Mexico City Recommendations

by on April 11, 2014 at 11:41 am in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

I will be in Mexico City next week (con la familia). Recommendations and suggestions welcome!

John McAfee serves up many (speculative) points of interest:

The most powerful tool a traveler can possess is a Press card. It will allow you to completely bypass the “documentation” process if you have limited time or limited funds and don’t want to deal with it. I have dozens stashed in all my vehicles, in my wallet, in my pockets, in my boats.

I am paranoid about being caught without one when I need one. They have magical properties if the correct incantations are spoken while producing them. A sample incantation at a police checkpoint (this will work in any Third World country):

“Hi, I’m really glad to see you.” (produce the press card at this point). I’m doing a story on Police corruption in (fill in country name) and I would love to get a statement from an honest police officer for the story. It’s for a newspaper in the U.S. Would you be willing to go on record for the piece?” You can add or subtract magic words according to the situation. Don’t worry about having to actually interview the officer. No sane police person would talk to a reporter about perceived corruption while at the task of being perceived to be corrupt. He will politely decline and quickly wave you through. If you do find the rare idiot officer who wants to talk, ask a few pointed questions about his superiors and it will quickly awaken his sensibilities. He will send you on your way.

The press card is powerful, but has risks and limitations. Do not attempt this magic, for example, at a Federale checkpoint in Mexico on a desolate road late at night. You will merely create additional, and unpleasant work for the person assigned to dig the hole where they intend to place you.

Here is another bit:

Smile and, if possible, joke. Say something like: “I’d like to stay and chat but I’m in a hurry to meet a girl. Her husband will be back soon.” This will go a long way toward creating a shared communion with the officers and will elicit a shared-experience type of sympathy.

The advice is interesting throughout, but caveat emptor, please.

For the pointer I thank Patrick.

What’s surprisingly affordable in hotel rooms across the globe is, however, vodka. It’s much cheaper than peanuts and, in some cases, even water.

That is the case for instance in Zurich, Helsinki, and Oslo.  (Where is the profitable cross-subsidy?  Or is this price discrimination?  Is vodka less likely to be claimed for reimbursement from third-party payment?)  In Toronto hotel minibars, a can of nuts costs on average $18.23, at least among the hotels sampled.

That is all from Annalisa Merelli, via David Wessel.

Danish travel company offers “ovulation discount” for couples, rewards if you conceive on holiday.  Furthermore:

…if you can subsequently prove that you conceived a child on the trip, they’ll give you three years’ worth of baby-stuff and a family holiday.

Hat tip goes to Tim Harford.

Via Kevin Lewis, here is a new paper on that question:

The Behavioral Economics of Drunk Driving

Frank Sloan, Lindsey Eldred & Yanzhi Xu
Journal of Health Economics, May 2014, Pages 64–81

This study investigates whether drinker-drivers attributes are associated with imperfect rationality or irrationality. Using data from eight U.S. cities, we determine whether drinker-drivers differ from other drinkers in cognitive ability, ignorance of driving while intoxicated (DWI) laws, have higher rates of time preference, are time inconsistent, and lack self-control on other measures. We find that drinker-drivers are relatively knowledgeable about DWI laws and do not differ on two of three study measures of cognitive ability from other drinkers. Drinker-drivers are less prone to plan events involving drinking, e.g., selecting a designated driver in advance of drinking, and are more impulsive. Furthermore, we find evidence in support of hyperbolic discounting. In particular, relative to non-drinker-drivers, the difference between short- and long-term discount rates is much higher for drinker-drivers than for other drinkers. Implications of our findings for public policy, including incapacitation, treatment, and educational interventions, are discussed.

Here is an ungated version of the paper.

I have read many of the accounts and I am following this story with interest.  As to what happened, I don’t care to hazard a very particular guess.  But I wish to make a general point about puzzles.  When an event appears extremely puzzling, there are often a few ways out:

1. One or more of the agents in the story has a capacity to behave more irrationally than you might think.  Even if you believe people are reasonably rational, by examining a puzzle you are to some extent selecting for a situation with irrational behavior from some of the participants.  And sometimes the line between irrational behavior and totally incompetent behavior is a thin one or it is absent altogether.

2. Our own ability to use the argument from exclusion (it cannot be A, B, or C, therefore only D remains) to reach reliable conclusions is extremely dubious and limited.

3. There are more conspiracies than we are usually aware of, and sometimes these conspiracies shape events.

I tend to favor #1 and #2 over #3. The core insight perhaps is that it is easier for coordinated events to fail to happen than to happen.  That does not explain what went on, but it does slant me away from some of the more extreme (and worrying) scenarios.

The fate of the plane and its passengers is of course a matter of intrinsic interest.  But I also find interesting the question of whether a social scientist, or an economist, should have a systematically different interpretation of what might be going on, if only stochastically.  And if we don’t…what good are we?


I am shocked that so many people in the comments, and on Twitter, scoffed at this notion which I put forward the other day.

First, in Los Angeles the weather is almost always very good for walking.  That is a big plus, to say the least.  It is not just that the average quality of experience is high, but you can make advance plans to be walking and arrange your life accordingly.

To be concrete, here are a few of the many splendid walks in the greater Los Angeles area: Almost anywhere in mid-Wilshire, downtown Santa Monica, Melrose, central Westwood, Beverly Hills, a blossoming Downtown (just don’t jaywalk), Pasadena and Glendale, most residential parts of Hollywood, almost any beach locale (and there are many), and even (limited) parts of Sunset.  How many cities have great walks where you can be on the beach and/or see the mountains?  Or where you can stop for first-rate ethnic food almost anywhere?

I will grant that Santa Monica Boulevard is not ideal for walking on many of its parts, nor is all of Culver City.  Is Manhattan’s Park Ave. always so fascinating?

My personal favorite walk is to start somewhere such as Olympic and walk up Vermont, exploring side streets along the way and stopping for Asian food or pupusas.  My two favorites car drives are Sunset and then Griffith Park all the way down to the bottom of Western, or vice versa, stopping for Belizean food along the way.

Here is my earlier post on which are good walking cities, London wins the overall #1.

I wrote this email, which in the interests of varying the “voice” on this blog I have not in the meantime edited:

Best food in the US, no real comparison especially adjusting for price.

Best driving for classic routes and views and also availability of parking along the way (NYC is awful for the latter).

Best walking city in the US (really), and year round.

The city has its own excellent musical soundtrack, Beach Boys, Byrds, Nilsson, etc., has aged better than the SF groups I think.

Incredible architecture and neighborhoods, almost everywhere.

Everyone goes to the movies.

First-rate concert life, including classical and contemporary classical.

Very interesting art galleries.

Few book stores (though disappearing everywhere, these days) and the people have no real sense of humor, but nowhere is perfect!

Traffic Forecasts

by on January 21, 2014 at 2:20 pm in Data Source, Travel, Uncategorized | Permalink

Official DOT forecasts of road traffic with actual road traffic.


Hat tip to Andrew Gelman, who compares it with some other famous forecasts.

Charles Kenny writes:

And growth in the developing world, even if it means that some populous economies may eventually grow larger than the United States, also means that there are more places for Americans to travel in security and comfort, and more places to learn, work or while away our retirement years. Americans can get health care at Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok — accredited by the Joint Commission International, which certifies health-care organizations worldwide — for a fraction of the cost they can in Bethesda. Or their kids can attend college at the University of Cape Town, rated higher than Georgetown University in international rankings but one-fifth as expensive. Or perhaps they can get jobs at one of the new breed of world-class multinational firms based in the developing world, such as Tata or Huawei.

I sometimes think of this issue in terms of the gravity equation and the inward-looking propensities of large countries.  Relative say to Swedes, Americans are relatively unwilling to travel abroad, educate themselves abroad, or work abroad.  Some of this may be misguided arrogance, and some of it is a rational response from those living in a large, prosperous country and (often) knowing only the global language, namely English.  In other words, Americans benefit less (per capita) from the new opportunities abroad than do Swedes.  We do benefit to the extent foreign countries generate innovations which make their way to the United States, but so far not so many of those have come from emerging economies.  I expect that to change, although when is a very important and underexplored question.

I believe that for many educated but not super-elite Americans the best opportunities already are abroad, but most of that group is reluctant to exploit them, if only for reasons related to personal lifestyles and family connections and a general unfamiliarity with living abroad.  We can expect to see more anecdotally-based feature stories on this theme, however.  And there is some longer-run elasticity where the underlying American social norms change.

In the meantime, homebody Americans pay more for gasoline, due to the demands from emerging economies, and pay less at Walmart, and otherwise wonder what the fuss is about.

For more on related points, read Charles’s new and excellent book The Upside of Down, not to be confused with Megan McArdle’s new and excellent The New Up Side of Down, a single space can make all the difference in the world.

It seems the answer is no.  There is an interesting new NYT piece by Mark Oppenheimer, here is one excerpt:

Hampton found that, rather than isolating people, technology made them more connected. “It turns out the wired folk — they recognized like three times as many of their neighbors when asked,” Hampton said. Not only that, he said, they spoke with neighbors on the phone five times as often and attended more community events. Altogether, they were much more successful at addressing local problems, like speeding cars and a small spate of burglaries. They also used their Listserv to coordinate offline events, even sign-ups for a bowling league. Hampton was one of the first scholars to marshal evidence that the web might make people less atomized rather than more. Not only were people not opting out of bowling leagues — Robert Putnam’s famous metric for community engagement — for more screen time; they were also using their computers to opt in.


According to Hampton, our tendency to interact with others in public has, if anything, improved since the ‘70s. The P.P.S. films showed that in 1979 about 32 percent of those visited the steps of the Met were alone; in 2010, only 24 percent were alone in the same spot.

And finally:

…this was Hampton’s most surprising finding: Today there are just a lot more women in public, proportional to men. It’s not just on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. On the steps of the Met, the proportion of women increased by 33 percent, and in Bryant Park by 18 percent. The only place women decreased proportionally was in Boston’s Downtown Crossing — a major shopping area. “The decline of women within this setting could be interpreted as a shift in gender roles,” Hampton writes. Men seem to be “taking on an activity that was traditionally regarded as feminine.”

Across the board, Hampton found that the story of public spaces in the last 30 years has not been aloneness, or digital distraction, but gender equity. “I mean, who would’ve thought that, in America, 30 years ago, women were not in public the same way they are now?” Hampton said. “We don’t think about that.”

The piece is interesting throughout.

Will your next car Google you?

by on January 11, 2014 at 2:44 am in Law, Travel, Web/Tech | Permalink

Cecilia Kang and Michael Fletcher have a new article with a variety of interesting observations, here are some bits:

A tablet, running Google’s Android operating system, will pop out of the dashboard. The device can be passed around so passengers can find YouTube clips and order songs and audio books from the Google Play store for the car’s entertainment system.

Prefer Dunkin’ Donuts over Starbucks? Google may be able to decipher that by driving behavior and deliver the appropriate ads to an e-mail account or smartphone.

…The executives added that Google, not the automaker, would control any personal data generated by the car. And, they said, the information would be stored in servers, not the actual vehicles, to safeguard the data in case the car is stolen or sold.

…Much of the data that Web-connected cars generate may seem mundane — the route someone takes to work, where they are at a certain time, whether their car needs a tire alignment or more coolant — but they can be lucrative to companies in the business of closely targeted marketing.

“If you are a business that provides services to someone in that car, you have a captive audience for an hour a day,” Smith said. “Think about how much anybody would like to have a captive marketing audience for an hour a day. It is a gold mine.”

Much of the new discussion concerns new Audis, but of course such innovations may spread to other cars as well.  Ads emanating from the car radio are old news, so what other mechanisms of ad delivery will be found?  And will drivers be lured with free services (which?) for being willing to hear or view or smell such ads?  I miss the old days of the open window and the eight-track tape.

I am enjoying the “new David Brooks” and his last column prompted me to consider what I actually look for in a hotel.  It is pretty quirky and it involves:

1. Very flat pillows so the head can lie almost flat.

2. No fawning from service people.

3. Numerous ready to access electrical outlets, including a laptop outlet right next to the bed so I can lean up against the pillow while blogging.

4. A non-ventilated bathroom which allows you to steam clothes into submission, and clothes hangars which support the same.

6. NBA-relevant channels on the TV and an easy to operate remote control system which does not trap said user in irrelevant menus.

7. Good breakfast choices which do not have an excess of carbohydrates.

I am putting aside location and obvious matters such as “they don’t torture me with unscheduled wake-up calls at 4 a.m.”  In any case, it is easy for an expensive hotel — boutique or not — to fail on most of those grounds.


by on December 30, 2013 at 1:12 pm in Economics, Travel | Permalink

Uber is hiring economists. Looks like an interesting job:

Urban transportation has looked the same for a long time – a really long time – thanks in large part to regulatory regimes that don’t encourage innovation. We think it’s time for change. We’re a tech company sure, and we’re working in the transportation space, but at the end of the day we’re disrupting very old business models. Our Public Policy team prefers winning by being right over some of the darker lobbying arts, and so we’re looking for a Policy Economist to tease smart answers to hard questions out of big data. How do the old transportation business models impact driver income? What effect if any is Uber having on the housing market or drunk driving or public transit? To what extent are the different policy regimes in New York City and Taipei responsible for different transportation outcomes? Just a few of the questions we want you to dig on.

Another Obamacare glitch

by on December 23, 2013 at 9:35 am in Law, Medicine, Travel | Permalink

Stella Paul reports:

Millions are losing their health insurance policies and being forced onto the ObamaCare exchanges, where most plans only provide local medical coverage. As Americans realize they must pay for all non-emergency medical care when they leave their home county.

The pointer is from Arnold Kling.