Saturday, 23 September 2017

Are You Prepared to Fight Back? Do You Think He Knows? Then Don't

I've been trying to avoid saying anything too political recently. Really, I have. I usually feel better at the end of the day, and I suspect, people I interact with do as well.

Wanted to write something today that was decidedly non-political. For example, Blue Jay RF Jose Bautista (Joey "Bats" (sic)) went 0-4 yesterday, lowering his batting average to .203 and in the course setting a single-season team record for striking out. He's in striking range of the Mendoza Line. Thought that looking at his chances could be fun.

Not to flog/promote it too much, but I participate from time to time on Quora, which is a question-and-answer site. There is any number of topics ranging from "Why shouldn't I go into a pub wearing Arsenal gear?" to "How do I obtain number plates for my car in California?"

I highly recommend it if you want to look for answers or get riled up over Colin Kaepernick.

Anyways, I have a couple of hundred "followers" who will sometimes submit questions directly to me. My areas of knowledge are mathematics, French language and politics, and the American right wing. 

Today, I got this peculiar question:

How do I piss off Trump supporters?

For the record, I am not a Trump supporter, but to many, "conservative" and "Republican" are synonyms, and in any case, all of us on the right are viewed monolithically as backers of the Orange One.

There is a lot of anger in the country, and too many people have given up talking to each other, and instead now simply look to irritate each other.

Not that I am against gratuitously pissing off people - just ask any one of my siblings. And I do, at times, get some guilty pleasure 'trolling' friends. So I am not above this.

But I decided to take a different approach to answering. Many of you who read my comments here might want to know how to piss off Trump supporters, so here is how:

Wake up. Spend a few extra minutes with your dog - maybe even give him an extra treat after you take him out.

Go to work. Contribute something to the company’s mission. Offer to support a colleague in some project that he or she is working on. 

On the way home, keep your eyes open looking for someone who seems to be in some distress, or looks like he needs help, or is just having a bad day. Walk up to that person and smile, say hello, and wish them a nice day. If they need help, help them.

When you get home, instead of scolding your kid, tell him something about himself that you admire or that makes you proud. 

Instead of finding a short-coming of your spouse, say that you love him or her.

Vow to do something for someone that would not directly benefit you in any way, and who cannot do anything for you. Then do it.

Go to bed.

OK. I am not sure that any one of those things will “piss off a Trump supporter.” They might. They might not. I’m not a “Trump supporter,” so I just don’t know.

But here is what they will do:

Make a positive contribution to the mission of your employer, and support someone who works with you.

May make a small difference in the day of someone who needs it. Who knows - your smile and kind word may be the only decent thing that happens for that person today.

Give your kids a sense of self-worth and confidence.

Remind your spouse of why they chose to be with you.

Improve the world in some small way

Even if you fail in your goal to irritate someone you, in all likelihood do not even know, it’s still a pretty good day.

By the way, given Bautista's batting average, If he finishes up with two hits in his final 19 ABs, he will break the Mendoza line. Given his current batting average, that's about a one in four shot.

I will be pulling for him

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Once I Was Seven Years Old...

Once I was 7 years old
My momma told me:

Go make yourself some friends or you'll be lonely
I was yesterday driving back after taking my son to his weekend Chinese school. As half of his ancestry is Chinese, I want him not to forget or lose connection with that half of his heritage, and so he spends a couple of hours each Sunday there. As a young child, he was somewhat resistant - what little boy wants to spend time at the weekend in a class room when just beyond the glass is a world of slides, swing sets, and round-a-bouts? As he's gotten a bit older, he's much more keen on the idea. But this is really a story for a different day

Among the many ads on the radio (why do the stations seem to co-ordinate the times that they will all run the same "Come to Mattress Firm for 3 years same as cash on a new Stearns and Foster" at the same time? I am sure that there are 'big data' being deployed to help), a somewhat catchy, if cheesy pop song called "Once I Was 7" appeared. I'd not heard it before; it's not a great song, but the lyrics provide some introspection, and the little chiming bell sounds bring a bit of poignancy.

The singer - Lukas Graham - describes the views of a person at seven, 11, 20, 30, and then 60. At seven, advice given from a parent to make friends. At 30, having left some of those friends behind as time passes. And then at 60, looking somewhat cynically backwards, wondering if his own children will come to visit from time to time. 

Go and make yourself some friends, or you'll be lonely

Our son this year has reached and left behind two of the mile-posts at seven and now 11. He's entered middle school, and moved to a new school in our Noe Valley neighbourhood. 

We've moved about a bit in his brief life - it's been an adventure, first in the Bay Area, then suburban New York, on to Paris, and now back in San Francisco. While providing many new experiences and opportunities, our somewhat peripatetic lifestyle has meant more than a few hellos and goodbyes for our son.

I had some thoughts last year about how at times as a parent, you catch glimpses of your own life's experiences in shadows that the dance of your child's life cast on the wall:

One cannot help see in your child flickering glimpses of the past - of the road taken, how it played out.  But also, of the choices not made. 
Some of those choices turned out well, but not all of them. And therein lies one of the most difficult challenges of being a parent. 
When you see an opportunity where a collision is (almost surely) down the road, when do you choose to act? Are some lessons worth learning (a second time), and which are best so that the learning is virtual rather than real? 
When I was younger, my own personality could have been accurately described as aloof. 
I've never been an extrovert, and have struggled virtually my entire life trying to socialise with strangers. "Making friends" was never a long suit, though I always have recognised it as an extremely valuable strength. Just not one that I have.  I'd like to think that I'm much better - more "friendly and outgoing" now than I was, but still, my wife is the gregarious one in our family. And I'm not a close second. 
As a kid, my older brother was far, far more naturally personable - many friends, homecoming king in high school. It all looked so easy from my side of the virtual window peering in. 
Being able to "fit in" is an extremely valuable life lesson; one I've tried to instill in my own son, with mixed results.
As Alastair began his school year a few weeks ago, I tried to counsel him that he is in a new school, and the move provides one of those rare opportunities in life to re-invent yourself. No one really knows you. There is no backstory. No written pages. No defined role that you have to play. He is in a sense, free to make his own story again.

(As a kid, we moved on a few occasions, and each time, I had more or less the same chance).

Marins des eaux douces

I dropped him at his school this morning, as I do most mornings, on my way to catch the train to work. A couple of his classmates greeted him, smiling. "Hi Alastair! How was your weekend?" He seems to be making friends in his own quiet way. He's not lonely.

Alastair's mother is far more gregarious than I am - someone who, growing up, easily made friends. That was never my long suit, and I guess our son is more me than her at this point. He's unlikely to ever be, like my brother was, the type to be Homecoming King and the life of the party.

And as time goes by, I think it's OK. He makes his small circle of friends, as I did. And he's happy in his place with the friends he has, and with his books and his stories.

Sailing on the sea of adolescence is difficult. Which way should I go? Are those storm clouds over there? If I get into trouble, who on my 'crew' can help? We all navigate these situations that are not, as the French say, "eaux douces." 

I worried a lot when our son was seven about making friends. At 11, I am less worried that he's going to be lonely, however.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Friday Night Jazz

Friday is here. Friday afternoon. Despite the way we feel each Monday morning, it always does arrive. 


I'm feeling a bit "random" today, so nothing too coherent or involved to add, so I thought I'd just offer some short-takes.

The Sky Already Fell

As those who read from time to time know, while I am increasingly less interested in sports, I do remain a baseball fan, and my particular team is the Toronto Blue Jays. They've made it to the playoffs in two consecutive years (after more than 20 straight years of not even pretending to contend). The've in fact twice made it to the American League championship series. And truth be told, twice embarrassed themselves with poor showings both times - going down 4-2 in 2015, and 4-1 last year.

This year, the team is almost surely going to accomplish the feat of transforming in a single season from playoffs to last place. 

Last night, the Jays lost (again) in extra innings. The team is now 5-14 in extra innings games. This is far and away the poorest showing of any major league team - no other team has even lost 10 such games.

The Sky Already Fell, Take Two

No one better exemplifies the nearly free-fall than former slugger and all-star Jose "Joey Bats" Bautista. Bautista was made famous a few years ago for leading the AL in home runs in consecutive years (a team record 54 in 2010, and then 43 more in 2011), receiving a Silver Slugger Award in each.  More recently, he is famous for being punched in the face and receiving a less prestigious Black Eye Award from Rougned Odor.

Bautista this year is battling to stay above the Mendoza Line - currently winning the battle with a .205 average (he went 0-5 last night, inching closer). 

According to data at, Baustista, the proud owner of a -0.7 "WAR" (wins above replacement - a statistical measure of how much better or worse in pure wins/loss estimated compared to a hypothetical 'replacement' player who could be plucked off the waiver list). This means that Bautista is the worst player in Major League Baseball, at least by this metric.

Another First to Worst.

Ironically, the year he hit his 54 homers, Bautista won the Blue Jays' "John Cerutti Award for displaying goodwill and character."  No joke.

Going the Other Direction

I spent my high school years living in Cleveland, Ohio. During that time, I passed many evenings (and weekend afternoons) watching the Cleveland Indians play in their massive, hulking, crumbling stadium. The team was comically awful, and the crowds so sparse you could hear individual insults being yelled at the players from the seats on the other side of the field.

Good times.

Well, Toronto decided that - in order to pay Bautista $17, $18, and $20 million for this, next, and the subsequent year, they needed to let go of their other slugger, Edwin Encarnacion. (EE was so poor in Toronto at third base, his nickname became E-5, made all the more poignant because he actually wore number five on his jersey).

Encarnacion is not having a great season in Cleveland (he's currently hitting .252 with 34 home runs after a very slow start), but it's a damned sight better than Bautista. At least EE is better than a "replacement" player (WAR is +2.2).

I wonder if the Toronto GM (Mark Shapiro) would make a different decision if he knew then what he does now? He came from Cleveland, so is it a case of divided loyalties?

Going the Other Direction, Take 2

Speaking of Cleveland, the Indians last night won their 22nd consecutive game. In dramatic fashion. The Tribe trailed 2-1 going to their last ups in the ninth. Down to their last strike, rising star Francisco Lindor looped a double over the glove of left fielder Alex Gordon, who came *this* close (hold your thumb and forefinger close together) to ending The Streak. Gordon claims that the ball glanced off the top of his glove.

That's how things go when you're winning.

I still have family back in Cleveland, and others who live elsewhere, but still follow the Indians, and they are (understandably) excited that maybe this is the year after a 70-year winter of darkness.

The playoffs are a crap-shoot (just ask last year's Red Sox, who on paper should have clobbered the Indians, but in fact, were not only sent home by Cleveland, but were sent him in a sweep) of course, and it's possible that some team will get lucky in a short series and beat the Tribe.

But 22 in a row? And during that time, the Indians not trailed their opponents in 201 of the 207 innings played. They have ended an inning behind exactly six times over three weeks. They've outscored their opponents by a 142-37 margin. Aside from last night, there has been very little drama as they've simply ground opponents into mush. Scarier still for their foes, the Pythagorean W-L formula of Bill James says that the Indians' AL-best 91-56 record actually underestimates how well they team has played. Given their runs scored and runs allowed stats, Cleveland could expect to be 99-48 right now. 

Read that again.

The Indians have only played six extra-inning games (winning four of the six), the fewest in the major leagues.

It's Cleveland still, of course. And a crushing, shocking defeat is still possible out there. Likely, perhaps even.

Lights, Camera, Scandal

Speaking of shocking results, the French this spring elected something of a fresh face to be their president; 37 year-old Emmanuel Macron, whose previous experience in politics was a very, very brief turn as the economics minister for the failed quinquennat of François Hollande, won out over a field of damaged opponents to take up residence in the Elysee Palace.

Macron is known for his florid speech, youthful handsomeness, and Mrs Robinson-esque wife.

Turns out, there may be something to how he looks so good, even for a relatively young man.

The French newspaper Le Canard Enchaîne (who broke the scandal that destroyed François Fillon - his English wife was on the public payroll for a no-work job that would be right at home in New Jersey) reported that Macron has billed the French state $10,000 per month for makeup.

Read that again.

While only his hairdresser knows for sure, that strikes me as a lot of rouge for a man.

This is not really raising many eyebrows in France, and Macron's defenders point out that this is not in fact, out of line for les présidents. For example, Hollande, spent more on his haircuts and makeup, and anyways, Macron spends a lot of time in front of a camera. Et donc, quoi?

On the one hand, Hollande is balding, so not sure why he needs to spend so much on a hairdresser. Point: Macron. On the other, Hollande has the charisma of a failed breeding experiment involving a toad and a pig, so one might argue that he needs the help.

Oh la la, c'est compliqué.

Bring it on Home

Finally, Hollande was back in the news this week, finally sitting for an interview with the French news press. Hollande is having some difficulty, apparently, coping with his ignominious rejection, at times citing ruefully how he imagined leading the state towards the glorious 2024 Olympiad.

But the interview reads as far more introspective - and reality-based - than the current book tour that his American partner in electoral failure (Hillary Clinton) shows.

Je devaits désormais se consacrer à d'autres missions. J'essaie d'être utile à la place que j'occupe.
(Going forward, I must dedicate myself to another purpose. I am going to try to be useful in whatever the future brings)

If only Mrs Clinton could just dedicate herself to something "useful" - and no; making money pushing a finger-pointing book is not really useful beyond reifying biases of her base.

Happy Friday to all.....

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Qui Enleve Son Sac a Dos...

I've been living in cities for a number of years now - in Paris, France, and now San Francisco. Each is among the most densely populated in the western world. Without adequate public transportation, life would quickly become well nigh impossible.

As I did in Paris, I ride trains to and from work virtually every morning here in San Francisco. 

While occasionally plagued by strikes, the Paris network of metro (subway), suburban (RER), and intra-city (SNCF grandes-lignes) works pretty well. Despite the general dirtiness and noise of the stations and the crush of people, I had a bit of fondness for the RATP.

Some of this was due to its whimsical mascot, Serge, Lapin du Metro, a cartoon rabbit who for a generation plus has been warning children (and bemused foreigners) not to "mets tes mains sur les portes," because in so doing, "tu risques de te faire pincer très fort.

Each year, there was a campaign in the trains, in print, and on the television to encourage riders to "remain cordial" on the trains. Warnings not to jump the turnstiles, leave food to soil the seats, or block the doors.

One of my favourites was a costumed turtle carrying a massive back-pack in a crowded train. The image (see above) recommended that those travelling with a full pack should take off their back packs so as not to block or inconvenience others with whom he had to spare space.

The tone on the SF Muni is, um, different, at times. People are more likely to jostle one another, talk loudly (AMERICA!!!!) and generally be rude or inconsiderate to one another.

Today on the train in, there was a woman - I'm guessing maybe 30 - carrying a massive, stuffed "SalesForce" backpack completely blocking access to the centre of the car. It looked like it was fuller than Marc Benioff's self-regard. She was thoughtlessly texting away to God knows whom as a bolus of people gathered in the doors.

This turtle was undeniably "chargé". 

Eventually, to find passage to the relatively empty centre of the car, I pushed pack her bursting-at-the-seams pack, which got me a dirty look from her. That was most uncivil.

I thought of the RATP ad campaign as I made my way to the pole to prepare myself for the launch of the train forward.

So to my fellow Muni (and beyond) public transit users, a plea:

PLEASE. If you must carry a backpack with all of your life's belongings on your way to your cubicle, and the train is crowded. For God's sake, put your phone in your purse or pocket, and take your damned backpack off.

Better still, if you're over 25 years old, and you are not going camping, grow up. You're not in high school anymore. No self-respecting person puts on his big boy pants and brings his shit to work in a Jansport backpack. 

No. Sorry. You don't look hip or cool. You look like you're in denial.

You're an adult. Accept it.

This is doubly true if you insist on a tech company branded pack. I get it. You work for LinkedIn. That makes you annoying, not interesting. No one likes getting LinkedIn spam, and no one likes looking at your adolescent backpack.

No. They don't. It's not worth arguing.

Get a decent case, or at least a cool leather satchel.

The comp lit mid-term was yesterday. You failed.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Tetley's Tempest

It's been a few weeks since the storm brewed up in the Google tea cup, so I suspect it's now "safe" - to a point - to weigh in.

I am a participant from time to time on the on-line Q and A site called Quora (allow this to be another pitch - it's really an excellent medium, even just to lurk). I recently was asked a question directly by one of my "followers" about the now infamous "manifesto" of former engineer Mark Damore, and his subsequent firing.

Regarding the Google “anti-diversity screed,” do the angry people asking for the author's firing believe people shouldn't be allowed to have a measured debate about the subject or the points in the letter?

The 'top' response is from an actual Google employee called Daniel Tunkelang); it is terse but ultimately water tight.

My problem is, I don't think he actually believes his own answer.

I was out of the country in Kenya for the weeks when this Tetley Tempest blew up. 

Isn’t it obvious that the answer to your question is “yes” ? 

I am not going to argue that Google, a private employer for whom people sign at-will contracts of employment, does not have the right to decide what sort of internal speech it will allow, and which it will proscribe.

Of course they do. 

Mr Tunkelang (the Googler) gives basically a mic-drop answer:

Freedom of speech doesn't mean freedom from consequences.

Let’s set aside whether the claims in the so-called “manifesto” are true or false (which, if we are being honest, is beside the point). I don’t *know* that the disparities in male/female engineers is due to some biological difference. I don’t *know* that they aren’t for that matter. 

And neither do you.

It’s irrelevant.

The author really should know the culture at Google (and elsewhere here in Silicon Valley) better than to be the nail that sticks out. I have many friends at other companies (e.g., Apple, Facebook, Twitter) who almost in unison tweeted, posted, and blogged their alignment that Damore (the author) not only had to go from Google, but in fact, should never work in the Valley anywhere, ever again.

The reaction was damned close to unanimous.

I find it hard to believe that Damore was unaware what a ruckus his comment would cause, and he should not have been shocked that he was fired. I would not be surprosed to find him Doxxed and later, his apartment surrounded by angry people with whatever the Left use in lieu of Wal-Mart tiki torches.

Where I part ways with Mr Tunkelang and others is, I don’t think that they actually believe what they’ve written.

Imagine the opposite - where a relatively consevative company (I dunno. Is “Hobby Lobby” still in business) had a very opinionated young  employee whom it discovered had written some sort of manifesto talking about the need to be less religious, complaining that the overtly Christian tone of many of her colleagues was backwards or off-putting or whatever.  Suppose that a couple of her very strongly pious colleagues announced that they were so offended that they stayed home from work.

The CEO got hold of it and decided that her comments were sufficiently anti-religious and hostile that she was creating a hostile environment, and fired her.

Do you imagine, for one second, that most of those who openly called for the professional defenestration of Damore would say that Hobby Lobby has the right to decide for itself what is and is not hostile, and fire her?

Be honest. Any hands up?

I do not know Mr Tunkelang at all, but I can say that of those on social media whom I do know that the answer is “no.” In fact, several were quite upset when people decided to boycott the Dixie Chicks for insulting comments about President Bush. These were people, mind you, not asking that the Dixie Chicks be “fired” (not even sure how one would do that in any case), but who condemned people for violating Nathalie Maines’s free speech rights because they said they would not buy her records.

The same people who now demand that some NFL franchise hire Colin Kaepernick - a guy who was the backup for a team that went 2–14 just a few years ago demanded that the San Francisco Giants void the contract of pitcher Mark Dewey when he refused to wear a red ribbon on his jersey in 1996.

I have lived in the Bay Area for the past 25 years, save for a period in Paris, and it is just empirically true that there are just certain opinions that one is not really allowed to voice out loud if one values his or her career. Punishment is swift, and it is unmerciful.

I understand very well that companies have a right to decide whom they will and will not employ. And I agree, completely, that freedom of speech and freedom from consequences are not the same.
But I do not think that that maxim should be so fluid and situational as some would allow it to be.

The late Bill Buckley once said, of alleged liberalism:

Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Ex Machina, In Our Image

 I'm an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over, and the insect is awake.
-- Seth Brundle, protagonist of 1986 sci-fi flick, The Fly

In the children's classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, there is perhaps no character more tragic than the Tin Woodsman (in the book, his real name is Nick Chopper). His story is glossed over in the 1939 movie that derived from the book, but shortly, Chopper was once a man of flesh and blood who came from a family that earned its living chopping trees to make lumber for the sale in Munchkinland. Alone following the death of his parents, he eventually found a love, and proposed marriage. The girl to whom he was engaged was a handmaiden to an evil woman who feared losing her services. The old woman made a deal with the Wicked Witch of the East, who cast a spell on the ax of Chopper. Each time that the ax was swung, rather than striking its targets, it chopped off an arm, a leg, which was replaced by a prosthetic one made of tin.

Eventually, Chopper came to be made entirely of tin after quite literally, cutting away every ounce of his human form.

I thought of the Tin Man as I read this article in the New York Times, which describes a current "ethos" common here in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

The term "hustle" is making its way into the local lexicon, used to describe essentially the desire of younger "entrepreneurs" to set aside family, friends, vacations - their youth - in order to be the next internet billionaire star.

From the piece:

“Hustle” is the word that tech people use to describe this nerd-commando lifestyle. You hear it everywhere. You can buy hustle-themed T-shirts and coffee mugs, with slogans like “Dream, hustle, profit, repeat” and “Outgrind, outhustle, outwork everyone.” You can go to an eight-week “start-up hustle” boot camp. (Boot camp!) You can also attend Hustle Con, a one-day conference where successful “hustlers” share their secrets. Tickets cost around $300 — or you can pay $2,000 to be a “V.I.P. hustler.” This year’s conference, in June, drew 2,800 people, including two dozen who ponied up for V.I.P. passes.

I'm decidedly outside the target demographic, of course. But to me, "hustle" is not a recipe for success. It's not a euphemism for "workaholic".

It's a con. It's a one-word synopsis of "I'm a dysfunctional human being who cannot relate to human beings in any sort of real way, so I pretend my imitation of some pointless 'app' is going to disrupt the world to salve me missing soul."

I think a lot about so-called "artificial intelligence" (AI), and have written several times about it. There is a great fear that machines, ultimately, will replace us. I cleave to the school of thought advocated by John Searle that 'real' (strong) AI is not going to happen. Not soon, anyways. Machines capable of thinking in any real sense that can perfectly copy humanity are not on the horizon.

Of course, they do not have to be.

But this is the first time I've really thought about the opposite. Not machines that copy human beings, but humans who simulate machines.

The primary character in the 1986 The Fly film accidentally melds his DNA with that of a house fly in an experiment trying to teleport himself, with catastrophic consequences. 

The Tin Man ends up a mechanical thing longing for a heart through the malice of a witch.

But in Silicon Valley, young people, eyes wide open, are voluntarily chopping away their humanity. This, I had not considered.

Machines will not copy people; but if we ourselves become machines? 

The Tin Man is said not to have a heart, and goes off to Oz to seek one from a charlatan wizard. One of his fellow travellers, the Scarecrow, is said not to have a brain.

Menlo Park's Yellow Brick Road - Sand Hill Road - may lead to an Emerald City filled with VCs. But those who voluntarily give up their humanity are going to find that it does not lead to any wizard. Those who trade away their humanity to a false wizard's promise of worldly "disruption" are, to me, equal parts Scarecrow and Tin Man.

They are giving away their hearts - and their youth - so that they can deliver a better way for you to order a pizza and track it with your mobile phone. And as a bonus, you can do it without ever having to deal with the unfortunate nuisance of human interaction. A drone will drop it at your front door.

I was once 25 years old, living in the Valley; I worked for seven years in a "start up," and at times worked ridiculous hours in the pursuit (with my colleagues) of  'disrupting' the world (we didn't use the word 'disrupt' 20 years ago, however). Like many today, I reckon part of that was because I had few friends beyond the company, and went home (when I did) to an empty, quiet house. Work filled up a void. I suspect that this has not changed. 

The road may (for some) lead to wealth; for many others, it will not. For both, they may find (when they get to my age) that what was given up is not worth what was gained. They will discover that the world that they disrupted was their own.

In the end, the real Tin Man got his heart, of sorts. But at the end of Sand Hill Road, there is no wizard, and there will be no missed youth to be returned, magically, from an otherwise empty bag.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Small Ray of Light

2017 has been, by almost every measure, a dismal season for the Toronto Blue Jays. The team began the season with its worst start in the 40 year history of the Blue Jays (and that included some pretty horrible expansion years back in the latter half of the 1970s), and following a brief flirtation with mediocrity in May (the team got to one game of the .500 mark, but never was able to even its record), have settled into the bottom of the American League's eastern division.

Following two consecutive years where Toronto reached the American League championship series (flaming out both times, 4-2 against Kansas City, and 4-1 versus Cleveland, respectively), the team now is pretty close to unwatchable - the GM mortgaged much of the future in each year trying to add expensive rental players like David Price. 

In contemporary baseball, teams not named "Red Sox" or "Yankees" with the cash on hand that these big-money teams enjoy, need to take advantage of the rare opportunities to go for championships when they present themselves. Prior to 2015, the Blue Jays not only had not made the playoffs, but had not finished within 10 games of a playoff spot since 1993. Competing in a division with teams that have the money to spend, and as important, the will to spend it, makes competition tough. So, one cannot really blame the management for going for it.

Following the binge, however, is the inevitable hangover, and the Blue Jays now find themselves with a roster of has-beens and never-weres. Toronto has one of the oldest lineups in the league, and field a team with pretty much no exciting young talent. Jose Bautista, the Norma Desmond of the SkyDome, is 37 years old, hitting .218 on an $18MM salary. The catching corps have a combined batting average of .386 - and that is achieved by adding together the averages of Russell Martin, Luke Maile, and Miguel Montero.

Today is the 'trade deadline,' where GM Mark Shapiro faces the inevitable day of reckoning, and Toronto this year are "sellers", but without much of value on the shelves. As of right now, they've unloaded Francisco Liriano, a somewhat heavy, 33 year old lefthander whose career record is 102-98. Not much one can command with options like that.

Yesterday is perhaps the highlight of the season. The Blue Jays went to the 9th inning against an almost equally shabby California Angels team (the Angels are a bit better at 51-55 than Toronto, who are 49-56, but not much) down 10-4. It look like another sweep. 

Lo and behold, the misfit toys managed a seven-run rally, including a two-out, walk-off grand slam by Steve Pearce. The six run deficit was the largest that the Blue Jays had ever overcome in the ninth inning of a game. Quite a shock.

Reminded me of better times - in June 1989, the Jays entered the seventh inning of a game in Boston, down 10-0. At the time, Toronto was ten games under .500, far back in the standings as well.

Aging catcher Ernie Whitt (the last of the original Blue Jays of 1977), swatted a grand slam of his own to top the comeback.

The video is here of Whitt - his swing has to be seen to be believed.
The Jays went on in extra innings to beat Boston 13-11, and eventually roared back from the AL East cellar to capture the pennant with a comeback win against Baltimore on the second to last day of the season (Frank "Whoosh" Wills picked up the win in relief), rallying for three runs in the last of the eighth to clinch, 4-3 over the Birds.

Every season - even a lost one like this - needs a moment. 

Yesterday, journeyman Steve Pearce gave Toronto its 2017 ray of light.

Friday, 28 July 2017

An Unplanned and Chaotic End

Just two days ago, I shared some of my thoughts on Charlie Gard, a tiny English baby born with a congenital, terminal ailment that has destroyed his little body over the past year. 

His parents have struggled with the child's doctors and the hospital that has been his home now for most of his brief life. Chris Gard and Connie Yates, the parents of little Charlie, have been in a legal battle with the famous Great Ormond Street hospital in London (perhaps most famous as the beneficiary of the proceeds of the classic Peter Pan children's book and its offspring on stage and screen) over how best to care for the little boy.

The condition Charlie suffers from, "infantile onset encephalomyopathy DNA mitochondrial depletion syndrome," is incurable and ultimately fatal. An experimental therapy is available in the US, but has not as yet been demonstrated in randomised, controlled trials to be safe and effective, and thus remains outside the canon of approved treatments; Columbia University professors had agreed to allow compassionate use for little Charlie, and a "Go Fund Me" charity was set up that would have more than paid for the expense of bringing the child and his parents to New York, but in the UK, doctors can block treatments, even if the parents wish that their child receive them, if they decide that the treatments are not in "the best interests" of the child.

Ultimately, the High Court agreed with the doctors, and Charlie was not allowed to come to the US.

The final wishes of the parents of Charlie were that he be allowed to return home for his final day (or days), away from the hospital, the noise, the press. The lawyers for Great Ormond disagreed, and again, off to court the case went.

Today, a decision has been handed down by Mr Justice Nicholas Francis that Charlie is not to be sent home, but rather, to a nearby hospice. The reason given was that such a move would be "too dangerous" and might bring about an "unplanned and chaotic end to Charlie's life," according to reports.

The story itself is extremely distressing - no little boy deserves this sort of fate; nor does any family. 

I asked then, and now, what defines "humanity?" I would think, how we take care of the truly helpless in our midst. Surely, a little boy qualifies, doesn't he? Have the courts acted humanely? I'm not so sure.

When someone dies, especially unexpectedly, we often hear how the person died "suddenly."

Life - and its cousin, death - are like that. For all of us. Death is always sudden, isn't it? You're alive. And then you aren't.

"An unplanned and chaotic end." The very words, issued by the hospital defending its choice, are haunting.

Death is almost always "chaotic and unplanned," isn't it? 

Charlie Gard will be one year old if he is still alive in one week - his birthday was on the fourth of August last year.

I think Charlie Gard has deserved better than this in his final days.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Number (Plates) Matter

I just returned from a brief trip to the DMV - something not often said. Just as an aside, if you live in our great state of California, I cannot stress enough how important it is to make an appointment on-line if you ever, ever, ever need to go to the DMV. My appointment was for 2 PM; I walked in at 1.50, and at 2.05, I was standing at guichet 13. The line for those poor souls who just walked in went around the "Disneyland" ribbon lanes three times and out the door. 

The DMV - it's just like The Happiest Place on Earth, only no Pirate ride or teacups.

Anyhow, my business today was to register my antique number plates for my 65 year old MG.

California, like many other states, has a "year of manufacture" programme that allows owners of classic cars to register original number plates to their vehicles if they can:

  1. obtain an original (no replicas) plate that is
  2. not in a letter/number combination already on the road ("DMV clear" in the vernacular)
  3. matches exactly the year that the title of your car (or truck or motorcycle) indicates is the year your vehicle was manufactured.

Prior to the second world war, the state issued a new number plate every year, but subsequently to save steel for the war effort, following 1941, rather than issuing entire plates, small metal tabs with the new registration were issued. In 1957, the metal tabs were dispensed with, and tiny adhesive stickers replaced them. This is the system still employed in California.

As a result, cars in new plate years (1951, 1956, 1963, etc.) require only the plate, but off-plate years require the "base plate" plus the tab or sticker that matches your car's year.

This complicates matters just a bit, as my 1952 MG requires thus that I not only obtain a matching, non-registered pair of base number plates, but also two tiny yellow metal tabs with '52' on them.

After many, many months watching eBay for a DMV 'clear' set AND a pair of 1952 tabs, I was finally ready to head off to the DMV.

The paperwork is now filed, and I await the official stickers and registration form, which I am told will be about 3-4 weeks.

I'm really jazzed to put the "new" plates on the car. 

I've written before about California's number plate schemes here. I'm a numbers guy, and easily amused/entertained by patterns, so this sort of thing is up my street. 

At the time (May 2012), the state (which in 1982 switched to 7-digit combinations to accommodate the massive number of vehicles on our roads) was nearing exhaustion of its 6XXXNNN series. I estimated, at the time, that all of the combinations up to 9ZZZ999 would be used up in perhaps 11-12 years (or, some time in 2023).

There is a web site here that tracks the current, highest number sequence of every state that has been seen - people from Alabama to Wyoming send in sightings to the keeper. According to the current standing, California is up to 7ZMV309. 

We are very, very soon going to exhaust the 7-series, and from the noisy workshop in Folsom, Corcoran, or San Quentin will emerge 8AAA001. I am guessing, perhaps in late August or early September.

How's my projection look?

In mid 2014, 7AAA001 appeared. My calculations, based on my own number plates, were that a series is used every 3.5 years or so. If we turn from 7 to 8, the pace has accelerated slightly. 9AAA001 should issue in early 2020, and the final 9-series in mid to late 2023.

Not too bad for some back of the envelope sequencing.

Not sure what Sacramento are going to do - adding an 8th place is unlikely to "fit," and almost surely would crash the antiquated computer tracking systems of the DMV.

I guess that they will do what was done with the commercial plates when the final 9Z99999 was issued a couple of years ago, and just "flip" the order. If so, my money is that someone will walk out of the DMV in November 2023, the proud owner of 001AAA1.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Au Delà Je Suis Charlie

One of the gifts - and curses, I suspect - of age and the passage of time is a certain creeping circumspection of things that we had not considered as young people. These days find a growing chorus of noise about artificial intelligence, the place of machines, and what is to become of human beings when our creations can outreach us.

I think a lot about what it means to be a human being; what defines our humanity, what rights does it afford us?

And what obligations as well?

Today is a significant day for our family, personally. 23 years ago I lost my father after a short battle with cancer. This is, as I have said before, the last year of my life that my dad will have been in it for more than half. (Next year, I will be 48, and my father, gone for 24 of those 48 years).

My dad battled his cancer as he could, attending radiation therapies, walking each day when he could to build his strength, and enduring a course of chaemotherapy. All, ultimately, could not help him. 

I've been somewhat casually (if I am being truthful) following the story of little Charlie Gard, a tiny little boy born in England last year, afflicted with a horrible genetic condition called "infantile onset encephalomyopathy DNA mitochondrial depletion syndrome." Little Charlie was apparently a normal, healthy baby when born, but who, a month later, began to display symptoms of weakness. He had difficulty lifting his head.

The disorder is a terminal one that rapidly depletes the mitochondrial DNA (mitochondria are, in layman's terms, called "the power plants of the cells"), resulting in initial weakness and eventual systemic failure. No curative treatment is available, though there are experimental therapies involving nucleosides that may prolong life and improve the prognosis.

Research is primarily in the USA, and funds were quickly made available through "crowd" and other sourcing to pay for the expenses of bringing little Charlie to New York. However, the law in the UK intervened - the doctors at the famous Great Ormond Street Hospital reckoned that the treatments, which are not curative, would not improve Charlie's quality of life. His parents disagreed, and the courts ultimately sided with the hospital.

Charlie would not receive the experimental treatment, and later, when his condition deteroriated, the Court again sided with the hospital (against the wishes of the parents) to remove life-support from the baby.

Today, Charlie is in the news once again - his parents, having exhausted their appeals, have asked to bring their son home so he can die there rather than in a hospital. Incredibly, the hospital again argues against the wishes of the parents, and the Courts once more will decide.

I confess that I do not know enough about the science involved to render an intelligent opinion of what, medically, is 'best' for Charlie. While I am not a medical doctor, I am a parent, and I can only imagine the horrible position his parents are in.

As a personal aside, during my wife's pregnancy with our son, at one point an ultrasound revealed potential "soft bio-markers" for trisomy-18, a catastrophic genetic condition that is prenatally fatal in more than half of all cases, and fewer than 1 in 10 infants survives to his first birthday. Our son was healthy in the end, but waiting the three days for further test results is, honestly, one of the most terrible times in my life. I am and will be eternally grateful that we were not forced to confront horrific alternatives.

As fate would have it, little Charlie Gard and my father share the same name.

It's, again, not my point to argue what the process in the UK is, or that the Court has made an error. 

But I am troubled, again, by questions of what defines our humanity. What obligation do we have to those who, literally, cannot speak for themselves? Who could be more helpless than a newborn? Who, more deserving of our protection?

I am haunted by the images I have seen of a robed, bewigged judge telling a mother and father that, no. Your child is not going to be allowed, despite your wishes, to be taken for an experimental treatment that may (but also may not) help him. 

Is little Charlie suffering? Would extending (or not?) his life further that? I have no idea - but I doubt that Mr Justice Francis does, either. I have a sneaking suspicion that part of the debate is with an eye towards allocating precious health care resources in resource-constrained environments.

In another context here, I read a French philosopher and ethicist called Chantal del Sol, state that motherhood is
...not the making of a baby in utero through the act of insemination.  A child is not a product, or a thing; it is not an object, but rather, a person.  That is why we have a word - procreation - to distinguish birth from say, a glass-maker or a manufacturer.

Human beings are not products. 

We hear a lot these days about this or that "right" that each of us does or does not have. I agree with some, but more often than not, what I hear are "rights" more or less boil down to "you have to pay for my choice to do X."

The most fundamental right we have as living beings is the right to live. What I feel is a real measure of our humanity is how we stand up for the voiceless. The truly weak.

I cannot help feel that, in this case, humanity did not perform terribly well on that test.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Without a Score Card, You Don't Know the Players

It Is Getting Tough to Know When to Cheer
The old saying, yelled out by concessioners under stadiums from Boston to Saint Louis, was that you needed a scorecard to tell who the players were. Or, on Broadway, you need a playbill, else you won't know that in tonight's production, the role of Max Bialystock will not be played by Nathan Lane.

Yesterday, President Trump officially fired the director of the FBI, James Comey. 

The media are in full froth over the issue, but it's tough to tell who is yelling "Boo" and who is yelling "Booo-urns."

In his monologue, Democratic party mouthpiece Steven Colbert (that's Col-bear, with a pseudo-French accent, and not COL-bert) announced the firing to his audience, who immediately applauded.

Colbert was plainly non-plussed, and corrected his audience on the appropriate response, reminding them that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had urged the decision, as if to say, "No you ignorant glove-puppets. This is BAD."

The problem that this presents is that, for months, Comey, and the way he prosecuted the case around Hillary Clinton and her e-mail server, has been a leading causus belli for the Clintonistas, as they desperately look for dry land in the sea of "How was our pre-selected queen denied the coronation we were told was inevitable?"

Just last week, yet further data from Nate Silver and his Five Thirty Eight blog pointed towards Comey and his letter "re-opening" the investigation into what Clinton aid Huma Abedin had sent to her husband - disgraced New York Congressman Anthony Weiner, a bombshell (dud, really) that was released just weeks before the election.

So, just what are we supposed to think about this latest event? 

Here is how I see it.
  1. The optics of the firing look horrible, Whatever the reason given by Trump (including the claim that Comey's mishandling of the Affaire Clinton was the last straw), sacking the head of the FBI, three months into his administration, after apparently providing various actual and implicit votes of confidence, looks bad, if nothing else.

    This surely triggers questions - rhetorical, in the case of the anti-Trump camps at the Washington Post and New York Times, - about whether the firing is meant to derail the investiations into alleged collusion between the President and the Russians.

    The legitimacy of government rests on the appearance of providence and honesty. A whiff of suspicion can be fatally poisonous.

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes - who will guard the guadians, in the words of Juvenal. At the very least, the timing of the firing undermines faith in the idea that those in power have checks on malfeasance. This leads to....

  2. The most direct question right now was asked last night by Chuck Schumer:

    The first question the administration has to answer is why now. If the administration had objections to the way Director Comey handled the Clinton investigation, they had those objections the minute the president got into office. But they didn't fire him then. Why did it happen today?

    Trump, as he is wont to do, responded with a sophomoric tweet, calling the New York Senator "Cryin Chuck Schumer." Now, there is an old saw that the most dangerous place in the world to be is standing between Senator Schumer and a camera, but in this case, Schumer is correct.

    Trump needs to respond as to why they canned Comey now, as opposed to last week, or two months ago. Or even, the day after Trump took the oath of office. Schumer is absolutely right that investigations into the allegations against senior government officials need to be taken seriously, and conducted independently.

  3. The Attorney General (or, as AG Sessions has recused himself, Deputy AG Rosenstein) needs to appoint, once and for all, an independent special prosecutor. A democratic country cannot function properly if there is even a reasonable suspicion of improrpiety.

    I know that there have been calls for previous administrations to do so on several occasions, and that they failed. Most of the time, this is political grandstanding. But there are serious allegations here, and a sizeable number of Americans believe them.

    This needs to be settled, once and for all.

  4. I still believe that the whole "Russia hacked our elections" is a red herring, meant to undermine the legitimacy of the current president.

    The results of the past November were shocking. Everyone - myself included - expected that Hillary Clinton would be elected. I expected it to be a fairly comfortable margin. The polls all leaned that way. Most of the national media treated the Trump campaign as quixotic at best, and comedic in a less flattering light.

    It did not turn out that way, and so enormous quantities of cognitive dissonance had to be overcome.

    Perhaps James Comey (who, thus until yesterday, was Public Enemy Number 2 - just behind Trump himself - among partisan Democrats) and his "Sorry, not sorry" letter about the Clinton email server at the 11th hour made the difference. Perhaps it was the overconfidence and, frankly, incompetent strategy of the Clinton campaign, who apparently ignored panicked calls from their own camps in Wisconsin and Michigan that something was not right. Maybe it was her own-goal stupidity of making a remark to a room full of coastal elites about how much of middle America were "deplorable" racist boobs.

    But the Russia "hacks" almost surely had no real impact. The information in them were released in a somewhat steady stream over the whole summer. No one revelation had any measurable impact in the polls. None.

    They made Podesta look idiotic, and Clinton like a calculating, elitist snob (both, apparently, are true, as no attempt has been made to argue that the leaks were false, only ill-gotten).

    The bottom line is this: Hillary Clinton lost because black voters, who put Obama over the top by huge margins, simply did not show up. Hillary did not lose because too many angry white men voted for Trump; she lost because too few disgruntled black men failed to vote for her.

    Silver's 538 Blog is an excellent source of data and analyses, even if it is reliably left-leaning. This analysis should put to bed the arguments over just what happened.

    The Democrats need to face the facts here: Had Hillary Clinton gotten the same number of votes as President Obama had in 2012 (which does not even account for population growth), she would be in the White House.

    The Democrats lost because they selected a terrible, unlikable candidate.

    Russia did not make Hillary Clinton. God and Wellesley College did.

  5. People in social media who refuse to say "President Trump," and refer to the president as "45" look like adolescent asses. You think you're clever. Guess what? If you don't know who the loud, drunk idiot at a party is, it's you.

    Trump is the president, so put your shirt and your shoes back on, go home, and sleep it off.

  6. Russia did not "hack" the elections; they did apparently engage in high-level espionage. That is not a good thing, obviously. But we need to put our big boy and big girl pants on and face the fact that this is something that every government - our own included - engages in. Up until two years ago, I had been living in France. I was in Paris when the US had to admit that we were eavesdropping on the telephone conversations of the leaders of France, Germany, and likely, other alleged "allies" of ours. The French and Germans, of course, put on a show of faux outrage. For a couple of days.

    But they did not make it a national obsession.

  7. It's true that Russia is not an ally of the US. Their attempts to steal information from American citizens and political organisations is to be condemned. But let's stop the infantile pretending that this is some unique breach of protocol.

    And whilst we are at it, it is hypocritical to me - in the extreme - that many of those who condemned Ronald Reagan for calling The Soviet Union - a nation whose leaders, explicitly, stated that they would be "at our funeral" - an "evil empire", and who insisted that Alger Hiss was just a humble civil servant now act as if the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is the Worst Man Ever.

    It's partisan bullshit guys. You're embarassing yourselves, so give it a rest.
We need to stop jumping up and down like kids on a trampoline. The president should stop dicking around and put someone who is both actually and apparently independent in charge of a real investigation. Let's get to the bottom of this, and if Flynn or others colluded with Russia, put them in prison. Let's stop pretending that the president was elected because Russia "stole" the election.