Jews should oppose the nomination of Bernie Sanders?


As noted in “Minority group members in positions of power increase prejudice?”, people express sometimes unhappiness with an entire group when an individual in power does something that they don’t like. I’m wondering if Bernie Sanders being elected to the Presidency would result in a huge increase in hatred directed toward American Jews. Nobody likes paying the current 40-50% tax rates (federal plus state). Imagine how outraged they will be when a Jew president cranks up the rates to 90%.

There is already a fair amount of acceptance for any statement blaming Jews for whatever is upsetting a non-Jew. Here’s an example from Jimmy Carter, Nobel Peace laureate writing in the NYT about “A Five Nation Plan to End the Syrian Crisis”:

Before the revolution began in March 2011… Because of many complex reasons, he was supported by his military forces, most Christians, Jews, Shiite Muslims, Alawites and others who feared a takeover by radical Sunni Muslims.

Wikipedia says that the “Jews” Former President Carter was talking about numbered 50 in 2011 and 22 in May 2012 (the last significant group having departed in 1992). What have those 22 Jews done for Assad that merits a mention in the New York Times? This article says that “all are elderly without family abroad and living in a building adjoining the (only work) synagogue in Damascus.” Apparently no editor at the New York Times was willing to ask Mr. Carter “Is an old Jew using a walker a substantial threat to ISIS?”

Best resources for learning Russian?


I’ve decided to defrost my brain, which was last used at some point in the 1990s. One of the tasks that I am setting for this previously idle organ is learning the Russian language. I would appreciate tips from readers on the best materials. Textbooks? Rosetta Stone? Apps? For correcting pronunciation and conversational practice, I have more or less full-time access to native speakers. I don’t need to be able to read, though perhaps that is helpful for learning to speak and listen?

(Note that I don’t want to go to a face-to-face class due to the travel time and scheduling that would be involved, though I guess it would be worth hearing from readers who’ve tried self-study and also a traditional class.)

Thanks in advance for any advice!

European readers: How do you understand the Paris attacks? How will it affect you?


Deepest sympathies, of course, to anyone living in Paris or otherwise directly affected by the recent attacks. Not much more can be productively said, I don’t think, from 5,500 kilometers away.

This posting is really a question for European readers. Please comment on how you understand these events. Are they part of a trend or grand plan? If so, how does life in France or Europe change?

Americans: How does the Web format of today’s newspapers strike you when an event like this occurs? In the old print world, coverage of a tragedy like this would occupy the entire front page and the reader wouldn’t be asked to contemplate the diurnal or trivial as well as the tragic. The site, however, has the news from Paris sharing with summaries of and links to articles such as “In Ireland, Milk Chocolate Reigns,” “Build Your Thanksgiving Feast,” a piece on fantasy sports, “Meet the Instamom, a Social Media Stage Mom,” etc.



The Latin American flavor of U.S. politics


The debate this evening among Democrats could, if translated into Spanish, easily be mistaken for one occurring in Latin America. One candidate is the spouse of a former president. All candidates promise an expansion of government and an increase in handouts to the popular masses (to be paid for by taxes on those who have unjustly become rich).

“America’s Fragile Constitution” is an enlightening Atlantic magazine article on the parallel political systems operating in the Americas. While the rest of the world mostly operates with a parliamentary system, in which one party takes responsibility for running the government, the U.S. has a presidential system that closely resembles a monarchy. Who else has done this?

Since the american Revolution, many new democracies have taken inspiration from the U.S. Constitution. Around much of the world, parliamentary systems became prevalent, but some countries, particularly in Latin America, adopted the presidential model, splitting power between an executive and a legislative branch.

When, in 1985, a Yale political scientist named Juan Linz compared the records of presidential and parliamentary democracies, the results were decisive. Not every parliamentary system endured, but hardly any presidential ones proved stable. “The only presidential democracy with a long history of constitutional continuity is the United States,” Linz wrote in 1990. This is quite an uncomfortable form of American exceptionalism.

So lay out the pupusashumita, and empanadas for your guests tonight…

[Separately, when listening to Bernie Sanders, these words may be helpful:

“Probably the greatest harm done by vast wealth is the harm that we of moderate means do ourselves when we let the vices of envy and hatred enter deep into our own natures.” — Theodore Roosevelt, 1902.

“I cried because I had no Gulfstream G650 until I met a man who had to fly a turboprop” — attributed to Al Gore, boarding one of his chartered Gulfstream G550s.


Drones in controlled airspace


On the same day, one friend posted video captured by his personal drone over downtown Boston, 3.2 statute miles from the center of Logan Airport, while another posted a video captured by his personal drone (from Costco!) over his backyard, about 2 miles from the center of Hanscom Field. The downtown Boston pilot said that he relied on his DJI software to warn him about restricted airspace. The DJI map shows that the protected zones around KBOS and KBED are essentially the airport perimeter fence. I.e., they don’t incorporate any knowledge about charted FAA airspace (see for a full selection of VFR charts). A towered (Class D) airport typically owns a ring of about 5 statute miles around the airport, from the surface up to 2500′ above the ground. A Class B airport such as Boston Logan owns a ring of about 9 miles down to the surface.

[One area that DJI does seem to have blocked out very conservatively is the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, essentially all of which is now a no-fly zone.]

Plainly one can toss a soccer ball up into the air from one’s backyard, even if it falls within the surface area of a Class D or Class B airport. And perhaps one could fly a radio-controlled toy helicopter 20′ above the ground? When is approval from an FAA control tower required? My efforts to figure this out were unsuccessful. My contacts at our local FAA FSDO weren’t immediately sure of the answer. A friend who is a NASA expert on UAVs in controlled airspace gave an answer that was so long-winded and complex as to be unactionable. The clearest FAA web site on the subject seems to be and it says “strongly encouraged.”

What do you get when you combine tourists with Sub-Arctic conditions?


The New Yorker has a good story about the emergency response system in Iceland: “Life is Rescues.” Highly recommend for fans of things Polar.

Pew Research on division of labor in the home


A Pew Research study on domestic time allocation has some interesting data on two-career American families.

While politicians are saying that being a parent is “incredibly challenging” (previous post) and therefore higher-income parents need to be showered with government handouts funded by taxes on the lower-income childless, the majority of survey respondents said that it was either “easier” or “no different” to seek career advancement while parenting.

A New York Times article on this study also references “The Production of Inequality: The Gender Division of Labor Across the Transition to Parenthood”, a 2015 paper from the Journal of Marriage and Family (funded with your tax dollars by the National Science Foundation, but of course you don’t have the right to download or read it). In two-career house households,  compared to women the men did more hours per week of “paid work” and fewer hours per week of “child care.” (The authors seem to be fully up on modern gender theory so I am kind of surprised that they have only these two gender categories and also that they didn’t find out who in the survey sample had changed gender one or more times during the study.)

The three academics who wrote the study pretty much ensured that men would come up short on the childcare front by picking a sample of couples expecting their first child and surveying them just before the birth and then at a point when the child was 9 months old. Where the paper says “child care” what was actually surveyed is “infant care.” Consider also our society’s obsession with breastfeeding for a full year, especially for the first child, and I am not sure why we had to bleed tax dollars to learn that it was the mom who spent more time with the infant.

If we consider that the median fertility of an American woman is 2 ( and that a child is a pre-verbal infant for at most two years, the study mostly sheds light on gender roles during 4 years out of 80 years of a woman’s expected life (i.e., covers 5 percent of an American woman’s life; 2.5 percent if you want to restrict to the breastfeeding phase).

Just how onerous is it to have a 9-month-old in diapers around the house? “Physical child care” occupied the two adults for a total of 25 hours per week. Add in “child engagement” (“look at that amazing explosion on TV, Junior!”) for another 11 hours per week.

Readers would be disappointed if there weren’t an analysis of the economics here. Suppose that the typical 9-month-old of the survey were the result of a one-night encounter in a Massachusetts bar with a dentist earning $250,000 per year. The after-tax revenue yield from obtaining custody of that child would be $40,000 per year (based on our interviews with litigators, the loser parent is typically ordered to pay the child’s actual expenses on top of this child support guideline amount). That’s based on the winner parent taking care of the child 2/3rds of the time, which would correspond to 16.65 hours per week of physical child care. That’s an after-tax wage of $46 per hour. The cash economy wage for taking care of someone else’s child is $15 per hour and thus it is straightforward to earn 3X as much for taking care of one’s own biological child. Another point of comparison is that the median hourly pre-tax wage in Massachusetts is $21.50/hour (BLS) and thus it is also possible to earn roughly 3X as much for taking care of one’s own child as it is for going out into the W2 workforce.

[The above analysis  is probably incorrect because it is based on child care inputs by a married couple. Previous studies have shown that working single mothers invest less time in their children than working married mothers (I’m not aware of any study looking at time investment by single fathers). So the wage would be higher than the above calculation suggests. And if an older child required less care than a 9-month-old, the wage would also rise over time. This 2014 Pew study, which aggregates care of children of all ages under 18, found that single working mothers spend only 10 hours per week on child care. Their wage, assuming that they had sex in Massachusetts with a partner earning $250,000/year and that they had sex with a different partner for each child, would be roughly $77 per hour (tax-free) per child, i.e., $154 per hour if two children can be cared for simultaneously.]

The authors conclude, from looking at a snapshot of family life when the child is 9 months old, “the stalled gender revolution suggests that women’s gains in the marketplace have slowed and that women continue to lag behind men economically, in part because they are unable to pursue their careers in the same manner as men because of uneven unpaid work responsibilities” and “that parenthood remains an important barrier to a complete gender revolution.” Given the (1) high percentage of American children who are born out of wedlock, (2) the tendency of children to grow out of the 9-month-old breastfeeding-and-diapers stage, and (3) the number of marriages with children that are terminated by the mother suing the father for divorce, I wonder if this conclusion is justified. If the authors are right in their implication that women are getting a raw deal out of marriage, aren’t we forced to conclude that a lot of American women are behaving irrationally, at least from an economic perspective?

Birth control, abortion, and sterilization are widely available; why would American women give birth if the result is exploitation by a man? Why are women agreeing to get married? Given that nearly all live in a legal environment in which no-fault divorce is available, profitable child support is available, and women win more than 90 percent of custody lawsuits, why wouldn’t women terminate their marriages once they wised up to what a raw deal it was? What enables American men to lure women into this trap and then keep them there? If men in some more enlightened country are better partners, why wouldn’t American women seek to emigrate to that country and marry a man there? And, finally, in our world in which gender reassignment surgery may be paid for by an employer or health insurer and where people are encouraged to talk about their unconventional sexual preferences… why would a heterosexual woman choose to continue to identify as such? Why continue voluntarily as a member of an exploited class?

[On the other hand, even if we accept the study’s conclusions, perhaps American women are not behaving entirely irrationally economically when you factor in divorce litigation statistics. A lot of women sue their husbands when the youngest child is 2 years old and thus easier to place into commercial care. The result of a quickie marriage+divorce is often less child support profit than could have been obtained from one-night encounters with higher-income men, but (a) some hands-on assistance during the early years of child-rearing, (b) ownership of a fully setup house, (c) greater likelihood that the father will take care of the child(ren) at least every other weekend, thus freeing up a lot of leisure time for the mother. On the third hand, having escaped economic exploitation by Husband #1, a lot of divorce plaintiffs end up marrying Husband #2, thus suggesting that there is something beneficial to women in the condition of marriage+children (if not marriage to the father of those children).]

Access to public records in Massachusetts


“Mass. among the worst in US for public records access; An ‘F’ for state on open records” from the November 9, 2015 Boston Globe:

The state earned a grade of F and ranked 40th, below states such as Mississippi and Arkansas, in the category of public records access, according to the Center for Public Integrity…

The center described public access to state documents in Massachusetts as “terrible,” citing in part the fact that the Legislature, judiciary, and governor’s office are exempt from the open records law, which was passed in 1973. The Globe has reported that Massachusetts is the only state in the country with such a wide exemption.



Stream of consciousness commentary on the movie San Andreas


Facebook postings in chronological order:

  • Watching San Andreas movie on JetBlue. Opening scene has them trying to rescue a woman whose car is teetering on the side of a cliff. They park the Huey in an out of ground effect hover right over the car and yet the rotor wash does not simply push the car down into the gulch. I am beginning to think this is a purely fictional work.
  • Now the rich douchebag real estate developer has his private jet land at KOAK instead of KSFO when going to downtown SF. Further difficulty suspending disbelief.
  • Their buildings are falling down but they still have great Internet connectivity.
  • There is nobody standing in line to pay $5 for a cup of drip coffee. Definitely not filmed on location.
  • I am not even sure that the Rock is sitting in the correct seat. He is supposed to be the senior pilot. I thought aircraft commander typically sits left seat in a Huey. Of course half the time he seems to be simply abandoning the pilot seats in order to run the hoist or whatever.
  • Others seem to have the same questions:
  • Girl whose mom abandoned her dad for the rich douchebag is now expressing surprise that the rich douchebag abandoned her.
  • Huey seems to be proceeding to SF from LA with no fuel stop. Maybe there will be an autorotation.
  • The ragged out military surplus Huey seems to be as quiet as a library for conversation.
  • Gearbox failed. Major failure to maintain attitude during the auto. Worse than beginner R22 student chasing needles. (Saved perhaps by the massive amount of rotor inertia in a Huey, though in some of the shots it looked as though the collective was still up next to the seat during the purported auto.)
  • They are supposedly getting fuel for their airplane but they are still in a hangar (no ISO 9001 for this airport) and there is no fuel truck or line guy.
  • Why is there a tsunami if the earthquake was along an inland fault?
  • is more comprehensive

Why do they show this movie on flights to SFO? (And thanks, JetBlue, for the free WiFi!)

An Engineer’s Veterans Day


Plenty of folks are writing about the sacrifices of life and limb made by U.S. military veterans. I’m grateful but don’t have anything original to add so I thought I would write a note of appreciation for the contributions made by military design engineers (as distinct from “military engineers” who may have built impressive roads, etc.).

Gerry Sussman, one of my advisors at MIT, liked to point out how the N connector and BNC connector were compatible in an emergency, something that he attributed to engineers designing for military use.

World War II was also a great time for military-driven innovation in aircraft and avionics, still paying peacetime dividends, but it is tough to pinpoint specific design engineers who were actually in the military and separate their accomplishments from those working for contractors. For example, I’m pretty sure that someone in the U.S. Air Force was responsible for our country’s early lead in integrated circuits, but I can’t figure out who it was (see this history of Texas Instruments for “while the U.S. Air Force showed some interest in TI’s integrated circuit, industry reacted skeptically.”; see also Wikipedia).

That’s my Veteran’s Day message: Thanks to the engineers inside the U.S. military who pushed for technology that all of us can now use on a daily basis.

Readers: Can you think of specific active duty U.S. military service members who contributed to technology?

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