Valley of the Dolls: Perceptions of Age


Amazon says that Valley of the Dolls was one of the “100 books to read in a lifetime”. So I decided to give it a chance. The action takes place between about 1945 and 1965. What were perceptions of age back in 1966, the time of the book’s publication?

Let’s consider college. Today parents hold their kids back one year so that they will have an edge in K-12. Then Ivy League schools tell boring public school graduates to take a gap year before showing up. The American who enters college may thus be 20 years old. What about back then? The character Anne is a 20-year-old Radcliffe graduate:

He glanced at the form the agency had sent along. “Twenty years old and a B.A. in English, eh? Radcliffe. But no office experience. Now tell me, what good is this fancy background going to do around here? Can it help me handle a bitch like Helen Lawson or get a drunken bum like Bob Wolfe to turn in a weekly radio script on time? Or convince some fag singer to leave the Johnson Harris office and let me handle his affairs?”

A woman in her 30s is getting kind of old:

Sure, Tony thought [a 25-year-old] was twenty. But once he saw a girl who was really nineteen or twenty she might look a little beat

[a beautiful actress/model] was almost twenty-seven, and soon it would begin to show

Her figure was beginning to show signs of middle age — the thickness through the waist, the slight spread in the hips. Recalling Helen’s appearance in the past, Anne felt as if she were gazing at the cruel distortion of a monument. Age settled with more grace on ordinary people, but for celebrities — women stars in particular — age became a hatchet that vandalized a work of art. Helen’s figure had always been her biggest asset.

“You’re thirty-one. That’s late for children.”

Certainly 35 is too old to have a baby:

She was thirty-five — Good Lord, thirty-five! How did it happen? You felt the same inside, but suddenly you were thirty-five and time was racing on. One year blended into another. So much had happened — and yet so little. She had blown her chance for the great love and for children.

A star in her late 30s or early 40s is “Old Ironsides.”

Men in their 50s are portrayed as grandfathers and too old for high-quality sex:

Helen yawned. “Funny, about a year ago we went out. I was depressed, so Henry came home with me. And we decided to try it for old times sake. Nothing! I couldn’t pretend, and Henry couldn’t get it up. Well, after all, Henry’s getting on — he’s in his fifties. I guess it’s not easy to put starch in his lob.”

“Go back to your handholding,” he said nonchalantly. “Don’t let me stop you. Hell, you’re both young, enjoy it. I mean it — when you’re young you think you’ll always be young. Then one day you suddenly wake up and you’re over fifty. And the names in the obituary columns are no longer anonymous old people. They’re your contemporaries and friends.”

Nobody over 60 was worth including in the novel.

What about weight? An actress about 40 lbs. above what we would consider ideal is described by contemporaries in the novel as “a large mass of blubber”,a “blimp,” or “fat as a pig.” On the subject of sex with the otherwise beautiful 32-year-old, a character responds with “Good God, who would want her?”

More: Read Valley of the Dolls

How long is USPS mail forwarding supposed to add to delivery time?



We set up mail forwarding from one Boston suburb to another. Mail is taking an extra 2-4 weeks to be delivered. A first-class regular letter postmarked in Ohio January 3, for example, had a yellow forwarding label added with a date of January 18. It arrived some days later at our final destination address.

How is this supposed to work?

Should everyone be glad that judges have blocked Donald Trump’s restrictions on entry to the U.S.?


Donald Trump seems to be having trouble from the judicial branch in implementing executive orders aimed at restricting entry to the U.S. Presumably folks who were opposed to these orders are happy about this roadblock. I’m wondering if even people who support Trump’s attempted policies should also be happy about this.

As Hawaiians and Native Americans can attest, immigration can completely change the character of a country and the experience of life as a citizen. Why would we want to let one person, however wise (Obama!) or unwise (the hated King Donald) make decisions regarding what kind of a country we will have in 2050 or 2100?

Should Congress figure this out and limit the authority of Presidents to make massive changes via executive order?

Instead of experiencing dramatic unplanned changes, why not get a political consensus around two main points:

  • how large a population do we want to have?
  • what kind of fellow citizens do we want to share the country with?

Most of our population growth is driven by immigration either directly or through the higher fertility of the immigrants we have accepted (Pew). If we increase immigration we can accelerate our growth from 325 million up to 600 million or perhaps even 1.35 billion (works for the Chinese, right? They don’t have any more land than we do.). If we shut off immigration entirely we could perhaps hold at somewhere between 325 million and 400 million. If we eliminate immigration and tax incentives to native-born Americans to have children, we could gradually restore the U.S. to the level of crowding circa 1970 when 200 million folks occupied this land (plus roughly 1 million Native Americans, who could not be considered “occupiers”).

There is no rational fact-driven approach to determining a “correct” population size, which is why it would make sense to decide it via a political process. Some people value solitude, open space, and affordable real estate. Others might prefer a society packed with interesting people to talk to and are happy to live in 300-square-foot studio apartments.

What about the Jihad/no-Jihad choice that Trump highlights? Maybe that is the wrong question.

Let’s start with economics. We owe $19 trillion and want someone else to work to pay it back. In light of The Son Also Rises, if we want successful people in our population we can give priority to immigrants from the most successful economies worldwide and to immigrants who come from exceptionally successful families (look at parents, aunts/uncles, grandparents, siblings).

There’s more to life than money, right? What could be more important than being surrounded by happy people? We can give priority to immigrants from any country ranked as happier than the U.S. and be more selective about immigrants from comparatively unhappy countries. (Note that at least one study shows that people in Syria and Yemen are extremely unhappy and therefore a heavy weight toward this factor would accomplish the same thing as Trump’s proposed restrictions.)

How about political stability? To judge by Facebook, at least half of Americans express terror on a daily basis regarding the consequences of perceived political instability under the Trump Administration. Why not give priority to immigrants from countries with a long history of political stability?

Facebookers are also prone to complaining that a lot of Americans don’t respect science and scientists. Instead of tearing ourselves away from the TV to study, we could give priority to immigrants from those countries whose 15-year-old citizens scored well in science on the PISA test. Alternatively, we could seek immigrants from countries with higher numbers of scientific publications published per capita (it might work out to more or less the same countries).

Crime makes people unhappy. Why not give priority to immigrants from countries that have a low crime rate?

The above are simply examples. My point is that we have a representative government. Why not let our representatives in Congress decide explicitly what the population should be and what kind of people we would hope to attract? Have the population size be an input to immigration policy rather than an unexpected output. Have at least some of the personal characteristics of the “new Americans” be a goal rather than a surprise.

Maybe this can be wrapped up with a Constitutional Amendment that tweaks the Fourteenth Amendment so that it is no longer enough simply to be born on U.S. soil.

Readers: What do you think?


Installing an SSD in an old Dell XPS 27


We had an original 2011 Dell XPS 27 all-in-one computer that was absurdly slow to boot and then, once booted, spent 10-20 minutes grinding away at 100 percent disk updating Dropbox, Microsoft antivirus definitions, Windows updates, etc. (I’m not sure that the latest Dell products would be any better; most of them proudly ship with mechanical hard drives and can’t even be configured from the factory with SSDs.)

It was time either to pull an Elvis (gunshot to the screen) or replace the sluggish mechanical drive with an SSD. How to avoid reinstalling everything? The motherboard has an mSATA slot that had held a 32 GB SSD for cache. We disabled this from the Intel Rapid Storage Technology software. Then we opened up the case (two screws) and removed an internal system board shield (eight screws?) and the mSATA (two screws). The new mSATA 1 TB drive from Amazon (about $300) went in and the machine started right up.

We installed the free version of Macrium Reflect and cloned the hard drive to the SSD while the system was running(!). Maybe the disk cloning software understands NTFS journaling and is taking a consistent point-in-time snapshot of the hard drive? The mechanical hard drive contained about 330 GB of information and the cloning process took approximately 2 hours. After that, it booted right up from the SSD!

What better Valetine’s Day gift to a loved one than 20 extra minutes per day not waiting for a 7200 rpm drive to spin around?


California Democrat wants Trump to send FEMA to help with the Oroville Dam


A Bay Area friend who campaigned for Bernie in the primary and then flew to Ohio as a volunteer for Hillary before the general election just called. He is concerned that Donald Trump won’t send FEMA to help out with any issues that arise from the failure of the Oroville Dam. He had previously advocated for California to secede and thus place itself beyond the reach of the Trump Dictatorship (TM).

The Wikipedia page on the dam says

Built by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), Oroville Dam is one of the key features of the California State Water Project (SWP), one of two major projects passed that set up California’s statewide water system.

If the state could build the dam to begin with and now has a population of 39 million people and a state government budget of over $211 billion (2015 data; it grew 16.5 percent over 2014), why do they need the Great Father in Washington to come to their rescue? And if in fact they can’t handle this problem, how would the pro-secession folks propose that the 39 million Californians handle more serious problems going forward?

Organized religion in the U.S. is now a divisive force?


The most popular church in our Boston suburb contains bulletin boards filled with messages about sanctuary for illegal immigrants, a trip for parishioners to the “borderland” of Arizona where hands-on aid to migrants will be administered, and some stuff on how to oppose potential initiatives by Donald Trump. A friend who sings in the choir says that every week the sermon is about the merits of diversity and inclusion. (Which is why these folks decided to live in one of the whitest towns in one of the whitest states? The pastor delivering the sermons cannot be accused of hypocrisy. He identifies as a gay man. He and his husband have adopted two black children.)

A friend went to the Boston Women’s March (a protest against the existence of Donald Trump? Or that there were Americans who voted for him?) on a schoolbus chartered by a religious group in a different suburb. I asked if it would be possible for someone to stand up in his group and say “I voted for Trump because he promised to eliminate the estate tax and I want my children to inherit all of the money that I have saved and already paid taxes on.” The answer was a resounding “no.” Such a person would not be motivated to join nor would he or she be welcome. “You have to remember that I’m already an unconventional member,” he said, citing the fact that he lives with a person who identifies as a woman and their two biological children. “A more typical family is a lesbian couple with an adopted black child.”

Maybe it is just Massachusetts, but I’m wondering if organized religion has become force for division and if this is new. In the days when pretty much every American had to go to church, and religion was much more powerful than party affiliation, wouldn’t it then be common for parishioners to have differing political beliefs? The sermon would focus on individual sins and how to avoid them? Today, however, maybe the political beliefs are actually the religion (e.g., government-run health care will make us healthier and more prosperous; government spending will boost the economy; growing the population via immigration is a moral imperative; etc.). So a modern-day church is a venue for people with shared political beliefs to congregate and discuss the sins of those who don’t share their political beliefs. This leaves the workplace (for those who haven’t discovered the miracles of SSDI and/or child support) as the only place in American society where people with differing political views might come together on a regular basis?

Why isn’t it the government’s job to figure out who is a citizen?


“Illegal Voting Gets Texas Woman 8 Years in Prison, and Certain Deportation” (nytimes) came out just before I went to the airport and got on a United Airlines flight (thanks to the flight attendant who offered me cough drops when I asked for hot water and lemon due to a sore throat).

When I showed up at the airport, United was able to look at my ID and figure out whether or not I was a customer.

The unfortunate subject of the above-referenced article was given the task of self-certifying her eligibility to vote (“be a customer” of the government?). It turns out that this is not straightforward due to the fact that in some jurisdictions non-citizens are able to vote in at least state or local elections (Wikipedia). The only ways to become a citizen are by being in the U.S., in which case the government is supposed to issue a birth certificate, or by being naturalized, a process controlled by the government. Wouldn’t it make sense for the government to operate more like United Airlines? Find out who the person is and then offer him or her the appropriate level of voting?

[Separately, though my heart was saddened by the story of a basically harmless person going to prison for 8 years (many of the Germans who attended the Wannsee Conference were given shorter sentences), my brain was drawn to the fact that “she has a sixth-grade education.” How is the U.S. economy supposed to grow, on a per capita basis, when our population growth comes from people with sixth-grade educations? (Ms. Ortega, age 37, had a higher-than-average fertility: “Her four children, ages 13 to 16..”; she also had a 27-year-old fiancé, according to the article, so a few more kids might have been forthcoming.)]

Readers: What do you think? Instead of fighting about “voter fraud” why not use a system where the only way to commit “voter fraud” would be by assuming someone else’s identity?

Alternative formulation: If United Airlines doesn’t rely on self-certification (“I am pretty sure that I paid for a ticket!”) before taking you to Chicago, why does it make sense for the government to rely on self-certification when it is time to determine who will run the government?


  • Texas family law (shows the potential child support profits available to the single parent of four kids; they would be more than twice as lucrative if from four different fathers, assuming all had the same income, though capped at a maximum of about $82,000 per year (tax-free))

Making $19,000 per year and living in Hilton Garden Inns is depressing


End-of-Obamacare fears a good illustration of why government has to grow?


My Facebook friends are expressing literal terror at the prospect of the repeal of Obamacare. Without Obamacare there will apparently be no health care services available at all to some of the richest people on the planet. I think it is kind of interesting for what it reveals about how people think about government and government programs.

Nobody asks “How did Americans survive from 1630(ish) through 1965 when there was no Medicare or Medicaid?” or “How did Americans survive from 1630 through 2013 when there was no Obamacare?”

It is sort of the same thing with the federal Department of Education, created by Jimmy Carter in 1979. The assumption seems to be that U.S. states, most of which have populations larger than countries with successful education systems (see Finland, for example, with 5.5 million people), couldn’t possibly run schools without federal assistance.

Given the paranoid psychology of so many U.S. voters, terrified that a fairly new government program might be discontinued, can we conclude that growth of government is inevitable? We have a mechanism for creating new programs and handouts, but no way to shut down an old one.

Does our modern electronic age doom us to dishonest politicians?


In the old days a successful politician could say, well, impolitic things and then, after a bit of reflection, write a more delicate and filtered version. Voters would see only the written version. Today, however, a huge percentage of the time a politician is being recorded electronically. A minor slip can be replayed on national TV 20 years later by an opponent.

Thus the only people who are practically qualified to be politicians are those who managed to filter every spoken sentence before it goes out. “Frankly, we do give a damn: The relationship between profanity and honesty” (Feldman, et al. 2016; Social Psychological and Personality Science) says that people who use profanity are more likely to be honest.

Ergo we will elect an increasing percentage of liars?

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