Category: Travel

It’s a Good Summer to Explore America at Random

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is the premise:

With my summer trips abroad canceled, I decided to be resourceful about travel. Having lived in Northern Virginia for 30 years, I asked myself a simple question: Which local trip have I still not done?

Earlier in the summer I thought I might spend time in scenic Maine, but too many of my friends from the Northeast and mid-Atlantic seemed to be planning the same. I decided a more adventurous course of action would be to get in the car with my daughter Yana and spend a three-day weekend on the road.

The column is not easily excerpted, but here is one bit:

Lunch was in Morgantown, West Virginia, but rather than visit the university, we stopped for excellent Jamaican food with jerk chicken, oxtail and plantains — better than the equivalent in the D.C. area. A tip: If you’re ever looking for great food in obscure locales, don’t just google “best restaurants Morgantown WV,” as that will yield too many mainstream options. Pick a cuisine you don’t expect them to have, and Google something like “best Haitian restaurant Morgantown WV.” Whether a Haitian restaurant comes up (it didn’t), you’ll get a more interesting selection of “best” picks. In this case we learned that a town of 30,000 people has several Caribbean restaurants, highly rated ones at that.

Five states in one day (VA, WV, MD, PA, OH) was great fun.  In my view, every excellent trip has one stop or locale at its emotional and narrative heart, and for this trip is was the Native American Earthworks in Marietta, southern Ohio.

I’m so American, I can’t even tell if this British speech is parody

Here is the story, the speech appears in a box in the corner:

Brexiteer Tory MP has urged the government to let his dogs keep their freedom of movement rights after Britain leaves the EU.

Bob Stewart, the MP for Beckenham, said his “French-speaking” hounds crossed the Channel regularly on their EU “pet passports”.

Millions of Britons are set to lose the ability to live and work freely on the continent at the end of the year as a result of the UK’s departure from the bloc.

I am an advocate of canine cosmopolitanism, rather than canine nationalism.  Is everyone?

Speaking in French, Mr Gove added: “We always defend the rights of dogs.”

Is that true?  Under the previous pre-Brexit regime, a pet passport was sufficient.  But now:

Under the worst case-scenario of a no-deal Brexit, taking a pet to the EU will likely require a four-month advanced process that includes microchipping, a rabies vaccination, a blood test and a three-month wait to travel after the blood test.

Developing…

Our regulatory state is failing us

The Transportation Security Administration withheld N-95 masks from staff and exhibited “gross mismanagement” in its response to the Coronavirus crisis – leaving employees and travelers vulnerable during the most urgent days of the pandemic, a senior TSA official alleges in a new whistleblower complaint.

On Thursday evening the Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal agency that handles whistleblower complaints, said they had found “substantial likelihood of wrongdoing” in the complaint and ordered the Department of Homeland Security to open an investigation…

TSA Federal Security Director Jay Brainard is an official in charge of transportation security in the state of Kansas, and has been with the TSA since the agency’s inception in 2003.

He told NPR that the leadership of his agency failed to protect its staff from the pandemic, and as a result, allowed TSA employees to be “a significant carrier” for the spread of the Coronavirus to airport travelers.

Here is the full NPR story.

Coronavirus travel markets in everything

As tourism slowly resumes around the world, many nations are still reluctant to open their borders fully – with Cambodia imposing perhaps the toughest entry requirements of any country.

The south-east Asian country is popular with backpackers, and most renowned for the Unesco-listed temple complex at Angkor Wat.

According to the latest Foreign Office bulletin on Cambodia, foreign travellers must pay a $3,000 (£2,400) deposit for “Covid-19 service charges” at the airport upon arrival.

What appears to be the first “coronavirus deposit” can be paid in cash or by credit card.

The FCO says: “Once deductions for services have been made, the remainder of the deposit will be returned.” But those deductions may be steep – especially if another passenger on the same flight happens to test positive for coronavirus.

So far, so good, perhaps you are keen to go.  But here is the downside of the experience:

But if one passenger on their flight tests positive for coronavirus, everyone on the same flight is quarantined in government-approved accommodation for two weeks, at a cost of $1,176 including meals, laundry and “sanitary services”. They must also pay another $100 for a second Covid-19 test. This totals a further £1,021.

If the traveller happens to be the coronavirus-positive patient, they will have to take up to four tests at another $100 (£80) each, as well as $3,150 (£2,500) for treatment at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital in the capital, Phnom Penh.

And:

…Cambodia also imposes a requirement for $50,000 (£40,000) of travel insurance cover for medical treatment.

If the unfortunate arrival passes away, the Foreign Office warns: “The cremation service charge is $1,500 [£1,200].”

Here is the full article, via Shaffin Shariff.

Coronavirus imaginary travel markets in everything

When you’ve been cooped up for months, you start to miss aspects of life you used to dread. Remember airport security lines? Remember 3.4-fluid-ounce bottles? Remember taking off your shoes and then scrambling to put them back on at the end of a conveyor belt? What we wouldn’t give for those experiences now.

For travelers longing for the days of yore, Taipei’s Songshan Airport is offering 90 people the chance to pretend they’re going on vacation.

The airport is hosting a tour that will allow people to go to the airport, without actually going anywhere. The half-day experience will include a tour of the airport, a mock immigration experience and finally, the chance to board and then disembark an airplane.

Here is the full article, via Shaffin Shariff.

Chesapeake travel notes

Now is an ideal time to visit Maryland’s Eastern Shore, if only for a few days.  There are open vistas, water birds, charming old homes, and plenty of signs of Revolutionary and 19th century history.  (At that time the Chesapeake was a focal area with important water access, now it is a literal “backwater.”)  None of those features are diminished by opening restrictions or social distancing.  Most of the restaurants you want to eat in were serving outside anyway.  Mask observance I would describe as “not below average.”  On Tilghman island, you can see one of the old Navy research stations where they worked to make radar operational, plus there is a nice 19th century church.  The whole “white guys with boats” thing I find boring, however.

St. Michael’s is one of the nicest small towns in all of America.  It is also where Frederick Douglass spent some of his early life as a slave and downtown you can see the above plaque.

Coronavirus travel insurance markets in everything

Moral hazard — forget about it!:

In the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus, government leaders have pledged to cover all costs for any traveler who tests positive for the coronavirus while on vacation, according to the Associated Press. In a letter sent out to governments, airlines and tour operators, Cypriot officials said they would cover “lodging, food, drink and medication for covid-19 patients and their families” while on the island.

Tourism accounts for 13 percent of Cyprus’s economy, according to the AP, and with one of the lowest coronavirus ratios per capita in Europe, tourism ministers plan to restart international air travel on June 9.

Here is the full story, which includes other examples.

The plans for Greece’s reopening to tourists

In the European Union Greece is moving the quickest, but still this does not sound so appealing:

Phase 1 – Until 15 June
International flights are allowed only into Athens airport.
All visitors are tested upon arrival and are required to stay overnight at a designated hotel. If the test is negative, then the passenger self-quarantines for 7 days. If the test is positive, the passenger is quarantined under supervision for 14 days.

Phase 2 – Bridge phase- 15 June to 30 June
International flights are allowed into Athens and Thessaloniki airports.
If your travel originated from an airport not in the EASA affected area list (https://www.easa.europa.eu/SD-2020-01/Airports#group-easa-downloads), then you are only subject to random tests upon arrival.
If you originate from an airport on the EASA affected area list, then you will be tested upon arrival. An overnight stay at a designated hotel is required. If the test is negative then the passenger self-quarantines for 7 days. If the test is positive, the passenger is quarantined under supervision for 14 days.

Here is much more detail.  Via Yannikouts.

Our regulatory state is failing us

You don’t think airlines can just provide hand sanitizer to passengers, do you? On Tuesday the FAA wrote to American Airlines granting permission, and the letter they sent (.pdf) offers a window into process the airline had to go to in order to secure the government’s blessing.

Tuesday’s correspondence came from the FAA’s American Airlines Certificate Management Office in Irving, Texas. Imagine having a local office of a federal agency dedicated to your business, with its own letterhead.

American wanted permission to provide “personal use quantities of hand sanitizer gel and sanitizing wipes to customers prior to boarding and/or distributed during flight.” That means there would be hand sanitizer on the aircraft, and that falls within the FAA’s jurisdiction.

Before writing for permission, a team from American Airlines held two separate meetings with FAA inspectors, from two separate FAA offices – the airline’s direct regulators in their certificate management office, and also with the Office of Hazardous Materials Safety. The purpose of these meetings was “to discuss the 14 CFR part 5 required safety risk assessment” required to have hand sanitizer on board.

Passengers and crew are permitted to carry hand sanitizer, consistent with 49 CFR §175.10. And shippers can carry hand sanitizer, consistent with 49 CFR §173.150(g). For the airline to carry and distribute it, though, 49 CFR §175.8 (a)(4) requires permission of the Administrator of the FAA.

And:

The FAA issued a finding that American’s proffered plan to offer hand sanitizer to passengers “meets conditions for FAA approval allowed in 49 CFR §175.8 (a)(4).” Even so, the specific products that the airline sources for use must be “approved by the AA Chemical Review Board (CRB) to meet the above CFR limitations and will be tracked on an internal reference list.”

Furthermore, permission is contingent on “mitigations and procedures included in the AA RWM ‘Corp SMS and Team – 200512- 01 / Hand Sanitizer in Amenity Kits and Snack Bags’ [being] “completed and complied with.” Any deviations require advance coordination with the dedicated FAA Certificate Management Office for American Airlines “prior to any further flights that provide personal use quantities of hand sanitizer gel and sanitizing wipes to customers.”

A small matter, yes, but indicative of the larger whole.  Here is the full post from Air Genius Gary Leff, via Lama.

Charles Town, West Virginia

It is only about 70 minutes drive from Fairfax, VA, and yet so few go and visit — why might that be?  This town is full of charm, old buildings, Civil War history, and there is a plaque to Martin R. Delany in the town center.

West Virginia is in the process of reopening (note the obscenity), but barber shops require appointments and take only one person at a time.  The restaurants seem to be doing curbside only, as in Virginia, and what would you want to eat there anyway?  Population density in town is low, and it feels quite safe to walk around because you don’t have to switch sides of the street to avoid people.  You just have to walk at a constant pace.

In one store they will sell you toilet paper and masks.  But the guy takes his mask off to sell you the masks, because he feels he needs to explain and justify the prices for the masks.

The gdp per capita of West Virginia is, surprisingly to many people, equal to about that of France.  Charles Town is by no means run down, and either the center of town or the outskirts appear to be somewhat wealthier than most parts of Western Europe.

Here are eleven classic dishes you might try in West Virginia.

And there is still an opera house in town, and it was staging Sondheim’s Into the Woods until Covid came along.

Alexander Wendt on why we should take UFOs seriously

He has more than just the usual hand-wringing, here is one excerpt:

Sean Illing

…What’s the Occam’s razor explanation for these UFO sightings?

Alexander Wendt

To me, the Occam’s razor explanation is ETs.

Here is another:

Sean Illing

If some of these UFOs are the products of alien life, why haven’t they made their presence more explicit? If they wanted to remain undetected, they could, and yet they continually expose themselves in these semi-clandestine ways. Why?

Alexander Wendt

That’s a very good question. Because you’re right, I think if they wanted to be completely secretive, they could. If they wanted to come out in the open, they could do that, too. My guess is that they have had a lot of experience with this in the past with civilizations at our stage. And they probably know that if they land on the White House lawn, there’ll be chaos and social breakdown. People will start shooting at them.

So I think what they’re doing is trying to get us used to the idea that they’re here with the hopes that we’ll figure it out ourselves, that we’ll go beyond the taboo and do the science. And then maybe we can absorb the knowledge that we’re not alone and our society won’t implode when we finally do have contact. That’s my theory, but who knows, right?

Here is the full piece, interesting and intelligent throughout.

My Conversation with Adam Tooze

Tinges of Covid-19, doses on financial crises, but mostly about economic history.  Here is the audio and transcript.  Here is the summary:

Adam joined Tyler to discuss the historically unusual decision to have a high-cost lockdown during a pandemic, why he believes in a swoosh-shaped recovery, portents of financial crises in China and the West, which emerging economies are currently most at risk, what Keynes got wrong about the Treaty of Versailles, why the Weimar Republic failed, whether Hitler was a Keynesian, the political and economic prospects of various EU members, his trick to writing a lot, how Twitter encourages him to read more, what he taught executives at BP, his advice for visiting Germany, and more.

Here is one excerpt:

And:

Tooze’s discussion of his own career and interests, toward the end, is hard to excerpt but for me the highlight of the conversation.  He also provided the best defense of Twitter I have heard.

Definitely recommended.

Why isn’t Belarus being hit harder?

This is from my email, from Hayden Murray:

I’m an American, who lives in Belarus…[various disclaimers]

There’s no doubt that the government is underreporting Coronavirus deaths here, but also there’s no denying that there is very little problem. I don’t know anyone affected, (or even anyone that knows anyone,) yet I know many in California.

I think you were probably at least somewhat right with your idea that low consumption is already part of the culture. I think the difference in deaths is primarily due to better isolating the elderly, though. I’ve never seen an elderly person at a restaurant here, and I’ve been here for years. Compare this to California – and I mainly see older people (and often quite elderly) people at restaurants.

In addition, it seems that most elderly people in Belarus live in villages – which are often extremely isolated, even in normal times. Also, I have never heard of a nursing home here. I’ve seen many families taking care of extremely old family members, though. So, maybe this alone could explain some major differences. Couldn’t find hard stats on it though. But, putting all our most vulnerable into place, and then shuffling low-wage workers in and out constantly – seems like a recipe for disaster right now.

How tourism will change

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one bit:

Some of the safer locales may decide to open up, perhaps with visitor quotas. Many tourists will rush there, either occasioning a counterreaction — that is, reducing the destination’s appeal — or filling the quota very rapidly. Then everyone will resume their search for the next open spot, whether it’s Nova Scotia or Iceland. Tourists will compete for status by asking, “Did you get in before the door shut?”

Some countries might allow visitors to only their more distant (and less desirable?) locales, enforcing movements with electronic monitoring. Central Australia, anyone? I’ve always wanted to see the northwest coast of New Zealand’s South Island.

Some of the world’s poorer countries might pursue a “herd immunity” strategy, not intentionally, but because their public health institutions are too weak to mount an effective response to Covid-19. A year and a half from now, some of those countries likely will be open to tourism. They won’t be able to prove they are safe, but they might be fine nonetheless. They will attract the kind of risk-seeking tourist who, pre-Covid 19, might have gone to Mali or the more exotic parts of India.

And:

laces reachable by direct flights will be increasingly attractive. A smaller aviation sector will make connecting flights more logistically difficult, and passengers will appreciate the certainty that comes from knowing they are approved to enter the country of their final destination and don’t have to worry about transfers, delays or cancellations. That will favor London, Paris, Toronto, Rome and other well-connected cities with lots to see and do. More people will want to visit a single locale and not worry about catching the train to the next city. Or they might prefer a driving tour. How about flying to Paris and then a car trip to the famous cathedrals and towns of Normandy?

Maybe. But I might start by giving Parkersburg, West Virginia, a try.

My Conversation with Glen Weyl

I found it interesting throughout, the first half was on Covid-19 testing, and the second half on everything else.  Here is the audio and transcript.  Here is the summary:

Tyler invited Glen to discuss the plan, including how it’d overcome obstacles to scaling up testing and tracing, what other countries got right and wrong in their responses, the unusual reason why he’s bothered by price gouging on PPE supplies, where his plan differs with Paul Romer’s, and more. They also discuss academia’s responsibility to inform public discourse, how he’d apply his ideas on mechanism design to reform tenure and admissions, his unique intellectual journey from socialism to libertarianism and beyond, the common element that attracts him to both the movie Memento and Don McLean’s “American Pie,” what talent he looks for in young economists, the struggle to straddle the divide between academia and politics, the benefits and drawbacks of rollerblading to class, and more.

Here is one excerpt:

And:

And:

For me the most instructive part was this:

COWEN: What do you view yourself as rebelling against? At the foundational level.

But you will have to read or listen to hear Glen’s very good answer.

Definitely recommended.