that Antarctic ice is shrinking because of "global warming" are hoaxes and should not be believed. (12-7-2017)

"Nine Life Lessons" by Tim Minchin
delivered as an Occasional Address to Arts and Sciences Graduates of University of Western Australia in September 2013. Minchin is a composer, lyricist, comedian, actor, and writer, and a graduate of UWA.
Both video and text of that speech are on Tim's website and others. At the end of his speech (and the video) is his introduction to the Chancellor as a candidate for the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters. An example of his humor: "Searching for meaning is like searching for a rhyme scheme in a cookbook: you won’t find it and you’ll bugger up your soufflé." (11-8-2017)

Misuse of the word "epidemic" continues apace
When last I researched this word, in conjunction with vaccinations, I learned that epidemic referred to widespread occurrences of an infectious disease, not necessarily a contagious disease. The federal government's own statistics on opioid overdose deaths indicate they are about 6% of cancer deaths. Heart disease causes even more deaths than cancer, such that the opioid deaths are about 5%. This just does not look like an epidemic to me. Opioids cause neither contagious nor infectious disease. If this is an epidemic, where is the effort to stop deaths from cancer and heart disease which are even more widespread (but still not epidemic)?

Oh, but news stories casually change the story. They start by criticizing the President's response to requests to do something about the so-called opioid crisis. They then talk about the great number of people dying . . . of what? This is not described specifically. And then the news story changes by referring to "drug overdose deaths", which of course includes but is not limited to opioid drugs. What this appears to be is another open-ended jobs program in search of funds. Now they want to fight drugs and help addicts, opioids are merely the excuse. The Washington Post is particularly egregious. But The Guardian also distorts the facts, presumably to sound important. (10-28-2017)

The War on Drugs
The War on Drugs is just a jobs program for the police and prison industry. (10-28-2017)
Role of government
This is still an issue in America. Maybe it is historically accurate that citizen ideas about the proper role of government change. That they are in flux now is obvious — and disturbing.

Certain ideas have had no consensus for a long time, in particular abortion on demand as a woman's right.

But others, like worker protections and environmental protections, that we have long enjoyed and which benefitted us individually and as a group, and which I thought were not controversial, are being abandoned by the federal government at the whim of the President. He promised to do this during his campaign.

Of all the lies told to the public during Trump's campaign, the most despicable was the promise of jobs to unemployed, and unemployable, voters when the lack of jobs was a direct result of previous government actions, actions this President is clearly unwilling to reverse.

So, Trump is stringing his voters along, misleading them into thinking that his actions will eventually provide them with jobs. Yes, that is politically clever of him, but essentially immoral to the country. Do we really want an immoral President? Not me. (10-21-2017)

Can a fire be exacerbated?
October 20, 2017 Today I read the second use of the word "exacerbate" in connection with the wine country fires. The SF Chronicle headline: "Sudden oak death likely exacerbated deadly wildfires".

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word: to make more violent, bitter, or severe.
The new law only exacerbates the problem.

The first article was on the site of NBC News:
But the consensus in the scientific community is that the conditions that cleared a path for the tsunami of flame were made by humans. Decades of aggressive firefighting left too much fuel on the ground. And more than a century of carbon emissions exacerbated the state's drought and the record high temperatures that baked brush and timber to an explosive dryness.

What irritates me the most is the use of the word to highlight causation. There are two causes of these fires: the initial spark and the winds that drove the flames. The word exacerbate is not applied to these two phenomena. Instead, it is applied to aggravating circumstances.

Now, aggravation may be the better word than exacerbation. Aggravation is defined as an act or circumstance that intensifies something or makes something worse.
The day brought no aggravation of the situation.

Conditions that enabled the fire include lots of fuel and lack of fire-proofness in building design and construction. NBC erred by ascribing the plentitude of fuel to the result of human actions. To attempt to connect firefighting techniques of previous years with the amount of fuel for the current fire in one sentence is simply too ambitious and resulted in idiocy. Similarly to attempt to connect scientific consensus with a condemnation of firefighting techniques is beyond absurd, it is insulting. The firefighting experts will be studying these fires for a long time in order to find lessons they can apply to their methods of fighting similar fires in the future.

My point: It is too soon to pontificate on cause, especially when it is the responsibility of Cal Fire to determine cause. It is immoral to connect "climate change" with these fires, in any capacity, but especially as cause. A meaningful exposition on firefighting methods will not be amiss, nor one on how building codes are applied, nor one on how there is no civic policy against fuel close to buildings, or civic policy to facilitate emergency evacuation in rural areas, or how local fire departments are maintained. Any and all of these topics warrant professional analysis and public discussion, and are as such well within the scope of news reporting.

I find myself wishing for a more nuanced approach to "news." (10-20-2017)

Drones used responsibly
The Sonoma County fires of October 2017 were hell and their impact will be felt for a long time. I made a point to eat dinner tonight in a local restaurant that is feelintg the loss of normal tourist visitors. My server lives in an area between two fires, we expressed our gratitude to each other that we still had a home, but that we were still unnerved by the experience.

Throughout this experience I was impressed, and comforted, by the professionalism of the Sonoma County Sheriff, Rob Giordano. The county is lucky to have him.

His office is publishing some amazing videos, aerial imagery (photos) of properties within some burn areas. These images were captured by authorized drones which received an emergency Certificate of Authorization (CoA) from the Federal Aviation Administration to be allowed to fly under a temporary flight restriction (TFR). The Sheriff's Office is currently combining overlapping photos to generate 2D and 3D data "products."

The county agencies were able to visualize maps for use by other agencies and for residents of neighborhoods. The team created maps of the Coffey Park neighborhood and Journey's End Mobilehome Park with street and address overlays for easier home location.

A full description of what was accomplished and how is at Sonoma County Sheriff's Office notification (10-19-2017)

Drones interfere with fire-fighting planes
In the Sonoma County fires, some people (do we call them overeager or idiots?) tried to fly drones, presumably to photograph the fires. But they kept the fire-fighting planes on the ground. The Sheriff was not pleased.

I am beginning to imagine a drone control that firefighters and sheriffs can use to disable the drone, and remove it from the air space. What appears to be a toy for some actually endangers authorized airplanes.

The FAA has the authority to apply temporary flight restrictions to an area, and to fine a drone pilot who recklessly interferes with firefighting or other emergency response operations up to $20,000 per violation.

Please drone responsibly. (10-16-2017)

Living in a disaster, Sonoma County
I woke up this morning, Monday, October 9, to no wind and a white sky. And then the sound of a fire engine siren. Oh yes, I had heard lots of them last night, when the wind was blowing hard and gusty. The internet news informed me that there were multiple, individual fires near me, some as close as 4 miles away. Many people had been evacuated since 10 pm last night, many buildings destroyed. Oh shit. Lucky us (relativity here), the wind has stayed down all day, fires are still burning, but not as furiously (of course, there's not much left).

The San Francisco news has photos of a city draped in white smoke. People are cautioned about breathing the smoky air.

The wine country will likely be in shock for a long time. Luckily (?) most grapes had been picked, crushed, and settled in wooden barrels. But vineyards, wineries, and wine inventories were destroyed. Winemakers worry about newly barreled wine absorbing smoke odors. Prognosticators are speculating about inadequate grape and wine inventories for the next few years. No one is talking about the future jobs for replanting vineyards and rebuilding wineries.

And then there are the many families who lost their homes, cars, heirlooms, and other possessions. Not to overlook the ten people known to have died. More than 103,000 customers are without electric power due to to the fire. Hospitals and care "homes" were evacuated. My "neighborhood" is in a state of turmoil.

The governor declared a State of Emergency for three counties: Napa, Sonoma, and Yuba. Fire also burned in five other counties: Mendocino, Lake, Nevada, Calaveras, and Butte. The size of the fires is estimated at 73,000 acres.

I hope and pray that the president will spare us his goodwill visit where we will be treated to his self-congratulations. The airport is still closed. (10-9-2017)

Newhall dissention and the California condor
The Los Angeles Times ran an article on 9-25-2017 about the recent Newhall Ranch development deal. The article seems to present a variety of perspectives, including dissatisfied environmental groups and the need for commuting.

A 8-16-2017 press release by the US Fish and Wildlife discussed recent sightings of California condors in their historical territory in the western Sierras. Fish and Wildlife were thrilled.

The condors have been on the verge of extinction for a long time, their population recovered somewhat only after all 27 remaining wild birds were taken into custody for protection in 1987. One "home" of the condors had been the mountains near Newhall Ranch (Los Padres National Forest); birds were released there after their population grew sufficiently. The Sespe Condor Sanctuary is 16 miles from Newhall Ranch.

Preserving the condors as a species and growing their population has not been inexpensive. The California condor conservation project may be one of the most expensive species conservation projects in United States history, costing over $35 million. Allowing development projects to endanger the condor population seems misguided, even cents-less.

In 2011 the US Fish and Wildlife allowed the owners of the Newhall Ranch to capture and relocate one condor in the next 25 years — in lieu of allowing the developer to kill the birds (which had previously been considered).

I am left in little doubt that the Newhall Ranch development will have a detrimental effect on the condors. But maybe that's just me being cynical. (9-30-2017)

Nationalized medical care system
What we currently have is a privatized medical care system. This system generates the most profits for the insurance companies and drug manufacturers, at the expense of doctors — and at the expense of patients. When we talk about "single payer" or "Medicare for all" what we are describing is a nationalized medical care system, which cuts insurance companies out, pays doctors fairly, provides needed and timely services to patients regardless of "pre-existing conditions", employs Americans in administrative jobs, and costs less.

A nationalized system is characterized by the reliance on public and/or private medical offices with patient bills paid for by federal funds. The choice of doctor is up to the patient. The choice of medical treatment is up to the doctor(s). The federal funds are provided by federal taxes.

This makes sense from an economic perspective. The current, private insurance-based system costs families more than a nationalized system will. Administrative costs will drop. The costs of applying for private insurance will disappear. The part of the current insurer income that is diverted to corporate profit will disappear. The need for public subsidies will disappear.

This makes sense from a national health perspective. Families will receive the medical care they need when they need it. Our general level of health will improve as will our economic productivity.

It should be no surprise that the insurance industry opposes this idea. Their business model will collapse overnight. Some of the medical industry (doctors and hospitals) can also be expected to oppose this idea — they have long been influenced by the insurance industry to adopt certain practices and reject others, and may not be initially willing to reconsider.

The outstanding problem is the word "nationalized." We have been told for so long that "socialized medicine" is wrong, but this is an artifact of the Cold War during which we were encouraged to hate the Communists and Socialists in order to better support Americans. That was then, and is still, a false dichotomy. Furthermore, a nationalized system is quite different from a "socialized" system.

The fight for privatized medicine based on subsidized private insurance, which describes our current system, is well established. It was certainly in effect when Truman was President. Be cautious about the use of labels to influence you. American politics is full of labels carefully crafted to influence voter behavior. Don't be fooled again. (9-28-2017)

Significance of large military budget
The problem with large military budgets, especially when contrasted with no assistance on college expenses:
It's clear who advocated for the military budget increase — those corporations who will benefit from it. We are simply selling our citizens' earning capacity to the highest bidder. (9-27-2017)
Genuflect, genuflect (remembering Tom Lehrer's The Vatican Rag)
Since when has kneeling been disrespectful?

Do young women still get heart flutters when their young man kneels in front of them while asking for their hand in marriage? Men who are knighted by their sovereign always kneel. From early times bending one knee to the ground, called genuflection, was a gesture of deep respect for a superior. It is still common in some Christian religious practices.

Why have we let a crazed politician make us forget this? (9-25-2017)

Mr. T, during your campaign you claimed you were very presidential. When are we going to see that? When are you going to honor your office? the Constitution? the Congress? When are you going to fill the empty offices, including ambassadorships? When are your dealings with foreign leaders going to fill us with pride? When are you going to take care of our communities that have been devastated by hurricanes? (9-25-2017)
My rights
Since the leaders of North Korea and the USA began riling each other and threatening a military confrontation, I have to realize that living on the west coast of America has become dangerous. If NK launches a missile at me, can I sue Trump? (9-24-2017)
Does America need its public schools teaching coding?
This outburst was prompted by an article in today's The Guardian and some of the responses to it. "Tech's push to teach coding isn't about kids' success — it's about cutting wages" by Ben Tarnoff.

Schools MAY be able to fix big social problems, but only if they teach a well-rounded curriculum that includes classical history and the humanities. Job-specific training is completely different. What a joke to persuade public school districts to pick up the tab on job training. The existing social problems were not caused by a lack of programmers, and cannot be solved by Big Tech.

I agree with the author that computer programming skills are not that limited in availability. Big Tech solved the problem of the well-paid professional some years ago by letting them go, these were mostly workers in their 50s, and replacing them with H1-B visa-holders from India—who work for a fraction of their experienced American counterparts.

It is all about profits. Big Tech is no different than any other "industry."

There are good reasons to teach coding. Too many of today's computer users are amazingly unaware of the technology that allows them to send and receive emails, use their smart phones, and use websites. Few understand the basic issues involved in computer security, especially as it relates to their personal privacy. Hopefully some introductory computer classes could begin to remedy this, and the younger the students the better.

Security issues persist in tech. Clearly that is not a function of the size of the workforce. I propose that it is a function of poor management and design skills. These are not taught in any programming class I ever took. I learned these on the job and in an MBA program, and because I was determined.

Don't confuse basic workforce training with an effective application of tech to authentic needs.

How can the "disruption" so prized in today's Big Tech do anything but aggravate our social problems? Tech's disruption begins with a blatant ignorance of and disregard for causes, and believes to its bones that a high tech app will truly solve a problem it cannot even describe.

Kool Aid anyone? (9-21-2017)

Hurricanes and climate change
Are Harvey and Irma artifacts of climate change denial? What? They are weather artifacts, of the hurricane class which has been occurring for hundreds of years. What has that got to do with climate change denial? Someone is getting bombastic.

The destructive impact of these hurricanes continues to illustrate how poorly prepared we are for hurricanes. The federal government knows what to do, but has steadfastly avoided doing it. Ditto the individual states. This pattern of willful ignorance predates the current belief that our changing climate has man-made causes.

People living in the path of hurricanes are at risk regardless if Trump continues to deny climate change. Claiming otherwise, as The Guardian recently did, is absurd. That's akin to blaming Trump for the existence of hurricanes. (9-10-2017)

Thank God for Hurricane Harvey
The real Americans have stepped forward, voluntarily rescuing strangers from a flooded city.
Not the rioters of Charlottesville,
nor the puppets of a Trump rally.

We’ve looked at the state of Texas and seen a commitment to business people and an abandonment of a population,
and were horrified.

Californians, familiar with land use zoning ordinances, building and fire codes, workplace health and safety regulations, and significant business taxes look at Texas in amazement because Texas has none of these.

And yet, California’s economy is the sixth largest in the world. (9-3-2017)

Flood insurance reform — brought back into the limelight by Hurricane Harvey
Ah the joys and pains of flood insurance. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is a FEMA subsidiary. Flood insurance was originally permitted, and likely encouraged, by the 1968 National Flood Insurance Act. The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1988, aka The Stafford Act, constitutes the statutory authority for most Federal disaster response activities, especially as they pertain to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and FEMA programs. Renters, homeowners, and business owners can purchase flood insurance only if their property is located in a NFIP-participating community. The premiums on flood insurance are the smaller portion of NFIP's funding, while the rest of it comes from Congress. Thus it can be seen that flood insurance is a federal subsidy for those who live in flood-prone areas.

Interestingly, America's recent most expensive disasters were water-based and property loss was mostly from flooding: Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy.

NFIP is in the position of encouraging or discouraging development in flood-prone areas. Do they increase or decrease the areas for which they will issue flood insurance and undertake liability? Under what circumstances will they authorize rebuilding? The continued financial viability of NFIP, dependent as it is on federal funding, is up to Congress which is thus essentially tasked with deciding who gets to live on the country's most vulnerable coastlines.

The Intercept has an informative article by Kate Aronoff on the the issues of flood insurance, both federal and commercial. (9-1-2017)

Hurricane Harvey and "climate change"
Frankly, I am tired of reading about "climate change," especially in regard to Hurricane Harvey. Hurricanes have been a fact of life in the Caribbean area for hundreds of years, certainly before 1492. How can they be a surprise? To attribute a hurricane's severity to climate change is pointless, it only seems to divide us more than we already are. While the fact that the weather is different today than it was 20 years ago is obvious to many, the causes for that difference are mostly irrelevant to the people who are exposed to the brunt of bad weather. Now the possible causes might be of interest to civic planners, but that as a public job responsibility is virtually extinct, the victim of "small government" and inadequate government funding.

Be thankful there is a national system of weather monitoring, and, in particular, hurricane monitoring. This system allowed us to know Harvey was coming, its size, and how much water it was capable of releasing. Residents of Texas' Gulf coast had warning. What they didn't have is a state government ready and willing to help them in advance by establishing storm mitigation projects. Really, who could be surprised by flooding in Houston given that it is barely above sea level, sits on a flood plain, and has no way for the water to drain? (9-1-2017)

Genetically modified food animals and farmed fish
Salmon, the gift of the gods, has been the subject of commercialized production that begins with genetic modification and continues with controlled feeding. The promise the corporations made was to keep the stock of farmed salmon separate from wild salmon, even as they lived in the same sea water. That promise always rested on luck.

Luck ran out August 19, 2017. Atlantic salmon raised in a farm off Washington state were accidentally released from their damaged net pen. Cooke Aquaculture, the fish farm owner, claimed the net had suffered a "structural failure" which may have been caused by the effects of the solar eclipse of August 21, 2017 (blame the moon!) on the ocean.

Cooke Aquaculture was established in 1985 in New Brunswick, Canada. They subsequently acquired many seafood firms, including aquaculture firms (fish farms). They have fish farms in several locations in Puget Sound, Washington. Their website on August 24, 2017 claims that their Washington farmed salmon are not genetically modified.

The Guardian notes "Despite being listed in Washington State as an invasive species capable of preying on native populations of fish and spreading disease, Atlantic salmon are a major aquaculture species in Washington state as well as in British Columbia."

The impacts of such a release on wild salmon are unknown.

On November 19, 2015 the FDA announced they had determined that the AquAdvantage Salmon is as safe to eat as non-GE salmon. This is the first genetically modified/engineered fish to be so-approved, but many more are in the pipeline. In early August 2017 AquaBounty Technologies (of Maynard, Massachusetts), producer of AquAdvantage Salmon, claimed they had sold 4.5 tons of their salmon to Canadian customers; those salmon were raised in tanks in Panama. The company plans to expand production with facilities on Prince Edward Island and Albany, Indiana. The AquAdvantage Salmon sold in Canada was likely not labeled as GMO, and there was no public announcement of plans to sell it. AquaBounty Technologies is, as of 2012, a majority owned subsidiary of Intrexon Corporation, founded in 1998 and headquartered in Germantown, Maryland. Intrexon's business is "synthetic biology." (8-24-2017)

Lots of buzz about the decline of retail, the so-called brick-and-mortar shops are closing, etc. What no one has perhaps considered is that these shops are closing because no one wants their merchandise. About the only thing I buy these days is clothes, most of the nearby shops sell clothes I would not wear in a million years. Awkward, fussy, gadgety designs, shabby quality fabric, made in China. I cannot find anything to like. (8-22-2017)
Riot in Charlottesville
HBO has a news channel they call VICE: has a video on the Charlottesville riot that will take some time getting over. Yes, I am calling it a riot. Some of the people seemed to be looking for a rumble in the jungle. These guys are irrational, willfully so, they are indulging a personal desire for violence. They mis-use words, throw them around, to justify their behavior. The city government including the police, allowed it to happen, so they were complicit.

I cannot see that the First Amendment had/has anything to do with the violence. I write this because some of the perpetrators used the First Amendment as justification. Let me say that the way these guys justified their behavior was revolting, the antithesis of civilization. Their universe is peopled with threats, and by God, they are going to kill them all. They must be inhaling a lot of poison, might this be from the so-called alt-right websites? Once they drink the Kool-Aid, can it be reversed? Certainly not when the President encourages it. (8-16-2017)

Isn't "Civil War" an oxymoron?
We commonly use this name to refer to the War Between the States. It was not civil, but a highly military undertaking, marked by violence and strong emotion. It was a war, and war is hell. (8-14-2017)
More worries about computer security
The Guardian has an article on a smart phone-based operating system design flaw that harbors a big security problem: "Bug in top smartphones could lead to unstoppable malware, researcher says" by Alex Hern, 7-27-2017. Please take the time to read and understand the problem.

The flaw exists on chips used by some smart phones. It allows "an attacker to write programs directly on to the chip, seizing control of it." Whether this is an unintentional "flaw" or an intentional "bug" remains to be seen. I am giving it the benefit of the doubt. The flaw is particularly special, interesting and powerful. The victim "doesn’t have to do anything to be infected, the attacker doesn’t need to know anything about the device they’re targeting, and the system being targeted can be taken over without crashing." In other words, you get no advance notice. (7-27-2017)

Nuclear danger, oh really?
Today's news includes a story about North Korea's latest ICBM test, which they claim was successful. The fear that is being stoked in Americans is that a North Korean missile could strike North America; in particular, a nuclear-tipped missile. Oh, what to do?

Excuse me, but the Pacific coast of North America has been in real and constant danger since 2011 when Japan's nuclear power plant at Fukushima had an accident that spewed, and continues to spew, radioactive material into the ocean. What to do? Well, apparently nothing. The military cannot see a way to benefit and the government has no commitment to the actual American people.

How do you like your toast? (7-4-2017)

The future of retail stores
Retailers have been closing stores in great numbers, to the point where some prognosticators claim that bricks-and-mortar retail is dead. Really? When was Amazon ridiculed for an online store? I am not impressed with the track record of the media.
Now, stores are losing money. Why?
1) A business may have too many stores. Perhaps they got overexcited by the perceived attraction of opening stores — without understanding when and where they had a business advantage over their competitors.
2) The quality of the merchandise in many stories is poor and unattractive to customers.
3) Stores are hard to get to, especially in locations with no public transportation.
4) The variety of stores, i.e., the variety of their merchandise, in malls is inadequate. When 80% of the stores in a mall carry the same kind of merchandise, the overall attraction of the mall to potential customers is less.
5) Retailers do not compete well with each other. They may not really know what their possible customer base want. They may not staff stores to adequately interact with and attract customers. The "race to the bottom" is noticed by customers, who do not want to participate, and so stay away from such stores.
6) Management of retail firms has likely declined in quality and effect. They have likely fallen for the "I can manage anything, I really do not need to understand the unique features of my business or product" mentality which is having such a terrible effect on other industries. (6-23-2017)
Foreign "hacking" of American elections
Is this real? Very likely. Can this be prevented? Yes, but not in the way that "experts" will lecture us, in particular about "hardening" computer security. The ONLY way to prevent foreign hacking is to return to paper ballots and abandon electronic voting. We can do this! (6-23-2017)
The problems we have with our voting system are increasing:
1) qualified people are not allowed to register to vote
2) people who have registered to vote are dropped from the voting roles without their consent or knowledge
3) it is difficult for people to vote
4) votes are not counted
5) votes are miscounted
How can we call ourselves a democracy if we do not solve these problems? (6-13-2017)
Privatizing air traffic control
A bad idea from hell. The American taxpayers and air travellers paid for the air traffic control system. If it is privatized, meaning sold to some for-profit private corporation, several things will happen: (1) the income from the sale will never accrue to the taxpayers, (2) the operation costs will increase and be submitted to air travelers for payment, (3) quality of work product will diminish (increasing the risk of air accidents), (4) employees will be screwed paywise and benefit-wise. What will happen to their retirement funds? Who will steal those? Who will be liable for flight accidents caused by bad air traffic control? (6-12-2017)
Sidetracked, bored, and tired
Trump has created a new industry. Some, comedians, mine his behavior for its comedic potential; these people are kept very busy. Certainly his reliable attention-grabbing continues to entertain us, when it does not horrify. Why can't he speak in whole sentences? Is he unwilling or unable? Others are trying to figure out Trump's game. He is clearly a political novice, and perhaps trading on that to fool some political opponents and voters. As his behavior rolls on, some of us grow weary. Some suspect they have been deliberately side-tracked by Trump's antics. Complaining with your friends about Trump's latest misbehavior no longer satisfies, it's getting to be a broken record. We grow bored. (6-11-2017)
Racketeering in politics
A racket is a service that is fraudulently offered to solve a problem, in particular a problem that has no causal relationship with the racket. Conducting a racket is racketeering. I suggest that the "trickle-down" theory of tax cuts for the wealthy eventually and partially benefitting the poor can also be viewed as racketeering.

Why do we fall for these scams? Perhaps it is too easy to accept the claims that experts have supported the scheme. Perhaps we think racketeering only happens in organized crime. Perhaps we think that our government is free of organized crime. Perhaps we are weary of the continual promotion of these claims. Perhaps it is just too demanding to consider at all.

But guess what. Just because when you stand on a train track looking west does not mean a train will not approach you from the east, and run over you. Closing your eyes does not prevent others from seeing you. It just makes it easy for others to victimize you. (5-19-2017)

Computer security
The news today is a ransomware attack on at least 74 countries, it began as an attack on the UK's NHS computers.

I hope some are reconsidering the notion that computer security can be adequately implemented on each computer's OS with perhaps the addition of one or move malware protection programs. This aproach just is not working. It's not enough for users to apply OS security patches as soon as they are available, the reliance on the OS is not enough — there is always another security risk (aka vulnerability) that can be exploited by crooks.

I think we need to reconsider the architecture of individual computers and networks. At this moment all networked computers are at risk. Plan B is to limit network connections, to isolate important business databases and personal software, to maintain a history of local network messages so they can be monitored, analyzed, and protections put in service. Yes, some computer processes will take longer while safe connections can be made, but that may be a fair tradeoff.

Protecting a population from contagious disease involves quarantine. Perhaps this should also be a feature of a new model of networking and security. (5-17-2017)

Republicans vs. public health insurance
The Republican Party doesn't think the federal government should be involved with the medical care and costs of its citizens. They rarely admit this, especially in public. But it is the basis for their fanatical desire to repeal the ACA. They are content that health insurance premiums be based on your health, in other words pre-existing conditions warrant higher premiums. Some Congressman was filmed stating that sick people should pay more, because they are clearly just not taking care of themselves. It is right that they should be penalized.

Oh yeah, another blame the victim.

And the other sad aspect to this is the age of the people making these declarations. They are older than 55. There is no way a government employee who has to do a lot of traveling and keep irregular hours is going to be completely healthy at age 55. Hence we have hypocrisy in living color. Clearly these speakers have no intention of being held personally to such a policy. They cling determinedly to their own health insurance package.

We can widen our analysis here. Politicans, especially Republicans, have nothing in common with their constituents. Which is fine by them. (5-4-2017)

The founders of America defined a democratic republic
Today's Guardian has an article about Trump: "He blamed the constitutional checks and balances built in to US governance [for his poor achievements]. 'It’s a very rough system,' he said. 'It’s an archaic system — It’s really a bad thing for the country.'" Hmm. What he means is that the Constitution is bad for him. It has certainly proved good for the country, and will hopefully allow us to survive the Trump presidency. (5-1-2017)
The H-1B Visa Story
Trump is expected to sign an order making it harder for American firms to hire H-1B visa workers. Some Americans think this is a poor idea, that American firms should simply hire the best worker. Well, that thought ignores the truth that for many American employers, the best worker is the cheapest worker. The other side of the dilemma is that too many American managers know nothing about the nature of their business and consequently do not know how to recognize a qualified worker. Hence it is easy for them to fall back on cost as the best criterion. (4-18-2017)
War with Korea?
Why are we threatening war with North Korea? What possible benefit can this be to the American people?

Americans withdrew from the Korean War in 1953 (they ran for their lives), after which an armistice between the two Koreas was ratified. No peace treaty was ever signed. But North Korea claimed, in 2013, that they had invalidated that armistice and had entered a state of war with South Korea. They also pursued a nuclear weapons program.

It was through the UN that America entered the fray between the two Koreas. Actually, that Korea had been subdivided into north and south in 1948 was a result of the cold war we had with the USSR.

America must bear some of the blame for the current state of Korea. We allowed our horror of communism to force our intervention into what was primarily a private squabble. Millions of Koreans died in that squabble and our intervention. How can we say that their deaths were warranted? That Korea benefitted?

The man who would be president bragged about his negotiation skills. Where are they now? We need cool heads with sound negotiating skills to calm the waters. We DO NOT NEED braggadocio and threats.

Please stop the madness. (4-18-2017)

Korea and America
I could not not write about this. My dad served in the Korean War, so it bothers me that it is not talked about today. So I wrote a mini essay about Korea and America.
Is Our Government Unaware of International Law?
On April 7, 2017, 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched from a US warship based in the Mediterranean Sea, directed towards the Shayrat airbase in Syria. This act of military aggression was done solely at the direction of President Trump. Syria is a sovereign nation and a UN Member State. The American attack is a violation of international law. It is also violation of the Charter of the United Nations.

Such a violation of international law gives Syria the right to react in self-defense or a legal justification for the use of force. It also gives any other UN Member State the right to act in collective self-defense and to support Syrian action against the US.

And yet the American Congress has not risen up and condemned the strike. All too many seem to have approved of it, if only privately. What were Trump's advisors thinking? Do they know nothing of international law? Or were they just going along? If the answer to either of these questions is "yes," then these people lack critical qualifications for their jobs. Ditto for Congress.

This illegal act has endangered the people of the US.

"America First" is a shifty slogan, but must never be interpreted as denying allegiance to international law.

Privacy and security for home computer users
Recently the federal government acted to rescind rules that limit the security that telecoms must exercise on the transmissions of their customers. Worse, telecoms may now sell any and all data transmitted by their customers. As revealed by the Snowden NSA surveillance documents, HTTP web traffic can also be collected and searched by government agencies without notice to users or webmasters.

So, just for you, I wrote an article about what computer privacy and security are and how to protect yourself. It is written for the home computer user and, in particular, for the non-technical user Computer Privacy and Security.


Outrage in the Skies — Not So Friendly
On April 9, 2017 United Airlines in Chicago forceably removed a passenger from his seat on Flight 3411. The explanation was that while the plane was full, four seats were needed for UAL employees; the airline invoked its right to remove passengers.

A video was taken of the passenger being dragged, screaming, from the plane; it went "viral" and UAL has received much public condemnation. The CEO offered a weak apology.

Why did this happen?

About 30 years ago the notion that an effective manager could manage any group in any business emerged, probably from business schools and consultants. Over the years many managers have felt this applied to them. I have personally worked for too many such "managers" and found they made a lot of mistakes because they did not understand the unique requirements of their business; and what annoyed me the most is that they leaned on their staff to save their butts, and then never issued a thank you.

Today senior and executive managers, whose previous employers enjoyed big success, think they can manage anything. And boards of directors hire them, regardless of their knowledge of the particular business.

It is my theory that the UAL's CEO is one such man. He was seen as successful in prior positions, was hired at UAL with no airline experience, and then proceeded to hire more managers like him, and now no senior UAL manager knows anything about the airline business.

The CEO of UAL is Oscar Munoz. He has been the CEO and President since September 2015, when the previous CEO quit, effectively immediately. His alma maters are University of Southern California (B.S., 1982) and Pepperdine University (M.B.A., 1986). [I earned a MBA from Pepperdine University in 1979.] From 2010 to 2015 he had been a member of the Board of Directors of parent company United Continental Holdings; that parent company was founded in 2010 in the United-Continental merger. From 2004, Munoz had been a member of the Continental Board of Directors. Munoz previously served as President and Chief Operating Officer of CSX Corporation, a company he joined in 2003 and left for UAL; CSX is an international and intermodal transportation company. From 2001 to 2003, Munoz served as the Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of Consumer Services at AT&T. Munoz had also worked for Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc.

So, was Munoz qualified to run UAL? His only airline experience was as a board member. I doubt that gave him a sufficient operational understanding of airlines. Let's say his understanding of the public perception of air travel is insufficient. As is his direction of the operational staff to handle passenger conflicts.

Ironically, Munoz claimed in a September 2015 interview that he planned to focus on innovation, earnings growth, and most important an improved customer experience; he cited his consumer-based background as helpful for those changes.

At 3pm on April 10th, Munoz issued a much better apology.

And then a second occurrence of abuse to a paying passenger, on April 11 in Kauai. In that case, a paying passenger seated in first class was told to leave the plane because the seat was needed for someone else with more importance. He was threatened with handcuffs if he refused. Again, UAL refused to apologize or refund the price of the ticket.

"Why Silicon Valley wants to thwart the grim reaper" by John Naughton on 4-9-2017 is an article about how some Silicon Valley wealthy are pursuing a software solution to cheating death.

These men have likely reached the pinnacle of their younger self's dreams, and find themselves in need of a new dream. But, instead of turning to a completely different practice, they seek to continue as they have. They see no value in the possibilities and gifts of middle age and older, to explore different dimensions and develop different skills. Instead, they are afraid. And cling to what they know.

In their devotion to electronics, they have failed to develop substantial appreciation for completely different, non-technological, ideas. At the least, they could enroll in a liberal arts program focused on the Great Books at St. John's College in Santa Fe, New Mexico, or a program studying esoteric subjects. (4-10-2017)

How can the FDA do what it was created to do?
I think the FDA has been compromised for some time by a perceived need to pander to corporations and by underfunding. I think the idea behind the FDA is good, but perhaps it was not organized in such a way as to give it a position of authority AND a way to overcome disagreements with corporations. It has been reported for some time that the FDA employs people making at best $200K a year to oppose people making $1M a year. And with the promise of leaving the FDA for a high-paying corporate job. I do not think raising FDA salaries to astronomical levels is the solution, but they need a way to stand up to and prevail against their high-paid corporate opponents. I do not know what that might be, nor have I read anything about it. It's as of no one has noticed the real, underlying problem. It's easy to bitch and moan about FDA rulings, like their embrace of statins and glyphosate. We would be well served by looking for the underlying structural deficiences and correcting them. (3-28-2017)
Dietary advice on cholesterol et al
I recommend the following article with two mebedded videos. The Cholesterol Lowering Statin Drugs Increase Progression of Coronary Artery Calcification which addresses cholesterol, heart disease, dietary saturated fat, and statins. You probably know I do not spend time on this blog addressing diet and health. But I found these videos so well done, and the subject matter so relevant, I had to share. Be well! (3-26-2017)
Shift in Consumer Habits
Brantano, a UK chain of shoe stores, has moved into bankruptcy. Because this is the UK, they call it "administration." What went wrong? "Like many other retailers, Brantano has also been hit hard by the sharp decline in sterling, the ongoing shift in consumer shopping habits and the evolution of the UK retail environment."

Oh, the real explanation is the shift in consumer habits. There is some discussion in The Guardian article about how Brantano fits, or tried to fit, into "shopping habits." The Guardian goes on to say:

"All retailers are under pressure from rising costs because of increases in business rates, the introduction of a minimum wage for over-25s and the fall in the value of the pound against the dollar, the currency in which many products are bought on the wholesale market. Hinton said it was harder for footwear specialists to cut employee costs because floor staff were required to fetch stock and explain shoe sizes to customers."

BS. That is blaming everyone except the executives who are supposed to be steering the ship.

The reality is that their business model and the quality of their product failed, and the willingness of consumers to buy it — changed.

And so we see the power of consumer actions: quit buying a brand of shoe, and down they go. (3-22-2017)

Death of a friend and co-worker: Lynda Shiratori
I met Lynda in 1983 when we worked on the same project at Charles Schwab in San Francisco; we were both software developers. Over the years I learned about how her Japanese parents had immigrated to Idaho, where they raised 12 children; Lynda was the last and the youngest.

She loved to travel. She told me about trips to Egypt and India, where she returned several times. She studied spirituality. She helped the needy; I'm reminded of a crippled man (whom I never met) who lived in Mill Valley, she used to bring him groceries, prepare meals for him, and massage him with essential oils. She liked to dance, and took dance lessons with much younger people who were amazed at her energy and determination.

I last saw Lynda on Friday, November 4th of last year. She visited me, we went out to dinner, and had a nice catch-up chat. She was ill then.

According to her obituary, she died in Idaho on February 9, just a few days ago. She had been ill. I am sad to lose her. (2-16-2017)

Civics classes
I took a Civics class one semester in high school. I thought everyone still took civic classes. Today I learned how wrong I am. Americans! Teach your children civics if their school will not. Adults, study civics on your own if you did not take a high school class. How in the world can we be informed about what our government should be doing, how it is supposed to do it, if all we have to rely on is the commercial media with their self-interest? We desperately need an informed population. Please do your part! (1-18-2017)
Trump and the Power of Fear
Carolos Maza of Media Matters has narrated a video that provides an invaluable explanation of how the American government has come to its current condition and how Trump convinced people to vote for him. High recommended. (1-18-2017)
Video: The west was built on racism
This video appeared in the 1-18-2017 issue of The Guardian. (1-18-2017)
Sexuality and Politics
My remarks constitute a two-page PDF document.. (1-7-2017)
Leadership or misery
I am reading Winston Churchill's The Birth of Britain. In a discussion of Canute, who reigned over England from 1016 to 1035, Churchill wrote something that seems particularly poignant in January 2017 as America faces four years of a Trump presidency:
"Here again we see the power of a great man to bring order out of ceaseless broils and command harmony and unity to be his servants, and how the lack of such men has to be paid for by the inestimable suffering of the many." (1-4-2017)
[ Top of Page ]

Revision: 1-4-2017.