Kingsman: The Secret Service

A few disclaimers. I don’t like action movies: usually they bore me because I already know the outcome and I can’t tell what’s going on in the endless fight scenes anyway. I don’t like comic book movies. I can’t stand gratuitous violence in movies (e.g. anything directed by Quentin Tarantino). That being said, this is one of my top 5 movies of all time. Now that I’ve thoroughly contradicted myself, I’ll try to explain.

Let’s start with the flawless trailer:

For most movies, the trailer contains everything that’s worth watching. Not the case here. I wasn’t bored for a single second of the 129 minute run time. The movie didn’t try to cram a badly scripted romance in. It didn’t take itself too seriously: there were little inside jokes about spy and action hero movies. Mostly, it was a thrill. Watching Colin Firth kick ass. The spectacular fireworks scene. The police chase where Eggsy drives backwards. Like a Bond movie, but hilarious and better. They even one-upped Google Glass with unassuming horn-rimmed old man spectacles. (Which, incidentally, are much more attractive).

My one issue with the movie: I don’t think the last in the entrance exam for Kingsman was right. I agree with Eggsy’s choice — it should’ve been the right answer. Sometimes you have to defy a direct order from a superior because you know what they’re asking you to do is wrong. I would think Kingsman would value having that internal compass more than blind obedience to a (corruptible) superior.

All in all, it was good enough to watch again. In theaters.

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Christmas feasts in France

Like Americans, the French have a tradition of enjoying an elaborate family meal for Christmas. Unlike Americans, they have a similar tradition for New Years Eve, but with friends. (We skip straight to the drinky drinky).

I’ll take you through one meal that lasted about 5 hours on Christmas eve. I didn’t get a picture of the appetizers — different toppings like tzatziki, pate, chorizo and smoked salmon on tiny toast. The first course was foie gras with homemade onion preserves:

Then came the savory Christmas log, with smoked salmon and spinach, garnished with beets:

I’m not a fan, myself, but oysters are popular for holiday meals:

Instead of that, I got this cheesy seafood gratin, which was so much better, despite looking like a mystery pot:

A specialty of Burgundy is snails. It’s so popular that they sell them even at places like Casino (which I’m told is about the same as Walmart here). That was our next course.

Did I miss anything? We had something from a frozen food wonderland for dessert. Before Christmas, Picard sends everyone magazines full of food porn. At least 10 different kinds of logs to drool over.

We even had a backup dessert we didn’t get around to eating until the next day.

Alice, the ideal cat, demonstrates exactly how I felt after all this food. Oh, but it was far from over.

Because the next day, we started again, with lunch! Again, I forgot to take pictures of the appetizer. Foie gras on tiny toast. This time our snails were nestled in warm pastry puffs.

Followed by a potato leek soup

With a chilean sea bass and fingerling potatoes as the main course

And, of course, this gorgeous homemade raspberry white chocolate Christmas log for dessert

Topped with English cream and lingonberries!

There were other meals and parties, but my camera must’ve been playing passed out in a food coma. I will leave you with a couple of enviable shots of a cheese box though. For those of you that aren’t familiar — many French people have a “cheese or yogurt” course during both lunch and dinner, so they always have about 4 different kinds of cheese in a box (or on a plate, or in a basket) and a few flavors of yogurt cups.

Lets get a closeup of the extra drooly one that I’m told was “déclassé” due to its runaway mold problem.

All right! Now doesn’t everyone want to visit France for the holidays?

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Velib in Paris

Velib (a bike rental service) is my favorite way of getting around Paris. You see so much more than by metro, and as a bonus there’s much less contact with the bodily fluids of others. It’s faster than walking, but I guess entering and re-entering a code and pin can get pretty annoying. Here’s how to get around that.

1. Show up at any city hall in Paris and ask for a “Velib Express” card. They’re free.

2. You can sit in the lobby of city hall and use their free wifi to access the Velib website (instructions on the back of the card) to subscribe to the service. Here are the prices:

  • 1.70 € for 1 day
  • 8 € for 7 days
  • 29 € for 1 year*

3. Visit any Velib bike station. There’s an app that shows you where they are, but usually you’ll find them near any metro station. Enter your information into the screen just the first time (to activate your card) and then you’re good to go! In the future you can just use your card to check out bikes by placing your card against the locking mechanism pictured here:

Now, time for a funny story. You are perhaps concerned that you’re not the best biker, and Paris is too busy and scary of a city. Believe me, you couldn’t be a worse biker than me. I never took the training wheels off my first pink bike with streamers at the handles. I didn’t see the need. The first time I tried biking in Paris, we had to stop at a red light and as I was wobbling to a halt, I crashed into a police riot van. With actual police officers in it. I took off again a moment later and saw the police officers staring out to window trying to see who was attacking. I gave them by best sheepish-sorry look and said sorry (yes, in English). The officers looked 2/3′s confused and 1/3 amused. Luckily, it was France. If it were America, I would probably have been shot for ramming a police vehicle.

* Important note: when I was sitting at city hall trying this, the 1 year option was only available on the French version of the website. If you choose English, it disappears. So pretend to be French, I guess!


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When to let go

I think a common problem of a beginner investor is that they hold on to a stock or fund when the value drops and keep holding on, thinking “well, the value will never get down to $0, so if I just wait I could at least make back my initial investment.”

I’m still trying to figure out a reasonable amount of time to wait before dumping a stock. I can only offer help in convincing yourself to let go. Instead of thinking that you’ll make the money back someday, maybe, think of the opportunity cost. Maybe you can make the money back, but you’ll just have to trade for something that will move (in the right direction). Your investment in that one fund that’s been languishing at around -10% for two years? Well, if you had moved that money last year to another more promising one that shot up 21% during that time, you’d've even made a profit!

So, beginner tip #1: don’t be wedded to the idea of getting your initial investment back out of each purchase.

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In defense of harsher sentencing for crack

(versus powder cocaine)

It isn’t the least bit about race. Crack cocaine dealers have the same access to information about mandatory minimum sentences as anyone else, and if they choose to pursue a life of drug dealing, they can just as well switch to dealing powder cocaine. If a disproportionate number of blacks happen to continue choosing to deal one over the other, we’ll have to conclude either ignorance or stupidity.

Here’s why longer sentences for crack dealers is good: they deal in public. On street corners. Probably on the corner of a street where I used to live. One day I actually exited my building to see a body — someone who had been shot in the head on the (suspected) drug corner. That could’ve been anyone. In fact, it’s much more likely to be someone completely uninvolved because it’s in public.

I don’t really care if a drug dealer is going to someone’s upper east side apartment to deliver powder cocaine. Or their high rise office building. That’s a private transaction that has no bearing on me, and even if that drug user loses his job, his children probably won’t be the state’s problem. He’s probably not going to rob anyone. All that will happen is that he’ll get to go to an expensive rehab a few times. Not the same as when a highly addictive drug is popular among the poor: that increases everyone’s problems — the taxpayer (in the form of welfare, emergency room fees for the uninsured, food stamps, extra policing), the neighbor (armed robbery, burglaries), and even the random person walking in the street (muggings, gun violence/turf wars).

Mostly, I’m just tired of hearing this differential in sentencing trotted out as an example of racism in the legal system. Even if we ignore every point I just made, it still remains true that there was significant support from black leadership to enact these stricter sentencing laws.

Posted in criticism, observations, politics, trolling | 2 Comments

Ferguson: more irresponsible reporting

I just read the NYT editorial on the Ferguson riots. Without doing their own fact checking, they quoted a “grim report by ProPublica“ which claims that young black men are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than young white men.

That report is grim mostly for its failure to link original sources and its tenuous grasp on basic statistics. Let me attempt to improve on it. Their statement that young black males were 21 times more likely to be killed by police than young white men relies on numbers which they do not cite a specific source for. “Federally collected date on fatal police shootings” is as close as we get. In my own research, I have used the CDC Fatal Injury Reports. From the ProPublica report:

The 1,217 deadly police shootings from 2010 to 2012 captured in the federal data show that blacks, age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police.

I’ve found a few issues with this statement.

1. According to the CDC data, there have been 1,454 deaths caused by police between 2010 and 2012, not 1,217 (excluding females, the number is 1,402). Additionally, that is the number for all ages, so it seems irrelevant if we’re discussing deaths of those aged 15-19: that number is 81 (79 if we restrict to males).

Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 12.42.22 AM2. It is unclear from the above statement whether they are comparing all blacks age 15 to 19 to white males of the same age range, or if they’re comparing only males to males. I assume the latter because it makes more sense. In that case, the CDC website shows that blacks were killed at a rate of 6.6 per million, and whites at 1.5 per million.

3. That would make the relative risk 4.4 times as high, not 21.

I’m not sure how they reached the 21x figure, but I attempted to re-create this figure by selecting “homicide and legal intervention” for males age 15-19, but that gave a relative rate of 8.4. Then I tried that again, with males of all ages, and that gave a relative rate of 7. I welcome the authors of the ProPublica report to point me to the original sources from which they derived their relative rate of 21.

Conclusions drawn from this report seem to be unvaryingly of one flavor: we suffer from a problem of racist policing. However, here’s another interesting chart from the CDC data

Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 12.47.52 AM

It’s the same data, but including males of all ages. Here, the black males seem to face twice the risk of white males of death by cop. But if we glance down a bit further, white males are at about twice the risk of Asian males. If we are to conclude, like the NYT article did, that

“These statistics reflect the fact that many police officers see black men as expendable figures on the urban landscape, not quite human beings”

Then I suppose we’ll have to conclude that police officers also see white men as expendable compared to Asian men. Or that the justice system was set up to benefit Asian men. Asian privilege? But if not, if these conclusions sound absurd, then might there also be room at the other end of the spectrum for more reasonable and less racially divisive conclusions? Any speculation you can give about why Asian men are at lower risk than white men should sound also reasonable when you apply it to whites versus blacks. Try that before saying what’s expected of you.

You could also read the grand jury testimony to get the full picture. Or, if you still believe this is an issue of racial privilege, I dare any white male to punch a police officer, attempt to take his gun, then charge him. I want proof that white privilege would have kept Michael Brown alive or seen to the prosecution of his killer. Show me.

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Propositions H and I

Edit: if you read just one article about these two propositions, don’t waste your time on mine. Read this one.

In the upcoming Nov. 4th election, Proposition H is to keep natural grass and prohibit artificial lighting in the western part of Golden Gate park (near the Beach Chalet and Ocean Beach). Proposition I would nullify Proposition H.

The main supporters of Proposition H (and opponents of Prop I) are the Fisher brothers, who run Gap. They fund a couple of PACs with names like “Let SF Kids Play” and a foundation called “City Fields Foundation.” Their argument is that artificial turf (made out of ground up tires) and stadium lights help extend the number of hours that kids can play in the fields.

On the other side, educators, environmentalists and parents seem to be speaking out against Prop H and for Prop I. It’s almost enough to see who pays for advertisements in the voter information booklet for each side. If the field renovations would really benefit children (as all of the Let SF Kids Play ads imply), then one would expect to see more support from parents and educators. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Anyway, reservations start at $28/hr. If you’re not able to prove residency with a utility bill (because you are perhaps a child who has no utilities billed to you), then rates start at $78/hr, which I’d guess is a little high for most children.

Then who does benefit? City Fields Foundation is pouring millions into the renovations and the Fisher brothers who are behind it all are businessmen. When do businessmen get involved in projects? The partnership between the San Francisco Parks and Recreation Department and City Fields Foundation probably means that CFF gets lucrative contracts for field installation and maintenance.

Here’s an extensive list of reasons to vote yes on H and no on I, including research and links from Jason Jungreis:

Continue reading

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Ebola and flight bans

I was curious why there haven’t been any flight bans since the ebola outbreak has landed in the US. A quick google search led me to a Time article [linked below] in which CDC director Tom Frieden says:

If we try to eliminate travel… we won’t be able to check them for fever when they leave, we won’t be able to check them for fever when they arrive, we won’t be able—as we do currently—to see a detailed history to see if they’ve been exposed

But this doesn’t make any sense. If we eliminate travel, they wouldn’t be arriving or leaving at all. Unless they swim? Or if they’re smuggling themselves over on boats? I’m sure that eliminating flights will greatly reduce the number of people who arrive here infected.

Further down in the article there’s an argument that there are no direct flights between the US and affected countries anyway. Which is why I would insist on closing down the airports of affected countries rather than simply banning flights. But I guess it’s possible exclude passengers with connecting flights who have originated in affected countries. Also, if the US institutes a flight ban, I’m sure many countries would follow.

It does seem the simplest way to avoid having an epidemic here. I understand why airlines wouldn’t want to — they lose money. I wonder what the real reasons are behind the CDC’s refusal to call for a flight ban.

Edit: I just found another article in which the author hypothesizes that the CDC’s position on banning flights may be due to a commitment to the ideology of open borders. Personally, I’m more inclined to believe that the director of the CDC is beholden to Obama (his position being an appointed one) and Obama being beholden to airlines and other big businesses.

Why Airlines and the CDC Oppose Ebola Flight Bans

Posted in bad policy, criticism | 2 Comments

The essentials for a new kitten

It’s been about a year and a half since I adopted my cat. I had no idea what I really needed. As it turns out, there aren’t a lot of immediate needs. I think there are maybe only 3:



I did too much reading beforehand and concluded that short of grinding my own raw meat and carefully measuring out necessary dietary additives not found in poultry, the best I could do for my cat was find her something grain-free. Things that sound tasty and healthy for humans and dogs (blueberries, whole grain) aren’t ideal for cats. At least, the first ingredient should be meat.


I tried both traditional clumping litter and pine litter. I prefer the latter. It lasts longer and is easier to clean because you only have to deal with solid waste (which can be flushed). It actually does smell better. I think I was allergic to cleaning the clumping kind. It doesn’t matter what kind of box you get, but the pine litter requires a special scoop with larger holes like this.

Nail clippers — (For an indoor cat). Nothing fancy. I hear the fancy things don’t work as well anyway. Kitten nails will get sharp within a week, so you don’t have to get these before you adopt, but you’ll need them soon.

That’s it. Here are some things I got that I didn’t need:

Carrier – When you adopt a kitten from the pound, they give you a cardboard box for transport. Later, you may need one for vet visits, or for travel, but you don’t need to have one before your meowface comes home.

Bed — Your kitten will find something she likes. Maybe your bed, or a fuzzy couch blanket. Or in the case of my cat, a plastic bag on the kitchen table. Or an empty shipping box. I bought her a bed and she liked it for a few weeks, but soon moved on to bigger, better things.

Toys — I got my kitten one of these ball track things, half a dozen jingle balls and feathered mice, a dangly stick toy with 3 interchangeable dangly parts and most of this just ended up underneath the couch. The most popular items have not been from the store. At least, not purchased from the store. She was best friends with a rubber band for a week. She’s spent half her life in discarded cardboard boxes. She loves the bits of plastic guarding the tops of pill bottles.

Bowls — You don’t need specialized pet bowls. Just opt for stainless steel or ceramic rather than plastic. Plastic harbors more bacteria so a cat rubbing his chin on a food or water bowl is more prone to getting an infection from a plastic bowl.

Collars — Unnecessary for an indoor-only cat, especially if also microchipped. You can get one eventually for trips outside the house. I guess they’re good if you let your cat outside — so no one else thinks they’re homeless and tries to catnap them. Of course, a safety collar is recommended.

Okay, I hope that helps. I spent way more than I needed to and all the shopping made it feel more daunting than it needed to be. You’ll see that you don’t need much to keep a kitten happy. Your trash, your hair, and whatever you’re doing in the kitchen will be endlessly amusing. Good luck!

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Prop E

It’s a proposed tax of 2 cents per oz on sugary beverages (25 calories or more from sugars per 12 oz serving). Who’s in favor? Sounds like the entire medical community. Dentists, pediatricians, nurses, even hospitals.

Who is opposed? Of the 13 paid arguments against in my trusty voter guide, 11 were paid for by the American Beverage Association California PAC. If you can, I highly recommend that you read the arguments against. They’re droll. Things that I assure you the ABA doesn’t care about at all, but that they’re hoping you will. They argue all of the following:

  • The tax is regressive
  • Parents should decide what their kids eat and drink, not the government
  • Cost of living is already high in San Francisco
  • Obesity is a complex issue that requires a more complex solution
  • The tax hurts small businesses
  • Everyone’s grocery costs will increase

But they remain completely silent about what I’m guessing is the true reason they’ve spent almost $8 million on ads against Prop E: that it might hurt their bottom line. I guess the truth didn’t sound like a winning argument. Does anyone honestly believe that the beverage industry cares about any of the above points? No. The beverage industry is panicking over the tax because they think it will be effective in lowering soda consumption.

If there are any San Francisco voters reading this and you haven’t decided on Prop E, consider who has your best interests at heart. The entire medical community? Or the industry that sell drinks containing the equivalent of 10 tablespoons of sugar per can?

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