Northwest Passage fairly open this year

Two of the passengers on Roald Amundsen were on a voyage last year on Fram that had to turn back due to ice in the Northwest Passage. This year we found enough ice to prevent driving through the Bellot Strait as planned, but Amundsen’s 1903 route down through Peel Sound was passable, especially with the assistance of Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Terry Fox (thank you, Canadian taxpayers!).

We stopped at Beechey Island, the lonely site of some Franklin Expedition graves:

Then it was time to head south, following a Canadian cruise ship that was following the icebreaker.

Wildlife sightings so far: a few fin whales, five polar bear, perhaps 30 seals, many seabirds.

Weather today in Gjoa Haven, Nunavut: right around freezing with a 40-knot wind. Thanks to Bell Canada for the LTE service:

Regarding the proper term for the locals, one said “Eskimo is a Cree or Algonquin word meaning ‘eater of raw meat.’ That’s not who I am. Though of course I do love to eat raw meat.”

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European perspective on Trump’s China policy

This Northwest Passage cruise contains a lot of retired European multinational executives. They talked about being forced by China to set up factories in China in order to have access to the Chinese consumer market. “Trump is fighting the right battle,” one said, “though you can argue about whether he is using the right tactics. But he is the first American to try to deal with these unfair Chinese policies.”

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How to party with Hollywood Stars and Supermodels

Billion Dollar Whale is a fascinating story by two Wall Street Journal reporters. The “whale” is a pudgy Malaysian-Chinese guy named Jho Low. Aside from making friends with Arabs and stealing from Malaysian taxpayers, the authors don’t credit Mr. Low with any skills. Is that an obstacle to partying with movie stars and beautiful women?

Low rented a suite of rooms that cost $100,000 per month. The flashy new resident showed up at the building in a convoy of black Cadillac Escalades with a retinue of security, and he paid for a number of other apartments in the building for his entourage, which included Hamad Al Wazzan, his wealthy Kuwaiti friend from Wharton. Long-term residents complained about the bodyguards and the ostentation, but that was exactly Low’s aim: to show he had arrived. He began to spend eye-popping amounts, running up a $160,000 bar bill at Avenue, a new club in New York’s Chelsea district, on a single night during fall Fashion Week in 2009. On another occasion, Low sent twenty-three bottles of Cristal to actress Lindsay Lohan’s table when he spotted her during a night out in Manhattan.

It’s a little-discussed secret that even the biggest movie stars take payment to attend events, and Low began to seek out the managers of top actors, or pull on the Strategic Group’s network of club promoters, to get celebrities to his parties. The rumor that Low was a billionaire with unlimited funds made him an attractive person to know. Even for DiCaprio, one of the world’s top-paid actors, with a sizable fortune of his own, the scope of Low’s purported wealth was alluring. The night at the Palazzo in October 2009 was just the start of many parties the actor would enjoy with Low.

Robert De Niro, Charlize Theron, Swizz Beatz, Alicia Keys, and Jamie Foxx become some of the regulars as well.

Where do all of these folks hang out?

It was Fleet Week in Saint-Tropez, and the world’s superyachts vied for berthing space at the town’s marina. In July and August, the resort on the French Riviera, centered around a warren-like medieval old town of ochre-colored houses and old churches, is heaving with the world’s richest people. They flock to the town for parties on yachts and in the town’s bars and the daytime carousing at the clubs on nearby Pampelonne beach.

The most illustrious of all is Les Caves du Roy, a fixture on the world party scene since the 1960s. Every inch of the club, situated in the basement of the Hotel Byblos, just a few hundred meters back from the port, is covered in gold. There are golden columns, which end in waves of fluting, a parody of the Corinthian style meant to evoke champagne bursting from a bottle. The dance floor is golden, as are the tables on which are perched gold leaf–covered cocktail bowls.

Once there, Low spends 2 million euros on Champagne.

His friends also know how to party:

In Abu Dhabi, Al Qubaisi wore the traditional emirati cloak and head covering, and had a family home, a sprawling villa, where his wife and four children lived. But like many rich emiratis, he conducted a different life overseas. At his villa on the Côte d’Azur, with Bugattis and Ferraris parked outside, he partied with models, and he had a younger Moroccan wife in Paris. When abroad, he traded in traditional emirati dress for tight-fitting T-shirts, including one with a montage of images of Al Pacino’s Tony Montana from the 1983 film Scarface. Once, when an executive showed up to Al Qubaisi’s mansion in France to discuss business, he answered the door wearing a skimpy swimsuit, while women in bikinis lingered in the background.

There is still time to appreciate art:

A few weeks after the Wolf of Wall Street premiere, Low, posing as Eric Tan, sent DiCaprio a $3.3 million painting by Pablo Picasso as a late birthday present. The oil painting—Nature Morte au Crâne de Taureau—was accompanied with a handwritten note. “Dear Leonardo DiCaprio, Happy belated Birthday! This gift is for you,” it read. Then, Low told a Swiss gallery that was storing a $9.2 million Basquiat—a collage entitled Red Man One—to transfer ownership to DiCaprio. The order, made in a letter also signed by DiCaprio, indemnified the actor from “any liability whatsoever resulting directly or indirectly from these art-work.” The actor also got a photograph by Diane Arbus—cost $750,000—from Low. In private, DiCaprio was happy to accept these gifts. On the red carpet, he was in a more philosophical mood. Some critics of the film—including voting members of the Academy who heckled Scorsese at an official screening ahead of the Oscars—complained it glamorized Jordan Belfort’s fraud and was more likely to spawn financial malfeasance than serve as a cautionary tale. DiCaprio had carefully prepared his retort. “This is an indictment of all of Wall Street. But it’s an indictment about something that’s in our culture, this incessant need to consume and this incessant need to obtain more and more wealth with complete disregard for anyone except yourself,” he told one interviewer.

Political donations lead to invitations to hang out (and take selfies) with President Obama and family at the White House.

What about sex with supermodels?

Miranda Kerr, the Australian supermodel, walked in. She had come from a formal event and was wearing a ball gown, at odds with the atmosphere in the down-to-earth eatery. With her soft brown curls, iridescent blue eyes, and trademark dimples, the thirty-year-old was instantly recognizable, … After winning an Australian modeling competition, aged only thirteen, she had eventually moved to the United States, where she became a Victoria’s Secret model. In 2013, she earned $7 million, making her the second-best-paid female model in the world after Gisele Bündchen, and offers kept piling up—from H&M, Swarovski, Unilever—to promote products. But a supermodel’s earnings aren’t enough to launch a major business, and Kerr was interested in what Low had to offer. She had tired of modeling and was looking to transform herself into an entrepreneur. The next morning, she had a package of KORA products couriered over to Low’s apartment in the Time Warner building. Back in October, Kerr had divorced actor Orlando Bloom, with whom she had a three-year-old son,

Kerr explained her priorities:

“Simple things, like, you know, a fresh bouquet of flowers makes me really happy, watching the sun rise or the sun set,” she told one interviewer.

Low apparently did not realize that a floral bouquet would be sufficient:

A few months later, he would buy Kerr yet more jewelry, a $3.8 million diamond pendant, making a grand total of over $8 million to acquire the supermodel’s affections.

The $8 million is just for a rental, as it turns out…

Kerr had split with Low after the first stories about him began to emerge in early 2015. In May 2017 she married Evan Spiegel, the billionaire founder of Snapchat, cutting all ties with Low.

More: Read Billion Dollar Whale

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The latest glass cockpits are obsolete?

At Oshkosh this year I attended a talk by an Air Force flight instructor about how military pilots are trained. He showed slides of various USAF trainers and the panel layouts are completely different from the latest and greatest civilian panels. Here’s the avionics suite that goes into a T6C “Texan II” trainer (i.e., a Swiss-designed Pilatus):

The heads-up display is where the engineers expect the pilot to look. The switches just below the HUD are next in visual accessibility. The big TV screens that get pride of place in a modern civilian aircraft are relegated to a low “last resort” position.

As impressive as the latest Garmin G3000-equipped jets are, could it be that the whole design philosophy is wrong?


  • MyGoFlight retrofit heads-up-display (uses a BMW-style projector), which I tried at Oshkosh and it seems to work well. About $25,000 as a retrofit? (as with most things in aviation, the option for the plane (e.g., A/C) costs about the same as an entire automobile that contains the same feature!)
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Encore Boston casino aerial photos

While flying Neoscape in an East Coast Aero Club helicopter on a photography mission, we were waiting for the shadow of a cloud to move away from the commercial real estate site subject. Matt Richardson decided to get some photos of Boston’s new casino, Encore:

This is some of my favorite helicopter flying and we still get to do some interesting projects despite the Rise of the Drones. Operating close to Logan Airport (Class B airspace), as this project required, is an example of when a traditional helicopter may make more sense than a drone.

Thanks to Matt and Neoscape for sharing!


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Can the Second Amendment survive?

A comment in response to my July 4 question “What’s great about the United States?”:

The right to keep and bear arms, of course! Do I need to elaborate? I should think that the readers of this blog wouldn’t need the lesson to understand why it’s so important to millions of Americans. Tens of millions of your fellow citizens exercise that right every single day, year in and year out, and aren’t ashamed to be armed citizens despite the mendacity and lack of respect shown to them.

Our current media and cultural environment may label me a pariah, but I’m not afraid of people calling me names based on a twisted, biased, and ignorant interpretation of what the 2nd Amendment really means to the average person. To me, it means that our country values the individual so much that ordinary people are trusted to own and keep weapons that belong to them. It’s a fundamental statement of the worth of the individual and it just can’t be overstated. I think everyone will miss it greatly if it ever stops being so.

We started out with laws, including the Second Amendment, designed for a population of 4 million yeoman farmers who accepted both risk and personal responsibility. Now there are 330 million residents of the U.S. and risk-aversion grows every year. Flying a little Cessna was considered an acceptable risk back in the 1950s, but most people today insist on a higher level of safety and idiot-proofing. Similarly, any risk of being shot by an unhinged person is enough to drive a lot of people to demand (at least on Facebook) protection from an all-powerful government (as in Leviathan).

Readers: What’s the chance of the Second Amendment surviving in our society on its current trajectory?


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