Portugal Trip Diary 1

Palm Beach International has an in-terminal art museum. Here’s a work regarding homophobia that is so pervasive and severe that the artwork “to discuss homophobia” was selected for display to several million travelers:

Our 8-year-old was seated next to a New Yorker on the flight to EWR:

Incompetence by United Airlines resulted in the inbound plane arriving at PBI one hour late. That put us right into prime Florida afternoon thunderstorm territory so there was an additional delay while lightning struck all around the airport and the ramp was closed. I bit my nails as the 2.5-hour plane change time in Newark, during which we’d have to take a bus from Terminal A to Terminal C, was eaten away.

Despite the time crunch at EWR, I managed to get a photo of an all-gender family restroom, the last so-labeled that we would likely see for three weeks:

The young, slender, apparently healthy, and righteous wore their masks in the EWR terminal and then while walking onto our EWR-LIS flight:

All of my nail-biting was pointless. The flight was showing on time when we rushed to the gate to find… no Boeing 787. Flightaware showed that the plane had landed two days earlier. Where was the plane? “They’re bringing it over from the hangar,” said a United employee. “I don’t know why they didn’t do it earlier.” After everyone was boarded we couldn’t close the door because the in-flight entertainment system wasn’t working properly. We departed more than two hours late and, thus, could have enjoyed a relaxed dinner if the delays hadn’t been piecemeal.

The Lisbon airport is so close to downtown that Uber Black is only about $30. More comfortable than a tuktuk anyway:

We stayed at the Altis Prime apartment hotel in Principe Real. This is walking distance from the tourist Baixa while quieter and more convenient for doing business. The hotel is around the corner from a synagogue so, literally within hours after we arrived, the kids got to see a Free Palestine march:

(Only about 50 out of Greater Lisbon’s 2.9 million residents chose to participate.)

After a bit of napping to recover from our United Basic Economy experience (Economy wouldn’t have been any better; by the time we booked there weren’t any decent clusters of four seats available and the premium seats were all sold out), we headed down to the Baixa (heart of downtown) and found a quiet pro-Ukraine gathering:

The next day we went to the natural history museum that is near our hotel and found this juxtaposition of an electron microscope up against a tile wall, which is an 800-year-old tradition in Portugal:

The museum is next to one of Lisbon’s three (at least) botanical gardens:

From the garden it is a quick walk to the Bairro Alto, a neighborhood just above the Baixa that is served by an elevator and a funicular:

I remembered the Time Out Market as being fun, but that was in September. In June it is mobbed to the point that there is nowhere to sit and also insufficiently air conditioned:

The obligatory panoramic:

Here’s the kind of thing that we’re getting from AI today:

I wonder if instead we could get robot stonework so that modern buildings could be ornate and beautiful:

A couple of the pedestrian-only streets of the Baixa. Note the elevator to the Bairro Alto in the background of one photo:

To be continued…

Full post, including comments

Citroën is ready to meet Joe Biden’s new fuel economy standards

Photographed in Lisbon, the 8 hp Moroccan-built Citroën Ami:

“Biden pulls back on tightened car and truck fuel standards” (Politico):

The Biden administration on Friday backed off its proposal for a dramatic rise in fuel economy requirements for SUVs and pickup trucks, in yet another move that risks deflating the climate activists whose enthusiasm could hold the key to the president’s reelection. … NHTSA’s final rule, Reg. 2127-AM55, maintains the proposal’s requirement that passenger cars make 2 percent annual improvements for model years 2027 through 2031. Passenger cars will reach an average of 65 mpg in model year 2031, up from the current average of 48.7 mpg, according to NHTSA. (The non-plug-in version of Toyota’s Prius, one of the most fuel-efficient hybrids on the road, gets 57 mpg, according to federal regulators.)

I’m thinking that the above Citroën will be part of the solution for our 65 mpg cars.

Separately, Joe Biden says that climate change is an existential threat to humanity and that we’re experiencing a “climate crisis”, but apparently things aren’t so bad that we need to reduce fuel consumption by SUVs and pickup trucks.

Full post, including comments

Return trip to the world’s best public aquarium (in Lisbon)

As part of this year’s trip to Portugal we bought a family membership at the Oceanário de Lisboa, which I think has a legitimate claim to being the world’s best public aquarium. The typical public aquarium is “one damn tank after another”. This was tweaked to “one damn tank after another plus a big tank in the middle” due to the work of Peter Chermayeff (fans of The Son Also Rises: economics history with everyday applications will be cheered to learn that this accomplished architect is the son of Serge Chermayeff, an accomplished architect). Chattanooga is also a strong contender and is also a Chermayeff design, but the planted aquarium exhibit designed by the late Takashi Amano puts Lisbon over the top. (Atlanta, funded by Trump-supporter Bernie Marcus, has whale sharks, but lacks a unifying theme). Here are some photos from June 2024:

The “one ocean” theme is moderately persuasive, but the younger members of our party preferred the phrase “otter fight.”

I like the aquarium so much that I tried to book an apartment at the nearby Martinhal hotel, but I am glad that we didn’t. The #Science museum next to the aquarium is also great, but there isn’t enough going on in the Parque das Nações at street level. It would be a good hotel for someone who intended to be entirely car-based, but not for someone who wanted to walk to restaurants and shops. The Myriad, which is in the same new area of the city, is much better located for access to a lively pedestrian area (a riverfront restaurant row) and a massive shopping mall (as well as a big train/bus station). The failure of this neighborhood to be a pleasant walkable lifestyle, as most cities and towns in Portugal are, is a sobering reminder that humans don’t seem to be capable of building decent new neighborhoods. The countries that are addicted to population growth (e.g., the U.S., via low-skill immigration) are thus doomed to have an ever-larger percentage of the population living in lonely lifeless suburbs. Parque das Nações has moderately high density and is in a country with a rich tradition of urban planning (going back at least to reconstruction from the 1755 earthquake) and still it doesn’t come together.

Full post, including comments

How will NVIDIA avoid a Google-style Vesting in Peace syndrome?

NVIDIA is the world’s most valuable company (P/E ratio of 75; compare to less than 40 for Microsoft), which also means that nearly every NVIDIA employee is rich. A lot of people slack off when they become rich. Google ended up with quite a few “vesting in peace” workers who didn’t contribute much. It didn’t matter because it was too challenging for anyone else to break into the search and advertising businesses. But suppose that another tech company assembles a group of not-yet-rich hardware and software people. Hungry for success, these people build some competitive GPUs and the biggest NVIDIA customers merely have to recompile their software in order to use the alternative GPUs that are marketed at a much lower price.

How can NVIDIA’s spectacular success not lead to marketplace slippage due to an excessively rich and complacent workforce? Is the secret that NVIDIA can get money at such a low cost compared to competitors that it can afford to spend 2-3X as much on the next GPU and still make crazy profits? I find it tough to understand how Intel, which for years has made GPUs inside its CPUs, can’t develop something that AI companies want to buy. Intel has a nice web page explaining how great their data center GPUs are for AI:

Why can’t Intel sell these? Are the designs so bad that they couldn’t compete with NVIDIA even if sold at Intel’s cost?

Full post, including comments

Narcissism disguised as feminism

“Does Divorce Make You Hotter?” (Kat Rosenfield, The Free Press):

Five years ago, all my girlfriends suddenly decided to abandon their husbands en masse.

That is how it seemed at the time, at least. It all started when one woman blew up her marriage with one of those affairs so indiscreet that getting found out seemed like not just a risk but the entire point—then landed on her feet with generous alimony and a new boyfriend who was a 24-year-old fitness influencer. A few others, perhaps hoping to replicate her results, followed suit.

I lost touch with these women during the pandemic, so whether it all worked out for them, I couldn’t say; all I remember is that shortly after the last of the breakups, the new divorcées threw a Halloween party at which I was the only woman not wearing lingerie as a costume, and also the only one accompanied by a husband (what can I say? I’ve always liked him). I spent the evening feeling excruciatingly frumpy and middle-aged and also, absurdly, a little left out.

I’ve been thinking lately of that party, those women, the husbands they jettisoned like so much dead weight in a mimetic frenzy of best-life-living. Maybe the men were bad and deserved it, but it strikes me that nobody ever said so. My friends didn’t talk about being unhappily married; they just thought they’d be happier divorced, and no wonder. Even as divorce has retreated from the oft-cited peak rate of 50 percent, its place in the culture has all the urgency and incandescence of a current thing.

What does a successful alimony plaintiff call herself?

a New York Times feature about how Emily Ratajkowski has set off a booming new market for “divorce rings,” refashioned from the wearer’s old wedding band. One of them is engraved with the word badass, a detail I would have found absolutely impossible to believe had it not been accompanied by photographic evidence. … I try to imagine a world in which we’d tell a man that getting divorced made him badass, instead of a schmuck, a deadbeat, a loser who didn’t try hard enough. A world in which divorce rings for men are a thing, let alone one positively written about in The New York Times. It would never happen, of course. It’s only women who are seen as requiring this particular brand of cheerleading, who are relentlessly encouraged to reframe all their negative experiences as the best thing they ever did. … In this vision of feminism, marriage is a trap, divorce is a superpower, and women are not so much people as Strong Female Characters. …

It’s interesting, that last one: women are allegedly made more appealing by divorce, but nobody ever specifies to whom. The feminist cause? The next ex-husband?

The referenced NYT article:


Full post, including comments

71 percent annual inflation rate for umbrella insurance

Opening the mailbox in our inflation-free economy, I found the following had been forwarded from my mother’s old address in Maryland:

This is a $1 million Maryland-based umbrella policy for mom, whose underlying auto policy was canceled some years ago (my father died in 2021, shortly after receiving the second Pfizer COVID vaccine shot and stopped driving a few years before that). The increase from $133.81 to $228.44 in a year is a 71 percent annual inflation rate.

I canceled the policy because (a) it isn’t valid if the policyholder lacks underlying insurance, (b) I don’t expect mom to do a lot of physical damage with her walker, and (c) $1 million isn’t enough to cover even a tiny fraction of the damages ladled out by juries when a non-physical injury is found (see E. Jean Carroll, for example, who suffered $83 million in damage to her reputation when her veracity was questioned).

In other news from our inflation-free economy… “Nationwide says it’s dropping thousands of pet insurance policies due to inflation” (CNN):

Nationwide Pet, the country’s largest provider of pet insurance, says it is dropping about 100,000 policies between now and next summer to keep up with spiraling costs in vet care.

The move comes as other types of insurance, from homeowners to vehicles, are increasingly becoming harder to obtain for many Americans.

“Inflation in the cost of veterinary care and other factors have led to recent underwriting changes and the withdrawal of some products in some states — difficult actions that are necessary to ensure a financially sustainable future for our pet insurance line of business,” Nationwide said in an announcement last week.

I can’t figure out which 100,000 policies they’d choose to drop. If inflation in vet costs is a nationwide (so to speak) phenomenon, how does it help to pick certain policies to drop and others to keep? By breed? Age of dog?

Full post, including comments

Kid perspectives on contracts

We recently had some windows added to our house. If you live in a northern lockdown state, this might not sound like a big deal: cut out some wood with a reciprocating saw, get a glass module (double pane to save the planet), frame around the glass module, touch up the paint. In the Florida Free State (TM), however, you need to do the following:

  • cut through cinder block and rebar
  • put a lintel above the opening that you just cut so that the house doesn’t fall down
  • pour some new concrete with rebar around the window opening
  • add wood framing just inside the new opening
  • bring in a window company at $3,700+/opening to install an impact-rated window into the wood and concrete with massive screws every 7 inches or so
  • deal with the building inspector multiple times already by this point
  • install new stucco on the concrete that you’ve just poured
  • paint the exterior
  • install new drywall on the interior
  • paint the drywall

The window company said that in pre-Biden times it was possible to find a general contractor to do all of the above (except the window item itself) for $5,000 per opening. We had four openings so it should have cost us about $20,000+ for the general contractor and $14,750 for the windows themselves.

Of course, the old $20,000 is the new $40,000 or maybe $100,000. The window company’s usual partners refused even to look at the project, deeming it too small. Our architect worked with a mid-sized contractor regularly and he quoted $37,250 for his part of the work. A small-time guy who’d done some stuff very reasonably for us in the past quoted $18,000. We’d had huge price discrepancies for some other items at the house, e.g., install a mini-split A/C in the garage so it didn’t occur to us that the $18,000 was a mistake until after we saw how many guys and subcontractors the contractor put on the project and how many weeks it took.

Towards the end of the project, he came back to me and opened by saying that he knew that I owed him only $18,000 because that’s what he quoted. But he had some paperwork to show that the proper cost was closer to $40,000 and explained that he’d made mistakes in preparing the quote, leaving out a lot of concrete work.

I asked out 8- and 10-year-olds what they would have done in the situation. I tried to prepare them for the scenario by asking what if the Honda dealer quoted us $1,000 for new tires and then said they’d made a mistake and asked for $2,000 when the car was completed. They both said that the Honda dealer should be held to the contract. Then I asked them about our specific contractor, whose friendly careful people they’d seen in the house for all four months of the one-month project. They gave the same answer: hold the guy to his bid. I tried to get them to back off from this position by pointing out that the Honda dealer might be worth tens or hundreds of millions of dollars while our contractor was just a regular working guy and had a lot of subcontractors to pay, but I couldn’t make them see a distinction.

From shwinco.com:

Excerpts from the Notice of Acceptance that is part of the building permit:

(Readers might reasonably wonder what I decided to do. I paid $37,250, which the competitor had quoted, since that was the only reference that I had for a correctly quoted job. It seemed like a fair price for the quality and quantity of work that was done. (Plus, the guys who were sawing concrete blocks and doing other onerous tasks in the Florida heat and humidity will need money to pay off college graduates’ loans transferred by Joe Biden to the general taxpayer.) It wouldn’t be logically consistent, but if the Honda dealer made a mistake and gave me a written quote that they later said was lower than it should have been, I wouldn’t voluntarily pay more.)

Full post, including comments

Celebrating Juneteenth here in Portugal

Portugal so far has been short on what Americans would consider Social Justice. We witnessed one pro-Hamas march on a Lisbon synagogue and the number of participants (about 50) was a tiny percentage of the Lisbon metro area population (nearly 3 million). The pro-Hamas encampment at the University of Coimbra was also poorly attended (and they let a dog walk on the sacred Palestinian flag; see future post). Our almost-9-year-old’s sharp eyes spotted a single rainbow flag, rather faded, above a bar in Lisbon (i.e., that’s one rainbow flag in a 10-day period). At Portugal dos Pequenitos, a theme park of miniature houses and architectural monuments designed to delight children, the Portuguese “voyages of discovery” are presented as great achievements, not as pernicious precursors to slavery and colonization:

Does all of the above mean that I am not participating in Juneteenth? Au contraire, as they say in Lisbon! Today I tried to return a phone call from John Hancock regarding my 90-year-old mom’s insurance. I turned on my Xfinity Mobile SIM ($10 per day of usage, with a meagre 0.5 GB data allotment that one will blow through in less than a day of using Google Maps, uploading a few photos, etc.) and called John Hancock. I spent about 15 minutes dealing with their automated system before an attempt was made to connect me with a human. My reward was a recording: “Our offices are closed today in observance of Juneteenth” (this became a new paid day off for government workers in 2021; see “Biden Signs Law Making Juneteenth a Federal Holiday” (NYT)).

Readers: How did you observe Juneteenth? Were you obstructed in any of your attempts to be productive?

Here’s Joe Biden crediting Black Americans as having “led the march from slavery to freedom”, but weren’t the relevant marches for Juneteenth led by Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman? Is he saying that Grant and Sherman identified as “Black”?


A video of the “Free Palestine” march on the synagogue in Lisbon that was around the corner from our hotel:

Full post, including comments

Replacement theory is false with respect to tourists in NYC

“Why N.Y.C. Hotel Rooms Are So Expensive Right Now” (NYT, May 25):

The average hotel room rate in the city is $301 a night, a record. A major reason: One of every five hotels is now a shelter, contributing to a shortage of tourist lodging.

In late 2022, as thousands of migrants began to arrive in New York City, city officials scrambled to find places to house them. They quickly found takers: hotels that were still struggling to recover from the pandemic-driven downturn in tourism.

Dozens of hotels, from once-grand facilities to more modest establishments, closed to tourists and began exclusively sheltering migrants, striking multimillion-dollar deals with the city. The humanitarian crisis became the hotel industry’s unexpected lifeline in New York; the hotels became a safe haven for tens of thousands of asylum seekers.

About 65,000 migrants are being sheltered in hotels, tent dormitories and other shelters, in large part because of the city’s legal obligation to provide a bed to anyone who needs one. The city projects it will spend $10 billion over three fiscal years on the migrant crisis.

Low-skill migrants make the U.S. richer economically and culturally, yet it is a “crisis” when more enrichment is happening?

We are informed by the New York Times that Replacement Theory is false, as well as racist. Only a fool could entertain the idea that native-born Americans are being replaced by low-skill immigrants streaming across an open border that is intentionally undefended despite Americans paying nearly $1 trillion/year to fund a military. We are also informed that 20 percent of potential tourists have been replaced by migrants.

From the New York Post:

Who else can profit from low-skill immigration? Government workers! “The Massive Immigration Wave Hitting America’s Classrooms” (Wall Street Journal, May 25):

STOUGHTON, Mass.—Eighth-grader Sandla Desir spoke softly in a classroom recently while reading the Dr. Seuss book, “One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish,” aloud in accented English.

The book isn’t typical material for a 13-year-old. But when Sandla started at O’Donnell Middle School in September, the native Haitian Creole speaker could barely read.

Millions of migrants, most seeking asylum, have crossed the border in recent years and have been allowed to settle in the U.S. until a federal immigration judge decides their fate, a process that can take years. Among the record numbers, federal data suggest, are as many as one million children who have arrived with their families or on their own since 2021.

Districts are faced with the need for additional teachers and staff who can teach English … Adding the 90 shelter students has cost Stoughton, which teaches a total of 3,740 students, at least $500,000 for increased staff and busing costs. The state said it has reimbursed nearly all of that money. … The most immediate upfront costs this year were hiring five new staff members, including two teachers, and contracting for a bus to shuttle students to and from the hotel shelters, Baeta said. The district has gone from seven to 17 English-as-a-second-language teachers in the past five years.


  • “Yes, Immigration Hurts American Workers” (Politico 2016), in which Harvard economists find that the main effect of low-skill immigration is to transfer $500 billion/year (pre-Biden money) from the American working class to elite Americans, e.g., the kinds of folks who own hotels in New York City
Full post, including comments

Palm Beach County Public Library during this Pride

We are informed by the New York Times and CNN that Governor Ron DeSantis has banned books that promote the 2SLGBTQQIA+ lifestyle. Here’s a photo taken this Pride at the local branch of the Palm Beach County Library system:

A couple of close-ups:

A potentially disturbing twist on Love is Love… the Pride books are right next to books regarding human-animal love:

Separately, I found what looks like it might be a great book celebrating women in aviation:

(about Hanna Reitsch and Melitta von Stauffenberg)

Full post, including comments