Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Resignation of Harvard President Larry Summers

Quoting The New Republic:

He was felled by what American cultural critic Harold Rosenberg devastatingly called "the herd of independent minds."

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Per The New Republic

"The Winter Olympics are to the Summer Olympics what the Bat Mitzvah is to the Bar Mitzvah.

So true...

No, I'm not complaining...

Monday, February 20, 2006

Still No Mangoes in L.A.

It's been more than four weeks. Unfortunately it's starting to look like this year's supply of frozen mango has been consumed, and there will be no more until the arrival of fresh mangoes at the start of the season, which according to my internet search, should happen around end of April. Ouch.

Why is the Jewish Federation Calling Me?

Normally I don't answer for 800 numbers, but today I finally picked up for the number that has been calling my cell phone for the past three weeks. It was the Jewish Federation. What did they want? Money.

According to my phone log, they've called 14(!) times in the past three weeks. Isn't there some kind of non-solicitation law?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

More Mothers or More Fathers?

Here's a question - are there more fathers in the world, or more mothers? You may have a gut reaction that the number is equal, but that wouldn't be true. Take an example: Say we have two women (we'll call them W1 and W2), two men (M1 and M2) and two kids (K1 and K2).

Well, M1 and W1 could have produced K1, while M2 and W2 produced K2. In that case the number of mothers (2) would be equal to the number of fathers (2).

But it's possible that M1 has one child with W1 and one with W2. M2 has none. In that case, we have one father and two mothers.

You could also have one mother and two fathers, or one mother and one father.

You get the gist of it...

Well, so that brings us back to the original question - are there more mothers in the world or more fathers?

In biblical times, one could convincingly claim there were more mothers. It's the alpha male model. The stronger wealthier man married more than one woman, and therefore had many kids. Some men didn't get to have even one.

Today the tables could be turned. Some women will not have any kids, while others will have children from more then one man. If that were really true, there'd be more fathers than mothers. But what is really happening? Are there more fathers than mothers or not?

I sense this is the seed of a PhD project. Or perhaps it's already been done.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Al Gore Speaking in Saudi Arabia

From an article in the Feb 13th Washington Post, pointed out to me by a friend:

JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia -- Former Vice President Al Gore told a mainly Saudi audience on Sunday that the U.S. government committed "terrible abuses" against Arabs after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and that most Americans did not support such treatment.

Gore said Arabs had been "indiscriminately rounded up" and held in "unforgivable" conditions. The former vice president said the Bush administration was playing into al-Qaida's hands by routinely blocking Saudi visa applications.

"The thoughtless way in which visas are now handled, that is a mistake," Gore said during the Jiddah Economic Forum. "The worst thing we can possibly do is to cut off the channels of friendship and mutual understanding between Saudi Arabia and the United States."

Gore told the largely Saudi audience, many of them educated at U.S. universities, that Arabs in the United States had been "indiscriminately rounded up, often on minor charges of overstaying a visa or not having a green card in proper order, and held in conditions that were just unforgivable."

"Unfortunately there have been terrible abuses and it's wrong," Gore said. "I do want you to know that it does not represent the desires or wishes or feelings of the majority of the citizens of my country."

Hmmm. Maybe some of the quotes are out of context, but still, what was he thinking?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Jon Stewart on the Dick Cheney Shooting

"Now, this story certainly has its humorous aspects. ... But it also raises a serious issue, one which I feel very strongly about. ... moms, dads, if you're watching right now, I can't emphasize this enough: Do not let your kids go on hunting trips with the vice president. I don't care what kind of lucrative contracts they're trying to land, or energy regulations they're trying to get lifted — it's just not worth it."

Fuddled Logic

I recently read a quote from a doctor - in the context of the new study that claims that reducing dietary fat does not reduce risks of heart attacks or cancer - saying that "we in the health profession tend to give very strong advice based on very flimsy evidence".

So true. I could go on and on about this. But a great example just came up. Estrogen replacement therapy for postmenopausal women.

For years, estrogen was recommended for post-menopausal women. I was married to a biologist, and these were the reasons I'd hear for it:

1. To relieve symptoms of menopause - namely, hot flashes.
2. To reduce bone lose that could lead (later in life) to osteoporosis.
3. To maintain the youthfulness of the vagina (sounds creepy, but true...).

All these three benefits have been scientifically demonstrated.

The downside, so I was told, was increased risk of breast cancer. The general argument was that taking estrogen was a value judgment. A question of how much you valued the three benefits, vs. how much you risk you were willing to take on the breast cancer front.

So that was the insider view. Slowly I became aware of the medical establishment's official line on the subject. It went something like this: Premenopausal women are protected from heart disease because of the high levels of estrogen in their bodies (How was that concluded? Unclear...). How do you maintain that protection when they're postmenopausal? Give them Estrogen.

So suddenly, just in a few conversations with women I knew, I realized they were taking estrogen replacement not for reason 1-3 listed above, but for the purported heart benefits.

Well,... Then along came the Women's Health Initiative study a few years ago and "discovered" that in fact estrogen did not help prevent heart disease in women, and did (we knew this...) increase the risk of breast cancer. The information was all over the front pages, and the new recommendation was not to take estrogen. True panic set in among many women, and use of estrogen replacement dropped dramatically.

Now what was that all about? What about the three well established benefits listed above? They hadn't gone away. And they're still very significant. But because doctors had pitched estrogen replacement for a fourth, unproven benefit, the moment it was disproved, the treatment was disqualified. Nowhere in the media did it mention that there actually were several significant benefits to offset the downside...

I bring this up because today USA Today has an article titled "Final Estrogen Report Finds No Heart Disease Benefit". So why did the medical establishment promulgate the idea that estrogen protects against heart disease based on what appears, in hindsight, to be virtually zero evidence?

And more along my lines of interest: How much money did drug companies make off this idea? How much money did they invest in convincing us of it in the first place?

Single Women Buy Homes at More than Twice the Rate of Single Men

A recent issue of the NYTimes claims that single women are buying homes at more than twice the rate of single men - 21% of homebuyers are single women, vs. 9% for single men.

I have several thoughts on this statistic:

1. The nesting urge - the desire to have ones own home - is probably more of a female than a male urge. Men seem to acquire this urge when they get married, and it may derive from the wife more than the husband.
2. Traditionally, women waited to get married before buying a house. Today, as many are getting married later or not at all, they're taking care of their own needs by buying. Men feel less of a need. Again, pointing to an innate female urge to nest that is less pronounced in men.
3. Men tend to dislike the idea of being tied down, and perhaps buying a home (house or apartment) triggers that fear in them. As in: If they wanted to get tied down, they'd get married...
4. 1. It fits with a previous post of mine saying that single (never married) men tend to be financial underachievers, while single (never married) women tend to be financial overachievers. Ditto for the reference to the International Herald Tribune article claming that single women earn more than single men

Of course, home buying has been an extremely good investment in the U.S. lately, which makes the discrepancy even more surprising. I'd attribute it to the male ambivalence about getting tied down, or conversely, their need to be free, or as the NYTimes says, their fear of commitment.

Liberals or Conservatives...

There seems to be confusion in the media on whether the Danish Mohammed
cartoons were published by a right wing or a left wing publication. The
most amusing to me was the NYTimes op-ed section, that had two articles set
next to each other. One lamented the indiscriminate offensiveness of
Liberals, as evidenced by the publication of the cartoons, and the second
complained about the Danish right wing, bringing the Jyllens Posten cartoon
publication as evidence.

To set the record straight the Jyllens Posten is a right wing publication.
And as I see it, the cartoons were explicitly meant as a "we don't like you
Muslims" page. Which is fine, and I'm all for freedom of the press, but
let's call a spade a spade.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Unfortunate Email from Swim Club

I just got this one today, titled:

Free Stroke Clinic!

Monday, February 06, 2006

And My New Apres-Yoga Shoes Are...

Uggs. For more than three years I've agonized over buying Uggs. I always liked them. But my daughter disdains them. I can't fully explain her reasoning, but it is something along the lines of everyone at school has them, so obviously you shouldn't be caught dead in them. Or perhaps, as my cousin would say, they've achieved masstige (the mass market version of prestige...), and you don't want to be part of the masses.

Long story short - finally, after my Clark and my Dansko super comfi shoes that could be worn without socks went the way of all shoes (and men), and I was consigned to leaving evening yoga classes in my flip-flops in the chilly night air, I did some internet poking around about Uggs. The reviews were all uniformly glowing. Along the lines of Love my Uggs. They're so comfortable. Bought five pairs, you will too... Etc.

So you got it, I bought a pair. These ones specifically. Black, short, and more tailored than most. Yes, they're pricey. Stop complaining. I paid for them. When I told my daughter I'd bought Uggs, she said predictably:

"No!!! You didn't!"

Yes, I did. And I'm so happy. Why in the world did I wait so long? They're perfect.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Single, Jewish, Childless, Intellectual

A good friend and avid art collector tells me he was stunned to find a quote by the manager of Sotheby's saying that the typical profile of an art collector is Single, Jewish, Childless and Intellectual. That hit a bit too close to home for my friend. He's considering putting his collection up for sale on e-bay.

The Mohammed Cartoons

In case you haven't seen them yet, they're posted here, click and scroll down to the bottom of the page.

What I don't understand in this whole story is why the Danish newspaper published this page of cartoons in the first place. Maybe I'm not getting something here, but was it really necessary? Publishing one cartoon that reflects recent news events is one thing, publishing a full page specifically targeting a religious/ethnic group is another. A bit "uncomfortable" as someone I know would say.

Of course I'm not justifying the riots, just saying that the basic idea of publishing these cartoons in this full page spread was a bit weird.

Also of interest: A very large collection of images of Mohammed, including Muslim depictions"

Saturday, February 04, 2006

You're All Invited!

I'm doing my first ever torah reading next weekend, at Ikar. I'd love to have you to come. I've practiced, I think it'll be good. Services start at 9:15, but the Torah reading itself should start around 10:15am.

BTW, no this doesn't reflect a radical shift in my religious beliefs, it simply reflects the fact that I took a short course on trope reading, and was somewhat coerced to exercise my newfound skills.

Hope to see you there! And in case I don't know you, please introduce yourself, it will be great to meet you.

Mango Shortage Continues

The Los Angeles frozen mango shortage continues. Trader Joe's has been out of them for over two weeks. Whole Foods and Vons are out as well. The latest news from Trader Joe's is that they'll be getting more in about a week and a half. BTW - for those of you not familiar - there are virtually no fresh mangoes available here this time of year...

So, I'll be making my mango smoothies, with strawberries and peaches until this evil passes.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

I Love...

Garrison Keillor's NYTimes review this week of Bernard-Henri Levy's (BHL's) new book about his travels in the U.S., "American Vertigo. I haven't read the book, but I've read a lot about it, and being an honorary Frenchwoman, complete with French passport, I feel that I have quite a bit of insight into the French. And armed with that insight, as I read Keillor's review, I couldn't help but say to myself, "right on, he's got it just right...".

So here are a few choice tidbits from the review:

"It is the classic Freaks, Fatties, Fanatics and Faux Culture beloved of European journalists for the past 50 years..."

"... There's nobody here whom you recognize...It dawns on you that this is a book about the French.. There's no reason for it to exist in English, except as evidence that travel need not be broadening and one should be wary of books with Tocqueville in the title."

" At the stock car race, Lévy senses that the spectators "both dread and hope for an accident." We learn that Los Angeles has no center and is one of the most polluted cities in the country. "Headed for Virginia, and for Norfolk, which is, if I'm not mistaken, one of the oldest towns in a state that was one of the original 13 in the union," Lévy writes. Yes, indeed. He likes Savannah and gets delirious about Seattle, especially the Space Needle, which represents for him "everything that America has always made me dream of: poetry and modernity, precariousness and technical challenge, lightness of form meshed with a Babel syndrome, city lights, the haunting quality of darkness, tall trees of steel." O.K., fine. The Eiffel Tower is quite the deal, too."

" Lévy is quite comfortable with phrases like "as always in America." Bombast comes naturally to him. Rain falls on the crowd gathered for the dedication of the Clinton library in Little Rock, and to Lévy, it signifies the demise of the Democratic Party. "

"As always with French writers, Lévy is short on the facts, long on conclusions. He has a brief encounter with a young man outside of Montgomery, Ala. ("I listen to him tell me, as if he were justifying himself, about his attachment to this region"), and suddenly sees that the young man has "all the reflexes of Southern culture" and the "studied nonchalance . . . so characteristic of the region." With his X-ray vision, Lévy is able to reach tall conclusions with a single bound."

" And good Lord, the childlike love of paradox - America is magnificent but mad, greedy and modest, drunk with materialism and religiosity, puritan and outrageous, facing toward the future and yet obsessed with its memories. Americans' party loyalty is "very strong and very pliable, extremely tenacious and in the end somewhat empty." Existential and yet devoid of all content and direction. The partner-swapping club is both "libertine" and "conventional," "depraved" and "proper." And so the reader is fascinated and exhausted by Lévy's tedious and original thinking"

" America is changing, he concludes, but America will endure. "I still don't think there's reason to despair of this country. No matter how many derangements, dysfunctions, driftings there may be . . . no matter how fragmented the political and social space may be; despite this nihilist hypertrophy of petty antiquarian memory; despite this hyperobesity - increasingly less metaphorical - of the great social bodies that form the invisible edifice of the country; despite the utter misery of the ghettos . . . I can't manage to convince myself of the collapse, heralded in Europe, of the American model."

"Thanks, pal. I don't imagine France collapsing anytime soon either. Thanks for coming. Don't let the door hit you on the way out. For your next book, tell us about those riots in France, the cars burning in the suburbs of Paris. What was that all about? Were fat people involved? "

I couldn't have said it better myself. Obviously.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Sublime to Ridiculous - the Oscar Nominations

My opinion on the recent Oscar nominations for best picture:

Brokeback Mountain - Sublime
Capote - Sublime
Good Night and Good Luck - Mediocre
Crash - Mediocre
Munich - Ridiculous (how they all grovel in front of Spielberg...)

Hamas 2

My Favorite Hamas Joke

Two Palestinian girls walk down the street. One asks the other:

"Does this bomb make me look fat?"