Bubble in the Sun book: even those with the best information can’t predict a crash

Bubble in the Sun: The Florida Boom of the 1920s and How It Brought on the Great Depression (Christopher Knowlton) explains how Miami Beach was essentially the vision of a single individual, Carl Fisher (a pioneer in automobile headlights, highway development, and co-founder of the Indy 500).

Jane believed the project would be an expensive mistake. When Fisher took her to inspect the property by boat, they entered from the bay side, rowing up a channel lined with dense mangroves. “Mosquitos blackened our clothing,” she wrote. “Jungle flies, as large as horse flies, waited for our blood.… Other creatures that made me shudder were lying in wait in the slimy paths or on the branches of overhanging trees. The jungle itself was as hot and steamy as a conservatory.… What on earth could Carl possibly see in such a place?” But Fisher insisted that he knew what he was doing. Standing with her on the soft sand on the ocean side of the long neck, the surf breaking toward them in slow, white rollers, he sketched out his vision for the area. It would be half beach resort and half playground. “In that moment, Carl’s imagination saw Miami Beach in its entirety, blazing like a jewel with hibiscus, oleander, poinsettia, bougainvillea, and orchids, feathered with palms and lifting proud white towers against the sky,” Jane recalled. “But I looked at that rooted and evil-smelling morass and had nothing to say. There was nothing a devoted wife could say.”

As 1919 unfolded, Carl Fisher made two final and critical changes to his business strategy. The first was to switch his target audience, which had always been the elderly and the retired rich, most of whom still favored Palm Beach over Miami, and always would. As he told Business magazine a few years later, “I was on the wrong track. I had been trying to reach the dead ones. I had been going after the old folks. I saw that what I needed to do was go after the live wires. And the live wires don’t want to rest.” He would concede the superrich and the old money to Palm Beach. Instead, Miami Beach would be for the nouveau riche; for men like Fisher himself, especially those from the industrial Midwest; men who were younger, still making their fortunes, and looking for fun ways to spend their new wealth. He would appeal to them with the sort of activities that appealed to him: contests, races, and other events that featured sports celebrities. Henceforth, Miami Beach would become “a youthful city of indeterminate social standing,” in the words of social historian Charlotte Curtis. Fisher’s second change in tactics was equally radical: he raised his land prices by 10 percent, in part to give the appearance that his lots were appreciating rapidly in value. And to further promote that perception, he offered a return guarantee of 6 percent “to any customer in Miami or elsewhere who purchased lots from us and are not well pleased with their investment.” He assured his buyers that, from then on, he would be raising prices by 10 percent every year. Ten percent was an exceptionally attractive rate of return; 10 percent that seemed virtually guaranteed was even more attractive. Fisher, in trying to stoke a small fire, was about to fuel a conflagration. Behind the scenes, other factors had contributed to the marked improvement in sales. Chief among these was the wide proliferation of the automobile. The machines that Fisher had raced, sold, and promoted back in Indiana had evolved into bona fide consumer products, viable and cost-effective substitutes for the horse and buggy. The automobile, more than the railroad, the streetcar, or any other factor, turned the American landscape from raw land into real estate. It did so by making the land accessible and thus developable: its value could be easily established, enhanced, and commodified. Land then became a far more salable product, one that benefited landlords, lenders, contractors, and real estate agents, to say nothing of the purchasers and renters of that property. Nowhere was this truer than in Florida. And nowhere in Florida was it truer than in Miami Beach, where the road built over the Collins Bridge and the new County Causeway (renamed MacArthur Causeway in 1942) at last made the resort developments there commercially viable—by making them accessible to cars. Miami Beach was on its way to becoming the most widely publicized and most famous resort destination in the country. Fisher was now forty-three years old but still full of vitality. “This is only the beginning,” he announced presciently in an ad that appeared in the Miami Metropolis newspaper late in 1919, adding that he planned to further enhance Alton Beach the following year with “a polo club house, a church, theater, schoolhouse, six store buildings, and ten Italian villas ranging from $10,000 to $35,000 each.”

By the mid-1920s, Fisher’s vision was more or less realized:

In her memoirs, Fabulous Hoosier, Carl’s first wife, Jane, captures the surreal nature of the late boom years and how the clientele of their once sleepy resort town had changed: “Pouring into Miami Beach they came, fantastic visitors to a fantastic city. The gold diggers and the sugar daddies, the gigolos, the ‘butter and egg men,’ the playboys and the gilded heiresses, the professional huntresses, the tired businessmen who never grew tired, the gentlemen who preferred blonds. Miami Beach was the playground of millionaires and the happy hunting ground of predatory women.”

Then he tried to do it all over again in Montauk, Long Island and, due to leverage, blew up. The book chronicles the fate of other folks who became billionaires (in today’s debased money) from their efforts in Florida real estate, e.g., George E. Merrick who planned and built Coral Gables and Addison Mizner who is responsible for the Spanish-style architecture that we now see all over Florida. Essentially all of them went bust after staking their fabulous riches on yet more expansion.

What’s the worst that can happen in our current real estate and stock market boom? A retired hedge fund manager friend says that he wouldn’t be shocked to see a 90 percent crash. I think that this is excessive given that Manhattan real estate crashed by only 67 percent from 1929 to 1932 (HBS) and this was much steeper than the nationwide decline.

The book should be an inspiration for more diversification, though 2008 showed how tough that can be to achieve. Here are some $5-12 million houses (Jupiter Inlet Colony) to enjoy while the good times last…


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Philip’s Book Club: Bubble in the Sun (about the Florida real estate boom 1895-1926ish)

The latest book… Bubble in the Sun: The Florida Boom of the 1920s and How It Brought on the Great Depression (Christopher Knowlton). I’m enjoying it so far (listening via Audible). Timely, considering that home prices in the decent neighborhoods of Florida have roughly doubled since the lockdowns began in the Northeast and California.

The author notes that at some point in the 1920s, Florida had 60 million single-family house lots mapped out and ready to sell.

Chart of Florida population growth from 1900-1930 (source):

For context, here’s Maskachusetts v. Florida over 120 years:

Note that 1947 is highlighted as an important year for window air conditioners and the 1960s as when home central A/C become standard (energy.gov).

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Book recommendation: The Great Siege, Malta 1565

Sadly topical, let me recommend The Great Siege, Malta 1565 by Ernie Bradford. For Americans softened by 150+ years without war on our soil, this is a sobering reminder of the nature of war and life in a besieged city. For those who are concerned about the fighting abilities of the innumerate 79-year-old whom Americans elected as our Commander in Chief, the book may provide some comfort. Suleiman the Magnificent, who ordered the siege, was nearly 71 years old at the time. Dragut, “The Drawn Sword of Islam”, who proved to be Suleiman’s best military leader, was 80 years old. Jean Parisot de Valette, who led the defense and gave his name to Malta’s capital, was 70.

Trigger Warning: the book’s author died in 1986, when Science was but poorly understood, and thus the book lacks coverage of how the 2SLGBTQQIA+ and BIPOC communities experienced the siege.


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What are folks reading in Boulder?

Pictures from the Boulder Book Store.

SARS-CoV-2 has achieved much more mindshare in Colorado than in Florida. Boulder and Denver are the centers of concern regarding COVID-19. As you enter the store…

The #1-selling book is The 1619 Project, which “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of the United States’ national narrative.”

(Black Americans may be at the very center of the United States national narrative, but I did not see any employees or customers at the bookstore who appeared to identify as “Black”)

Another prominently displayed book reminds customers that there wouldn’t be any Black or white people here if the Native Americans had been more successful militarily.

Joe Biden might be able to find his next Supreme Court nominee in the children’s section:

Speaking of the Supreme Court, AOC stands next to RBG. Perhaps my dream that Joe Biden will nominate thought-leader AOC to the Supreme Court is shared by others?

(Fortunately, no Deplorable had snuck in to set up a Willie Brown action figure next to Kamala.)

The best way to deal with climate change is stoned and drunk:

If you need pocket-sized constant inspiration:

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Finished San Fransicko

I have finished San Fransicko, the book by a self-described lifelong “progressive and Democrat” that I wrote about in Reading list: San Fransicko.

Let’s go to the solution first. The author describes 50 years of failure by California government agencies and 15-20 years of spectacular failure by state and local government agencies, with ever-growing revenue for non-profit contractors. What’s the alternative to failed state government?

What California needs is a new, single, and powerful state agency. Let’s call it Cal-Psych. It would be built as a separate institution from existing institutions, including state and county health departments and health providers. Cal-Psych would efficiently and humanely treat the seriously mentally ill and addicts, while providing housing to the homeless on a contingency-based system. Cal-Psych’s CEO would be best-in-class and report directly to the governor. It is only in this way that the voters can hold the governor accountable for the crisis on the streets. Cal-Psych would have significant buying power, be attractive to employees, and be able to move clients to where they need to be. It would be able to purchase psychiatric beds, board and care facilities, and treatment facilities from across the state. And it would be able to offer the mentally ill and those suffering substance use disorders drug and psychiatric treatment somewhere other than in an open-air drug scene.

What if someone is homeless because he/she/ze/they is consuming opioids?

Cal-Psych would do as much as legally, ethically, and practically possible to establish voluntary drug treatment and psychiatric care and would also work with the courts and law enforcement to enforce involuntary care through assisted outpatient treatment and conservatorship. The low-hanging fruit, according to Rene, is getting twenty-something-year-old opioid addicts off the street and into medically assisted treatment programs, since we have good substitutes for opioids in the form of Suboxone and methadone.

What’s in these “substitutes for opioids”? Suboxone isn’t packed with healing essential always-available-even-when-schools-are-shut cannabis, but it does contain buprenorphine… an opioid. In other words, if someone is taking too many opioids, give him/her/zir/them more opioids.

So… the solution to failed government is more government and the solution to drug addiction is government-supplied drugs.

Homelessness certainly is a growth industry in California:

Between 2010 and 2020, the number of homeless rose by 31 percent in California but declined 19 percent in the rest of the United States.2 As a result, there were, as of 2020, at least 161,000 total homeless people in California, with about 114,000 of them unsheltered, sleeping in tents on sidewalks, in parks, and alongside highways. Homelessness had become the number one issue in the state.3 Half of all California voters surveyed said they saw homeless people on the street five times a week.

A big part of the reason for the failure of the homeless industrial complex has had to do with perverse incentives, progressive resistance to mandatory treatment, and the insistence on permanent supportive housing over shelters. But it also has to do with the neoliberal model of outsourcing services. Instead of governments providing such services directly, they give grants to nonprofit service providers who are unaccountable for their performance. “There is no statutory requirement for government to address homelessness,” complained University of Pennsylvania researcher Dennis Culhane. “It’s mainly the domain of a bunch of charities who are unlicensed, unfunded, relatively speaking, run by unqualified people who do a shitty job. There’s no formal government responsibility. It’s only something we dream of. And that is fundamentally part of the problem.”23 Nobody can even accurately calculate how much money is being spent. The state auditor calculates that California spends $12 billion total on homelessness, and it is not clear how much of that is overlap with other state spending. The Legislative Analyst’s Office found many difficulties: “Difficulty assessing how much the state is spending on a particular approach towards addressing homelessness, for example—prevention versus intervention efforts. Difficulty determining how programs work collaboratively. Difficulty assessing what programs are collectively accomplishing.”

There is a philosophical-religious basis for why Californians decided that they wanted to be surrounded by tent cities:

Unlike traditional religions, many untraditional religions are largely invisible to the people who hold them most strongly. A secular religion like victimology is powerful because it meets the contemporary psychological, social, and spiritual needs of its believers, but also because it appears obvious, not ideological, to them. Advocates of “centering” victims, giving them special rights, and allowing them to behave in ways that undermine city life, don’t believe, in my experience, that they are adherents to a new religion, but rather that they are more compassionate and more moral than those who hold more traditional views.

Some more quotes on how San Francisco got to this point:

How and why do progressives ruin cities? So far we have explored six reasons. They divert funding from homeless shelters to permanent supportive housing, resulting in insufficient shelter space. They defend the right of people they characterize as Victims to camp on sidewalks, in parks, and along highways, as well as to break other laws, including against public drug use and defecation. They intimidate experts, policy makers, and journalists by attacking them as being motivated by a hatred of the poor, people of color, and the sick, and as causing violence against them. They reduce penalties for shoplifting, drug dealing, and public drug use. They prefer homelessness and incarceration to involuntary hospitalization for the mentally ill and addicted. And their ideology blinds them to the harms of harm reduction, Housing First, and camp-anywhere policies, leading them to misattribute the addiction, untreated mental illness, and homeless crisis to poverty and to policies and politicians dating back to the 1980s.

There is a chapter on Jim Jones, who was close to former mayor George Moscone and Willie Brown.

Moscone made Jones the chairman of the powerful San Francisco Housing Commission.12 Jones cultivated progressives with money and favors. He made large donations to the ACLU, the NAACP, and United Farm Workers. Jones and Moscone met privately with vice presidential candidate Walter Mondale on a campaign plane a few days before the 1976 presidential election, and Mondale praised People’s Temple shortly afterward. Jones met with First Lady Rosalynn Carter several times. Governor Jerry Brown praised Jones. Glide Memorial Church’s Rev. Cecil Williams loved Jones. There is a photo from 1977 of a smiling Williams awarding Jones the church’s “Martin Luther King, Jr. Award.”

A conservative member of the Board of Supervisors who was defeated in the mayoral election by Moscone accused the new mayor, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the rest of the city establishment of being blind to Jones’s extremism. “There’s no radical plot in San Francisco,” insisted Moscone, in response. “There’s no one I’ve appointed to any city position whom I regard as radical or extremist.”

Brown was master of ceremonies at a dinner for Jones in the fall of 1976 attended by an adulatory crowd of the rich and powerful, including Governor Jerry Brown.

San Francisco’s establishment stood by Jones even after a California magazine, New West, owned by Rupert Murdoch, published an exposé of Jones’s beatings of Temple members and financial abuses in August 1977. The article was written by a San Francisco Chronicle reporter and was meant for the Chronicle to publish. But the newspaper killed the story because it didn’t want to alienate Jones, whom it viewed as central to its plans to expand the Chronicle’s circulation in the heavily African American Fillmore District. Jones also managed to avoid investigation and prosecution in part by getting the district attorney to hire as deputy district attorney Jones’s longtime attorney and confidant.

Harvey Milk, too, was tarnished by his association with Jones. In the fall of 1977, Milk wrote to President Carter’s secretary of health, education, and welfare requesting that Social Security checks be sent to elderly Temple members in Guyana. “People’s Temple,” wrote Milk, has “established a beautiful retirement community in Guyana.”

“Even as the bloated bodies of the dead were removed from the jungle and the wounded were airlifted by the U.S. Air Force to hospitals in the United States,” wrote a historian, “Brown said he had ‘no regrets’ over his association with Jones.” They repeatedly disavowed responsibility. Said Moscone, “it’s clear that if there was a sinister plan, then we were taken in. But I’m not taking any responsibility. It’s not mine to shoulder.”

Moscone was ultimately killed by Dan White, an anti-Progressive former firefighter. The author tries to explain how Dan White was acquitted of what certainly looked like premeditated murder:

The jury appeared to pity White. What seemed to be particularly influential was a recording of White breaking down in tears during his confession to the police.

Playing the victim, or what researchers call victim signaling, appears to be working better than ever. Society’s definition of trauma and victimization is broadening, researchers find. As a result, there are more people who identify as victims today, even as actual trauma and victimization are declining. Researchers find that people are increasingly “moral typecasting,” or creating highly polarized categories of “victim” and “perpetrator.” And they find that people who portray themselves as “victims” believe they will be better protected from accusations of wrongdoing. In one study, participants judged how responsible an imaginary car thief was for his actions. One group was told that he had a genetic oversensitivity to pain. The other group was not given that detail. The people in the group who were told that the man was oversensitive to pain held him less responsible for his action.

Victim signalers are more likely to boast of their victim status after being accused of discriminating against others, or of being privileged. And so-called virtuous victims, people who broadcast their morality, alongside their victimization, are more likely to gain resources from others, researchers find, and display Dark Triad personality traits, than victim signalers who did not signal their virtue.

San Fransicko is worth reading, if only to see just how bad things can get for the middle class and even upper middle class before the elites need to worry about losing elections or personally experiencing anything negative. I find it tough to believe that the author’s proposed solution, a new massive state bureaucracy, would be effective. Suppose that the new state agency worked precisely as hoped, unlike any of the previous or existing government initiatives described in the book. If California were then to deliver on its promises to its current homeless, why wouldn’t that attract a more or less unlimited supply of new homeless people from other states, other countries (just walk across the border), etc.?

In the meantime, since California progressives are so passionate about helping the homeless, the least that folks in other states can do is purchase bus tickets for any homeless person who wants to go to California!

Greyhound bus photos below are from February 2020, Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, currently a Deplorable-free environment:


What counts as proof of vaccination? You must provide both:

  • Your vaccination card issued by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (which includes the name of the person vaccinated, the type of vaccine provided and the date(s) dose(s) administered), or similar documentation issued by another foreign government agency, such as World Health Organization, a digital vaccine record, a legible photograph of the vaccination card, or documentation of a COVID-19 vaccination from a healthcare provider; AND
  • Your photo ID.

(It is not in any way racist to require a photo ID.)

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Book to read if you’re upset that everything is out of stock

Island of the Lost: An Extraordinary Story of Survival at the Edge of the World by Joan Druett is a timely read given for those who are upset that everything has been out of stock for two years. It covers the experience of five guys whose sailing ship wrecked in the Auckland Islands in 1864. They’d been looking for new places to kill seals or, possibly, do some silver mining (their cover story). The Auckland Islands are southwest of New Zealand, 50.7 degrees south latitude (old saying: “Below 40 degrees south there is no law; below 50 degrees south there is no God”).

The weather is miserable, the sandflies are relentless, and they were stuck there for almost as long as 15 days to flatten the curve. The resourceful crew manages to build a hut from the timber of the wrecked ship and they kill enough seals that starvation isn’t an issue. But the sailors have to do their own blacksmithing, sew their own clothes, make their own soap, tan their own hides, make their own cement (from seashells), make a forge bellows, turn wood into charcoal to fuel the forge, and create anything that they would ordinarily have purchased in a hardware store (e.g., nails).

The book will also be helpful if you’re worried about climate change destroying humanity as a species. It turns out that we can be difficult to eradicate.

Finally, the book is also encouraging to those of us who are so old that we are more likely to be killed by Omicron than by Alec Baldwin. Island of the Lost also talks about a shipwreck that happened around the same time, that of the Invercauld. A sailor on that ship sat down and started typing a vivid and useful memoir at the age of 86, six decades after the experience. This is the basis for a great-granddaughter’s book: Wake of the Invercauld.


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How far would you go to get your child into college?

Now that the Harvard College application deadline is behind us, let’s look at a book by Nobel-winner (like Obama!) Kazuo Ishiguro that turns out to be partly on the topic of what a parent would be willing to do to get a child into college. Klara and the Sun was published in 2021, so I’m not sure if the author gets prescience credit for this:

‘Where were we? Ah yes, so the plan was for Rick to be home-tutored by screen professors like all the other smart children. But of course, you probably know, it all became complicated. And here we are. Darling, would you like to tell the tale from here? No? Well, the long and short of it. Even though Rick was never lifted, there still remains one decent option for him. Atlas Brookings takes a small number of unlifted students. The only proper college that will still do so. They believe in the principle and thank heavens for that. Now there are only a few such places available each year, so naturally the competition is savage. But Rick is clever and if he applied himself, and perhaps received just a little expert guidance, the sort I can’t give him, he has a good chance. Oh yes you do, darling! Don’t shake your head! But the long and short of it is we can’t find screen tutors for him. They’re either members of TWE, which forbids its members to take unlifted students, or else they’re bandits demanding ridiculous fees which we of course are in no position to offer. But then we heard you’d arrived next door, and I had a marvelous idea.’

Ishiguro tries to inhabit the mind of an android (lowercase) that is solar-powered and was designed to be a child’s artificial friend (“AF”). What comes naturally to the artificial intelligence is personification/deification of the Sun. From the AF’s point of view:

The most important thing I observed during my second time was what happened to Beggar Man and his dog. It was on the fourth day – on an afternoon so gray some taxis had on their small lights – that I noticed Beggar Man wasn’t at his usual place greeting passers-by from the blank doorway between the RPO and Fire Escapes buildings. I didn’t think much about it at first because Beggar Man often wandered away, sometimes for long periods. But then once I looked over to the opposite side and realized he was there after all, and so was his dog, and that I hadn’t seen them because they were lying on the ground. They’d pushed themselves right against the blank doorway to keep out of the way of the passers-by, so that from our side you could have mistaken them for the bags the city workers sometimes left behind. But now I kept looking at them through the gaps in the passers-by, and I saw that Beggar Man never moved, and neither did the dog in his arms. Sometimes a passer-by would notice and pause, but then start walking again. Eventually the Sun was almost behind the RPO Building, and Beggar Man and the dog were exactly as they had been all day, and it was obvious they had died, even though the passers-by didn’t know it. I felt sadness then, despite it being a good thing they’d died together, holding each other and trying to help one another. I wished someone would notice, so they could be taken somewhere better, and quieter, and I thought about saying something to Manager. But when it was time for me to step down from the window for the night, she looked so tired and serious I decided to say nothing.

The next morning the grid went up and it was a most splendid day. The Sun was pouring his nourishment onto the street and into the buildings, and when I looked over to the spot where Beggar Man and the dog had died, I saw they weren’t dead at all – that a special kind of nourishment from the Sun had saved them. Beggar Man wasn’t yet on his feet, but he was smiling and sitting up, his back against the blank doorway, one leg stretched out, the other bent so he could rest his arm on its knee. And with his free hand, he was fondling the neck of the dog, who had also come back to life and was looking from side to side at the people going by. They were both hungrily absorbing the Sun’s special nourishment and becoming stronger by the minute, and I saw that before long, perhaps even by that afternoon, Beggar Man would be on his feet again, cheerfully exchanging remarks as always from the blank doorway.

I don’t want to spoil the book, a reasonably quick read, and I do recommend it, so I’ll stop here.

More: Klara and the Sun

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Royal Air Force versus U.S. Air Force

This book will appeal primarily to pilots: An Officer, Not a Gentleman (Mandy Hickson). It’s by a pilot who spends 24 years in the Royal Air Force flying what the Brits call “fast jets,” ultimately ending up in a ground attack version of the Panavia Tornado. She’s 6′ tall and 190 lbs. and one of the few women in the RAF, so naturally she ends up with a call sign of Big Bird (pre-vaccination edition). Compared to the USAF, it seems that the RAF has more relaxed rules, more esprit de corps, more drinking, and a lot more time off if there isn’t a war to fight (the author is constantly going on beach vacations). Hickson is eloquent regarding why she loves the job:

I love the three-dimensional aspect of flying. I love the freedom of being up there in that vast, limitless sky. I love breaking through thick cloud into a world of deep blue, far from the humdrum of everyday life. I love that every flight is different, every aircraft is different. I love the risk involved. I love that it challenges me. And I love the fact it makes anything seem possible.

The book is packed with choice Britishisms. Example:

We were getting into this life, and began to think we were the dog’s nuts, strutting around the base in our baggy green flying suits. The RAF regulars must have been laughing their heads off.

The training progression in the UK seems to have been the following:

  1. Slingsby T67 Firefly
  2. Embraer Tucano
  3. BAE Systems Hawk
  4. the operational aircraft (Tornado in the author’s case)

It takes just over four years of training to get into an operational role, which the author achieves in 1999 with 80 hours in the Tornado.

Considering how small the UK is, they do a remarkable amount of low-level flying during training.

My previous low-level flying on the Firefly had been restricted to 500 feet because it is a civilian aircraft whereas the Tucano is military and is allowed to drop to 250 feet at nearly 300 knots.

So initially you had to do it with a visual picture. The rule of thumb was pretty simple. At 500ft you could see the legs of cows but you couldn’t see the legs of sheep. When you got down to 250ft you could see the legs of sheep. It was very technical.

Maybe the smartest young officer:

One trainee on the course in front didn’t like flying at night. The story goes he taxied off and hid his aircraft behind a hangar and made all the radio calls he would use during the circuit from there. You can imagine the air traffic controller, slightly puzzled going, erm, I can’t quite see him but he’s requesting clearance to land. Apparently, he taxied back forty minutes later, still keeping up the deception. He was only rumbled when the engineers realised no fuel had been used.

Hickson doesn’t like the technical material:

I had six weeks of ground school to look forward to. Six weeks of theory and tights, back in my beloved blue No.2 uniform. The first few weeks in the drab lecture hall were spent purely learning about engines, electrics, hydraulics and how does a Hawk even fly anyway? I was never that technically minded. Nothing to do with being a woman, just not very interested. Has it got an engine? Great. Does it work? Fingers crossed. As far as the theory goes, I’m not that far beyond your basic suck, squeeze, bang, blow. I was surrounded by guys who were positively frothing at the inner workings of a Rolls-Royce Turbomeca Adour engine. It didn’t really float my boat.

Training to ditch is tough and scary:

For this we boarded a boat and took to the cold, grey waters off Holyhead. Dressed in a full immersion suit with flying kit over the top, plus boots and helmet, we each had to jump in and be pulled along in the wake to simulate being dragged by your parachute after ejecting and landing in the drink. ‘OK Mandy, whenever you’re ready…’ Already shivering in the autumn morning, I took a deep breath, inflated my lifejacket, folded my arms across my chest and took a big step into the Irish Sea. The cold shock hit me like I’d been punched in the stomach and I surfaced spluttering and sucking at the air. I felt the yank on the harness as the slack was taken up and I was pulled face first through the water by the boat, like a giant fishing lure. Knowing I had to act quickly, I heaved myself over, so I was lying on my back and spread my legs like a starfish to make a more stable platform. I scrabbled to find my harness clasp and swallowed mouthfuls of spray as I fiddled with the release mechanism. Come on, you little blighter. Yes, done it. The harness flew off with the boat and I came to a stop. I grasped the line attached to my waist that was trailing my personal survival pack and started hauling it in. This was the base of the ejection seat, which you released to dangle below you when you were parachuting down. I grabbed the box and pulled the black and yellow handle on top. Nothing happened so I did it again, while kicking my legs furiously to stay afloat. Suddenly it burst open to reveal the single-seat orange life raft that would be my lifeline. When it was semi-inflated, I flung my arms over the side and tried to pull myself in but my saturated flying kit weighed me down. I half squashed the side and kicked like Michael Phelps to get over the edge. I flopped into the bottom like the world’s most ungraceful seal. Done it. Blimey. If I had any kind of injuries from ejecting, likely to be some sort of arm issues from flailing on exiting the cockpit, I would have serious problems getting in. Especially if the sea was rough. It goes to show why you’ve got to be in good physical condition in the first place.

A lot of official events involve a lot of alcohol. Example following first solo in the Hawk:

All of us who had gone solo up to that point chipped in for a barrel of beer, hence the name. But this wasn’t a pleasant summer evening spent sipping ale politely on the lawn. In our flying suits, we were lined up and handed a succession of shots. Downing them in one was the only option. Crème de menthe made for a cheeky opener, followed by a smooth hit of Baileys and then in a convenient nod to the squadron colours, Blue Curacao and banana schnapps. We washed these down by necking a pint of beer and then a glass of milk. Strangely, this was what caused all the problems for those with less than cast-iron stomachs. I was given absolutely no quarter for being a woman. I suppose I had been yearning to be one of the boys, so I couldn’t really complain. Suitably sozzled, we shook hands with the boss and were awarded the squadron’s diamond-shaped embroidered cloth badge to wear on our left arm.

The author has some rough spots in training, but her fellow trainees (all guys) band together to help her out, e.g., spending an entire evening on bicycles practicing formation flying. There is more drinking when she is assigned to her first operational aircraft:

In true RAF tradition, instead of just sticking these up on a notice board, the news was dished out during a drink-up. We were told to report to the bar in flying suits and I met some of the others milling about outside the locked door. We could hear voices and laughter coming from inside, however a few polite knocks didn’t seem to register. We shrugged and carried on chatting but I could sense a few nerves in the air. Then the door eased open and the eight of us we were ushered in. We were greeted with a big Wheel of Fortune-style spinning wheel in the middle of the room. All our instructors were gathered around and we were handed pint glasses, which were quickly filled up from a jug. On the wheel were photos of different fast jets, plus a picture of a jug of cream. This, we were told, indicated you would become a ‘creamy’ and stay at Valley as an instructor with the chance to go through selection again for single seat. Each pilot in turn took to the floor to spin the wheel. If it landed on your designated aircraft first time, all well and good. If it didn’t, you had to neck a pint.

A lot of the challenges will be familiar to civilian pilots:

Taxiing a Tornado in the sim for the first few times was quite funny. It was like getting into a new hire car and taking a while to tune into its whims. I kept meandering left and right over the centre line on the tarmac while trying to keep it straight. Or I’d power up the throttles too much and shoot forwards and then tap the brakes too hard and lurch to a stop. ‘Oh no, a bit more, oops, bugger,’ as I careered down the runway looking like a youngster on roller skates for the first time.

It was really easy to fall into the trap of saying what you thought you should, rather than what was actually happening. For instance, when you put down your landing gear and say automatically, ‘Three greens’ to signal three wheels down because that is what you always say but actually it’s two greens and one red. One of the real dangers of flying is it’s all about motor programmes – you are wanting people to operate an automatic process, with drills and checks, but at the same time they have to be vigilant and spot if something is not where it should be. Plenty of times I’ve looked at a switch and thought, ‘Hang on a minute, I’m about to skirt over the fact the batteries are off.’ You become so used to the routine of saying it. That’s why a lot of aircraft crash – people saying what’s not there.

The Tornado rotates at 150 knots. Hickson gets there after about 600 hours of total flight experience. She almost wrecks one during training in Goose Bay, hydroplaning sideways down the runway at 150 knots. Even back in the 1990s, the aircraft had a terrain-following radar that would keep the plane at precisely 250′ above the ground. The backseat navigator has the job of monitoring whether the thing is actually working or is going to fly the plane into a hill. When a crew dies in bad weather, the mates gather in the officer’s club bar:

That evening we all filed into the bar in a sombre and reflective mood. Their bar books were opened up and all drinks put on their accounts, which would obviously get chalked off at the end of the month.

As the alcohol kicked in so did the tears and raw emotions. The other guys on their course were all big characters and experienced second or third tourists in the Gulf, but they were in pieces. 

The booze flowed and we toasted Dickie and Sean long into the night.

At some stage, as tradition dictates, the mess piano was wheeled outside and set on fire while someone was playing it.

The author and her RAF comrades meet the USAF at Nellis (Vegas) for the Red Flag war games.

The place was packed with buzz-cutted aircrew. A square-jawed American stood up at the front and a hush went around. ‘Hi, my name’s Ninja and I’m the commanding officer…’ Once he’d done his bit another identikit American took to the lectern. ‘I’m Tomcat, and I’m the best goddamn navigator in town.’ It

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Reading list: San Fransicko

A friend, who was forced to abandon his $10 million custom-built house in San Francisco after the wife refused to continue to live in a neighborhood where people injected heroin in their driveway, recommended San Fransicko.

I rejected the recommendation at first because I don’t have any intention of moving to the Bay Area or even visiting. See Working in San Francisco today (2019), in which I quote an understated young colleague:

[the meeting is] inside of WeWork Civic Center on Mission between 7th and 8th wedged between a homeless encampment and emergency heroin detox center. I would recommend picking a hotel in another part of town. … Due to the layout and direction of the one way streets and traffic I’ve found cabs/Uber to work fairly poorly and often take longer than BART. I stopped using cars when junkies started trying to open my door at stop lights.

But the book turns out to be more widely relevant. First, the author proves that a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged:

In the 1990s I had worked on a broader set of progressive causes, including advocating for the decriminalization of drugs and alternatives to prison. But for most of the last two decades my research and writing has focused on the environment. And, in the early summer of 2020, I was busy running my nonprofit research organization and preparing for the release of my book on the topic. It was anarchy of a different sort that motivated me to write San Fransicko. During the pandemic, a growing number of people in floridly psychotic states were screaming obscenities at invisible enemies, or at my colleagues and me, on the sidewalks or in the street, as we went to and from our retail office in downtown Berkeley, near the University of California.

Though I have been a progressive and Democrat all of my adult life, I found myself asking a question that sounded rather conservative. What were we getting for our high taxes? And why, after twenty years of voting for ballot initiatives promising to address drug addiction, mental illness, and homelessness, had all three gotten worse?

Inspect the lamppost before parking your Tesla Model S Plaid:

Complaints about human waste on San Francisco’s sidewalks and streets were rising. Calls about human feces increased from 10,692 to 20,933 between 2014 and 2018. In 2019, the city spent nearly $100 million on street cleaning—four times more than Chicago, which has 3.5 times as many people and an area that is 4.5 times larger. Between 2015 and 2018, San Francisco replaced more than three hundred lampposts corroded by urine after one had collapsed and crushed a car.

(Car and Driver: “trust us, you don’t want to do 200 mph in [the Tesla S Plaid]. Even 162 mph was terrifying, wandering and nervous to the point that we were concerned about our ability to shepherd it between lane lines. The steering doesn’t firm up enough with speed, making the task more difficult. At similar velocities, a Taycan is resolutely stable. Another reason to fear a 200-mph speed is brakes that got soft during our testing.”)

The author points out that Californian taxpayers give “people experiencing homelessness” and “persons with substance use disorder” (CDC preferred terms) everything that is required to survive until death by overdose:

Progressives give homeless people the equipment they need to live on sidewalks. After Occupy Wall Street protests were held in Oakland’s City Center in 2011, protesters gave their tents to the homeless and money to buy more.8 Five years later, a graphic designer in San Francisco purchased and gave away $15,000 worth of camping tents. “Other organizations were giving them out as well,” noted the city’s head of homeless services in 2016, “and now we’ve got 80 encampments.” San Francisco remains significantly more generous in its cash payments to homeless, and other spending to serve them, than other cities. For example, San Francisco’s maximum General Assistance cash welfare monthly benefit for the poor is $588, as compared to $449, $221, and $183 for individuals in San Diego, Los Angeles, and New York City, respectively. While New York City, Chicago, Phoenix, and San Diego spend 3.5, 1.1, 0.9, and 2.5 percent of their budget on homelessness services, San Francisco spends 6 percent. When local, state, and federal funding are accounted for, San Francisco spends $31,985 per homeless person just on housing, not including General Assistance, other cash welfare programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and other services. By contrast, New York City spends $11,662 and Los Angeles spends $5,001.

San Francisco, according to the book, is the nation’s best destination for any would-be “Persons who returned to use” (CDC). The city and its array of homeless industrial-complex non-profit org contractors will supply “Persons who use drugs/people who inject drugs” with clean needles and crack/meth pipes in a location conveniently across the street from an open-air drug market.

For a bunch of rich say-gooders, San Franciscans are awfully stingy:

Mayor Breed said she opposed Proposition C because she feared that spending yet more on homelessness services, without any requirement that people get off the street, would backfire. “We are a magnet for people who are looking for help,” she said. “There are a lot of other cities that are not doing their part, and I find that larger cities end up with more than our fair share.” After San Francisco started offering free hotel rooms to the homeless during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, first responders reported that people had come from across the state. “People are coming from all over the place—Sacramento, Lake County, Bakersfield,” said the city’s fire chief. “We have also heard that people are getting released from jail in other counties and being told to go to San Francisco where you will get a tent and then you will get housing.”

If housing is a human right and health care is a right and clean needles are a right and inequality is bad, why does San Francisco object to caring for the poorest and most addicted of Bakersfield? The San Francisco median household income is 2X what the good citizens (and undocumented!) of Bakersfield enjoy. Californians will cheerfully pay for every American’s abortion. “California plans to be abortion ‘sanctuary’ if Roe v. Wade is overturned”:

With more than two dozen states poised to ban abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court gives them the OK next year, California clinics and their allies in the state Legislature on Wednesday revealed a plan to make the state a “sanctuary” for those seeking reproductive care, including possibly paying for travel, lodging and procedures for people from other states.

Why is it objectionable to pay for housing the nation’s already-born unfortunates?

I’ve long been an advocate that the marginal tax rate should be 100 percent on incomes greater than my own and on wealth greater than my own. It turns out that the unhoused think along the same lines:

Even people who would prefer to live in sober environments say they do not want to quit their addictions. “When we surveyed people in supportive housing in New York,” said University of Pennsylvania homelessness researcher Dennis Culhane, “almost everybody wanted their neighbors to be clean and sober but they didn’t want rules for themselves about being clean.” In 2016, after the city of San Francisco broke up a massive, 350-person homeless encampment, dozens of the homeless refused the city’s offers of help. Of the 150 people moved during a single month of homeless encampment cleanups in 2018, just eight people accepted the city’s offer of shelter. In 2004, just 131 people went into permanent supportive housing after 4,950 contacts made by then-mayor Newsom’s homeless outreach teams.

How about the richest and goodest of the rich say-gooders?

In 2018, a reporter asked Marc Benioff if Prop C would create a magnet effect. “It seems like one of the things that you guys are doing is you’re creating a magnet for people to come to the city and be homeless,” she said, “because it’s not a hostile environment. Everybody has talked about seeing people out on the street openly shooting up.”

“That’s just not true,” said Benioff. “I can tell you that’s clinically not true. Our University of California at San Francisco, we’ve got the clinical studies to show you that when you give homeless people a home, their lifestyle does change.”

According to Benioff, #Science (“clinically”) proves that providing a house is the cure. What is Marc Benioff doing about it, relative to his net worth (estimated by The Google at $10.8 billion)? He could spend $9.8 billion on helping his brothers, sisters, and binary-resisters who are experiencing homelessness and still have “tres commas”. According to the developer that I talked to in Real estate peak near? (cost to buy a crummy old apartment building about the same as to build new), it costs about $130,000 “per door” to build medium-quality apartments. If Benioff spent his way down to “merely three commas” that would work out to 75,000 new apartments and, therefore, assuming a 2BR average size, 150,000 human lives transformed (more than double the entire unhoused population of San Francisco and Los Angeles combined). Where are “The Benioff Towers” in which the nation’s unhoused can be housed in peace and tranquility?

(Separately, it looks as though Mr. Benioff has not been persuaded by the “Black Girls Code” signs that are attached to the buses that circle his $1 billion office tower.

“Salesforce’s equality struggles burst into the public” (Protocol, 2/8/2021):

In a resignation letter posted to LinkedIn earlier this month, Cynthia Perry wrote a searing take-down of the company’s racial equality efforts, specifically the treatment of Black employees, at the massive software provider.

“I am leaving Salesforce because of countless microaggressions and inequity,” she wrote. “I have been gaslit, manipulated, bullied, neglected, and mostly unsupported … the entire time I’ve been here.”

[Salesforce’s] struggles with race and equality aren’t new. For one, its diversity statistics remain abysmal: Just 3.4% of its 49,000 workers identify as Black.

“Salesforce, for me, is not a safe place to come to work. It’s not a place where i can be my full self. It’s not a place where I have been invested in. It’s not a place full of opportunity. It’s not a place of Equality for All. It’s not a place where well-being matters,” she wrote in the letter posted on LinkedIn.

Words must be followed up with action. And if they can’t be, then there should be no words,” she wrote. “There is a really big gap between how Salesforce portrays itself and the lived experience I had working at this company.”

Let’s hope that the above highlighted point is incorrect. Otherwise rich Bay Area residents could be in real trouble!)

What’s the story here in Palm Beach County? The median income is only half of San Francisco’s and there is no income tax, but funds are in ample supply due to property taxes on the mega-rich (soon those $80,000/year property tax payments will be 100% deductible from federal taxes!). The 2008 “Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness in Palm Beach County” says that 1,766 people were homeless in 2007. The 2020 count was 1,510 (of whom 480 were sheltered).

Circling back to the opening sentence, what are the rich people who have continued to live in San Francisco doing? “San Francisco residents are hiring private security to patrol their streets in bid to stay safe, amid crime spike that has left many fearful of going outside during the DAY” reports the Daily Mail. And, indeed, my friend confirmed that this was the path his former neighbors were going down.

More: read San Fransicko.


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Finished the Philip Roth biography

I finished Philip Roth: The Biography and returned it to the Palm Beach County Library. Adding to what I wrote in my previous post on this massive book (Philip Roth biography: faith in psychotherapy), I am awed by how much work the guy was able to produce despite physical pain that necessitated a lot of opiate/opioid consumption (and that was in the old days, before every American needed a steady supply of opioids).

Roth’s last lover might have been Elizabeth Warren or perhaps one of her cousins:

… Back in May 2006 [when Roth was 73 years old]… helped him find the thirty-three-year-old Kaysie Wimberly [a pseudonym] … the two found each other refreshing and had a good time together. Roth called Kaysie by her childhood nickname, Little Feather (she was part Cherokee)

As Roth gets older, the sex partners described in the book receive progressively more cash (but possibly this is due to inflation?) and assistance with their own literary careers. But they’re mostly sweet and loyal and many of them reappear when Roth is sick and/or dying. The decisions that Roth came to regret the most, and regarded as his worst choices, were two marriages (the first covered in the previous post). The second was to an actress and was also childless. From page 569:

“She’s behaved abominably about money and I’ve had to pay her off to get rid of her,” Roth wrote his old friend Charlotte Maurer. [a prenuptial agreement did not protect Roth, but resulted only in additional litigation regarding whether it was unconscionable] “She’s hysterical, irrational, deceitful, and, above and beyond everything else, a blameless victim responsible for nothing. The last finally got me down.” … In May, Roth composed the following directive: “To my executors and those planning my burial: It is my strong wish that Claire Bloom be barred from my funeral and from any memorial services arranged for me. All possible measures should be taken to enforce this.”

His ill-advised marriage to Ms. Bloom resulted in Roth’s being denied the Nobel Prize for Literature, according to the biographer and some of the sources. After securing her family court cash, Bloom had trashed Roth in a memoir and that “tainted” Roth’s reputation with various awards committees, including for the Nobel. When Bob Dylan won in 2016, Roth said “It’s okay, but next year I hope Peter, Paul and Mary get it.”

[There is no Oxford comma in the name of this group; Peter and Paul are still alive. Roth’s perspective does not seem to have taken into account that Bloom might have earned the cash that she sought. Living with a somewhat disabled old guy who was on and off a ton of painkillers is no trip to Disney World. And Bloom had a daughter from one of her previous marriages. Stepkids are statistically a big source of conflict and, certainly, Bloom had not concealed the existence of this girl from Roth.]

If Roth was willing to give money to the girlfriends and hated giving money to his family court plaintiffs, he apparently loved helping friends in need. When Veronica Geng was poor, sick, and dying, for example, Roth paid her medical bills and whatever else she needed to be as comfortable as possible. Roth was an important friend and ally (before that word became limited to the 2SLGBTQQIA+) to writers trapped behind the Iron Curtain.

Roth was contemptuous of Twitter (“So everybody’s just shouting, right?”), but eventually adapted to email. He chose to end his life in 2018 rather than accept 3-6 months of additional “life” that would be spent mostly in a hospital bed.

What about his literary legacy? Roth occupies an incredible 9 volumes within the Library of America so we can’t rely on them to pick out the novels that are actually worth reading. Of the ones that I’ve read and can remember, I would pick American Pastoral as the best (a choice also for the great writers Richard Ford and Lorrie Moore and many others quoted in “What Is Philip Roth’s Best Book?” (NYT)). Some of the other serious writers talk about Sabbath’s Theater, Patrimony, The Human Stain, and Nemesis (I can vouch for the last two).


  • “Philip Roth Left More Than $2 Million to His Hometown Library in Newark, N.J.” (Wall Street Journal, 10/30/2019): Mr. Roth didn’t leave all of his estate to Newark entities; it couldn’t be learned exactly how he allocated the rest of his money. His will left all of his assets in a trust, which isn’t publicly available. The executor of his estate, Perley H. Grimes, didn’t respond to requests for comment. Mr. Roth did leave “a substantial amount” to the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, said Joel Conarroe, a longtime friend of Mr. Roth and former president of the foundation, which had awarded Mr. Roth a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1959. The royalties from Mr. Roth’s book sales will go to the Guggenheim Foundation, said people with knowledge of Mr. Roth’s bequests. The twice-divorced Mr. Roth, who had no children and was predeceased by his parents and older brother Sandy, also left bequests to friends and other people in his life, friends said. Mr. Roth’s total estate is estimated at about $10 million, according to people with knowledge of his holdings. (Some words are more valuable than others; compare Roth’s lifetime earnings from scribbling to the $137 million that the former Tesla elevator operator who heard the n-word earned in one lawsuit.)
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