60th anniversary of Mercury 8, with Hasselblad camera on board

Today is the 60th anniversary of the Mercury 8 mission, which orbited the Earth six times while photos were made with a Hasselblad camera. A good time to remind iPhone owners what a camera used to look like! From the Hasselblad Manual by Wildi:

Loading the film is as simple as using Instagram:


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The Naples, Florida airport fully reopened yesterday

If you want to go to SW Florida and volunteer with the recovery efforts, you may be pleased to learn that the Naples airport reopened yesterday (only from 7 am to 7:30 pm due to damage sustained by lighting). The airport reopened with PPR on Friday, just two days after Hurricane Ian made landfall, complete with control tower.

A friend lives in an oceanfront condo in Naples. I checked in with her today. Consistent with Vice President Kamala Harris’s point that “communities of color” were “most impacted” by Hurricane Ian, houses and buildings close to the water in Naples were flooded. My friend’s building has a sacrificial ground level lobby and it was dramatically sacrificed, complete with car pushed into the lobby:

Car dealers became billionaires thanks to coronapanic. Will they get an extra few $billion in profit in Florida given that cars have been destroyed during a moment when each new car is sold for $6,000 or $15,000 in profit? (the MSRP-invoice spread plus the market adjustment markup)

My friend evacuated to a house that is 2 miles inland. Neither her condo nor the evacuation destination were damaged, but neither has power or Internet. One guy actually elected to stay in the condo building, despite the mandatory evacuation order, and came through the storm without injury. Restaurants and supermarkets are open.

“Photos show Fifth Avenue South damage after Hurricane Ian swept through Naples, Florida” (Naples News, 9/30) shows that even a single step of elevation was sufficient, in some cases, to keep a store from being flooded.

If you get hungry while you’re in Naples, the Supermarket of the Deplorables reopened just one day after the storm, 9/29. Here are some November 2021 photos from Seed to Table:

The Google says that it is less than a one-hour drive from the Naples Airport to downtown Fort Myers, which is near where the hardest-hit communities of color on barriers islands are (Sanibel, Captiva, and Fort Myers Beach).

How’s Team DeSantis doing with the overall recovery effort? Here’s today’s New York Times:

The top stories are the horrors likely to be visited on the nation by improperly appointed Supreme Court justices, “relatable lesbian content”, a soccer stampede in which more people died than were killed by Hurricane Ian, and journalist Ezra Klein’s dream that someone other than himself be stuck with the bill for our enormous government (“a tax that could help with inflation” that will fall on “the rich”).

Nothing about the Tyrant of Tallahassee or the situation in Florida after what the same newspaper previously characterized as a catastrophe. Should we infer that Ron DeSantis therefore has not made any missteps?

Update, 8:30 pm: the New York Times front page now has an article about Florida, but it is about migrants being welcomed in Maskachusetts (top left), not about the recent Category 4 hurricane or Ron DeSantis’s restoration effort. Also… bean soup.


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Hunter Biden’s competitor in the art world

It’s National Arts and Humanities Month. Hunter Biden is probably the world’s most successful artist as measured by the time between when he started to paint and when the first painting sold for a least $500,000 (Guardian). What’s his competition? “Three Years Ago, Her Art Sold for $400 at the Beach. Now It Fetches Up To $1.6 Million at Auction” (Wall Street Journal, June 18, 2022):

“Summertime,” Ms. Weyant’s portrait of a woman with long, flowing hair that the artist had sold for around $12,000 two years before, resold for $1.5 million, five times its high estimate.

Ms. Weyant’s oeuvre of roughly 50 paintings has already filtered into the hands of top collectors such as investor Glenn Fuhrman and plastic surgeon Stafford Broumand. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art recently exhibited her work in a group show, and former Venice Biennale curator Francesco Bonami said he predicts she will make her own Biennale appearance soon, which would be another career milestone.

For the past year, the [27-year-old] artist has been dating Larry Gagosian, the 77-year-old founder of arguably the most powerful art gallery network in the world. … Ellie Rines, owner of the New York gallery 56 Henry, which gave Ms. Weyant her first New York solo show three years ago, said anyone who factors the artist’s dating life into her odds of success is being misogynistic.

From the same article:

Readers: How are you celebrating National Arts and Humanities Month?


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How to help with Hurricane Ian relief

If you’re among the shrinking minority of Americans who pay Federal income taxes, pat yourself on the back because you’ve already helped with Hurricane Ian relief. You’re one of the folks who funds the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA; $28.7 billion budget for FY 2020). Congress already appropriated the money. Wikipedia says

The governor of the state in which the disaster occurs must declare a state of emergency and formally request from the President that FEMA and the federal government respond to the disaster.

That’s already happened. So now some of this already-paid-by-you and already-appropriated-by-Congress money will be spent to address the damage caused by Hurricane Ian.

Suppose that you want to do more. My favorite way to help a place that has suffered is to buy stuff from or in that place. After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, for example, I bought a bunch of Japanese-made products, including Shun knives. SW Florida isn’t renowned for manufacturing, but you could plan a vacation there! Marco Island is pretty awesome and the monster concrete hotels should be fine after the power is restored. Even if you visit the theme parks in Orlando you will be helping keep the state’s economy vibrant.

Don’t need to learn sexual orientation and gender identity at Disney World or be frightened to death at Universal? You can donate money. But to whom? Charlie Crist, the Democrat who says that he will deliver Floridians from fascism, and Ron DeSantis, the hated fascist himself (he and Giorgia Meloni will get together and shave each other’s heads, get scalp tattoos, and burn synagogues?), agree that the best place for donating money is the Florida Disaster Fund, run by VolunteerFlorida. This enterprise earns a 100/100 rating from Charity Navigator (compare to 89 for the American Red Cross):

The default is a modest $10. Casey DeSantis explains at about 18:30 into the video below that more than $10 million has been raised. Some of the cited big donors: Amazon, Walmart, Publix, Florida Power & Light, the PGA Tour. The credit card fees are being waived when you donate so nearly all of the money should go to work.

One caveat is that you don’t get public credit, even your name on a list of donors, if you donate a modest amount. You get a web page thank-you:

So unless you can brag on Facebook or Twitter or a personal blog, giving will have to be its own reward. If you’re a Democrat make sure to take a screen capture of this because you won’t want to keep the email acknowledgment and there is some chance that your itemized deductions will be more than the generous Trump-established standard deduction. Alternatively, you could be like Elvis Presley and not try to write off the deduction “because it takes away from the spirit of the gift.”

Why would Democrats not welcome the email acknowledgment of the gift? “Your donation plays a key role in supporting Governor DeSantis’ initiatives…”

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How is Snowflake stock doing?

1.5 years ago: Short Snowflake? Looking at SNOW versus the S&P 500 over that period:

SNOW is down nearly 30 percent while the S&P 500, thanks to Joe Biden’s careful stewardship of the U.S. economy, is down 10 percent (but actually that 10 percent over 1.5 years is more like 25 percent once inflation is factored in, a stunning loss of wealth for Americans).

In April 2021, SNOW was valued at roughly 30 percent of the value of Oracle (ORCL), the backbone of business data processing. What is the company’s market cap today, as a percentage of Oracle’s market cap? SNOW is worth $54 billion. Oracle is worth $165 billion. So I think the philip.greenspun.com fact checking department must rate my April 2021 claim as #False. SNOW turned out to be a loser for an investor, but not because 30 percent of Oracle’s valuation was absurd.


  • How did SNOW do versus the S&P 500? (April 1, 2022): “Despite SNOW having gone down a bit, I continue to be mystified by its market cap. … Why is a money-losing company, albeit one with growing revenue, worth $70+ billion?”
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Let’s check in on power restoration for Florida’s west coast

From the lieutenant governor on Wednesday night:

Considering that they couldn’t start driving into the affected areas until the hurricane eye had moved well northeast, the 42,000 linemen, linewomen, and line-non-binary-people have had essentially one full day to work. How much have they accomplished? Florida started off with at least 2.7 million customers (about 5 million people when you consider household size and subtract businesses?) without power according to poweroutage.us. A state agency published a similar number:

What’s https://poweroutage.us/area/state/florida showing now?

Also, here’s Governor DeSantis’s 9 am briefing:

Can he win an Emmy for these or is he not as good as Andrew Cuomo? (I never had the privilege to see Cuomo’s Emmy-winning briefings.)

Finally, how about making a documentary film of these linemen, linewomen, and line-non-binary-people restoring Florida’s grid? So as not to delay their important work, have a 27-year-old interview them during meal breaks and ask, with outstretched palm, “Biden is going to force you to pay for most of my gender studies degree, but would you mind voluntarily kicking in for the rest?” Generally speaking, linepeople learn via a paid on-the-job apprenticeship rather than by sitting in a classroom. However, if we can find a few among the 42,000 who did complete a college degree, that would be even better for our video. A lineperson could explain how his/her/zir/their Critical Race Theory major and Gender Studies minor were invaluable prep for working on the 50 kV lines. Another could explain how the psych degree was helpful when configuring a Toshiba GRT200 transformer protection relay.

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Someone smarter than I collected tens of thousands of dollars in pandemic unemployment benefits in my name; what next?

I got a letter from the Department of Revenue back in Maskachusetts. They were upset that I failed to report $12,600 in coronapanic unemployment benefits received in 2020. As I had not filed for unemployment nor received $12,600, this came as a shock. The claim did not start until mid-October 2020 so it is safe to assume that another $20,000+ was harvested in 2021.

When I tried to log into the Massachusetts unemployment web site with my Social Security number, I found that authorization was required from someone with a phone number ending in 1253 or an email address at barid.com, “the most functional webmail in the Arab World”:

My memory of 2020 is dim, so it is theoretically possible that I myself filed for unemployment in 2020. However, it is not possible that I was able to read and write Arabic in 2020. Therefore, due to my illiteracy in Arabic, I’m 99.99% sure that this is a fraud situation.

It is strange that the state couldn’t figure out the fraud by itself. During the purported period of unemployment, the employer (a small LLC) was continuing to make regular payments for unemployment insurance, state income tax withholding, etc. How is it possible that one agency within the state was receiving payments for an employed person while another one was making payments to an unemployed person with the same SSN and a presumably different mailing address? My phone number is readily available. The state government has enough money to pay out tens of thousands of dollars, but not to attempt to make a phone call to the person corresponding to the SSN and ask “Did you actually file for unemployment?” Nor enough money to compare SSNs in two databases?

[The same government that fails to question how someone for whom payroll taxes are being paid regularly can also be “unemployed” and entitled to unemployment checks is the one that we’re supposed to trust regarding how to prevent an aerosol virus that mutates constantly.]

Has anyone else had a similar situation? A friend who employs 25 people in Maskachusetts says that fraudulent unemployment claims were filed for 5 of his employees. I’m thinking that this will take at least 40 hours of time (which otherwise could have been billed to clients at $550 per hour) and $3,000 in fees to my accountant to untangle. So the cost to the U.S. economy of enriching a single Arabic speaker with $12,600 will be at least $37,600. And I will get to do it all over again for 2021. This is another cost of coronapanic lockdowns and everything that flowed from them. A smaller, poorer economy (let’s assume that the $12,600 actually ended up somewhere out of the U.S.) is one in which people will live shorter lives (income being positively correlated with longevity). I’m going to mark this down as evidence for my theory that the lockdowns will end up killing far more Americans than SARS-CoV-2 ever did or ever will. (The biggest killer will be of today’s children, whose adult lives will be shortened because they were deprived of a year of education in the States of Virtue.)

Readers: Any tips for fixing this?

Progress so far:

  • I filed an online fraud report with the Maskachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance
  • I called the customer service phone number, (877) 626-6800, on the Maskachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance web site. All of the state workers are out serving meals at the off-island internment camp for the Vineyard 50, it seems, as the wait time to talk to an agent was 42 minutes (I chose the offered callback option, but was never called back). The agency apparently is not interested in fraud reports as all of the numbers that can be pressed on the phone keypad are advertised as leading to different ways to get more money from the government. There is no mention of an option to (1) stop getting checks, (2) report having found a job, or (3) report fraud.
  • I called the Massachusetts Department of Revenue and waited on hold for about 15 minutes before being connected to an agent. She was able to look up the 1099G and determined that it had been sent to Loganville, Georgia. In other words, it seems that the state was receiving payments for unemployment insurance for someone who was actively employed in Massachusetts while simultaneously sending out money with the same SSN claiming to be unemployed in Georgia.
  • I called the MA Unemployment folks again and waited on hold for 30 minutes before being disconnected.
  • I called the MA Unemployment folks again and waited on hold for nearly an hour before being connected to a lady who explained that the department had allowed people to register for unemployment and request electronic documents. They never had to show up in person, never had to submit any ID (like for voting!), and just received a river of cash (ACH or debit card). The agency never made any attempt to cross-check with reports from employers regarding who had a job, either at the time the money was flying out the door or in a later reconciliation process. Fraud identification is left entirely up to the individual, she explained. Corrected 1099G forms aren’t sent out unless someone requests it and the 1099G correction is entirely manual. So the Massachusetts Unemployment Assistance folks, by leaving all of this inaccurate information out there, create a huge workload for the MA DOR and also for the federal IRS, spawning potentially hundreds of thousands of audits for Biden’s Army of 87,000 (the Spartans managed with 300).
  • The lady connected me to a fraud specialist within the Department of Unemployment Assistance who said that he had no idea how long it would take to issue a corrected 1099G. They would have to “investigate”.


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Meet in London next week or Paris the week after?

Beloved European and stubbornly non-European readers: I arrive in London (staying near St. James Park underground and Westminster Abbey) on Tuesday, October 4 (Airbus A380 from MIA!). On October 8, it will be time to move to Paris via the tunnel train. I will be there in the 7th arrondissement through the morning of October 15. I would love to meet up! Please email me (philg@mit.edu) with a plan.


Readers: How is Europe so crowded with tourists? It is tough to get reservations for anything. The Chinese aren’t traveling, I don’t think, because they would have to spend two weeks in quarantine on returning. The Russians aren’t traveling. Who is filling up Europe’s hotels, restaurants, and museums/monuments in October 2022?

Here’s a photo from my most recent trip to Paris, in 2016:

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Have the TV networks been showing Ron DeSantis?

A reader comment on What would it cost to retreat from Tampa to Orlando as Hurricane Ian appraoches?:

It’s amusing to watch the media’s approach to the hurricane and Ron DeSantis. They pretty much have to put him on TV, discussing plans to evacuate, etc. But the contrast with this young, vibrant, competent governor speaking extemporaneously versus the decrepit old fossil in Washington squinting his eyes to read what somebody else put on the teleprompter must be driving them nuts.

Assuming that DeSantis is continuing to demonstrate competence and organization, the best way for the media to support Democrats would be to ignore him. This would be the flip side of featuring Andrew Cuomo during coronapanic so much that he won an Emmy and the hearts of Americans identifying as female (see “Hot for governor! Women confess they are developing ‘MAJOR crushes’ on Andrew Cuomo” and remember that, due to his masterful management of the virus, New York State had only 367 COVID-tagged deaths per 100,000, while Sweden’s radical “give the finger to the virus” policy resulted in a horrific 1,849 deaths (per million)).

At this point it is unclear that Ron DeSantis will be doing a lot of briefings. Maybe he is going to be busy managing the statewide response instead of getting in front of cameras. But if the DeSantis twitter feed fills up with briefings that aren’t shown on CNN, can we infer that CNN has its thumb on the scale?

Here’s this morning’s briefing:

Let’s compare to a recent press conference from Joe Biden:

Who wants to compare the two for cognitive function and apparent competence to manage? No fair if you’re a passionate Democrat or Republican! Maybe we should let the European readers judge.

How about the Democrat running to liberate Floridians from the hated tyrant? Here’s his Twitter profile this morning:

Without scrolling, it is all about fascism and abortion care, neither of which is going to de-flood Fort Myers and Naples.

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Economic bubble reading list: The Lost Bank

Today is the beginning of the big GDP statistics update from the BEA:

At the end of September, BEA will update five years of U.S. gross domestic product and related statistics, as well as GDP statistics for industries and for each state.

Maybe we’ll get some insight into how badly we fooled ourselves in imagining that people sitting at home scrolling Facebook and playing Xbox were as productive as if they’d continued to go to the office. The latest from the BEA:

Speaking of fooling ourselves, let me recommend The Lost Bank: The Story of Washington Mutual – The Biggest Bank Failure in American History by Kirsten Grind, a Wall Street Journal reporter. The Collapse of 2008 has been covered at a high level in a lot of books, but this one manages to touch on all of the big issues in the context of a single enterprise and group of people. As with “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic,” a narrative about one company is more compelling and easier to follow than a story about the entire U.S. economy.

The book explains how our modern world of a handful of enormous banks came to be. When there are no limits on how big a bank can get, small variations in bank health lead to enormous concentration. Due to being slightly larger, WaMu might have slightly lower costs per customer than a smaller bank, e.g., with information systems being spread across a larger base, thus making an acquisition sensible on both sides. WaMu would buy banks after the CEO got sued for divorce, leaving the target without effective leadership while the CEO was defending the lawsuit. WaMu would ultimately buy banks to feed its own executives’ egos, particularly Kerry Killinger’s, regarding its size rank among U.S. banks (when you’re #4, the desire to become #2 or #1 becomes tough to resist).

The book explains the roots of the Collapse of 2008. At a high level, the book identifies the following culprits:

  • the federal government, starting with Bill Clinton, pressuring banks into lending big money to Americans with low income and bad credit history to serve a social justice goal of achieving a desire mix of skin colors among borrowers (regulators could simply shut down a bank that didn’t lend enough money to the groups of interest to the government)
  • Fannie Mae, which abandoned its insistence on high quality mortgages and, partly due to pressure from the government, started buying low quality mortgages issued to home buyers/flippers who could not be expected to pay back loans if house prices flattened
  • New York City, whose investment banks sold mortgage-backed bonds to investors worldwide and, also, those investors. The book describes people on the ground at subprime lenders, e.g., Long Beach Mortgage (acquired by WaMu in 1999), recognizing that the borrowers would never pay but assuming that if Wall Street kept buying the mortgages the investors must know something that they didn’t.
  • California, where most of the fraudulent practices originated.
  • the issuance of complex variable rate mortgages, such as Option ARM, to consumers who lacked the sophisticated or, in many cases the English language skills, to understand them (it didn’t help that these folks had the financial capacity only to pay the initial teaser monthly payments and were guaranteed to default if a house price didn’t go up enough to enable a refinance; Federal regulators at the Office of Thrift Supervision approved the practice of issuing a $4000/month mortgage to a consumer who could afford only the $1000/month teaser rate)

As in Bubble in the Sun book: even those with the best information can’t predict a crash, those on the inside did not always see crash coming. In early 2007, for example, as investors were fleeing from high-risk mortgages and as some of his junior executives warned of impending doom, Kerry Killinger tried to buy a huge California-based subprime lender, Ameriquest, which went bankrupt shortly afterwards. Questioned regarding why he would want to pay for Ameriquest while the crash appeared to be underway, Killinger responded “They don’t ring a bell at the bottom.”

Kirsten Grind references Are You Missing the Real Estate Boom?: The Boom Will Not Bust and Why Property Values Will Continue to Climb Through the End of the Decade, by David Lereah, Ph.D., the chief economist for the National Association of Realtors. The 2005 book was rereleased in February 2006 just as the market for subprime mortgage-backed securities began to collapse (but Fannie Mae kept buying!).

The book is a great lesson in what we might call “success disease.” Executives who take risks when everything is going up imagine that they have some special talents. Like individual investors in high-beta stocks, they don’t risk-adjust their high historical returns for the fact that they took a lot of risk and that it could easily have gone in the other direction.

The book answers the question Why did banks work so hard to lend money to people who obviously weren’t going to pay? Due to the higher interest rates on subprime, and the assumption that almost all of the low-income folks who took out subprime loans would actually pay, it was 5-10X more profitable to lend money to someone with no job than it was to lend money to a person with a job and a history of paying his/her/zir/their bills. The book doesn’t say so explicitly, but this also explains why banks couldn’t easily abandon their subprime practices in 2005 when the problems were already obvious. If they had done so, they would have needed to fire half of their employees (since the revenue from being a mortgage lender to those who could actually afford houses was such a small fraction of the subprime revenue stream).

Those passionate about social justice will be pleased to learn that the one voice of praise from a shareholder at the April 2008 meeting was from a Ph.D. economist who was also and employee. She expressed confidence in the Board and executive team, thanking them for their focus on diversity in hiring and lending to minorities (“community”). WaMu had recently rejected an $8/share buyout offer from J.P. Morgan Chase and also recently obtained $7 billion in smart money from the private equity geniuses (WSJ, Sept 2008 describes all $7 billion being lost). The private equity investors got half the company and let the Board and executives keep their jobs.

The book is also a cautionary reminder that it can take a while for bad decisions to work their way through the system. The California-style lending practices first reached the rest of the U.S. perhaps in 2003. It wasn’t until four years later that the subprime lenders began to go bankrupt, in mid-2007. And it was more than a year later before the broader U.S. markets and economy collapsed. If you think that U.S. economic policy has been misguided since March 2020 (as I do, because the rewards have been tilted in favor of those who don’t work or who engage in counterproductive activities), it could be a few years before the consequences of this policy become apparent.

Don’t forget that a disaster for ordinary folks, investors, etc. may be only a minor problem for the executives who caused the disaster. Kerry Killinger took so much money out of WaMu on the way up that he could pay off Wife #1 while also building and enjoying a dream lifestyle with Wife #2 that apparently persists to this day. The Latinx subprime borrowers lost everything, but Killinger still had his collection of $6 million houses (worth $20 million each today?). Killinger’s epic risk-taking would have been rational, even with full advance knowledge that it would render the bank’s shares worthless. If he had managed the bank conservatively, nothing dramatic would have happened either to the shares or to his own net worth.

I’ve actually been listening to The Lost Bank: The Story of Washington Mutual – The Biggest Bank Failure in American History via Audible, but don’t love the narrator so perhaps the Kindle or print versions would be better.


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