A University for the People becomes an Apple Store

During a recent trip to Washington, D.C., I worked near the Carnegie Library, dedicated in 1903 as “A University for the People” and engraved with the names of authors such as Shakespeare and Plato. Today it is a place for people who prefer to read Facebook posts on their iPhones…

In my own Facebook post at the time of encountering this mixture of private philanthropy, government administration, and conspicuous consumption, I wrote

it is a shame that the Republicans who control the DC local government could not resist becoming stooges for Corporate America.

Are the minds of District residents being elevated by this repurposed temple to reading? Here’s a sticker from a nearby lamppost:

(I saw these in multiple location around the city; see also https://philip.greenspun.com/blog/2019/07/01/resist-permanently-on-a-d-c-public-sidewalk/)

Who is excited to order an iPhone 11?

Also, from the nearby Smithsonian American Art Museum, a 1905 portrait of Andrew Carnegie:

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  • https://philip.greenspun.com/blog/2007/03/03/andrew-carnegie/ Carnegie was the Bill Gates of his day. Carnegie became the richest man in the world through a combination of intelligence, hard work at an early age, a certain amount of what we today would regard as illegal insider trading, and connections. Once he was the richest guy in the world, everyone listened to everything he said very carefully. He looked around and decided that the greatest evil facing the world was war. War did not provide who was right, only who was stronger. After concluding that he was, in addition to being the richest guy in the world, probably one of the smartest, he invested much of his money and most of his energy in achieving peace among nations. Folks such as Teddy Roosevelt privately thought that he was an old fool, but nobody would say it to his face. Carnegie pushed for peace and mediation among nations and spent four of the last five years of his life watching World War I sweep through Europe. [The analogy with Bill Gates is that, after becoming both the richest and smartest guy in the world, he decided that he could solve the problems of poverty and disease in Africa that had defied attempts by the world’s biggest governments and NGOs.]
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Aviation Non-profit idea: Great day out for one child at a time

Kids plus Aircraft plus Non-profit typically equals “ride factory.” The most familiar example of this is EAA Young Eagles. Kids line up and are packed into aircraft as efficiently as possible and lofted up with some 100LL. Maybe it will be a wonderful 10-minute memory or perhaps the smarter children will say “JetBlue was so much better!”

Some local aviation enthusiasts take a different approach with Above the Clouds. They pick some children and teens who could use a literal boost. Each child is welcomed by a big crowd, offered a delicious breakfast, and then escorted with a parent or other adult to an aircraft. The pilot meets and talks to the young person and they agree on a route to be flown, driven substantially by the child’s interests. After the flight, there is a gift bag with items picked to match the child’s passions and also a flight jacket.

I did one of these earlier this summer with a Robinson R44 from East Coast Aero Club:

After the flight:

It would be nice to see this kind of approach taken in more places. Maybe it would even warm up the hearts of the aircraft-haters in Santa Monica!

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Can we please have more non-profits that explicitly refrain from trying to do good?

At Oshkosh I attended a dinner for members of a “type club,” i.e., people who enjoy flying the same type of airplane. I had hoped for a talk about aviation. Maybe just someone in the club who had taken a trip to an unusual destination and had a slide show to share and a few stories. Instead, however, we were “entertained” with a PowerPoint regarding a new scholarship program that the type club had started and how we would all be better off if we donated money to this do-good cause. There were some children in the room and they were plainly not engaged by this righteous effort.

One of my favorite non-profits, on the other hand, is nearly 100 years old. The charter explicitly forbids the organization from trying to do good works. The purpose of the club is social/fellowship. Prices for gatherings are kept low so that few will be excluded due to lack of means. Nobody will feel bad that they can’t afford to donate $X to a worthy cause that is highlighted at a meeting (since a person who pitched that cause would be pitched out!).

Readers: What do you think? Do we need more non-profits that don’t try to justify themselves with attempts at charity or reform?

[Separately, a friend told me about an older rich guy who’d previously advised him “If it Flies, Floats, or F**ks, rent it.” The friend had been stunned to discover that the guy had agreed to a third marriage, after having previously been sued by Wife #1 and Wife #2. After going through all of that litigation, what was the rationale for not taking his own advice and renting? “[Johnny,]” said the old rich guy, a pillar of the non-profit in his home city, “you can’t take a hooker to a charity dinner.”

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Solve the world’s toughest problems for $100 million…

“New Competition for a $100 Million Grant: Round Two of 100&Change”:

MacArthur today announced it will launch a new round of its 100&Change competition for a single $100 million grant to help solve one of the world’s most critical social challenges.

I was awed by this until I reflected that it is less than our town is spending to renovate a K-8 school for 440 town-resident children.

Readers: What should they fund if they want to change the world?

My proposal: The typical American can’t afford to live in the U.S. without taxpayer-funded welfare, e.g., subsidized housing and/or subsidized health care/insurance (the income limits for these means-tested welfare programs are typically higher than median household income). The issues around health care cannot be dented for $100 million (due to the cruel anti-science bias of the Trumpenfuhrer, the NIH Budget for 2019 is only $39 billion). But homebuilding is decentralized and done by a lot of contractors with minimal capital and scale. These smaller contractors cannot afford to do any R&D. Therefore the $100 million should be spent to try to figure out how to build housing at a lower cost.

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