History lessons from the musical Hamilton

The price of a ticket to Hamilton finally came down to something I was willing to pay: $0 (already subscribing to Disney+).

So far I’ve learned that taxes in the American colonies were sky-high and King George was arbitrarily murderous.

Who else is watching? Now that we’ve seen it, does it seem like it would have been worth $2,000/seat to see in the theater? (If we assume that the streaming Hamilton is as good as the live one, comparable to the assumption that our state and local overlords would have us believe regarding K-12 schools, everything else on Disney+ is essentially free until everyone in our family is dead. The cost of four tickets to Hamilton on Broadway, back in the year 2019, would pay for at least 50 years of Disney+?)

Also… Happy Treason Day!

An NBER paper:

There is no doubt that the colonies paid very low taxes. For example, in 1763, on average, a citizen in Britain paid 26 shillings per year in taxes, while a citizen in New England paid just 1 shilling per year (see, for example, Ferguson 2004). Along the same line, Walton and Shepherd (1979) present an index of per capita tax burden for 1765: Great Britain 100, Ireland 26, Massachusetts 4, Connecticut 2, New York 3, Pennsylvania 4, Maryland 4, and Virginia 2. Moreover, after the Seven Years War, the British Parliament tried and failed to impose new taxes on the American colonies …

The third wave was the Townshend Acts of 1767, which were customs duties on British products imported into the colonies. The measures were intended to raise 1% of colonial income, a relatively small economic burden. Moreover, they met the criteria that only external trade should be taxed.

I’ve seen some other sources that calculated the tax burden for American colonists at 2 percent of income, lower than the most efficient countries today, such as Singapore (14 percent). For reference, the U.K. collects about 33 percent of income in taxes today while the U.S. is at 27 percent (but we spend 38 percent!).

Regarding the other history lesson, did King George ever actually order any colonist killed, like Admiral General Aladeen in The Dictator did?

Fallingwater, more or less on the Proclamation Line, west of which the colonists could not steal land from the Native Americans without rebelling against England:

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Norwegian TV series for the Age of Corona: Occupied

A (tenured professor) friend recommended Occupied, a 2015 Norwegian TV show on Netflix that is surprisingly timely. In the first episode, the prime minister has to decide whether it is better to die on one’s feet or live on one’s knees. Citing the priceless nature of even a single human life, he decides that Norwegians must accept subjugation by the EU and Russia.

(The initial plot premise doesn’t make obvious sense. Norway shuts down its oil and gas production in a noble effort to save Spaceship Earth from climate destruction. The EU wants Norwegian oil and gas and brings in the Russians to force Norway to turn it all back on. But since the Russians compete with Norway in oil and gas production, why would the Russians want to pressure Norway? Wouldn’t the Russians be better off just selling EU its own production at a higher price? This is never explained, but if you can suspend your disbelief on this one point, the rest of the series makes sense.)

As the episodes unfold, Norwegians gradually surrender what had been their rights. Just like Americans facing the threat of coronaplague, about half of the people simply assert that their rights have not been eliminated, just slightly adjusted (e.g., children who get a weekly email from a teacher and two hours/week of Google Classroom hangout are still receiving their right to an education) while a clandestine resistance emerges of people who want their former constitutional rights as they were previously understood.

I’ll be interested to hear what readers think about whether this movie captures the mindset of government leaders around the world today when it comes to dealing with the threat of coronaplague!

(My Dutch friend: “All of the rights that Americans fought and died in multiple wars to defend, they gave up in one governor’s press conference.” The screenwriters thought it would take a war for people in a Democracy to lose their rights, but a respiratory virus turned out to be sufficient to erase liberty!)

Related:

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From which file sharing service will people pull videos out of the memory hole?

“BBC remove Fawlty Towers’ iconic ‘Don’t Mention The War’ episode from UKTV streaming site” (The Sun):

The streaming service which is owned by the Corporation, have decided to take down the episode that also features racial terms.

This is the latest “classic” British TV show to be removed from a streaming service owned by the BBC, as broadcasters continue to re-assess old British television content.

This Fawlty Towers episode in question was first broadcast in 1975, also features Cleese’s bigoted character who was in hospital and was shocked when he was treated by a black doctor.

Where will people find the content that their morally superior overlords have decided needs to be stuffed into a memory hole? Is BitTorrent sustainable or can it be shut down easily by governments and ISPs under the rubric of protecting copyright (i.e., the right of the owner to block anyone from ever seeing something again)?

People are pirating copies of movies already, right? How are they doing it? Will the mechanisms of today still work in 20 or 30 years?

John Cleese in 2019, from the Daily Mail:

'Finally got it right': John Cleese revealed he 'finally got it right' with his fourth wife after a string of failed marriages - and admitted he still only feels 43 despite his 80th birthday fast approaching

Related:

  • “Gone with the Wind removed from HBO Max” (BBC)
  • “John Cleese’s Alimony Payments Are No Laughing Matter” (HuffPost): In a new interview with the Sunday Morning Herald, the 74-year-old funnyman opens up about his 2008 divorce, touring, and the perception that he’s financially set thanks to his success with “Monty Python.” … “I will have paid my ex-wife, I think it is $23 or $24 million. That’s an awful lot of money. And when you have to pay it over a period of seven years, even if you sell a lot of properties — like I had five and I now have one — there’s still a lot of simple, hard work to be done just to earn the rest of it.” … The former couple has no children. [see Real World Divorce on England]
  • “Berkeley Will Delete Online Content” (20,000 lectures withdrawn from the public due to “receiving complaints from two employees of Gallaudet University, saying Berkeley’s free online educational content was inaccessible to blind and deaf people because of a lack of captions, screen reader compatibility and other issues.”)

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Time to watch Jar Jar Binks instead of Harry Potter?

“Harry Potter Fans Reimagine Their World Without Its Creator” (NYT):

When J.K. Rowling was accused of transphobia about two years ago for “liking” a tweet that referred to transgender women as “men in dresses,” much of the Harry Potter fandom tried to give their beloved author the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps it really was just an accident, a “clumsy and middle-aged moment,” as Ms. Rowling’s spokesperson said at the time.

[now] First, Ms. Rowling took aim at an article that referred to “people who menstruate,” suggesting that it was wrong to not use “women” in a misguided attempt to include trans people. When she received negative response to this, she then published a 3,700-word essay on gender, sex, abuse and fear: “I refuse to bow down to a movement that I believe is doing demonstrable harm in seeking to erode ‘woman’ as a political and biological class and offering cover to predators.”

The Times itself seems to reject the idea of more than a handful of gender IDs:

Each fan must make her own choices for herself then.

Is it acceptable to start and end a list of pronouns for “fans” with “her”?

This is a “news”, not “opinion”, article in the Times. It is apparently a proven fact that TERFs are wrong:

Ms. Rowling’s essay, which was published on Wednesday, rails against the term T.E.R.F., or trans-exclusionary radical feminist, describing it as a slur used to silence women like herself on the internet. She repeated a number of pieces of misinformation that are common talking points for this loose association of people, and made the claim that the “movement” led by transgender activists is eroding the notion of womanhood and “offering cover to predators like few before it.” As a sort of explanation for that fear, Ms. Rowling recounted memories of a sexual assault in her 20s.

Here’s the real question for me: how hateful does a hate-filled author have to be in order to justify watching Jar Jar Binks?

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Team America saved our country from Covid-19?

One of the finest achievements of American cinema, Team America: World Police, features a group of heroes who have one yardstick for determining success or failure: the number of terrorists killed. The movie opens with the team declaring victory over a small group of jihadis in Paris. They’re satisfied with their results, but the citizens of Paris are unhappy about all of the city’s monuments being destroyed.

Now that our cities are in ruins, I’m wonder if the same logic has been applied in 2020 regarding coronaplague. Americans now care about one thing only: the number of people killed by Covid-19. It doesn’t matter how old or sick these people were before coronavirus got them. Every life that can be saved from Covid-19 is worth an unlimited amount of (a) deaths due to withheld non-Covid health care, (b) family and life destruction due to unemployment, poverty, and kids kicked out of school and imprisoned in small apartments with a miscellaneous collection of adults (“Fewer than half (46%) of U.S. kids younger than 18 years of age are living in a home with two married heterosexual parents in their first marriage.”), (c) dollars borrowed that the children being denied educations, playgrounds, and friends will have to pay back, etc.

Isn’t it the same in Europe, you might ask? No! They took a more balanced approach. Yes, coronaplague was bad, but as soon as they figured out that schools weren’t primary drivers of plague, they reopened their schools (except in Sweden, where the schools never closed). Maybe the Europeans will suffer a handful of additional Covid-19-tagged deaths are a result, but they are looking at more than a single number to measure how their nations are doing. How about India? A brief lockdown followed by a swift reopening. Brazil? “sorry for all the dead, but that’s everyone’s destiny.” (even Trump can’t say stuff like this!)

Readers: Was Team America prescient regarding our national tunnel vision? We have a slightly lower death rate nationwide compared to Sweden (where I live in Massachusetts, though, the death rate is more than 2X never-shut Sweden’s, as we enter Month 4 of shutdown).

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Star Trek misogynistic?

A friend’s Facebook status:

I just finished re-watching Star Trek (The Original Series).
WOW… every single episode is uncomfortably misogynistic.
EVERY. SINGLE. EPISODE.

He then amplified this for a friend who questioned the above statement:

in this case misogynistic does not mean “hate” so much as objectification and dismissal — In the first few episodes of the first season we hear that women are prone to more emotional outbursts than men, that they are all searching for a man to care for them, that they need a man to be self actualized.
That women can be coaxed from their command duties (commit mutiny or traitorous activity) when a man shows interest.
Even the first episode which had a female officer as second in command (With Command Pike) the female officer was shown to be lustful toward Pike at one point and catty when compared (by the butthead aliens) to the younger ensign.

Me, always trying to be helpful on social media:

You could create a new series: Woke Trek. All officers of the Starship Safe Space have PhDs in Comparative Victimhood.

Readers: What would be the ideal science fiction series for our woke time?

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What happens to classical musicians in the Age of Corona?

The audience for live classical music and opera is perilously close to the 82-year-old average age of a Covid-19 victim in Massachusetts (source). Concert venues are shut down by orders of the governor, First Amendment right to assemble notwithstanding. Even if it were legal to host a concert, would the core of elderly patrons show up?

This means that classical music and opera must be experienced via recordings and/or live audio/video streams. But what is the market for a new performance of Carmen or Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony? If you’re going to sit at home and watch it on a screen, why it is better to experience a 2020 performance of an 18th or 19th century work than a 1995, 2006, or 2017 performance that was recorded?

With pop music, it makes sense that we could have a market for new performances. People would pay to hear a new song by Kanye West, performed by Kanye West. They don’t just want to listen to “Gold Digger” over and over. Pop musicians should be able to do roughly as well as the movie industry, i.e., by selling tickets to people watching from home.

Classical music and opera depend on donations and ticket sales tied to live performance. Due high costs under union agreements, American orchestras have typically lost money on recordings. Even if the governor of Massachusetts and his License Raj would permit the Boston Symphony Orchestra to assemble long enough to make a recording, how could that possibly yield enough revenue to keep the institution going? Who is going to donate to an enterprise that is not legal to operate?

Maybe the institutions that have streaming services, such as the Metropolitan Opera and the ever-entrepreneurial musician-owned London Symphony Orchestra, can continue to exist. But what about the average player who would ordinarily be playing in the average city orchestra?

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What movies for coronalockdown?

What are the most relevant movies to watch in coronalockdown? Let’s exclude movies whose connection to the coronaplague is too obvious, e.g., movies about epidemics.

My suggestions: Make Way for Tomorrow, exploring what children owe parents, and the Japanese film that it inspired, Tokyo Story.

(An apocalyptic-minded Bitcoin-holding friend last week: “They just need to let a lot of people die so that we can get the economy restarted.” He could be a character in Make Way for Tomorrow!)

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Knives Out movie: Migrants are better than Native-born Americans

When at Universal Orlando… see a movie! My Irish friend and I saw Knives Out, in which Daniel Craig speaks in a Southern accent that no Southerner since the 19th century (or ever?) has used.

Despite the anachronistic accent, this is perhaps the most modern Hollywood film. It concerns an extended multi-generational family of native-born Americans. They are mendacious and lazy. One even might be a Trump supporter and Wall advocate! All seek to live off the money earned by the patriarch. Their fertility is low, with a one-child maximum.

On the other side of the scale is a hard-working migrant from Latin America. Her mother is undocumented, but somehow she and a sister are citizens. So that the mom can be a completely heroic “single mom,” no father is mentioned nor appears.

It’s a mystery so I don’t want to spoil the rest!

It is worth seeing just to see how thick Hollywood is willing to lay on the “immigrants are better than natives and the U.S. will be better off once the natives have been replaced” message.

[There is a technical inaccuracy. The citizen migrant is supposedly concerned that her undocumented mother will be deported. But the citizen is over age 18 and therefore has an automatic right to bring in her parents (including a father, if one can be identified) via chain migration.]

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Netflix: American Factory

American Factory won the most recent Oscar for Best Documentary. You’re already paying for it so you might as well watch it on Netflix!

The level of access and candor is comparable to what you would see in The Office, but in a real workplace, mostly the Dayton, Ohio factory opened by Fuyao, a Chinese automotive glass manufacturer.

There are some great scenes in which Chinese and American cultures meet, e.g., an American hosts 13 Chinese guests for Thanksgiving with a huge turkey and ham, plus lots of backyard pistol and shotgun shooting.

The factory had been a unionized GM plant from 1981-2008. Fuyao invested $500 million to re-open it as a glass factory in 2016 (investment eventually totaled $1 billion). The opening ceremony hits a rough patch when Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) comes to speak about how all of the workers should unionize and take back what is rightfully theirs. This is later echoed by an Ohio state rep. Both of the politicians who appear in the movie are huge advocates for unionization despite the fact that they watched the unionized GM jobs migrate south and/or offshore.

How does it work to hire an older heavier heavily tattooed workforce? Not profitably at first. Chairman Cao: “American workers are not efficient and output is low.” He’s a regular cheerful hard-working guy who founded the company in 1987.

Americans are sent over to China so that they can see how a profitable line runs. At least one is too fat to fit all of his tattoos under the provided safety vests. The Chinese plant is like a ballet compared to the American plant. Workers are young, slender, and don’t object to their 12-hour shifts. If opposite sex workers fall in love, they get married at the big New Year celebration. (Same-sex marriage is not available in China and single parenthood is illegal, but that doesn’t mean they’re not celebrating a rainbow of love. YMCA was played at the factory New Year party. There is also an awesome company song, a hymn to transparency.)

(Can Chinese factories deliver Western quality? See this Car and Driver article on the Volvo XC60.)

How to explain the difference in output and quality? An American fluent in Chinese says to a counterpart in China: “Most American workers are there to make money, not to make glass.”

The biggest disappointment, however, turns out to be in the high paid American managers who proved ineffective and disloyal in the chairman’s view. They are fired and the new Chinese president who spent half his 53 years in US explains to the young Chinese supervisors that Americans shower children with praise and that’s why the resulting grownups are all overconfident. He reminds the Chinese overseers to keep praising the American line workers just for showing up.

Big drama in the film is provided by a United Auto Workers unionization drive and election. There are enough disgruntled workers to generate some negative publicity on unsafe conditions and excessive demands. The company spends $1 million on an anti-union consultant. The chairman comes over, surveys the middle-aged whiners, and tells subordinates to hire some young people. A Chinese furnace expert who is there on a two-year knowledge transfer stint says, regarding the union idea: “one mountain cannot hold two tigers.”

Eventually, the company is able to stop the red ink from flowing. A key part of that seems to be installing robots to do the stuff that Chinese workers can do quickly, but Americans cannot.

If you’re interested in business or China, you should see American Factory!

Presumably reflecting Americans’ lack of interest in numbers, the film never tries to explain why Fuyao wanted a U.S. factory. Why not build an additional factory in China and ship the output wherever in the world it is needed?

Chairman Cao explains in this interview:

First of all, China had a VAT tax, and the United States did not. Secondly, labor costs in the United States are very high, accounting for 40% of the operating cost, whereas in China it only accounts for 20%, but the proportion of insurance paid by Chinese companies was very high. Although labor costs are half as expensive domestically, we calculate that in our case we were nearly 4% more expensive than the United States, plus the VAT for auto glass, which is around 12%. Third, the American energy prices were lower than China’s. The price of natural gas there was one-fifth that of China’s, electricity was only 40% of China’s price, gasoline cost only half of what it did in China, and the cost of transportation and logistics were relatively low. These inputs made the price 4% to 5% cheaper, so the overall calculation made production 16% to 17% cheaper. Moreover, if I shipped the glass from China to the United States, the freight costs would increase by 15% to 20%.

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