Demi-denims, an acceptable form of pants for women. Image from Wikimedia

by George Taniwaki

For no particular reason, today I will demonstrate my lack of fashion sense, narrow-mindedness with regard to gender roles, and general lack of imagination. It’s time to play, what (not) to wear, summer edition. My six rules to be a dedicated follower of fashion are defined below.

  1. Women may wear pants of any length and style. They may be made of any material and worn plain or with a skirt or even another pair of pants.
  2. Men may wear full-length pants that cover their ankles.
  3. Men may not wear short pants that are longer than their knees. The exception is that world famous male explorers may wear short cargo pants that end below the knees on the condition that they also have a machete hanging from their belt and they know how to use it.
  4. Men may wear short pants that end above their knees, but in no case shall their pants be shorter than their boxers. This is especially true if the boxers have leg openings with a diameter larger than their pants and cause them to expose themselves every time they sit.
  5. Men may not wear Speedo briefs. The exception is men with body hair the same color as their swimwear and you cannot tell where the shorts end and their bare legs and chest begin.
  6. Men may not wear culottes unless they are descendants of samurai and are wearing hakama. Such men must also know how to use a machete.

PlaidPants TacticalShortsMachete

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Acceptable forms of pants for men (from top to bottom), Living proof that dead men don’t wear plaid; Actor Danny Trejo is allowed to wear cargo shorts; Just say “no” to boxer shorts longer than outer pants; Trunks with matching body hair go swimmingly well together; A man who won’t put up with your bushido


Don’t let mental errors cloud your thinking. Image by Jan Buchczik for The Atlantic

by George Taniwaki

Arthur Brooks is a conservative social scientist. He is on the faculty of Harvard Business School and was formerly president of the American Enterprise Institute. Since 2019, he has been writing a series of articles in The Atlantic, now called “How to Build a Life.” With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the articles have included advice on how to live a a happier and better life by understanding our life circumstances.

In his Apr 23, 2020 article entitled “Two Errors Our Minds Make When Trying to Grasp the Pandemic”, he makes the case that we would be happier if we understood the difference between two experiences that make us unhappy and two conditions that make us nervous. It is a very thought provoking article and I highly recommend it.

Regret and disappointment

Regret and disappointment both lead to unhappiness. They seem similar but are not. We should only feel regret for bad decisions that we have made. Then we should work hard to develop strategies to do better next time. But we should not feel disappointment.

In contrast, we should only feel disappointment when we are in situations where we had no control, like the Covid-19 pandemic. And once we recognize we have no control, we should endeavor to stop our disappointment and get on with other thoughts that will make us happy. As Brooks says, “rumination on what you would be doing if it weren’t for the coronavirus is a destructive waste of your time.”

Risk and uncertainty

Most people dislike risk and uncertainty. Again, these conditions seem similar but are not. As Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously stated, “There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”

Risks can be thought of as the known unknowns. These are outcomes that we cannot accurately predict, but understand well enough that we can forecast them using stochastic models. We can also mitigate and manage risks by working hard using the appropriate strategies and interventions.

Uncertainty are the unknown unknowns. How many people will die from Covid-19? Is it safe to open schools in the fall? Will I or a family member get the disease? We don’t know and can’t predict these with the information currently available. That is, we as laypersons cannot convert uncertainty into risk. Thus, we should not spend a lot of time worrying about these questions. Doing so will exhaust us and make us unhappy without leading us to a better prediction.

Acknowledge, distinguish, resolve

Mr. Brooks has a three step solution to overcoming these two cognitive errors. He calls his solution “acknowledge, distinguish, resolve.” As he writes, “Disappointment and uncertainty are inevitable, but we don’t have to turn them into suffering.”

apocalypse now

This is the end… Image from MGM United Artists

by George Taniwaki

On June 1, 2020, President Donald Trump led a group of White House cabinet members and advisors across the street to St. John’s Episcopal Church. Once there he staged a photo op of him holding a bible. He took a few questions but did not have any prepared statements. Then everyone walked back to the White House.

Prior to the walk, National Park Service police cleared out mostly peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square through use of rubber bullets and pepper munitions. Once they “captured” the square, they formed a cordon around the path for the president and his entourage.

I was rather startled by this event and immediately thought of the parallels to a scene in the movie Apocalypse Now. This classic Vietnam War movie, released in 1979, was directed by Francis Ford Coppola. In the scene I am thinking of, Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore, played by Robert Duvall, is the leader of a helicopter cavalry unit. He decides he wants to go surf with his men, so he calls in a napalm strike against a fishing village sympathetic to the Viet Cong. Once the beach is “neutralized” he ends up unhappy because the napalm and helicopters are causing the wind to blow the wrong way, ruining the waves.

One of the most famous quotes from the movie are spoken by Duvall’s character during the scene. “I love the smell of napalm in the morning… It smells like victory.” I can almost imagine Trump saying it.

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More scenes from Apocalypse Now. Images from MGM United Artists

Check out the images below from news sites and compare them to the images at top and above taken from the movie.

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Images from President Trump’s photo op (from top to bottom): Park Service Police clearing Lafayette Square (AP Photo Alex Brandon); Trump and his entourage crossing the Square, Trump giving a fist bump to police; Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in fatigues on the right (AP Photo Patrick Semansky); Trump ignoring the graffiti of FTP (AP Photo Patrick Semansky); Trump holding the bible while pointing at reporter

Update: Corrected first paragraph. President Trump did take questions. But he did not have a prepared statement.

TSA Pre✓Renewal

A simple questionnaire with a big flaw. Image from TSA Pre✓

by George Taniwaki

I recently received a voice mail message from the Transportation Security Administration. A woman’s voice told me that my Known Traveler Number (KTN) would be expiring soon and that I would need to renew it if I wanted to remain in the the TSA Pre✓ program. That’s the short line through security at the airport.

I haven’t been to the airport recently (and I hope you haven’t either) so I don’t know how long the lines are right now. But joining the TSA Pre✓ program is not expensive ($85 for 5 years) and has been worth it for me. So I pointed my browser to and started the renewal process.

Near the end of the process, I landed on a very unexpected page. It was a survey form asking questions about my flying habits (see screenshot at top of post). There are many problems with this survey that market research experts will immediately catch. But check out the fourth question. “How satisfied are you with your overall airport security experience?”

Geez, I hate airport security. It is intrusive, arbitrary, and time consuming. It also subjects you to radiation and chemicals of unknown safety. I guess it would be worthwhile if it effectively stopped violence and terrorism at a reasonable cost. Unfortunately, there is no evidence of efficacy and lots of evidence that it is really expensive.

Now, how should I answer this question? There is no explanation on the page about how your response data will be used. Specifically, there is no assurance that the responses will not be associated with your personally identifiable information (PII) and only aggregated data will be provided to the TSA.

Since TSA can make your life miserable, including revoking your KTN, the safest thing to do is to tell them you love your experience with airport security. Question 4 has 10 unlabeled radio buttons with the phrases “Extremely Poor” and “Extremely Satisfied” at the ends. I decide to pick the 9th button. High but not perfect. I figured anyone picking the 10th button will also be flagged for attention as either a liar or an obsequious bootlicker.

Anyway, as a marketer you may be tempted to increase response rate to your market research survey by integrating it into a customer transaction flow. Don’t do this. Your responses will be biased.

* * * *

Update1: Revised the third paragraph to clarify that there are many other problems with this survey. Thanks to my friend and colleague Carol Borthwick for reminding me that not all readers of my blog are survey experts. Below is a list of some of the obvious errors in this survey.

  1. In the first question, how should one respond if you fly for both business and pleasure? And really, you fly to a destination for pleasure, you don’t fly because the experience itself is pleasurable. Almost nobody flies for pleasure, unless they are a pilot.
  2. In the second question, what is the TSA trying to measure? My guess is the number of times respondents are screened by TSA in a year. A round trip usually involves two waits through the TSA line. However, one should not count trips on private aircraft where you don’t go through TSA lines or flights that originate outside the U.S., even if you go through U.S. immigration at the foreign airport.
    Further, if you have a connecting flight on a US domestic flight, you usually do not go through a TSA line again. If you arrive from an international flight and pass through immigration after the flight, you usually do go through TSA before boarding the next flight.
  3. In any event, this survey was probably designed before the collapse in travel due to Covid-19. Does the TSA want to know the number of trips respondents took last year, this year (zero for me so far), or how many they would have taken if there was no pandemic. It doesn’t say.
  4. What’s up with those weird ranges in question 2? And which radio button should respondents select if they fly exactly 31 times a year?
  5. In the fourth question, notice that the wording of the two end point labels for the scale are not parallel. The low end should read “Extremely unsatisfied”. Also there are no labels for any of the intermediate points, leaving the distance between points up to the respondent’s imagination.

* * * *

Update2: Getting back to question 2, if you have a KTN, the TSA records each time you pass through security. So it should already know the actual distribution of how many times a year KTN holders pass through security. So what will it do with the survey data? Compare the response data to the actual data for accuracy? Check for lying and throw out outliers? Who knows.


Valverde neighborhood has the highest rate of Covid-19 hospitalization in Denver. Image from Christie Mettenbrink for Denver Public Health

by George Taniwaki

Denver’s Valverde neighborhood is just a few miles from the Barnum West neighborhood where I grew up. The streets there are busier and noisier, with more industrial businesses lining Alameda Ave. and Federal Blvd. Studies show excessive car traffic can lead to stress and chronic respiratory ailments, especially when combined with smoking, which is more common among residents there.

The houses are smaller, with more families living in multigenerational arrangements. Residents are more likely to ride public transportation to get to work or school. They are also more likely to have jobs that are considered essential. Crowded living and working conditions increase the likelihood of contracting Covid-19.

Finally, adults in Valverde are less likely to speak English at home, meaning they have less access to healthcare information. They are less likely to have health insurance and less access to healthcare providers, even if they have insurance.

This isn’t an accident of history. Cities like Denver had long adopted policies (Colorado Trust, May 2018) that encouraged racial segregation and discrimination. From the 1920s until the 1970s, the city worked with banks, mortgage companies, and property insurers, to draw maps of neighborhoods that were safe, a practice called redlining. Similar maps were used by Denver Public Schools to plan the location of new buildings to ensure schools were kept racially segregated.

Even today, the impact of segregation is still visible. An excellent article in The Conversation (May 2020) looks at the distribution of Covid-19 hospitalization rates by neighborhood (see map at top). You can see more charts and an explanation at Denver Public Health (May 2020).


Staff need to encourage patients to speak up. Image from CDC

by George Taniwaki

While doing research on the role being played by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during the Covid-19 pandemic, I accidentally discovered a website full of information on infection prevention for dialysis patients.

The most effective way to prevent infection is for both the patients and staff to be trained on infection prevention and best practices. Further, they should both actively monitor the dialysis procedure to be aware of opportunities for infection. Finally, patients should feel free to speak up if something looks amiss, and staff should welcome feedback.

The CDC website contains videos, posters, a cartoon (see screenshot above), and other resources for training staff and patients. It also contains information about the Making Dialysis Safer for Patients Coalition. Good stuff.

Making Dialysis Safer Coalition


The presenters at the Greater Good Online Institute for Health Professionals, Eve Ekman, Dacher Keltner, Jamil Zaki, Elissa Epel, and Jyothi Marbin (not shown Liz Markle). Image from  Greater Good Science Center

by George Taniwaki

A couple weekends ago, I attended the Greater Good Online Institute for Health Professionals, May 2-3, 2020. The workshop was sponsored by the Greater Good Science Center at University of California, San Francisco. I was hoping to pick up some tips on how I can improve my ability to empathize with kidney patients and their family in order to help them find a donor.

It turns out the program was focused on a completely different set of topics related to reducing stress, improving self-care, and treating patients holistically. Not helpful for my goal, but an interesting weekend nonetheless.

Key take away

If you are interested in leading a happier life and connecting to others with empathy, then the GGSC has tools to help you. They have an online magazine, a Science of Happiness podcast, and videos. In addition to having classes for health professionals, they have online courses for the workplaceK-12 educators, and families.

After the workshop, one of the goals for participants is to commit to making one change in our lives to make us happier. A typical goal would be to regularly share with a colleague (a few times a week) three good things that you are grateful for. Reflecting on your day and picking out three good things is hard, especially during a pandemic. Striking up a conversation with a colleague simply to talk about one’s feelings is uncomfortable. But the practice sounds useful, I will endeavor to try.

Agenda and video recordings

The agenda along with links to the speaker’s video sessions are shown in the table below. After each speaker there was a breakout session (not shown) where small groups could reflect on the talk and discuss how it impacts them. Of course, you won’t be participate in the group discussion as an individual watching the YouTube recording, but perhaps you can try turning on your camera and talking to yourself.

Schedule YouTube Description
Sat, 8:30 – 9:00 31:00 (no sound at start) Dacher Keltner and Eve Ekman — Welcoming remarks/grounding
Sat, 9:00 – 9:30 1:00:19 Dacher Keltner — Gratitude and Awe in Healthcare
Sat, 10:30 – 11:00 2:32:43 Jyothi Marbin — Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Healthcare
Sat, 12:30 – 1:00 4:31:53 Jamil Zaki — Neuroscience of Empathy in Medicine
Sun,8:30 – 9:00 28:29 Dacher Keltner and Eve Ekman — Welcoming remarks/grounding with review of themes from previous day
Sun, 9:00 – 9:30 1:0054 Liz Markle — Behavioral Health and the Community as Medicine
Sun, 10:30 – 11:00 2:29:33 Elissa Epel — Supporting Stress Resilience in Healthcare
Sun, 12:30 – 1:00 4:31:46 Eve Ekman — Emotion Awareness in Healthcare
Sun, 1:45 – 2:00 5:43:05 Eve Ekman and Dacher Keltner — Closing remarks and reflection

About the speakers

Short biographies of the six speakers are available at GGSC. Some additional speaker resources and links are shown below.

Speaker Resource
Eve Ekman, Ph.D., MSW Three-Day Online Immersive Emotional Balance Training in June; Atlas of Emotions Online and Eve Ekman trainings online; free Guided Meditations
Dacher Keltner, Ph.D. Born to be Good
Jyothi Marbin, M.D. UCSF
Jamil Zaki, Ph.D. The War for Kindness
Elizabeth Markle, Ph.D. Open Source Wellness, podcast conversation about Community as Medicine
Elissa Epel, Ph.D. UCSF Resources to Support Your Mental Health During Coronavirus, The Telomere Effect