Category: Travel

California markets in everything

A Taco Bell hotel with Taco Bell themed items and equipment:

Just as guests began arriving at The Bell: A Taco Bell Hotel & Resort on Thursday, a viral tweet made the rounds connecting the fast food chain to conservative-leaning political contributions made by its corporate parent, YUM! Brands. Would that cast a cloud over the pop-up activation, which had been in the works for over a year? Would the flood of Instagram influencers, YouTube vloggers, and Taco Bell enthusiasts be less likely to gleefully share their Fire Sauce-smothered content? The answer, of course, was no.

People really, really love Taco Bell. Every reservation for The Bell’s four-night run ($169 per night) booked up in under two minutes.

Here is the full story, via Shaffin.

How carbon-unfriendly is the act of flying?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, with a focus on Greta Thunberg, whom I admire but I wish she would endorse nuclear power and other practical possible solutions to climate change problems.  At this point, I don’t think the returns to “simple moralizing” are that high, and they may be a substitute for concrete actions.  Excerpt:

Or think more broadly about how to choose one’s symbolic commitments to combat climate change. Buying a carbon offset, verifiable by an independent third party, seems like a good practical step. Thunberg also could take a stand in favor of nuclear power — a feasible source of green energy — except that she opposes it. Nuclear power has worked quite well for France for about 70 years, even if it is not suitable for earthquake zones.

Another way to show one’s dedication to limiting global temperatures would be to educate the public on carbon sequestration, which recently has made a good deal of real progress. How about a strike or demonstration to call people’s attention to the possibilities of this new technology, and to ask for additional funding?

There is much more at the link.

Air Genius Gary Leff on market power for airlines

Read the whole post, but are is an excerpt:

With oil hovering around $100 a barrel we did see airfares rise 2011-2014 but then return to long run trend, and indeed real airfares inclusive of fees were lower 2016-2018 than in 2010…

Indeed the drivers of increased airline profits are:

  • lower fuel prices
  • richer co-brand credit card deals.

As I’ve pointed out in many recent quarters the entirety of American Airlines profit has been accounted for by its co-brand credit card deals and not flying. The richness of these deals for airlines has grown markedly. This may be partly attributable to industry consolidation (fewer airlines for banks to negotiate with) and partly due to American Express losing its deal with Costco which set off a chain of renegotiations at higher price points.

Consolidation has improved airlines’ bargaining position vis-a-vis banks more so than consumers. And indeed with fuel prices up from three and four years ago profits are down…

Moreover it’s the ultra low cost carriers – Spirit, Frontier, and to a lesser extent Allegiant – that have been the driving forces in the U.S. airline industry.

Do read the whole thing.

India’s Tallest Building Cut Down To Size

The FT writes about the bust in India’s construction sector:

It was meant to be the tallest building in India, with luxury flats, a swimming pool and cinema where billionaires and Bollywood stars could enjoy a life of perfect splendour looking down over the Mumbai skyline.

But the Palais Royale complex now sits unfinished alongside other partially built structures tangled in the megacity’s traffic-choked downtown streets, an apt symbol of a crisis that threatens a key part of India’s financial system.

Part of the problem is cyclic, a shadow banking system that overextended credit and is now having to deleverage. India’s construction sector, however, is also plagued by systematic issues including the fact that major construction projects are invariably sued and thus become entangled with India’s notoriously slow legal system. Drawing on a Brookings India working paper by Gandhi, Tandel, Tabarrok and Ravi the FT notes:

But progress was soon slowed by legal challenges over allegedly unauthorised features, sparking a series of delays….However grand the planned building, Palais Royale’s woes fit a familiar pattern: 30 per cent of real estate projects and half of all built-up space in Mumbai is under litigation, according to a 2019 Brookings India report, with projects taking an average of eight and a half years to complete.

The cow circuit: the tourism culture that is India

The Union government is exploring a new tourism opportunity — a cow circuit. To promote cow-based tourism economy, the newly formed Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog has decided to carve out a route that will wind through places in the country which breed indigenous cows.

The board has identified states like Haryana, UP, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala and Goa for this circuit.

Tourists, especially from foreign countries, students and researchers, will be told about Indian cows, which will also help them in research…

“We have so far focussed on religious, recreational, and adventurous tourism, but if we can link our cow tourism with tourist hotspots, we will be able to promote our indigenous breeds like Gir from Gujurat, Gangatiri from UP, or Ongole from Andrha Pradesh…this will also help in promoting cow-based economy as products made from cow ghee, cow urine and cow dung will be sold at tourist places…”

Here is the full story from Times of India, via Rayman Mohamed.

That was then, this is now

As he prepared for Apollo 11’s lift-off, Neil Armstrong thought he had a 10 per cent chance of dying during the mission, and a 50 per cent chance of not walking on the Moon. “There was still a debate about if you stepped on to the Moon, would you step into 10ft of dust?” says former Nasa official Scott Hubbard.

The entire mission was vulnerable to a single-point failure: if the service module’s engine had failed, for example, there was no back-up.

Nasa’s whole attitude to risk has now changed. Until recently, each system was built to tolerate any two faults. This is now seen as a blunt approach, treating all components as equally important. So Nasa instead tries to limit the probability of failure. The chance of losing SLS and Orion on its first mission is one in 140, according to the agency’s analysis.

That is by Henry Mance and Yuichiro Kanematsu, in the FT, from their splendid look at the current attempt to drive a moon mission.  And this:

“We do not have time or funds to build unique, one-of-a-kind systems,” William Gerstenmaier, a senior Nasa official, said recently. The agency’s biggest rocket — Boeing’s troubled Space Launch System (SLS) — will use some of the same engines as the Space Shuttle. Blake Rogers, an engineer at the Aerospace Corporation, a government-funded research agency, told the FT: “2024 is really soon. So there’s not a lot of brand-new technology…Today, Orion’s processing power will still be below 500MHz — significantly less than a MacBook.

Recommended, gated but of course you should subscribe to the FT.

Taipei notes

My other visit here was thirty years ago, and most of all I am surprised by how little has changed.  The architecture now looks all the more retro, the alleyways all the more noir, and the motorbikes have by no means vanished.  Yes there are plenty of new stores, but overall it is recognizably the same city, something you could not say about Seoul.

Real wages basically did not rise 2000-2016.  The main story, in a nutshell, is that the domestic capital has flowed to China.  About 9 percent of the Taiwanese population lives in China, and that is typically the more ambitious segment of the workforce.

I am still surprised at how little the Taiwanese signal status with their looks and dress.  The steady heat and humidity may account for some of that, though the same is not true in the hotter parts of mainland China.

The Japanese ruled Taiwan from 1895 through the end of WWII, and those were key years for industrial and social development.  The infrastructure and urban layouts often feel quite Japanese.

Thirty years ago, everything was up and buzzing at 6 a.m., six days a week; that is no longer the case.

The National Palace Museum is the best place in the world to be convinced of the glories of earlier Chinese civilizations.  It will wow you even if you are bored by the Chinese art you see in other places, as arguably it is better than all of the other Chinese art museums put together.  How did they get those 600,000 or so artworks out of a China in the midst of a civil war?

The quality of dining here is high and rising.  Unlike in Hong Kong or Singapore, Taiwan has plenty of farms, its own greens, and thus farm to table dining here is common.  Tainan Tai Tsu Mien Seafood is one recommendation, for an affordable Michelin one-star, emphasis on seafood.  Addiction Aquatic Development has superb sushi and is a first-rate hangout.  At the various Night Markets, it is still possible to get an excellent meal for only a few dollars.

One can go days in Taipei and hardly see any Western tourists, so consider this a major arbitrage opportunity.

Japanese car rental markets in everything

People are renting cars, but then not driving them at all:

One respondent to the company’s survey said they rented vehicles to nap in or use for a workspace. Another person stored bags and other personal belongings in the rental car when nearby coin lockers were full.

In the aftermath of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, rental cars were also used to recharge cellphones.

”I rented a car to eat a boxed meal that I bought at a convenience store because I couldn’t find anywhere else to have lunch,” said a 31-year-old male company employee who lives in Saitama Prefecture, close to Tokyo.

“Usually the only place I can take a nap while visiting my clients is a cybercafe in front of the station, but renting a car to sleep in is just a few hundred yen (several dollars), almost the same as staying in the cybercafe.”

Here is the full story by Andrew J. Hawkins, via Samir Varma and also Michael Rosenwald.

Should we ban bicycles in major urban areas?

“New Yorkers on bikes are being killed at an alarming rate,” said Marco Conner, the interim co-executive director of Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group.

Across the city, 14 cyclists have been killed in crashes this year, four more than all of last year, according to city officials. New York’s streets have seen an increase in bicycling while also becoming more perilous, in part because of surging truck traffic fueled by the booming e-commerce industry.

The mayor himself acknowledged on Monday that the city was facing an “emergency.”

That is from the New York Times, you will find more detail, and some further points of interest, at the link.

Would urban bicycling pass an FDA test of “safe and effective”?  Furthermore, as a driver and pedestrian I observe cyclists breaking the law — most of all running red lights — at an alarming rate.  And surely we all believe in the rule of law, so why should we allow technologies that seem so closely tethered to massive law-breaking?

I do get that bicycles are driven by cool people who are fighting climate change.  Nonetheless, what if self-driving vehicles were connected to fourteen deaths in NYC alone?  How would we treat them?  Alternatively, what if Facebook owned all of those bicycles?

A long harangue about how the car and truck drivers really were at fault will fail to pass the Coasean symmetric externalities test.

A simple American tale of travel and books

At Colorado Springs airport, on my way to Denver:

TSA official at security [pre-check, for that matter]: “We have to search your carry-on, it is suspicious that you have so many books.”

They searched every book.

TC: “Thank you, sir!”

I had fewer books in my carry-on than usual.

The heaviest book I had was Vasily Grossman’s Stalingrad, which is why I had fewer books than usual.

My Conversation with Eric Kaufmann

Interesting and excellent throughout, here is the audio and transcript.  Eric is political scientist at Birkbeck College in London and the author of the recent Whiteshift: Populism, Immigration, and the Future of White Majorities.  Here is part of the opening summary:

Kauffman’s latest book Whiteshift, which examines how declining white ethnic majorities will respond to these changes, is on Tyler’s list as one of the best books of the year. The two discuss the book and more, including Orangeism in Northern Ireland, Switzerland’s secret for stability, what Tocqueville got most wrong about America, predictions on Brexit’s final form, why Portugal seems immune from populism, how Notre Dame should be rebuilt, whether the Amish — or Mormons — will take over the world, and much more.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: Do conservative Muslims also have a much higher fertility rate?

KAUFMANN: The gradient between very conservative and sort of secular and liberal is not as strong in Islam as it is in Judaism or Christianity, but it’s about a twice higher fertility for women who are most in favor of Sharia compared to those who are most opposed to Sharia, in the cities. So I do think there is also this dynamic within Islam, yes.

COWEN: If we look at a country such as Iran, which now has a very low total fertility rate, is that a sign they’re not actually very religious? Or there’s something unusual about religion in Iran? What accounts for that?

And:

COWEN: Which group of French Muslims has assimilated most successfully and why?

KAUFMANN: Well, the outmarriage rate is almost 50 percent for French Algerian men, but even across the Franco-Algerian community, I think it’s in the 40 to 50 percent outmarriage —

COWEN: And they’re marrying ethnically white French women?

KAUFMANN: Right, or men. I think part of this stems from Algeria in its history. You have a large Berber population in Algeria, many of whom are anti the regime. They’re anti the Arab-Islamist regime. So they’re actually quite secular in many ways.

That’s part of it, but even amongst the Moroccans in France, there’s quite a high outmarriage rate of like 40 percent. So yeah, the French Muslims do seem to be melting in better than Muslims even of the same ethnicity. Compared to Moroccans in the Netherlands, for example, there’s a much higher outmarriage in France.

COWEN: And that’s the Berber factor, in your view?

KAUFMANN: I think it is the Berber factor. I don’t think there’s anything magical that the French are doing that the Dutch are not in terms of integration policy. I think too much is made of that.

And:

COWEN: What’s the most plausible scenario for Irish reunification?

KAUFMANN: I think the most plausible scenario is that Northern Ireland Protestants don’t have the same hostility to the Republic that they have traditionally had, so maybe a kind of charm offensive.

In a way, the unionist population is the one they have to win over. They are kind of foursquare against reunification. Somehow, the Irish Republic has to find a way to reassure them. That’s going to be the ticket to reunification, but it’ll never really happen just through economic integration. I think there’s got to be something symbolic that will win over the unionists.

Finally:

COWEN: So there’ll be more of a turn against immigration?

KAUFMANN: Yeah.

COWEN: In Canada.

KAUFMANN: Yes, and immigration attitudes are now very different, depending if you’re a Conservative or a Liberal voter. That didn’t use to be the case even five years ago, so there is more of a politicization of that issue now.

Recommended, and I found all of Eric’s books very interesting as well.

View story at Medium.com