Saturday, February 21, 2015

freight train (poem)

It's next to me
Only a few feet away
My heartbeat speeds
A bit
It's blue
At least the cars I see
It's a freight train
I'm in a passenger train
Almost close enough to touch
If the windows would open
Trains pass so near
Confined by their rails
Startling sometimes
Freight trains fascinate
Their length
No windows
The mysterious, dark coal
That's often in their open cars
Their race along
Frozen wastes
To parts unknown
For purposes unknown
So often nocturnal here
Something vaguely horrific
As if, perhaps, a ghost story
Might attach to them.
But maybe this one
Is only a construction train
A more boring creature
More frequently seen in the day

Friday, February 13, 2015

In response to @TheEconomist allegations of meritocracy in the USA

The Economist has run an opinion piece about an alleged meritocracy in the USA.

I strongly disagree with this piece, and wish to memorialize my disagreement at length.

At first blush, one might have thought my ex and I were the sort to produce rather prodigious children, but it hasn’t worked out that way at all.  My children are mentally ill, and, tho highly intelligent, are almost completely dysfunctional.

Let’s start with my ex and me.  I have an undergraduate degree and graduate degree from Ivy League institutions, with good marks from both.  My ex has an undergraduate degree from an ivy League college and a graduate degree from an almost equally prestigious university.  We both grew up in upper middle class families. My parents both had graduate degrees and my father was highly respected in academia.  My ex’s father was also a graduate of an Ivy League institution, who had a successful job, and my ex’s mom was a stay-at-home mom.  Tho she did not complete college, she was highly intelligent and articulate.  My brother also has undergraduate and graduate degrees from highly respected institutions. My ex has two siblings with graduate degrees — and the other two both have college degrees.

So why aren’t our kids doing as well as we did?

1. Research shows that older fathers are more likely to conceive children with ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and Bipolar.  Older grandfathers also have higher instances of such issues in their grandchildren. My ex was 36 and 39 when my kids were conceived.  My father was 40 and 42 when my I and my brother were conceived.  I suspect that couples who are academically and financially successful are more likely to have children later in life, which can enlarge the likelihood of such problems.  My kids both have mild autism spectrum disorders.  The younger one has ADHD and depression as well.

2. I believe that autism spectrum disorders are inheritable.  I see them in myself, my parents, my kids, my ex, and much of my ex’s family.  Both of my kids have them. I noticed neurological issues in my older son from birth — and he was born at home, so there were no vaccines for the first six weeks — yet he was showing neurological issues then (arching away from me when he cried, crying to be put down, preferring to be carried facing away from me, unable to mold his body to mine)

It seems to me that academically successful people are more likely to have autistic features.  Autistic features make it easier to have the attention to detail and focus necessary for academic success.  When academically successful people meet in college and have children together, they are more likely to concentrate inheritable autistic features in their children.

3. I still have a concern that my decision to work when my kids were young may have hurt them.  My mom didn’t and my ex’s mom didn’t.  I wonder how much kids would be different if i had stayed home.  Granted I was not of the sort, emotionally, to be happy doing that and my older son infuriated me a great deal, so I might have abused him if I were stuck alone with him.  Still I wonder.

4. Successful people live in larger houses.  Larger houses reduce the amount of contact between parents and children.  My ex noticed this when he moved out to a two bedroom apartment.  In the smaller, space he was better able to supervise the kids than he had been in the house.  When I was on the second floor, I had no clue at all what my kids were doing in the basement.  Granted, I would not have left them alone before they were five, but afterwards they might have been out of my sight and still in the house. I suspect that less financially successful families have mentally healthier kids, because the kids are in closer proximity to the parents more of the time. 

Indeed we see quite often that the children of the rich have serious psychological problems.  I suspect that this large house business is a factor.

5. Having successful parents is intimidating.  I found this with my father, who was such a successful academic.  I never felt I would be able to measure up to him — so, even tho I had the smarts, I probably sabotaged myself, so that I didn’t.  With my kids it was even worse.  My younger son felt so intimidated by my ex’s and my academic successes that he continually sabotaged himself to the point where he could not function at all.

6. History shows it is not so.

Also, historically, it has never been the case that highly successful people had children who were as successful as they were. 

When I studied Chinese history, I learned that they had a meritocracy under the emperors.  I also learned that it was vanishingly rare for those with high success on the imperial exams to have children with similar levels of success.

Also, learning about corporate history in two companies I worked for, I discovered that successful corporations develop something called “Third Generation Problems.” The founder builds the company.  In many cases, the first generation of offspring can continue to build the corporation; however, in general, the second generation of offspring are not competent to run a large corporation.  This is a well-documented phenomenon.

In conclusion, then, I disagree strongly with this recent article alleging a growing meritocracy in the USA.  I would use more pithy terminology to describe the meritocracy thesis, but I want to sound respectable.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Hillary phenomenon

The first that I heard that Hillary Clinton might be running for President was from conservatives.  They said she was running, that she was extremely liberal, that she would be awful.  They painted her as some kind of demon, really.

I’m going to call her “Hillary,” even though that sounds sexist, when politicians are usually called by their last name, because, otherwise, you cannot tell if I am talking about her or Bill.

I was amused that they portrayed her as so much more conservative than Rudy Giuliani when he was running against her for Senate.  Giuliani is a New York City Republican.  I found it dubious that a New York City Republican is more conservative than an Arkansas Democrat. 

My suspicions were confirmed, when I started seeing photos of him dancing in drag in a chorus line on a New York City stage, in an outfit that left his legs essentially bare.  I thought of those conservative Republican housewives in Kansas who had been induced to donate money to him because allegedly he was the conservative choice and wondered what they would make of these photos. 

Then of course there was the fact that he was publicly cohabiting with his girlfriend prior to his divorce being official — and publicly stated that it was o.k., because his medical condition rendered him impotent, so he couldn’t have sex with her — as if that made a difference or we wanted to hear it.  I again thought of those conservative rural housewives and wondered what they would make of this.

I suspect they were not feeling too happy about the people who told them that Giuliani was conservative.

Yet, this continued.  Conservative fundraisers would decry the allegedly liberal Clinton and drum up donations from those who did not know better.

But, equally, liberals started thinking she must be great if the conservatives were making such a commotion against her.

She was eventually elected senator, because Giuliani had health issues that forced him to drop his campaign.  He was radioactive, as I recall. That was different: the radioactive candidate.

But the chorus about her being so liberal and contemplating a presidential run continued. 

Whenever these rumors would circulate, the press would ask her if she was running — and you could see her thinking about it.  Would she have thought about it without the rumors?

And what was the motivation of the rumor mongers?

Once she became Senator, it immediately became clear that she was as middle of the road as they come and and as eager as could be to embrace causes that were non-controversial — like compensation for 9-11 victims.  Things that were more controversial were not on her agenda.

Kirsten Gillibrand, her successor, has been quite different, loudly proclaiming her belief in gay rights, for instance. 

In the Senate and as Secretary of State, Hillary became known for working quietly and effectively behind the scenes.  She earned the respect of everyone on both sides of the aisle and conservative Senators started acknowledging that she was someone they could work with.

I suspect that they knew that all along.  I suspect that they began decrying her alleged liberalness, just like Br’er Rabbit  told Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear that he did not want to be thrown into the briar patch.  He screamed that so loud and so often that they decided to do just what he stated he didn’t want, which was, in fact, what he did want.

For me, Hillary’s greatest weakness is lack of charisma.  Ultimately, it was lack of charisma that made her unpopular as Bill’s wife in Arkansas and what made her lose to Obama.  Curiously, Obama's charisma seems to have diminished since he became President, but still, I think he has more than she does.

Charisma gets people elected.  Sometimes commentators decry the cults of personality that seem to surround leaders, but I think it’s important for a President to have a great personality.  Charisma  helps a President get things done when interacting with others, and makes for a good impression in international negotiations.

Also, I feel that she has basically been a figment of the conservative imagination, the straw woman that they put up to distract us from someone who might be better.

She may end up as the Democratic candidate this time, but I think we should focus on finding someone else.  She is a better back office person than a candidate.