Sean Connery as an inspiration for American suburban life

From one of our Facebook friends:

RIP, Sir Sean Connery. Your impact on my childhood and becoming a man cannot be understated. Thank you.

This led to a mystified chat discussion. The guy who posted this has been married for 25 years, works at a desk job, never does anything without first asking his wife for permission, never expresses an opinion that he and/or his wife think might upset the town’s cabal of stay-at-home moms, and is an apparent slave to his high school-age daughters. What was the connection between James Bond and the suburban soccer dad? How had Danny Dravot’s attempts to take over Afghanistan in The Man Who Would Be King inspired his trips to Costco?

Also, if Joe Biden delivers on his promise to shut down the United States, do we start calling Anthony Fauci “Dr. No”?


  • Wikipedia reveals the inclusive nature of the U.K. Connery was knighted by the Queen in 2000 despite (a) living in the Bahamas to minimize income tax liability, and (b) supporting Scottish independence.
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Togo, the Disney sled dog movie

If there is a dispute in your household regarding whether a big furry dog is allowed to sleep in the bed… Togo is the movie for you! This is a fantastic (in all senses of the word) dramatization of the 1925 dog team relay that brought diphtheria antitoxin serum to Nome.

The best part, from my point of view, is that the growth of a character (and in every Hollywood movie, of course, someone has to grow!) is demonstrated by abandonment of a previous objection to a dog sleeping in the (humans’) bed.

Recommended if you’ve got a Disney+ subscription. (Does it qualify as “the best piece of art in any form that I have ever seen in my life,” as Michelle Obama said of Hamilton? Maybe not, but it has Arctic dogs and, at least when presented on a TV, it holds the viewer’s attention much better than Hamilton.)


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Who has watched Hamilton more than once on Disney+?

Michelle Obama on Hamilton: “it was simply, as I tell everybody, the best piece of art in any form that I have ever seen in my life.” The proletariat seemed to agree with her, happily shelling out a month of income for a family night at the (sold-out-at-$1000+/seat) theater.

The musical has been out for months now on Disney+. Who has taken the trouble to press the “Play” button more than once? Or knows someone who has watched the musical more than once on Disney+?

I ultimately failed to persuade even a single friend to come over and watch this. Visiting a friend’s vacation house for roughly 7 nights this summer, I could not persuade anyone there to watch it with me.

[The same people were happy to gather, perhaps contrary to a subset of our governor’s 50+ orders, for other movies, shows, games, and activities.]

I am having difficulty understanding how something that was so valuable to people in the theater is essentially worthless on TV. Part of this, I guess, is that sticking a camera in the back of a theatrical production has seldom been a hugely successful technique for making a good movie. On the other hand, that’s what the Metropolitan Opera did before they were shut down for coronapanic and the results were successful with millions of viewers on PBS and at least hundreds of thousands in theaters.

Also, what’s our verdict on the show? Who agrees with Michelle Obama that this is better than any painting in the Metropolitan Museum, Louvre, or National Gallery (I think we can assume she has been to these places)? Who agrees with Michelle Obama that this is better than any work by Bach, Beethoven, Verdi, or Mozart? Who agrees with Michelle Obama that this is better than any work misattributed to Shakespeare?


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What new monuments do we need?

From the New York Times:

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the largest humanities philanthropy in the United States, has pledged to spend $250 million over five years to help reimagine the country’s approach to monuments and memorials, in an effort to better reflect the nation’s diversity and highlight buried or marginalized stories.

The first major grant under the new $250 million initiative will be a $4 million, three-year gift to Monument Lab, a Philadelphia-based public art and research studio that works with artists and community groups across the country to “reimagine public spaces through stories of social justice and equity,” according to its website.

The cover photo of the story:

Readers: What new monuments do you propose?

My first idea is a monument on the Hudson River to the French software engineers who kept the Airbus A320 from stalling despite Captain Sully’s heroic stick-full-back-the-whole-time landing (some details). Computer programmers are a group whose stories are marginalized, as required by the foundation. How often does anyone want to hear a tale of cisgender white male nerds writing code?

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Hollywood says it is okay to be racist, sexist, and anti-LGBTQIA+ half the time

“Oscars Announce New Inclusion Requirements for Best Picture Eligibility” (Variety):

For the 94th and 95th Oscars ceremonies, scheduled for 2022 and 2023, a film will submit a confidential Academy Inclusion Standards form to be considered for best picture. Beginning in 2024, for the 96th Oscars, a film submitting for best picture will need to meet the inclusion thresholds by meeting two of the four standards.

If these standards are important, why does a film need to meet only half of them? Would we say that a person was a virtuous anti-racist if he/she/ze/they went to only half of the local KKK gatherings?

What are America’s victim groups, according to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences?

•Racial or ethnic group:
•Black/African American
•Indigenous/Native American/Alaskan Native
•Middle Eastern/North African
•Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander
•Other underrepresented race or ethnicity
•People with cognitive or physical disabilities, or who are deaf or hard of hearing

(Only “LGBTQ+” and not “LGBQTIA+”?)

Also… when is victimhood measured? At the time that the victim is hired? At the time that the victim first works on the film? At the time that the victim completes work on the film? At the time of the Academy Awards? We wouldn’t deny, I hope, that gender ID is fluid and changeable. Hollywood itself loves to give us examples of people who change their LGBTQIA+ status from negative (cisgender heterosexual) to positive (e.g., homosexual). Racial identification is fluid. Most recently in the news, Jessica Krug, whose brilliant Ph.D. colleagues accepted her as a Black woman (NY Post):

Finally, what actually qualifies under the LGBTQIA+ banner? The actor tells the producer that he/she/ze/they had sex in an LGBTQIA+ manner? How does that move the needle with the general public unless the actor has sex in an LGBTQIA+ manner on screen? Rock Hudson, for example, allegedly identified as LGBTQIA+, but his on-screen characters were cisgender heterosexuals. Why did that advance the LGBTQIA+ movement compared to simply hiring a cisgender heterosexual actor?

(Even a movie with an all-Asian (a victim category for Hollywood) cast and a female lead is objectionable currently: “Disney Wanted to Make a Splash in China With ‘Mulan.’ It Stumbled Instead.” (NYT, complaining that Disney did some filming in a Muslim area of China (wouldn’t the revenue actually be good for Chinese Muslims?)))

Related (going through old posts to see if any of them involve movies that would qualify):

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Midnight in Chernobyl: Helicopter heroes

Suggested reading for 9/11, in which I hope we remember those who ran towards the stricken towers rather than following instinct and running away: Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster Kindle Edition, by Adam Higginbotham. This follows my general rule that the only good popular books on science and engineering are written by British authors, who tend to assume that their audience is actually capable of comprehending some of the technical and scientific points.

The heroism in the book is inspiring. I was partway through this book when a scheduled flight to Upstate New York came up. There was a 40-knot headwind which would, I knew, combine with the mountains and hills to form turbulence. The FAA had issued a warning for moderate turbulence below 10,000′. The trip was a favor to friends who wanted to look at an antique wooden boat for sale. I thought about wimping out on two hours of bumps, but then said “If the Soviet firefighters and nuclear plant ran toward Chernobyl Reactor 4 rather than away, I can handle a bit of discomfort.”

A lot of the workers in the plant behaved heroically, trying to resupply what they thought was left of the exploded reactor with cooling water. They knew that they were going to receive lethal doses of radiation, but they strove to reach manual valves and controls in hopes of saving fellow citizens. About 60 of these men died within a month (Wikipedia).

Although there was no shortage of heroes following this explosion, I had never realized the heroic actions of Soviet helicopter crews. They flew directly into the worst of the radioactive cloud to drop, by hand, bags of boron-containing sand, straight down into the ruined core. “Historians estimate that about 600 Soviet pilots risked dangerous levels of radiation to fly the thousands of flights needed to cover reactor No. 4 in this attempt to seal off radiation.” (Wikipedia, which also notes that the efforts might not have yielded significant results; as with coronaplague, when the guy running the helicopter operation was told that it was futile, he said “we have to be seen to be doing something”)


It is a good book. I haven’t seen the HBO series. What do folks think of it?

Circling back to 9/11, the New Yorker ran a good article on Rick Rescorla, who went into the World Trade Center to get people out.


  • the cause of the accident (Chernobyl Gallery)
  • “How HBO Got It Wrong On Chernobyl” (Forbes): 2 immediate, non-radiation deaths; 29 early fatalities from radiation (ARS) within 4 months from radiation, burns and smoke inhalation, 19 late adult fatalities presumably from radiation over the next 20 years, although this number is within the normal incidence of cancer mortality in this group, which is about 1% per year, and 9 late child fatalities resulting in thyroid cancer, presumably from radiation.
  • Wikipedia: There is consensus that a total of approximately 30 men died from immediate blast trauma and acute radiation syndrome (ARS) in the seconds to months after the disaster, respectively, with 60 in total in the decades hence, inclusive of later radiation induced cancer.[2][3][4] However, there is considerable debate concerning the accurate number of projected deaths due to the disaster’s long-term health effects; long-term death estimates range from up to 4,000 (per the 2005 and 2006 conclusions of a joint consortium of the United Nations) for the most exposed people of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, to 16,000 in total for all those exposed on the entire continent of Europe, with figures as high as 60,000 when including the relatively minor effects around the globe
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Forgeries in the reopened art museums?

Today is the day that our biggest art museum, the Metropolitan, will supposedly reopen. I wonder if art museums will survive given that people now have to (a) book in advance, (b) show up at a precise time, and (c) wear a mask. It might be more pleasant to stay home and walk unmasked around the neighborhood and/or be entertained with a screen.

If you want to get back into the art world, let me recommend this Washington Post article on Gaugin forgeries.

It is possible that a real Gaugin is more offensive than a fake one:

And yet, today more than ever, Gauguin is a highly divisive figure.

To his admirers, he was one of the last great romantic adventurers, a former stockbroker who sloughed off bourgeois conventions and voyaged across the world to live out a dream. He was, they say, a visionary artist who was determined to learn from other cultures, and who used his expanded awareness to make some of the most ambitious, original works of the modern era.

To others, however, he was a scoundrel who traveled to French Polynesia and shamelessly stole creative ideas from cultures he barely knew. These critics also see a man who abandoned his wife and family to father children with teenage girls in the South Seas, relationships that he got away with due to his colonial prestige but that can clearly be seen as more sinister today.

Eating organic food and breathing unpolluted air nearly killed Gaugin and he was sick and weak before dying at age 54, but there are a fair number of works attributed to the artist in the year before he died.

A school group at the National Gallery of Art back in 2016. They won’t have to endure this kind of excursion now that they’re all fully virtual!

A sculpture that might have to be canceled:


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Richard Jewell movie

Who has enjoyed Richard Jewell, a Clint Eastwood movie streaming on HBO?

It is a great example of how to make a compelling movie even when the outcome is known in advance. (The story concerns the bombing at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 and the security guard who found a suspicious backpack. Richard Jewell’s actions might have saved 100 lives. He quickly went from hero to main suspect as a team of 20+ FBI agents pursued the “look for the keys under the street light” method.)

For pilots and anyone else who has to make decisions with incomplete information, it is an interesting demonstration of our human ability to convince ourselves and to fit new information into our existing way of explaining an event. The FBI was hugely over-committed to their theory that Jewell, whose personality quirk of zealotry-in-law-enforcement was both the thing that motivated him to notice the backpack and also the thing that made him seem like a possible unhinged murderer.


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Visual artists will switch to outdoor sculpture due to plague?

With art museums closed or compromised (regulated pre-arranged visit times, masks, etc.) and art galleries damaged by the destruction of American retail, will visual artists switch to outdoor sculpture?

If most people with money flee the cities to suburban or country estates, and then spend a lot of time imprisoned in their yards, that’s a big market for attractive sculpture, right?

From the Storm King Art Center, now somewhat reopened (good day trip due to being adjacent to a near-infinite-length runway at KSWF; Dia:Beacon will reopen August 7):

(you may be able to park next to Donald Trump’s family Boeing 757 at KSWF, which is where it lives)

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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:

Correction from Joseph Boyle: The British actually did steal more land (via “treaty”) in the years between 1763 and 1776. The Purchase Line of 1768 reflects this theft. (This correction notwithstanding, the British did seem to be more inclined toward honoring treaties and less inclined toward slaveholding than were the colonists.)

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