Albert Marquet and the price of non-collaboration with prevailing politics


If you’re in Paris between now and August 21, be sure to visit the Albert Marquet exhibit at the city’s modern art museum. My Facebook feed is heavily populated by comparisons of Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. The biography of Marquet (Wikipedia) presented by the museum shows a heavy price paid by the artist for dissociating himself from the Nazi movement. In 1941 Marquet withdrew from a show because of the government’s requirement to provide a certificate of “non-membership of the Jewish race.” Apparently disgusted with his fellow French citizens for their collaboration with the German during World War II, in 1946 Marquet refused the Legion of Honour. Though not Jewish, that same year he contributed work to a benefit sale for Jewish children. Partly as a result of these protests, Marquet never achieved the success that his quality of painting would have justified.

If Donald Trump actually does prove to be just like Hitler, how many of us will have the courage to reject Trumpism(?) and pay the career consequences? [And, separately, what would be the tenets of Trumpism to which Americans would have to pledge fealty?]

Sambo-brand black licorice


Department of Icelandic products that will be tough to export to the U.S.:

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Separately, how does a country of 322,000 people come to have so many candy manufacturers?

[Source of above photo: A quick change of planes in Iceland while going from Boston to Paris and from Copenhagen back to Boston.]


French broadband service


When it comes to Internet service to the home, as with health care, it seems that the U.S. has found a way to do it less efficiently than the French.

In some of the ancient buildings of Paris it is tough to get a good “last mile” wire into apartments and therefore symmetric speeds of roughly 15 Mbits are the limit (I measured this with the Ookla Speedtest app on my phone at a private apartment in a classic building). For newer buildings it is generally possible to get fiber optic service of 50/50 Mbits for roughly $40 per month (compare to $80 in the U.S.?).

One area where life in France takes a painful and inconvenient turn is Internet service for visitors. A Verizon iPhone somehow cannot get onto the LTE/4G networks in France. One pays $10/day on top of the ordinary monthly bill and then is subjected to 3G cellular data. The French apparently don’t trust some portion of their citoyens because it is illegal to run an open WiFi network. Coffee shops, restaurants, and hotels are required to set up a WiFi system such that people register and such that device-URL logs are kept for at least six months. Generally the device is identified in the log by MAC address. A Starbucks near Rue Cler was using Q-Spot by SpotCoffee to collect the required data and the service was throttled to 5 Mbits down and a painful 0.5 Mbits up. Our hotel, the Cler Hotel, used the same service and the result was even more painful: 5 Mbits down and 0.2 to 0.3 Mbits up (not enough for reliable Skype or FaceTime).

[What do people make of the failure of U.S. Verizon iPhones to connect to 4G networks in France? People say that it is due to a difference in the frequencies allocated for LTE in the different countries. However, I thought that all iPhones were now created equal and that it was essentially one worldwide product.]

Human Resources and Labor Law on the High Seas and the best jobs on a cruise ship


In Paris we ate dinner next to a “worldwide HR” executive for a cruise line conglomerate. I had thought that for non-U.S.-flagged cruise ships the companies were free to hire workers from anywhere in the world on any terms that were mutually agreeable. It turns out that this labor market is one of the most heavily unionized and regulated. Essentially every class of worker has its own union, including the predominantly Indonesians and Filipinos who work as part of the “hotel” staff. On top of this are UN regulations that are roughly 10 years old. A company that doesn’t adhere to these, which were introduced primarily to prevent abuses in the freight shipping world, will be a pariah. Compensation, benefits, and working conditions for essentially every job on a big cruise line are negotiated with a union. There is only one set of rules that the cruise line can’t navigate, however: “We try not to hire any Americans to work on-board because of all of the legal and regulatory headaches,” she explained.

I did meet a few Americans onboard our Royal Caribbean cruise around the Baltic Sea. One was in the IT department and works 6-8 months. How many days off does he get during this period? “None. It is 7 days a week, two 5-hour shifts per day,” he replied. He shares a room (porthole on deck 2) with one other crew member. Isn’t that a tough schedule? “People from India and China can do it.”

Waiters and hotel staff also talked about working 6-8 months in a row and then having 2 months off. Senior officers, on the other hand, work 10 weeks on then have 10 weeks off. Cruise ship jobs appeal to people from at least 64 countries, the number of nationalities we had on board the Serenade of the Seas (compare to 52 nationalities for the passengers). Workers seemed generally satisfied and cheerful, e.g., when encountered during their off-duty hours in the Deck 12 gym (huge and with fantastic views of the sea).

[Note that some jobs on the ship are done by employees of contractors, e.g., shipboard photography is handled by a vendor. These folks don’t seem to be in a union.

One caveat: Cruise ship employees who are married and/or have children should be careful about choosing a home base. In states or countries that like to have a primary parent/second parent (a.k.a. “winner parent” and “loser parent”) outcome and use a “primary historical caregiver” standard for deciding which parent wins, the cruise ship job can lead to a guaranteed loss of a divorce, custody, and/or child support lawsuit. Even if the cruise ship job is abandoned after a divorce, the loss of custody will be permanent in most places (see Real World Divorce for which states set up a winner-take-all battle for the house, kids, and cash and also for which states cement a winner parent’s status permanently).

I chatted one evening with an officer who asked what I had learned on the cruise and I responded with “I’ve learned about divorce litigation in Kuwait.” (I’ll cover that in a future posting!) This officer made the cataclysmic mistake of moving from his native Civil law country to settle in the U.S. The American wife decided to sue him for divorce, custody, child support, and alimony. She automatically wins the divorce part of the lawsuit due to the fact that every U.S. state is essentially a “no-fault” or “unilateral divorce” jurisdiction. She also more or less automatically won everything else. Because he’d been away for those 10-week blocks of time there was no possibility of him being determined to be the “historical primary caregiver” and therefore entitled to be the “primary parent” going forward. So she got a house, the child, child support, and alimony. Via court order he will now be doing involuntarily what he used to do voluntarily (i.e., working for 10-week blocks, sometimes so intensively that he doesn’t get off the ship for weeks at a stretch). “I don’t mind supporting my child,” he said, “but why do I have to keep working to support an adult simply because she wasn’t working during part of the marriage?” Had he been married with children in his original homeland, he would have had a statistically smaller chance of being sued (with no alimony and limited child support, the wife would have had to get a job after divorcing him). He would have paid legal fees at a fixed percentage of assets (in his particular case the legal fees are on track to consume 100% of the couple’s savings, though not the home equity). See the section on Germany, for example. [See also the “Practical Tips” chapter, in which there is a section regarding the tendency of active duty military personnel to lose the winner-take-all battle in a U.S. family court.]

As far as I can tell, the best job on the ship seems to be working in the shop (e.g., selling Advil for 50 cents per pill). I talked to a young Chilean and he explained that the shop is always closed whenever the ship is in “territorial waters or in port.” Thus he is free to enjoy the ports in the same way that a paying passenger would. The company lets him jump onto shore excursions if they aren’t full. He doesn’t get free Internet, though, which he considers to be a good thing for productivity: “Whenever we can get Internet we are always texting instead of doing our jobs.” He said that pay is about the same as it would be if he were to work in a shop in Chile, though obviously without the free room and board as well as travel.

The world’s richest people do not have a growing share of wealth


Thomas Piketty (see “Book review: Piketty’s Capital”) predicted that, absent a wealth tax administered by a powerful world government, the world’s richest bastards would run away with all of the wealth on the planet. This is partly because, he claims, rich people can earn a higher return on investment than average people. This Wall Street Journal article summarizing research by “Wealth-X” shows the opposite trend, however:

Billionaires controlled 3.9% of the world’s total household wealth in 2015, slightly down from 4% in 2014, according to Wealth-X, a consulting group that uses public records and research staff to manually track the habits of ultra-high-net-worth individuals, or people valued at more than $30 million.

The article also contains some fun stuff on the evolution of language:

For most billionaires, however, it takes more than an inheritance to join the so-called three-comma club, according to the census; 87% of billionaires, up from 81% in 2014, made the majority of their fortunes themselves.

(Note that the latter part of the above quote also tends to discredit Piketty; if it is all about inheritance why is a growing percentage of the richest bastards self-made?)

Hello my name is: Crispy Nuts


Department of French products that may be tough to export to the U.S.:

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Around the same time that I encountered this fine product, in a grocery store on the Rue Cler, I shared dinner with a schoolteacher from Kansas. He said “the weirder the name the more difficult the kid. When a child comes in named Diamond or Precious I know that it isn’t going to work out well.”

[Separately, the Kansas schoolteacher (art) and his wife, a former schoolteacher of French, mentioned their passionate hatred of all things Republican, especially Kansas’s Republican governor, who has tried to cut the growth in the state’s spending on education. (I wrote “cut the growth” rather than “cut spending” because it seems unlikely that spending could actually go down; BallotPedia says that state spending increased by nearly 5 percent, or $686 million, between 2014 and 2015, but the schoolteachers perceived this as a cut.) Kansas is a fairly conservative state (though not so traditional that working pays better than out-of-wedlock sex; see this chapter for Kansas’s offer of unlimited tax-free child support revenue to those residents or visitors who have sex with a high-income partner). If people in Kansas who get a government paycheck are this passionate about the Democrats it will be tough sledding for Donald Trump in November. The percentage of Americans who work for or depend on the government goes up all the time.]

Literary gold standard for hair dryer reviews


A friend has applied her substantial literary talents to an area that did not seem amenable: the hair dryer review. Check out “Say Hello to the Dyson Supersonic Hairdryer.”

Separately, will significant numbers of people actually pay $400 for a hair dryer? If so, what does that say about the economy?

Obama’s Commuted Sentences


“Obama’s Historic Day of Clemency” (Atlantic) was a topic of discussion on our cruise ship. President Obama cut short the sentences of 214 out of 200,000 federal prisoners.

I found the discussion interesting because people who didn’t know any of the facts around these 214 cases assumed that the original sentences were “just.” I probed a little to figure out why and it was as simple as faith in the American justice system. There was a law. There was a judge. The two intersected in a sentence of X years and therefore the sentence of X years was by definition “justice.”

Yet the cruise itself showed that “justice” can be a relative term. The Soviets who deported wealthier and/or more troublesome Estonians to Siberia were criminals from the Estonians point of view, but not from the Russian point of view. The rolling text at the end of the BBC/HBO dramatization of the Wannsee Conference, in which the murder of millions was planned, shows that a lot of the participants were sentenced to just a few years in prison. By contrast, our guide in Latvia told us that, after World War II, the KGB had investigated the murder of Jews in Riga, tracked down Latvian collaborators, and sentenced them to 25 years of hard labor in Siberia. One of the passengers at our table had a friend who was in his 16th year of an 80-year sentence imposed by a Texas court. The friend was in his 40s when he had consensual sex with a 16-year-old girl. He will be eligible for parole after 18 years. Our tablemate, a retired Texas schoolteacher, expressed the opinion that the 80-year sentence was unjust, but was quick to add “I’m not saying that what he did was right.” It was pointed out that what his friend did would have been legal in a lot of states. (Wikipedia confirms this; regarding European countries, Wikipedia says “15 is the most common age of consent in the European Union” and in fact his friend could not have been prosecuted in any of the countries that we visited (Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Germany, Denmark).)

Americans don’t seem to have a lot of faith in the executive or legislative branches of government so I was kind of surprised at the extent to which people assumed that the judicial branch was faultless and its decisions shouldn’t be meddled with.

Department of unfortunate company names… ZIKA Industrials


Here’s a good case study for a business school rebranding class…. driving around northern Israel recently we passed a big warehouse prominently marked “ZIKA”. This turned out to be part of a company founded in 1950: ZIKA Industrials. Fortunately the products are for welding and are not targeted at consumers.… says that the origin of the name for the virus comes from the “Zika Forest” in Uganda.]

Earn $400 per hour in a government-regulated job


“World’s largest Viking ship, headed to Duluth, needs to pay $400K or turn around” has some good career tips for young Americans:

Red tape, bureaucracy and an unexpected $400,000 bill threaten to doom the Draken Harald Hårfagre’s visit to America.

It wasn’t the reception that the world’s largest Viking ship was expecting after leaving Norway in April to cross the Atlantic and head as far west as Duluth, just in time for Tall Ships Duluth 2016, where it’s one of the event’s marquee attractions.

Without $400,000 to pay for a pilot to guide it through the Great Lakes, the Draken will head home to Norway and miss a series of cities eagerly awaiting its visit through the Great Lakes.

The Draken set sail in April and was under the impression that it would not need a pilot to sail the Great Lakes because it was less than 35 meters long. The Draken is 34.5 meters (115 feet). However, that ruling applied only to its passage through Canadian waters. Once the ship left Snell Lock west of Montreal, it entered international waters, which are under jurisdiction of the U.S. Coast Guard, which requires pilots. That is when the Draken was informed it had to have a pilot, which can cost up to $400 per hour.

The pilot guild explains how it works:

The Office of Great Lakes Pilotage, U.S.C.G., determines the number of pilots required for each U.S. Great Lakes district. … Permanent positions become available as pilots retire and when the Office of Great Lakes Pilotage determines an increase in the number of pilots is required.

I.e., the government decides how many Americans will be allowed to work at this job. has a guide to the U.S. Coast Guard’s 2016 process:

Step 4 sets each pilot’s target compensation at $326,114, with a total target compensation of $12,066,225 for the 37 pilots. We set these targets after identifying 2013 Canadian Great Lakes Pilotage Authority (GLPA) compensation, with adjustments for currency exchange and inflation, as the best benchmark for our 2016 rates.

Plainly not every young American can expect to earn $400/hour or $326,114 per year, but to me this is a good example of the superiority of government or government-regulated careers compared to careers in private enterprise.


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