Category: Travel

Sir Rod Stewart

He’s one of rock’s biggest stars, but Sir Rod Stewart has finally revealed the fruits of his other great passion – model railways.

In between making music and playing live, Sir Rod has been working on a massive, intricate model of a US city for the past 23 years.

He unveiled it as part of an interview with Railway Modeller magazine.

He then phoned in to Jeremy Vine’s BBC Radio 2 show to rebuff the host’s suggestion he had not built it himself.

“I would say 90% of it I built myself,” he insisted. “The only thing I wasn’t very good at and still am not is the electricals, so I had someone else do that.”

Sir Rod has released 13 studio albums and been on 19 tours during the time it took to build the city, which is modelled on both New York and Chicago around 1945.

Here is more, via the BBC.  Via Ilya Novak.

The winners and losers from Airbnb

Overall, renters in New York City suffer a loss of $178mm per annum, as the losses from the rent channel dominate the gains from the host channel. I find that the increased rent burden falls most heavily on high-income, educated, and white renters, because they prefer housing and location amenities most desirable to tourists. Moreover, there is a divergence between the median and the tail, where a few enterprising low-income households obtain substantial gains from home-sharing, especially during demand peaks.

That is from the job market paper of Sophie Calder-Wang of Harvard.  You will note there still are likely net gains once you count tourist demand, but of course this helps explain why Airbnb rentals are unpopular in some cities.

Rat transit markets in everything

Learning to drive small cars helps rats feel less stressed, scientists found.

Researchers at the University of Richmond in the US taught a group of 17 rats how to drive little plastic cars, in exchange for bits of cereal.

Study lead Dr Kelly Lambert said the rats felt more relaxed during the task, a finding that could help with the development of non-pharmaceutical treatments for mental illness.

Here is the story, via the excellent Fergus McCullough.

Who tips on Uber?

Men tip 12 percent more if their driver is a woman, but that’s entirely because they give more money to the youngest female drivers. The premium men pay to women behind the wheel shrinks as the women get older. By the time the drivers are age 65, it has virtually vanished. Women also tip other women more, but they don’t significantly change their tips based on the driver’s age.

Tips are highest between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m., and not surprisingly:

Tips are highest in small cities and the middle of the country. Riders in California and the Northeast weren’t great tippers.

Here is much more from Andrew van Dam at The Washington Post.

Trust, Airbnb, and Himalayan villages

An excellent short essay, with many points of note, here is one:

In Himalayan villages like mine, there is deep social uncertainty because of Airbnb and other online marketplaces. The opportunity cost of doing business with one’s nephews and cousins is now high. There is the real problem of nephews who run away on the flimsiest of pretexts. The stakes are higher, and there is much to gain by trading with outsiders. You can’t even run Airbnbs well without breaking free from closed relationships with your family and tribe, and forming spontaneous relationships with strangers.  It’s hard for me to do justice to my Airbnb listings without being free to run them in a fairly entrepreneurial fashion.

And there is this:

Millions of people stay in Airbnb homes every night. It’s not trust which makes this possible. My pup is fearless when he sleeps with the door wide open, in a cottage in the woods. There are leopards around. Dogs here don’t live very long. He doesn’t trust leopards, but he knows they are afraid of humans. My pup sleeps on my bed, and so is well-protected from the vicissitudes of life. But I’m not the living proof that dogs can trust leopards. Dogs wouldn’t need humans to guard them if they could trust leopards. Similarly, Airbnb puts hosts and guests in a position where behaving badly would ruin their reputation. In one of my bad moods, I held my pup quite firmly. At midnight, he ran out of the cottage and barked for hours. I couldn’t bring him back to my bed. I did something he thought I wouldn’t consider. He felt I betrayed his trust in me. I’m, here, talking about a more meaningful form of trust. Intellectuals miss this obvious distinction, because they’re not the wonderful people they think they are. The distinction between trust and assurance is all too obvious. But if doing wrong doesn’t fill you with moral horror, you won’t get it. You can’t trust anybody who doesn’t feel that way, and there are not many such people. Unconditional trustworthiness is one of the rarest things in the world. Institutions can’t produce this kind of trust, because people aren’t conditionable beyond a point. In any case, how do you produce something you don’t even understand?

By Veridici, and I believe Shanu Athiparambath.

Those new service sector jobs

Diane Reynolds had been racing for a few months when she won her first amateur cycling event, the Farm to Fork Fondo near upstate New York’s Finger Lakes in August. She left more than 500 riders in the dust, including all the men.

The win earned the 49-year-old novice a jersey decorated with polka-dot chickens, but it didn’t come cheap: She paid about $1,000 for former pro cyclist Hunter Allen to ride all 84 miles with her as a private coach.

Mr. Allen, 50, gave her real-time pointers on pacing, technical skills and race strategy. He also ran interference for her. “Early on, there were about 10 guys riding hard taking turns up front—I was one of them—and I knew we were going to break away from the peloton,” or main group of riders, he says. “I made sure Diane stayed with us, sheltered in the middle and conserved her energy as we widened the gap.”

That is from Hilary Potkewitz at the WSJ.

Is it inefficient to walk up the escalator?

A study in London found 74.9 per cent of people choose to stand instead of walking, especially on the longer ones. With this ‘stand on the right, walk on the left’ rule, we’re giving up 50 per cent of the space on our escalators for roughly 25 per cent of our commuters.

Look for this problem next time during rush hour where the “standing” side of the escalators ends up with a line of people trying to get on. It may seem counterintuitive, but people who are walking up escalators to save seconds off their commute are actually slowing everyone else down.

Efficiency aside, there’s another reason why walking on escalators might be a bad idea—safety. Escalator accidents are much more common than you think.

A CBC investigation found that escalator accidents happen every second day in the Montreal Metro. In the U.S., about 10,000 escalator-related injuries end in emergency room visits every year.

Many of those victims were likely walking. A  study in Tokyo found almost 60 per cent of escalator accidents between 2013 and 2014 resulted from people using escalators improperly, which includes people walking or running on them.

Here is the full story, via Michelle Dawson.  Walking up the escalator remains time efficient, however, if those choosing to walk have much higher valuations of time than those who choose to stand.  Might that be the case?

My trip to Karachi

Most recently, the city has been beset by a plague of flies — a “bullying force,” says the New York Times, “sparing no one.” The swarm of flies, which I was fortunate enough to miss, was the result of monsoon season, malfunctioning drainage systems clogged with solid waste, and slaughtered animals from the Muslim celebration of Eid. (The same monsoon season, by the way, led to power blackouts of up to 60 hours.) On a livability index, Karachi ranks near the bottom, just ahead of Damascus, Lagos, Dhaka and Tripoli.

There is no subway, and a typical street scene blends cars, auto-rickshaws, motorbikes and the occasional donkey pulling a cart. It’s fun for the visitor, but I wouldn’t call transportation easy.

And yet to see only those negatives is to miss the point. Markets speak more loudly than anecdotes, and the population of Karachi continues to rise — a mark of the city’s success. This market test is more important than the aesthetic test, and Karachi unambiguously passes it.

And:

Most of all, I am impressed by the tenacity of Pakistan. Before going there, I was very familiar with the cliched claim that Pakistan is a fragile tinderbox, barely a proper country, liable to fall apart any moment and collapse into civil war. Neither my visit nor my more focused reading has provided any support for that view, and perhaps it is time to retire it. Pakistan’s national identity may be strongly contested but it is pretty secure, backed by the growing use of Urdu as a national language — and cricket to boot. It has come through the Afghan wars battered but intact.

That is all from my longer than usual Bloomberg column, all about Karachi.

My Conversation with Alain Bertaud

Excellent throughout, Alain put on an amazing performance for the live audience at the top floor of the Observatory at the old World Trade Center site.  Here is the audio and transcript, most of all we talked about cities.  Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: Will America create any new cities in the next century? Or are we just done?

BERTAUD: Cities need a good location. This is a debate I had with Paul Romer when he was interested in charter cities. He had decided that he could create 50 charter cities around the world. And my reaction — maybe I’m wrong — but my reaction is that there are not 50 very good locations for cities around the world. There are not many left. Maybe with Belt and Road, maybe the opening of Central Asia. Maybe the opening of the ocean route on the northern, following the pole, will create the potential for new cities.

But cities like Singapore, Malacca, Mumbai are there for a good reason. And I don’t think there’s that many very good locations.

COWEN: Or Greenland, right?

[laughter]

BERTAUD: Yes. Yes, yes.

COWEN: What is your favorite movie about a city? You mentioned a work of fiction. Movie — I’ll nominate Escape from New York.

[laughter]

BERTAUD: Casablanca.

Here is more:

COWEN: Your own background, coming from Marseille rather than from Paris —

BERTAUD: I would not brag about it normally.

[laughter]

COWEN: But no, maybe you should brag about it. How has that changed how you understand cities?

BERTAUD: I’m very tolerant of messy cities.

COWEN: Messy cities.

BERTAUD: Yes.

COWEN: Why might that be, coming from Marseille?

BERTAUD: When we were schoolchildren in Marseille, we were used to a city which has a . . . There’s only one big avenue. The rest are streets which were created locally. You know, the vernacular architecture.

In our geography book, we had this map of Manhattan. Our first reaction was, the people in Manhattan must have a hard time finding their way because all the streets are exactly the same.

[laughter]

BERTAUD: In Marseille we oriented ourselves by the angle that a street made with another. Some were very narrow, some very, very wide. One not so wide. But some were curved, some were . . . And that’s the way we oriented ourselves. We thought Manhattan must be a terrible place. We must be lost all the time.

Finally:

COWEN: And what’s your best Le Corbusier story?

BERTAUD: I met Le Corbusier at a conference in Paris twice. Two conferences. At the time, he was at the top of his fame, and he started the conference by saying, “People ask me all the time, what do you think? How do you feel being the most well-known architect in the world?” He was not a very modest man.

[laughter]

BERTAUD: And he said, “You know what it feels? It feels that my ass has been kicked all my life.” That’s the way he started this. He was a very bitter man in spite of his success, and I think that his bitterness is shown in his planning and some of his architecture.

COWEN: Port-au-Prince, Haiti — overrated or underrated?

Strongly recommended, and note that Bertaud is eighty years old and just coming off a major course of chemotherapy, a remarkable performance.

Again, I am very happy to recommend Alain’s superb book Order Without Design: How Markets Shape Cities.

Dining out in Karachi

The general standard is very high, though trying to chase after “the best place” does not seem worth the effort — it is more about choosing the best dish to order.  As in India, the hotel restaurants are excellent, and you can sample everything you might want without leaving a single restaurant, if you find the dust and heat too daunting (I do not, but you might, please do believe me on that one).  The crowning glories in Karachi are the biryanis and the lassi.  A randomly chosen lassi here seems to match the very best Indian lassis in quality.  The karahi dishes come alive like nowhere else.  Qorma sauces too.  Vegetables are hard to come by, especially greens — the restaurant version of Karachi cuisine is quite meat-heavy, and the overall selection of dishes is not so different from what you find in the Pakistani restaurants in Springfield, Virginia.  That said, the greens and herbs that accompany the meat dishes are fresh and vibrant.

One secondary consequence of the meat emphasis is that Karachi Western fast food is much more like the Western version than you might find in India.  Hamburgers carry over very well to the Pakistani context, as does slopping together meat and bread in various ways, a’ la Subway.  There is Movenpick chocolate ice cream in various shopping malls and hotels.  Reasonable Chinese food can be found, can you say “One Belt, One Road”?

Golub Jamun, typically an atrocity in the United States, is marvelous in Pakistan.

My favorite things Pakistan

1. Female singer: Abida Parveen, here is one early song, the later material is often more commercial.  Sufi songs!

2. Qawwali performers: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the Sabri Brothers, and try this French collection of Qawwali music.

3. Author/novel: Daniyal Mueenuddin, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders.  I am not sure why this book isn’t better known.  It is better than even the average of the better half of the Booker Prize winners.  Why doesn’t he write more?

4. Dish: Haleem: “Haleem is made of wheat, barley, meat (usually minced beef or mutton (goat meat or Lamb and mutton) or chicken), lentils and spices, sometimes rice is also used. This dish is slow cooked for seven to eight hours, which results in a paste-like consistency, blending the flavors of spices, meat, barley and wheat.”

5. Movie: I don’t think I have seen a Pakistani film, and my favorite movie set in Pakistan is not so clear.  Charlie Wilson’s War bored me, and Zero Dark Thirty is OK.  What am I forgetting?

6. Economic reformer: Manmohan Singh.

7. Economist: Atif Mian, born in Nigeria to a Pakistani family.

8. Textiles: Wedding carpets from Sindh?

9. Visual artist: Shahzia Shikhander, images here.

I don’t follow cricket, sorry!

China fact of the day

Despite the attempt to rely more on tunnels than bridges, Guizhou ended up with 40 of the world’s 100 tallest bridges, including the very tallest. Read that again. I didn’t say China had 40% of the world’s tallest (which would be a major achievement), I said a poor, small province in the interior with only 2.5% of China’s population has 40 of the world’s 100 tallest bridges.

Here is more from the Scott Sumner travelogue from Guizhou.

My Conversation with Samantha Power

Samantha Power has a new and excellent book out, The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir, which I very much enjoyed.  And so a Conversation with Tyler was in order, here is the audio and transcript, here is one bit:

COWEN: For a final closing segment, I just have some super simple questions about foreign policy again. Over the course of the last summer, Iran apparently seized two British tankers. There’ve been other incidents in the Strait of Hormuz in some way connected with Iran. From a game-theoretic point of view, why would they do this? Why does this make sense?

POWER: Well, the one thing that they would know that would give them some point of leverage is the extreme war fatigue within the United States, and really within the Western world. So, by upping the stakes, arguably — I mean, who knows why the hell they’re doing what they’re doing?

But by upping the stakes, they arguably could be sending a signal like, “You want to get in this game? It’s not as if we’re an island and you can just break the deal, penalize us gratuitously, penalize the people who are still trying to maintain the terms of the deal, and that there won’t be collateral consequences outside the nuclear space.”

Because the nuclear consequences, as they begin to enrich and violate the terms of the deal — having legitimately argued that we had violated the terms of the deal — the effects of those are not day-to-day effects in the news world. It’s a bit abstract for the public and even for policymakers. It’s an incremental abrogation.

But acts like this show that they have leverage, that they are active militarily in parts of the world where we have a vested interest in maintaining freedom of navigation. So I think they’re showing that they can hit in domains outside the nuclear domain. I think that is probably what they’re doing.

Here is another segment:

COWEN: In which ways do you feel your thought is in some manner still Irish in orientation in a way that would distinguish you from, say, American-born individuals?

POWER: It’s hard to know because I can’t run the counterfactual, so I don’t know what’s just because my mother is a physician and very empathetic toward her patients, and do I learn from that? Or am I moved by having come from a small country, at that time a poor country, that was sending —

COWEN: With a history of oppression, right?

POWER: With a history of oppression, with a history of the dignity of its people being trampled. Is that why I care so much about individual dignity? Again, I can’t run the history a different way.

And finally:

COWEN: Very simple — are baseball games too long? Why not make it 7 innings?

POWER: Why not make it 12?

COWEN: It’s boring, right?

POWER: For you and, as it turns out, for others.

COWEN: For me. So many games are over 3 hours. Shouldn’t the game be 2 hours, 17 minutes?

We also cover her first impressions of America, being a wartime correspondent, China and Iraq, Star Wars vs. Star Trek, van Morrison vs. Bob Dylan, robot empires vs. robot umpires, her favorite novel, how personal one should get in a memoir and why, and German defense spending, among other topics.

Definitely recommended.