The Indian-American perspective on the Women’s March


I got together with friends this evening to watch my first football game of the season. One thing I learned is that Roku plus the CBS streaming service will tend to cut out during every critical play. Fortunately none of us are actually passionate about football…

I asked an Indian-American entrepreneur who studied at Harvard Medical School if she’d gone to the Women’s March. She looked at me incredulously. “I was working.”

Exercise for readers: Use Google or Bing image search. Count how many images of the Women’s March you need to review before you find an Indian-American or Chinese-American woman. Extra credit: How many images before you find an Indian-American or Chinese-American wearing a hand-knit hat?


Keeping black women on the NASA plantation


From a Facebook friend regarding Hidden Figures (movie) who works for the government and is still mourning Hillary Clinton’s loss:

It really was an excellent film (and a very insightful interview about the story), and captured much of what I experienced [as a white male?]. It left me very conflicted, however. First, I was awed (and loved) that it so honored the long unsung minority (and female) contributions and that my former employer (NASA) was such an unusual agent of change and inclusion. I very much appreciated the pointed lessons at a time when our country seems to be retreating from these ideals. But at the same time I felt a sense of shame and disgust that so many of the same issues persist to this day, and that too many people who need to receive those messages are either unlikely to even see the film, and even so, are unlikely to recognize the persistent biases that are ongoing even today.

I worked on the NASA plantation as a Fortran programmer on the Pioneer Venus project for $13,000 per year back in 1978 (that’s $47,854 in today’s mini-dollars). My co-workers included women, Indians, Chinese, white males, etc. Other than receiving a paycheck, all of us were “unsung” for our contributions of software for the PDP 11/70 and the IBM 360/95.

I’m not sure why the (white male) author of the above posting thinks he is doing women a favor by encouraging them to become “nameless faceless scientists” (see Bill Burr at about 0:50) at one-fifth the salary of a dermatologist (see “Women in Science” for a comparison of the career trajectories). Maybe this is actually how white men will keep women and, specifically, women of color, down? Encourage them to become quiet nerds in a cubicle farm instead of going into medicine, politics, etc.?

Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer


Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer is a novel that is tough to review without spoiling. I wouldn’t say that it is an essential read, but I wanted to clip and save a few passages. Here they are…


[child talking to an adult] “Babies kick you from the inside, and then they come out and kick you some more.” “It’s been my experience,” Julia said, her hand moving to her belly. “I read it in one of my parents’ parenting books.” “Why on earth do you read those?” “To try to understand them.”

Before they had kids, if asked to conjure images of parenthood they would have said things like “Reading in bed,” and “Giving a bath,” and “Running while holding the seat of a bicycle.” Parenthood contains such moments of warmth and intimacy, but isn’t them. It’s cleaning up. The great bulk of family life involves no exchange of love, and no meaning, only fulfillment. Not the fulfillment of feeling fulfilled, but of fulfilling that which now falls to you.

On Jews in America:

But instead of driving, Irv turned to press the point from which he’d strayed: “Here’s the deal: the world population of Jews falls within the margin of error of the Chinese census, and everyone hates us.”

Especially Jewish Americans, who will go to any length, short of practicing Judaism, to instill a sense of Jewish identity in their children.

On Israel:

All Tamir wanted to talk about was money—the average Israeli income, the size of his own easy fortune, the unrivaled quality of life in that fingernail clipping of oppressively hot homeland hemmed in by psychopathic enemies.

A child on his home life:

Sam knew that everything would collapse, he just didn’t know exactly how or when. His parents were going to get divorced and ultimately hate each other and spread destruction like that Japanese reactor. That much was clear, if not to them. He tried not to notice their lives, but it was impossible to ignore how often his dad fell asleep in front of the absence of news, how often his mom retreated into pruning the trees of her architectural models, how his dad started serving dessert every night, how his mom told Argus she “needed space” whenever he licked her, how devoted his mom had become to the Travel section, how his dad’s search history was all real estate sites, how his mom would put Benjy on her lap whenever his dad was in the room, the violence with which his dad began to hate spoiled athletes who don’t even try, how his mom gave three thousand dollars to the fall NPR drive, how his dad bought a Vespa in retaliation, the end of appetizers in restaurants, the end of the third bedtime story for Benjy, the end of eye contact.

[This is not a novel about divorce litigation. Foer describes a woman divorcing her husband in the winner-take-all jurisdiction of the District of Columbia but without striving to be the winner.]

A rich guy on his impending divorce:

“You’re right. We’re resolutely young. If we were seventy it would be different. Maybe even if we were sixty or fifty. Maybe then I’d say, This is who I am. This is my lot. But I’m forty-four. A huge portion of my life hasn’t happened. And the same is true for Jennifer. We realized we would be happier living other lives. That’s a good thing. Certainly better than pretending, or repressing, or just being so consumed with the responsibility of playing a part that you never question if it’s the part you would choose. I’m still young, Julia, and I want to choose happiness.” “Happiness?” “Happiness.” “Whose happiness?” “My happiness. Jennifer’s, too. Our happiness, but separately.” “While we pursue happiness, we flee from contentment.” “Well, neither my happiness nor contentment is with her. And her happiness definitely isn’t with me.” “Where is it? Under a sofa cushion?” “In fact, under her French tutor.” “Holy shit,” Julia said, bringing the knob to her forehead harder than she’d intended. “I don’t know why you’re having this reaction to good news.” “She doesn’t even speak French.” “And now we know why.”

Again, there is no litigation. This couple is together. Then they are divorced. (The French tutor idea is not original to Foer; a wife having sex with her language tutor instead of learning the language is in the 2000 remake of Bedazzled.)

The book is not as antic as Everything is Illuminated.

Why scrolling is important


A friend’s Facebook status, regarding the Boston Women’s March, as displayed in my browser:

125,000 people, a sea of pussy

Scrolling revealed that this was not the complete status. The continuation:

hats, colorful and creative signs…

Why you’ll get your next electronic device from Asia


Facebook friend’s status:

When you look at the huge crowds for the Women’s Marches everywhere, notice the seas of pink hats. Most are hand knitted or hand crocheted by marchers and their friends and supporters. It takes maybe four hours to knit a hat. Those seas represent tens of thousands of hours of commitment.

My response:

For every hour that an American spent knitting a hat or marching with an Asian-fabbed mobile phone in his or her pocket there was a corresponding Chinese, Taiwanese, or Korean citizen who spent the same hour studying semiconductor physics and integrated circuit fabrication.

I wonder where my next SSD will come from… (2014 fab capacity, by country; boring stats: there were more than 5 million engineering students in China in 2013, with the number doubling every 10 years)

Separately, my Facebook feed is full of people gloating that Barack Obama attracted larger crowds for his inauguration than Donald Trump did. But might this simply reflect the fact that Trump supporters have to work on a weekday? (the Federal government and D.C.-area schools shut down on inauguration days, so Democrats with government jobs are free to come down to the Mall without taking a vacation day; roughly 95 percent of federal employees supported Clinton)

Finally, the march here in Boston seems to have proved Donald Trump correct regarding the incompetence of U.S. local, state, and federal government. Despite soaking up 40-50 percent of GDP, the government couldn’t adapt to the forecast demand for transportation today by, e.g., adding extra trains. A guy (of course it was a guy!) from our suburb who had wanted to participate watched the commuter train, completely full, drive through the local station without stopping. He then tried to drive to Alewife and catch the Red Line but turned back when confronted by a multi-mile traffic jam. Was the challenge actually insurmountable? Supposedly there were roughly 100,000 people demonstrating in Boston. If half of them were residents of Boston/Cambridge that means 50,000 came into the city on this Saturday; the number of inbound commuters on a typical weekday in 2012 was 787,000 (Boston Globe).


  • this recent New Yorker article on how transit project costs to the U.S. taxpayer are “often five to six times higher here than in other developed countries.”

Will the women’s march have the opposite effect of what is intended?


My friends in Cambridge and the rest of the Boston area are excited about the Women’s March on Washington. I asked some what they were protesting, given that Donald Trump hasn’t actually done anything yet as president. One said that she was protesting him appointing the least qualified people imaginable to be cabinet secretaries.

Perhaps the assumption that the march is intended to have an effect on policy or Trump’s governance is incorrect. But let’s assume that the marchers want Trump to follow their instructions. Wouldn’t protesting the guy before he has done anything work against this goal? Couldn’t Trump reasonably infer from a protest prior to him taking any action that he will never win the support of these people and therefore there is no point in considering their point of view? (Kind of like Mitt Romney acknowledging that 47 percent of Americans could never be reached by a politician advocating for a smaller government and reduced handouts.)

(At a minimum, the march does promise some innovation in the English language: “I Stand with the Women’s March” (photo below from a child support profiteer’s temporary Facebook profile picture)



History of tax incentives for having kids


A couple of months ago I asked When and why did it become necessary to pay Americans to have children?

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg (professor at Louisiana State University) provides the answer: about 100 years ago. From the book:

[Teddy] Roosevelt was an unabashed eugenicist. He used the bully pulpit of his office to insist that women had a critical civic duty to breed a generation of healthy and disciplined children. He first endorsed eugenics in 1903, and two years later he laid out his beliefs in speech before the Congress of Mothers. Worried about “race suicide,” as he put it, he recommended that women of Anglo-American stock have four to six children, “enough so the race shall increase and not decrease.”

Because children produced by unfit parents could cost taxpayers if they became criminals, society had the right to protect itself. Far more dangerous was the cost to the nation’s human stock if degenerates were allowed to breed. In 1913, Roosevelt wrote supportively to the leading eugenicist Charles Davenport that it was the patriotic duty of every good citizen of superior stock to leave his or her “blood behind.” Degenerates, he warned, must not be permitted to “reproduce their kind.”50 It was during the eugenic craze that reformers called for government incentives to ensure better breeding. This was when the idea of tax exemptions for children emerged. Theodore Roosevelt criticized the new income tax law for allowing exemptions for only two children, discouraging parents from having a third or fourth. He wanted monetary rewards for breeding, akin to the baby bonuses established in Australia in 1912. He also promoted mothers’ pensions for widows—an idea that caught on. As one defender of pensions claimed in 1918, the widowed mother was “as much a servant of the State as a judge or general.” Her child-rearing duties were no less a public service than if she had toiled on the battlefield. Like Selective Service, which weeded out inferior soldiers, the pensions were allotted exclusively to “a fit mother.”

The author describes a group of Americans who mostly marry within their group and who have low academic and economic achievement that persists for centuries.

By the 1850s, poor whites had become a permanent class. As nonslaveholders, they described themselves as “farmers without farms.”

World War I fueled the eugenics campaign. …  The war advanced the importance of intelligence testing. Goddard had created the “moron” classification by using the Binet-Simon test, which was succeeded by the IQ (intelligence quotient) scale promoted by Stanford professor Lewis Terman and then used by the U.S. Army. The army’s findings only served to confirm a long-held, unpropitious view of the South, since both poor white and black recruits from southern states had the lowest IQ scores. Overall, the study found that the mean intelligence of the soldier registered at the moron level—the equivalent of a “normal” thirteen-year-old boy. Given the results, observers wondered if poor white men were dragging down the rest of the nation.

Throughout the book Professor Isenberg argues using proof by repeated assertion that there is no genetic component to this group’s failure to get educated, to get good jobs, to support liberal Democrats, etc.

Location is everything. Location determines access to a privileged school, a safe neighborhood, infrastructural improvements, the best hospitals, the best grocery stores. Upper- and middle-class parents instruct their children in surviving their particular class environment. They give them the appropriate material resources toward this end. But let us devote more thought to what Henry Wallace wrote in 1936: what would happen, he posed, if one hundred thousand poor children and one hundred thousand rich children were all given the same food, clothing, education, care, and protection? Class lines would likely disappear.

Statistical measurement has shown convincingly that the best predictor of success is the class status of one’s forebears. Ironically, given the American Revolutionaries’ hatred for Old World aristocracies, Americans transfer wealth today in the fashion of those older societies, while modern European nations provide considerably more social services to their populations. … Class wealth and privileges are a more important inheritance (as a measure of potential) than actual genetic traits.

This is some of the same rationale that leads legislators and judges to set up the family courts such that money is transferred, after a brief marriage, from a high-income litigant to a low-income one (see the Rationale chapter of Real World Divorce). Isenberg doesn’t reference The Son Also Rises, in which the economist author presents data suggesting that inheriting money from parents is a small factor in individual success. Successful parents tended to have successful children, but that was true whether they had 1 child who inherited everything or 10 children who shared the inheritance pie.

Yet she explains Dolly Parton’s achievements in terms of genetics:

Maureen Dowd quipped that Palin was a “country-music queen without the music.” She lacked the self-deprecating humor of Dolly Parton—not to mention the natural talent.

So there are no genes that relate to academic and career achievement, but Dolly Parton has “natural” (genetic?) talent and that is why people want to hear her sing and play the guitar?

The book also contains an economics lesson. It is not a poor education, lack of willingness to work hard, or mediocre skills that keep Americans from earning as much as folks in Singapore (CIA Factbook; we’re now behind Ireland too). Poverty could be practically eliminated, at no cost to taxpayers, by changing a single number:

a depressed minimum wage keeps millions in poverty

Roughly half of Americans are oppressed due to gender:

We know, too, that women historically have had fewer civil protections than corporations

(Did she test this theory by starting a corporation, sending it a bar to meet a married dermatologist, and then seeing if the corporation could collect a few $million in tax-free child support?)

Many of the remainder are oppressed by their own stupidity:

we have a large unbalanced electorate that is regularly convinced to vote against its collective self-interest. These people are told that East Coast college professors brainwash the young and that Hollywood liberals make fun of them and have nothing in common with them and hate America and wish to impose an abhorrent, godless lifestyle. The deceivers offer essentially the same fear-laden message that the majority of southern whites heard when secession was being weighed.

(but it is not genetics that accounts for their credulity in failing to vote for Democrats)

The One-Percenters are ruining it for everyone else:

In 2009, the 1 percent paid 5.2 percent of their income in state and local taxes, while the poorest 20 percent paid 10.9 percent. States penalized the poor with impunity.

(How can this calculation be performed? The poorest 20 percent of Americans would quality for subsidized public housing, food stamps, Medicaid or Obamacare, an Obamaphone, etc. (total average cost to taxpayers over $60,000) What is the “income” of a person who gets almost everything for free from the government?)

Conservative Americans are bad people:

Poor women lost state-funded abortions during the Carter years, and today they are proscribed from using welfare funds to buy disposable diapers. To modern conservatives, women are first and foremost breeders.

(Let’s assume that she is right about “conservatives” obstructing the purchase of diapers. If they are opposed to more babies, doesn’t this make them stupid? The source of this allegation against “conservatives” seems to be that food stamps or SNAP cannot be used to buy diapers or any other non-food item. But welfare moms who get TANF or similar cash benefits can in fact buy diapers with them (example from California).)

The evidence that Republicans are stupid and simplistic is remarkably strong:

Through a process of rationalization, people have long tended to blame failure on the personal flaws of individuals—this has been the convenient refrain of Republicans in Congress in the second decade of the twenty-first century, when former Speaker of the House John Boehner publicly equated joblessness with personal laziness.


Best alternative to Adobe Acrobat Pro?


Today has been a momentous day for me. I spent much of the morning watching a backlit LCD television screen anxiously waiting for updates… on the progress of setup of a Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 PC. I will always remember January 20, 2017 as the historic occasion on which I got my first 2-in-1 device.

This does lead to a question… what is a good alternative to Adobe Acrobat Pro? I subscribe to Adobe Creative Cloud, but it works on only two devices and I already have it set up on two desktop computers. The process of an individual adding a third device is simply not contemplated by Adobe (their support folks suggest creating a new email address and then setting up a second Adobe account).

I have never liked the interface of Acrobat Pro anyway. It always seems to take a few extra clicks to find the features that I actually use: OCR, clipping out sections to paste into Word or Google Docs, adding a signature or some other text to an existing PDF.

Is there an alternative to Acrobat Pro that has the above capabilities and can be purchased for a reasonable price, ideally with a more intuitive interface? I’m already paying Adobe about $700/year so I don’t want to go crazy with additional license fees.

Not sure how I am going to survive the next four years…


… said a guest at a party last month in a $5.11 million (Zillow estimate) Back Bay townhouse here in Boston, while drinking 20-year-old Napa Cabernet. Two other guests nodded in agreement.

King Donald the First’s Inauguration


Inauguration Day thoughts…

In terms of their separation from the public and the difference between their lives and that of a commoner, the American president seems more like a king than a citizen.

Surely there was an even wider disparity in the 18th-century days of monarchy, right? Wrong, says Catherine the Great (Massie):

No serious barriers were placed between the imperial family and the public; all parks in the capital and the nearby countryside were open to all who were “decently dressed.” This included the park at Tsarskoe Selo. One day, Catherine was seated on a bench with her favorite personal maid after their early morning walk. A man passed by, glanced briefly at the two elderly women, and, failing to recognize the empress, walked on, whistling. The maid was indignant, but Catherine merely remarked, “What do you expect, Maria Savichna? Twenty years ago this would not have happened. We have grown old. It is our fault.”

How about in the old days here in the U.S.?  Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People:

The president-elect [Thomas Jefferson] walked from his boardinghouse to the newly constructed Capitol as his predecessor, John Adams, slipped out of town. But the occasion was nevertheless momentous: power transferred peacefully from one political party to another for the first time in the history of the young United States. Jefferson had work to do. He was committed to cutting taxes, trimming the military, and scaling down government, but even as he favored a contraction of federal power, he was also committed to expanding opportunities for the country’s independent farmers.

Our own Congresswoman, Katherine Clark, won’t be attending the coronation (Boston Globe). She tweeted that “families in my district are fearful that the anti-woman, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and divisive promises that drove the Trump campaign will become the policies affecting the health and safety of every American.” As she ran unopposed and “won re-election by default” (Ballotpedia), it is tough to know why she bothered to explain her decision to do something else today. Her constituents were surely not under the impression that she supported a Republican president. Was it to remind people that she is “pro-woman, pro-immigrant, and pro-Muslim”? Or that she is demonstrating her passion for inclusion (and against “divisiveness”) by boycotting an event where people who disagree with her will be present?

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