Beautiful: The Carole King Musical


What do three helicopter pilots do when they have a free night in Las Vegas? If the decision is made under a “one-woman, one-vote” system, they go to see Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.

Even if you’re not a pop music fan you’ll be amazed at how many popular songs were created by Carole King (composer) and her husband Gerry Goffin (lyricist). The musical shows them working 24/7 through the 1960s to provide hits for various groups. It made me wonder if we’ve lost something with the singer-songwriter idea. If there is a team of experts creating songs and a second team of experts performing them, won’t the results be better than if there is just one team trying to do both?

Readers: What do you think? Are pop songs better or worse than they were in the 1960s?

[Separately, the musical shows that husband Gerry had a good relationship with two daughters but a poor relationship with Carole, not least due to the fact that he was having sex with at least two other women. Carole King responded to the situation by suing her husband and moving to Los Angeles with the girls, plainly ending their relationship with the father in that age of expensive airline tickets. Instead of relying on Goffin to write lyrics she would write them herself. Women in the audience went nuts at this point in the show, cheering with delight. There was no part of the show that evoked a stronger or more favorable response among the mostly-female audience. The program included an advertisement for a group of divorce litigators. (But see Real World Divorce: Nevada for how a plaintiff might be a lot better off by moving to California, New York, or Massachusetts before suing!)]

Is there a poll asking whether Deplorables would look more favorably on immigration if our welfare state were dismantled?


Child support plaintiff Angelina Jolie is scolding American Deplorables for their irrational fear that immigrants will harm Americans: “Angelina Jolie: Refugee Policy Should Be Based on Facts, Not Fear”

[I showed a friend here in Hawaii the “As the mother of six children, who were all born in foreign lands and are proud American citizens,” part and he said “Of course she is in court trying to get someone else to pay for them.”]

Milton Friedman said that we wouldn’t be able to have a welfare state and open borders. Why is it obvious that the current political disagreement is about “fear”? Could it be that the disagreement is instead simply evidence that Friedman was correct?

Residents of the U.S. with no income or low income are entitled to free housing (means-tested public housing), free food (via food stamps), free health care (Medicaid), a free cell phone, etc. Some families have gone for generations without anyone having to work. Why do we need “fear” to account for the fact that some taxpayers don’t want to invite millions more to join the taxpayer-funded party?

I wonder if it would be worth polling American Deplorables to ask “Would you be more open to immigration if immigrants and their descendants were not eligible for taxpayer-funded housing, food, health care, and telecommunications?” Maybe it will turn out that the Deplorables are mostly tightwads rather than xenophobes, racists, anti-Islamic, etc. Has this poll been tried?

[People still might oppose immigration for non-racist/non-xenophobic reasons, even if they were okay with adding to America’s welfare society. I had dinner last night here in Hawaii with a guy who grew up in West Seattle. When he started his working career it was a 10-minute drive from West Seattle to downtown, a 20-minute round-trip commute. When he retired it was a 40-minute drive each way, thus wasting an additional hour each day. Population growth has also led to spectacular inflation in housing costs.]


Follow-up on the social justice war in our neighborhood


Back in July I wrote What happens when the vulnerable try to live among the Millionaires for Obama. I recently caught up with a member of the town’s Planning Board. He said that the Zoning Board had refused to allow the hospital to use the house on the ground that it wasn’t an “educational” use, which would have enabled them to avail themselves of the Dover Amendment. At least for now the vulnerable will be helped only at a distance by Social Justice Village residents.

How to get defriended on Facebook, Tip #7823


A right-thinking friend posted a Facebook status with “There are still good people in this world!” over a photo of a sign that said, in Spanish, English, and Arabic: “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.” The sign was in a rich person’s front yard in Northwest Washington, D.C.

I replied with

Suppose that a family from west Texas moved next door, hung big “Trump” and “NRA” banners from the 2nd floor windows, put a sign reading “Pro-Life” on the front lawn, and held a bbq to celebrate conservative Christian values? Would the folks with this sign be glad to have that family as a next-door neighbor?

It turned out that the answer was “Not if they were bigots … People here don’t like racists.”

A dermatologist’s advice regarding the New England winter


It is dry skin time again in New England. I asked a dermatologist friend what to do about it, other than slather on “dermatologist-developed” Lubriderm from Costco. “At least use some good moisturizer!” she exclaimed. What constituted “good” in her mind? “Eucerin Advanced Repair,” she responded, “but make sure you don’t get it confused with a bunch of similarly named Eucerin variants.”

If moisturizing cream isn’t sufficient to get rid of red, dry skin, what then? “Topical steroids, cream or ointment. The ointment works better. Some of the latest ones are $700 per tube and most insurance companies won’t cover them. I prescribe them only for teachers and state employees.”

She noted that, due to some lucrative new drugs for psoriasis and heavy advertising regarding that disease, a lot of patients with dry skin came in fearing that they were afflicted with psoriasis. “If it clears up within a week or two of moving to a warm and humid environment, it is unlikely to be psoriasis.”

[Separately, has competition sucked the profit out of laser hair removal, which has funded quite a few turbine-powered aircraft at our local airport as well as some lucrative cash transfers through family law? “The machine costs about $100,000, plus some renewables, and generates at least $1,200 per hour in revenue,” she said. (Depending on the state, I think that the machine can be operated by an assistant under the nominal supervision of the dermatologist, who might be at home, for example, while the laser was in operation.)]

Grant in retirement


Grant’s retired voluntarily from the presidency. He probably could have won a third term and his wife wanted to stay in the White House. From American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant:

When Julia observed their arrival, she remarked, “Is there any news? Why is it you have all happened to call today? I am sure there is something unusual.” Just then Ulysses appeared from his study. Julia, still puzzled, questioned her husband about whether something important was to be discussed. More than courtesy had prompted the president to invite his cabinet officers to the White House on a Sunday. He understood their careers would be vitally affected by his decision. He did not ask for their advice, but as a mark of respect he informed them of his decision before it blared from front pages. When the cabinet started to leave, and her husband handed a sealed envelope to a departing messenger, Julia confronted Ulysses: “I want to know what is happening. I feel sure there is something and I must know.” “Yes,” said Ulysses, “I will come as soon as I light my cigar.” “What is it? Tell me?” “You know what a to-do the papers have been making about a third term. Well, I have never until now had an opportunity to answer….I do not wish a third term, and I have written a letter to that effect.” “Did all of these men approve and advise you to send that letter?” “I did not ask approval or advice. I simply read the letter to them. That is all.” “And why did you not read it to me?” “Oh, I know you too well. It never would have gone if I had read it.” “Bring it and read it to me now,” she pleaded. “No, it is already posted; that is why I lingered in the hall to light my cigar, so the letter would be beyond recall.” “Oh, Ulys! Was that kind to me? Was it just to me?” “Well, I do not want to be here another four years. I do not think I could stand it. Don’t bother about it, I beg of you.” This exchange, recalled by Julia years later, revealed much about Ulysses’s and Julia’s contrasting feelings in the spring of 1875. He knew how much she loved their life together in the White House and that she would have been happy to continue for another four years. But great weariness was etched in his reply.

What to do next? Apparently there was no way to get crazy rich with a speaking tour. Grant took a round-the-world trip, financed with savings:

Grant had long envisioned traveling after his presidency and now determined to finance the adventure through one of his few successful investments. Twenty-five shares in Consolidated Virginia Mining, based in Virginia City, Nevada, had earned him $25,000. That sum, he believed, would cover the costs of a two-year sojourn, if he remained frugal about his accommodations and lifestyle. He assigned Ulysses Jr. the task of managing his financial affairs while abroad.

By his third day in Egypt, disappointed, Grant wrote Buck, “All the romance given to Oriental splendor in novels and guide books is dissipated by witnessing the real thing. Innate ugliness, slovenliness, filth and indolence. By the end of January, Grant remembered his cardinal rule of appreciation, writing Buck with a much different opinion from that of day three: “Egypt has interested me more than any other portion of my travels.” When at last the minarets of Cairo appeared, the travelers sadly observed that while the cradle of civilization may have built great temples and tombs, they also, in Julia’s words, had “nothing left” for her impoverished people.

Julia took the lead in preparing their little group: “We had been doing a good deal of Bible reading and revision of our Testaments, to be sure of our sacred ground.” However, Grant’s visit to Jerusalem, as he wrote Adam Badeau, proved to be “a very unpleasant one.” In 1878, the Turks ruled Palestine. Jerusalem, poor and run-down, supported a population of twenty-two thousand, half Jewish. The weather did not help the travelers’ impressions—six inches of snow aggravated already bad streets. Grant tried to forget the present day as he visited many sites associated with the biblical story of Jesus, but ultimately he agreed with Twain, who had written of the “clap-trap side-shows and unseemly impostures of every kind” associated with these holy relics.

Over the next six weeks, they marveled at the Taj Mahal at Agra, observed Hindu pilgrims in the holy city of Benares, and visited ancient ruins near Calcutta.

A visit with the maharaja of Jeypore embodied the incongruities Grant experienced in India. An ascetic reputed to spend seven hours a day in prayer, the maharaja had ten wives. When not in prayer, he invited Grant to join him in his other passion: billiards.

From India, Grant sailed to Burma, Malaysia, Singapore, Siam, and Hong Kong. Grant’s visit to China created a flutter of excitement. At Canton, a crowd estimated at two hundred thousand lined the streets to welcome “the King of America.”

He wrote Admiral Daniel Ammen, who had also visited Japan, “The Japanese are altogether the superior people of the East.” Three weeks later, he could scarcely contain himself: “The changes that have taken place here are more like a dream than a reality.” Chief among them: “They have a public school system extending over the entire empire affording facilities for a common school education to every child, male & female.” True to his word, Grant spoke with Emperor Meiji about peace with China. Again, he emphasized, “In your discussions with China on Loo Chu, and on all matters at issue, do not invite or permit so far as you can avoid it, the intervention of a foreign power.” He explained, “European powers have no interests in Asia, so far as I can judge from their diplomacy, that do not involve the humiliation and subjugation of the Asiatic people.”

Former presidents got no pension, but Grant got help from rich people:

That summer, friends and supporters stepped forward to solve the question of how and where the Grants would live. More than twenty men, including George Childs, Anthony J. Drexel, and J. Pierpont Morgan, joined together to raise a trust fund of $250,000, from which Grant would receive annual interest. An additional $100,000 made possible the purchase of a new four-story brownstone at 3 East Sixty-sixth Street, near Central Park.

Then, as now, it was good to be smart but not so smart that you’d believe anything.

[Grant’s son] twenty-nine-year-old Buck was finding phenomenal success in investing. A graduate of Exeter, Harvard University, and Columbia Law School, he possessed the finest education of all the Grant children, and it appeared to be paying off. In July 1880, Buck had been persuaded to launch a brokerage firm in partnership with Ferdinand Ward, a young Wall Street whiz who began his career at the New York Produce Exchange in lower Manhattan in 1873 and rose quickly through the ranks by virtue of his blond, blue-eyed good looks, his charm…and a great deal of cunning. Buck borrowed $100,000 from his prospective father-in-law, Jerome Chaffee, who had made a fortune in mining and banking in Colorado. Ward invested $100,000—or so Buck had been led to believe. Once he had Buck’s money in hand, Ward gallantly insisted that the Grant name should be positioned first in the firm’s official registration, even though Ward would be the active partner and Buck the silent partner. So Grant & Ward it became—ostensibly as a tribute to Buck, who somehow overlooked the obvious: that the public would naturally assume the “Grant” referred to was his father. Not surprisingly, Ward had no intention of enlightening him. Ward’s other partner in July 1880 was one who would fully legitimize the new banking and brokerage firm: James D. Fish, president of Wall Street’s Marine National Bank. Almost twice Ward’s age, Fish was yet another affable, small-town transplant (from Mystic, Connecticut) who had made good in the big city—and knew the ropes. Ward had a telephone line installed in his own office that linked him directly to Fish. Within a few months, Ferdinand Ward became known as “the Young Napoleon of Finance,” exercising an influence over even the most experienced Wall Street traders. Only this time it was not his charm, but high yields that furthered his popularity with eager investors. The firm was raking in the cash.

For a time, everything seemed perfect. The two young men were doing well, and without any effort on his part, Grant was becoming a wealthy man. From an original paper capitalization of $400,000, the firm was now valued at $15 million.

Well, you can probably guess that the story ends with what today we would call a Ponzi scheme. Grant was not diversified and he had borrowed some money to bail out this bank on its way down so he was back to zero. He ended his life by writing his memoirs so as to leave his wife and children with something. Mark Twain was the publisher:

In a cutting-edge marketing campaign, Mark Twain sent out a phalanx of subscription salesmen who offered the two-volume memoirs in three attractive bindings at three different price points. The first printing sold three hundred thousand sets. Twain proudly presented Julia with an initial check for $200,000 of what would ultimately total royalties of $450,000 ($12 million in today’s currency).

(Remember that there was no income tax in those days.) How did the rest of the family do?

… in 1895, Julia sold her house in New York and moved to Washington, the city where she had served as First Lady. She began holding popular Tuesday receptions at her home on Massachusetts Avenue. She was joined there by her daughter, Nellie, who, with her three teenage children, had finally left Great Britain and her failed marriage to Algernon Sartoris. As for Ulysses and Julia’s other children, Fred served as minister to Austria-Hungary from 1889 to 1893 under Presidents Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland. He then served as a commissioner of police in New York City from 1894 to 1898, working alongside future president Theodore Roosevelt. After his disastrous time on Wall Street, Buck regained his financial footing, and in 1893, he moved to San Diego, where his younger brother, Jesse, was already living. Buck started a law practice but ultimately found success in real estate. In 1910, after five years of construction that cost a staggering $1.9 million, he opened the U. S. Grant Hotel as a wonderfully successful memorial to his father. Jesse, the youngest, outlived all his siblings and authored In the Days of My Father, General Grant in 1925, a warmhearted remembrance from the humorous boy who liked to wrestle his father

How was the book? It is 826 pages long in print but it didn’t seem tedious and, in fact, became kind of a page-turner during the Civil War and Presidency years. Grant was definitely a great American, maybe one of the greatest, but taken out of the contexts where he thrived he sometimes achieved mediocre or disastrous results.

More: read American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant.

Idea for pilots: talk about aviation charts in your local school



The local second grade teachers were teaching the students about maps and how to use them. I came in and organized a 30-minute class on the challenge of designing maps for pilots. It was divided up into 15 minutes of showing them stuff with a projector and 15 minutes of them looking at sectional, WAC, TAC, helicopter, and IFR en-route charts at their tables.

In case pilot readers want to do something similar in their neighborhood schools, I’m sharing the materials that I used:

  • speaker notes (shows what to talk about)
  • slides (links to the sites required for the 15-minute lecture)
  • handout (to teach kids that one should never give a talk without a handout; Edward Tufte’s rule! if you’re interested I can share this with you on Google Docs; the web version is pretty bad; if only I could get my hands on some of those Google Docs programmers for a few weeks!)

It seemed to be well-received by the students, but I was reminded of how unnatural it is for kids to sit and listen to a lecture. It is strange that we have organized so much of our educational system around something that kids won’t naturally do.


We almost owned the Dominican Republic


We grabbed Texas, California, and everything in between from the Mexicans? Why not some stuff in the Caribbean? From American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant:

Babcock returned in September and presented his findings to a flummoxed Fish. Babcock left with no diplomatic powers but returned with a draft for annexation. The United States could either purchase Samaná Bay for $2 million or annex the totality of Santo Domingo [present-day Dominican Republic] by becoming responsible for its public debt of $1.5 million. The protocol also stated that President Grant would use “all his influence” with Congress to accept a treaty. Grant agreed to Babcock’s draft and asked Fish to write up a formal treaty.

See the Wikipedia article on the Annexation of Santo Domingo, which I’d completely forgotten (if indeed I had ever been taught about it). Part of the idea was that former slaves would want to move to this new U.S. territory. As crazy as this may sound today it was apparently seriously considered.

We were also involved with Cuba:

Even as Grant appointed John Motley minister to the Court of St. James to help deal with a long-term relationship across the Atlantic, a crisis in the Caribbean demanded the president’s immediate attention. Only four days after his inauguration, reports trickled in of a clash between four thousand insurgents and fifteen hundred Spanish soldiers on Cuba, the Caribbean’s largest island, situated just ninety miles from the United States.

But starting in the 1850s, Cuban merchants and planters demanded economic and social reforms, climaxing in an October 1868 uprising that proclaimed an independent Cuba. Spain, in a weakened condition both politically and economically, struggled to respond. Americans responded. Instinctively, they supported what they saw as Cuba’s courageous struggle to chart its own destiny. Veterans of the Civil War, both Union and Confederate, proclaimed themselves ready to support Cuban patriots. The New York Tribune and New York Herald sent correspondents to cover the revolution, reporting that more than half a million African slaves still toiled on Cuban plantations five years after the United States had emancipated its slaves. In April 1869, the insurgents adopted a constitution abolishing slavery.

More: read American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant

MIT is so global that it can operate only in Boston


Excerpts from a letter sent to MIT alums by Rafael Reif, the president of the university:

we continue to push hard to bring back to MIT those members of our community, including two undergraduates, who were barred from the US because of the January 27 Executive Order on immigration.

MIT is profoundly global. Like the United States, and thanks to the United States, MIT gains tremendous strength by being a magnet for talent from around the world. More than 40% of our faculty, 40% of our graduate students and 10% of our undergraduates are international.

What the moment demands of us
The Executive Order on Friday appeared to me a stunning violation of our deepest American values, the values of a nation of immigrants: fairness, equality, openness, generosity, courage. The Statue of Liberty is the “Mother of Exiles”; how can we slam the door on desperate refugees? [but we’re not slamming the door! Thanks to Canada’s “everyone America rejects is welcome here” policy, we’re just gently redirecting refugees to Toronto and Vancouver right now]

And if we accept this injustice, where will it end? Which group will be singled out for suspicion tomorrow?

As an immigrant and the child of refugees, I join them, with deep feeling, in believing that the policies announced Friday tear at the very fabric of our society.

We would all like our nation to be safe. I am convinced that the Executive Order will make us less safe.

(Note that MIT is about one mile from where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev lived (at taxpayer expense), was educated through high school (at taxpayer expense), waged jihad, and was found guilty (at taxpayer expense, by a jury of impartial peers wearing Boston Strong T-shirts). The Tsarnaev brothers, who killed an MIT campus police officer, were granted residency and citizenship under a political asylum program (because their native land of Russia was purportedly persecuting them for their desire to wage jihad, though both parents ultimately returned to live permanently in this land of persecution (CNN)). With Patriot’s Day in theaters right now, would President Reif have more credibility if he acknowledged that people who wish to “slam the door” may be rational and fair-minded, but yet with a different perspective on the costs and benefits? The above verbiage suggests that there is just one correct way to apply “American values” and that people who disagree with Reif are, well, “deplorable.”)

MIT has about $13 billion in the bank (source) plus a lot of real estate that I don’t think is included in the headline endowment number. If the school is so passionate about working with citizens of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, why not set up a satellite campus in a country that is more geographically convenient, and also more welcoming, for these folks?

MIT already has a satellite campus in Singapore, beyond the reach of the Trumpenfuhrer and the Republican-dominated Reichstag. Unfortunately, “Singapore is not in a position to accept any persons seeking political asylum or refugee status, regardless of their ethnicity or place of origin.” (Singapore Ministry of Home Affairs, 2015)

Why not take bold action and set up an additional satellite campus? It could be as close as Montreal, since Canada will accept anyone whom the U.S. rejects. It could be in the Middle East. NYU is milking cash out of Abu Dhabi, which seems to welcome folks from some of the countries subject to the U.S. ban, but “entry will be refused to citizens of Israel” (see also Wikipedia, which notes that the United Arab Emirates won’t give visas to Libyans under age 40, for example). It could be in a variety of European Union countries, many of which have quite a few residents who are citizens of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan or Yemen.

Readers: If MIT is as global as the president claims, does it make sense to complain about a U.S. government policy? Why not simply work around it?

Video: flying a Bonanza into Logan Airport


Matt Guthmiller, who flew around the world in a Bonanza after his freshman year at MIT, is starting a video series. The first episode covers an epic journey from KLWM to KBOS. If you’re curious about the sights and sounds of Boston’s Logan Airport, you’ll enjoy this 19-minute video (the take-off is at 5:15 if you’re not interested in the preflight stuff).

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