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Delusion Points November 14, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in books, climate, economy, family, football, politics, taxes.
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I like to read. I also have a healthy dose of morbid curiosity. But I will not be adding Decision by King George XLIII to the Philly Bluejay reading list. At least not as long as I have to pay for it. It’s not that I mind spending money on books. Au contraire, mon cheri. I dropped $200 at Kramer’s last month, and another $110 at Amazon a few weeks ago. It’s just that I don’t want any of my money going to Bush. Especially because it’s certainly all about the money for him. About “replenishing the old coffers.”

I’m not being cynical and presumptive. When invited to speak to the Chicago Union League, Bush didn’t thank mayor Daley for a chance to talk to the hardworking people of Chicago, he thanked him “for a chance to sell his book.” And in interviews with Matt Lauer, Oprah, and Greta van Susteren, he repeatedly answers pointed questions with “Read my book and draw your conclusions.” I guess one could interpret this answer as evasive, as Bush unable to defend the actions and inactions of his presidency on camera. But it isn’t. He isn’t at all interested in defending himself, in explaining himself, in polishing his image, in apologizing or rationalizing, or in brightening the dim view history will take of him. He’s too intellectually lazy for that degree of reflection and too morally void for that sort of aspiration. He could care less what history thinks of him. He just wants money so that he can spend the rest of his days kicking around on the farm. This is probably all he wanted even while he was president. To him, the presidency wasn’t some great opportunity or awesome responsibility, it was the quickest way to a rich, lazy retirement.

And he evidently took the same route with DP. Unable to give Crown Publishing an original manuscript, Bush lifted passages from journals and other memoirs that describe his presidency. And who didn’t see this coming? Did anyone believe that Bush could write a 700-page book? Or even have enough original thoughts to give a ghost-writer 700 pages of material? Of course not. Bush has probably never read 700 pages worth of books. This is the same man who claimed that his favorite book was “The Very Hungry Caterpillar“—a book that was written when he was 19 years old! Someone should check whether any quotes from TVHC appear in DP. “On Tuesday, the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were attacked and I felt really bad. I had a tummy ache. On Wednesday, I ate a bright green leaf and I felt much better!”

The most telling thing about this episode? No one is shocked or outraged by this. It’s what we’ve come to expect from Bush. The man who cheated his way into the White House—does everyone realize how different would the world be today had Katherine Harris allowed the 2000 Florida recount to proceed? the mind boggles—who lied us into a war, who sanctioned torture, who spied on American citizens, who stopped stem cell research, and who made one thoughtless, dogmatic decision after another over the course of eight years the world may never recover from. Why would he start doing things the right way now? Why, when he repeatedly got away with doing them the wrong way during his presidency?

And so I will not purchase a copy of DP. At least not until it drops below the price of toilet paper. From the looks of it on Amazon, that should be the case before Thanksgiving.

P.S. Speaking of Bush, one of the most asinine moves by the increasingly Machiavellian GOP is the way in which they are holding the middle class tax cuts hostage for tax cuts for the top 2% of earners. Debt, shmedt! Middle class, kiss our @$$! People making half a million or more will get their tax cuts or no one is getting anything! Ladies and gentlemen, your new House majority!

P.P.S. This past Friday, I attended the ACEEE Conference on transportation efficiency in the 21st century. The most memorable speaker of the day? Joe Romm of climateprogress.org. Joe is a fiery and abrasive man. He prefaced his talk by saying that it was usually a waste of his time to speak to such small audiences and ended it by getting into a shouting match with David Greene about the future of fuel cell cars. He was assistant secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy under Clinton. Had he still held the post, he would have been my boss’ boss’ boss. It’s hard to imagine someone with his personality as assistant secretary. Then again, maybe he developed this personality during the eight years of the Bush climate “policy.”

P.P.P.S. In the past few weeks, I’ve noticed questions and comments from Israeli readers on several NFL blogs, including TMQ and John Clayton’s 1st and 10. Evidently, football is gaining popularity in the land of milk and honey. Witness the Kraft Family Israeli Football League. I wonder how an IFL all star team would fare against the worst NFL team? Or against University of Wisconsin? Or Trinity High School?

P.P.P.P.S. Speaking of the NFL. Eagles-Redskins. MNF. The Mrs. and I will be in Section 450. This would never happen if the game was in Philly.

P.P.P.P.P.S. Happy belated birthday, sista!

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Little Miss Bluejay July 14, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in family.
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In order to protect their identities, I often refer to my family members using codenames. My wife is Mrs. Bluejay—in real life, she’s Mrs. McCoy-Bluejay. My son is Bluejay Jr.—in real life, he’s Bluejay the sixth, we call him “hex.” My daughter is Little Miss Bluejay, after the Roger Hargreaves Little Miss series. You know, Little Miss Chatterbox. Little Miss Bossy. Little Miss Naughty. In real life, she’s all of those. Plus Little Miss Trouble. But today she’s also Little Miss Birthday. Three going on seventeen. How someone so small can have so many opinions, such a sense of self, such an idea of who she is and what she wants is above me. Little Miss Bluejay, you’re the cat’s pajamas. Pink pajamas, of course. With matching bottoms and tops. And not too tight. And with short sleeves so you can see your bandaids.

Post Father’s Day Post June 22, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in family, politics, sex, society, sports.
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A belated happy father’s day to all the fathers, dads, pops, papas, and old men out there! Bluejay Jr. and Little Miss Bluejay, thanks for making mine. You’re the cat’s pajamas and the cat’s whiskers! You can choose which one is which. And you Mrs. Bluejay, you’re the cat’s purr. I know you were behind the gifts, what with Jr. being only five and not having the wherewithal to find the security code on the Amex so that he could order them online.

Onwards. If there are two things I am fond of, they are double entendres and The Atlantic. Particularly interesting issue this month. I could do a post about each and every article. And I might eventually do one about neo-colonialism—Paul Romer’s idea for development in third-world countries. But the one I wanted to hit today is Hanna Rosin’s “The End of Men.” The article is long, but the gist is short. The modern world—at least its developed third—is better suited to women than it is to men.

Everything starts with the economy. Traditional economic ballast sectors like agriculture, construction, and heavy manufacturing—with job descriptions that emphasize manual labor—are eroding. Modern economic growth is almost exclusively service-oriented. An ever increasing fraction of new and total jobs—many of these in areas like health care, education, finance, and law—do not value physical prowess at all. Today’s economy is all about intelligence. And Lawrence Summers’ arguments about gender differences in intelligence variance aside—and really, I still don’t know what quite to make of them—the relevant fact is that in the thick portion of the bell curve, men have no inherent advantage. In fact, they may be at an inherent disadvantage! Not only do today’s economic growth emphasize neurons over myofibrils, but the kind of synaptic skills it require—communication, inter-personal relations, cooperation, and the focus, maturity, and self-control needed to acquire formal credentials—are more developed in women! It’s that last bit which should really scare men. Forget about getting ahead in today’s economy. Even standing still requires a bachelor’s degree. And women are just better at getting these than men are—not to mention Masters degrees, MDs, and JDs. And not just slightly better. I think it’s a well-known fact that more women than men go to and graduate from college—what might be somewhat less known is that the ratio is much closer to 60/40 than to 51/49. 60/40! And as degrees go, jobs follow. More than 50 percent of today’s jobs are held by women. And this includes management jobs. Yes, executive management is still male dominated—Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina are exceptions among Fortune 500 CEOs. But that dominance should start to fade given the changing demographics of mid-level management. And while growing the number of F500 CEOs from a handful to 250 may take a little time—especially if Meg and Carly leave the corporate ranks for congress—correcting another distortion should happen faster. The shelf life of unequal pay (for equal work) is getting shorter. If not by bottom-up market forces, than by top-down legal action. There are now a record number of women in the House (74) and Senate (17) and there is about to be a record number on the Supremes (3 if Elena Kagan is confirmed). The day in which women account for the bulk of economic output is coming. Soon.

Society both follows and reinforces the economy. As women gain economic power, they are asserting themselves to a greater degree in the family, pushing men further out to the margins. A staggering 40 percent of children are now born out of wedlock. But the really staggering part of that statistic is that a growing fraction of these are born to post-teenage, educated, working women who simply don’t want husbands or don’t want to settle for the kinds of husbands they can find. For women, it used to be that marriage was the only path to financial security and the freedom to rear children. No longer. With more workplaces flexing to accommodate the single mother, more women are choosing that path. If men aren’t providing financial security, why put up with the raised toilet seat? Even the old bromide that “every child needs a father” is losing leg. An involved father is obviously not necessary to become president of the most powerful country in the world—at least I think the US is still the most powerful country in the world. And recent research shows that lesbian couples may make the most effective parental units! Gender preference is also starting a heavy tilt towards girls. Nearly 75% of couples and women who use artificial insemination with gender selection choose XX chromosomes for their baby. And in Asia, the historic gender bias towards male children is starting to erode. Good news for China and India, which are currently staring at a surplus of 200,000,000 single men standing on the lowest rung of the social and economic ladder.

Are we headed towards a society with a male to female gender ratio of 10/90? It’s not hard to imagine either the final state or the path to it. As demographics shift more and more towards women, heterosexual women will co-habitate and form quasi-familial platonic structures with other women. Most pregnancies will be the result of highly selective artificial insemination, with gender being only one of the criteria. A small number of men will be kept around to stock the sperm banks, satisfy residual demand for heterosexual intercourse, program the computers—although that may no longer be necessary either—and play professional football. Will Earth become Amazon? Or will it simply become Amazon? Both options are perhaps preferable, but less likely, than Earth becoming Eaarth. Either way, we should savor father’s day while we still have it.

P.S. Speaking of father’s day. I remember going to a 76ers game in the early 1990s with my dad to watch Manute Bol. At 7’7″, Manute was the tallest player in the history of the NBA. And now that I think of it, he may still be—although Gheorghe Muresan may also have been 7’7″. At 220 pounds, Manute was definitely the skinniest player in the history of the NBA. I remember cringing every time he tried to block a shot at the basket, fearing that the opposing player may snap his arm on the rim. I also remember my father and I talking about what Bol family pick-up games might have been like—Manute was a Dinka, his father was 7’10” and his older brother 7’8″. Finally, I remember talking about the fact that, sadly, Manute would probably not live a long life as his kind of extreme height often puts undue stress on the body’s core systems. Well, Manute died this weekend at the age of 47—succumbing to a combination of kidney failure and Stevens-Johnson Syndrome—one of the most painful conditions imaginable. Like fellow African and former 76er Dikembe Mutombo, Manute was a humanitarian first and a basketball player second. Whereas other NBA players—Eddy Curry, Antoine Walker—go bankrupt spending their ridiculous salaries on even more ridiculous lifestyles, Manute used nearly all of his earnings to support peace, health, and education in his native Sudan. In the NBA, Manute was a novelty. A sideshow. But I always got the feeling that he knew that and that he was “using” the NBA—both financially as well as to gain figurative stature in his homeland—as much as the NBA was using him. There aren’t many happy days in Sudan, but today is especially sad.

P.P.S. General McChrystal, Sir! Haven’t you heard of WikiLeaks?

Update Menagerie March 24, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in family, politics, society, sustainability.
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Just a few updates on some previous. Some are new events, some are new thoughts, and some are feedback from others too lazy or shy to use the official comment feature, but neither too lazy nor shy to use email. Hey guys, email is forever, just like blog comments! Just ask the University of East Anglia Climate Science group.

Regarding the taxation of vices to raise revenue and change consumer behavior, it appears that new health insurance bill includes exactly such a vice tax: a tax on indoor tanning! Perfect! Actually, indoor tanning is both a vice and a vanity. And the possibilities for vanity taxes are nearly endless. Elective cosmetic surgery. Fur coats. Tattoos. Piercings and other bod-mods. Jewelry. By the way, did you know that the environmental impact of gold mining is a significant fraction of the environmental impact of all mining because of the low concentration of gold in ore (high yield gold ore has one ton of gold for 200,000 tons for ore, in constrast high yield iron ore has one ton of iron for 2 tons of ore) and because of the use of cyanide leaching to extract the gold. But back to the list: Haircuts. Deodorant. Twitter. The mind reels.

Regarding super-sized refrigerators, my friend Ani, formerly of Bulgaria, informs me that “during communism, refrigerators were small and at the grocery store, you were not allowed to pick fruits and vegetables.” See? Communism wasn’t all bad! We should embrace the good aspects of communism (small refrigerators) rather than throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Of course, there are some in this country that think we are adopting the baby, the bathwater, the bathtub, and the healthcare. But, hey, if it comes with smaller refrigerators and less food waste, I’m in. As for not being allowed to pick fruits and vegetables, I assumed what Ani means is that you were allowed to pick what kind of fruits and vegetables you wanted, but weren’t allowed to hand-pick the precise instances of the kinds of fruits and vegetables you wanted. Now that I think of it, markets in Israel were this way also when I was growing up. And not that I am advocating a return of top-down vegetable allocation policies, but really what is the marginal difference between allocated vegetables and hand-picked vegetables? 10%? 15%? And wouldn’t this margin be lower when you factor in that disallowing hand-picking not only disallows you from hand picking but also disallows all the other people that came before you and their unique blends of microbes from hand-picking? Sometimes increased freedom is not such a good thing. Anyways, I will have to fact check this with my father, also formerly of Bulgaria and Israel.

Regarding the corporate “school bus,” my mother (hi mom!) says that back in the day (it was a Wednesday), many Israeli companies operated their own shuttle service because few people owned their own cars and only one out of every three households had their own camel. Ah, the wisdom of the ageds! What goes around comes around! What once was lost now is found! Old is new! Corporate camels coming to a neighborhood near you!

Regarding my personal inspiration, Donna Simpson has been bumped by that bozo from Alabama who claims to lead an army of 1 milllion gun owners who are cleaning their guns right now and whose name I can’t seem to be able to Google or Bing for the life of me.

Finally, according to my daughter, one of the Seven Dwarfs of Snow White fame is Sleazy. Not Sleepy. Not Sneezy. Sleazy! How spot on. And really, aren’t all seven dwarfs sleazy? How else would you characterize a bunch of old men cohabitating with the fairest one of all? Speaking of the Seven Dwarfs, it used to bother me to no end that the story is officially called “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs“, even though the plural of “dwarf” is “dwarves.” Well, guess what? “Dwarves” is the plural of the mythical creature “dwarf” whereas “dwarfs” is the proper plural form of the real-life short-person “dwarf.” I guess that can mean only one thing, the Seven Dwarfs were actual people! Who knew? Now my rage at the mis-spelling of Dwarfs has been replaced by rage at the term “dwarf” itself. Real dwarfs don’t like to be called “dwarfs,” they prefer little people or LPs (a la Little People, Big World of TLC fame). If the Seven Dwarfs were indeed real people, shouldn’t the story be called “Snow White and the Seven LPs?”

Siberian Khatru February 18, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in education, family, music.
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I was the YES concert at the Warner Theatre in Washington, DC on Monday night. Row B. About 15 feet from Chris Squire. 12 feet from Chris Squire’s gut. And only 8 feet from the speakers. Oy, my ears! It’s been two days and there is still a low-grade ringing! Also, I had the flu and on the drive down could hardly bend my fingers around the steering wheel. But ears and flu aside, it was amazing.

Despite collectively being 180+ years old, Squire, Steve Howe, and Alan White absolutely wailed. White did a 5 minute drum solo in the middle of Astral Traveler. Howe (one of the most underappreciated guitarists in rock history) was ridiculous. I spent half the night just watching his fingers. The other half I spent watching his face. He looks like the Crypt Keeper. And this is actually less freaky than he looked when he was younger. Squire rocked too although at times I thought he was bass-syncing. The three original members certainly out-wailed the two younger “replacements.” For this tour (or maybe even permanently), Rick Wakeman was replaced by his son Oliver. Or maybe a time machine brought circa-1980 Rick to the present. Either way, except for Siberian Khatru (one of my favorites) and Astral Traveler (another) he wasn’t featured prominently. Jon Anderson was replaced by a French Canadian named Benoit David who was separated at birth from Peter Scolari and who doesn’t sing at the nearly-female register that Anderson did. A quick Google search performed seconds ago shows that Benoit is the lead singer of a YES tribute band called Close To The Edge. Hmmm. If I were to form a YES tribute band, and I would if not for my lack of musical talent, it would be called MAYBE. Actually, I don’t need to form my own YES tribute band of my own, Close To The Edge must be looking for a frontman. Call me, guys! I know the words! Mostly.

The audience was as ridiculous as the band. I had floor tickets for a Violent Femmes concert once. I was also on the floor at a Bowie concert. OK, so this wasn’t like either of those. But it was pretty wild considering I must have been one of the ten youngest people there. The median hair color at the concert was gray. Going in, there were multiple faces I recognized. I am not from Washington and I am not a YES groupie despite what you might think from this post. One of them may have been Eric Bach, a professor at the University of Wisconsin (Eric, was that you?) But the others must have been politicians or other national figures. Steven Chu? Rahm Emmanuel? Who knows! There was a 50 year old behind me who screamed “WE LOVE YOU!” after every song and sometimes within songs. YES songs are long. Behind him was a 90 year old guy in a wheelchair with his two 70 year old sons. The sons knew the words to every song. The guy on my left was wearing a YES hat, a YES tie, had a YES license plate with Bill Bruford’s signature on it and watched most of the concert with is eyes closed. During the encore a bunch of 50 year old women rushed the stage. One of them may have been Michelle Bachman.

But the most amazing thing about the concert was that my little brother got us the tickets. When I said to him “I didn’t know you liked YES” he said “I have YES on the brain from growing up with you.” Not that you read this blog, E, but I love ya. Oh, and thanks for letting me crash on Monday night.

P.S. While on the subject of Washington, DC … happy birthday American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. What would we have ever done without you? Maybe things would have been much worse. Possibly. Maybe things would have been the same. Possibly. Maybe things would have been better. Not likely. At any rate, you are now just a political football and a $862 billion check my kids will pick up. Cheers!

P.P.S. Great article about teachers in this month’s Atlantic. Actually, most Atlantic articles are great. This is just the only one I’ve read from this month’s issue.