Category: Travel

Flying coast to coast

An email from an anonymous MR reader, I will apply no further indentation:

“I’m flying non-stop today from SFO to IAD, and I thought you might be interested in reading this, because I haven’t seen anything similar since the start of covid maybe.
– Highway to SFO had more police presence than usual.
– I took a morning flight out of the airport, and driving though the airport roads to get to the right terminal felt quite eerie. Perhaps only saw one or two cars the whole time until we got to the terminal, and even then, I didn’t see more than three cars in front of each terminal dropping off passengers.
– I saw maybe 20 people (including employees) total in the terminal pre-TSA check. Only two travelers were not wearing masks, and none wore gloves. Every employee was wearing a mask, and almost all, if not all, were wearing gloves. None of them
– 6 feet apart reminder stickers are everywhere, including on seats.
– TSA forced distancing during security check, though not if you were traveling with other people.
–  All TSA employees were wearing masks and nitrile gloves.
– Electric walkways were shut off to “conserve energy”
– I saw about 150 people (travelers, airport employees, airline employees and shop employees) on my way to the gate from security check. I’d say 5-7% weren’t wearing masks. Of the three pilots I saw, none were wearing masks or gloves.

– A lot more people than usual had paper tickets, which leads me to believe that they were all leaving SF for at least a few weeks, if not a few months (I checked my bag and was given a paper ticket even though I had the QR code on my phone). This is interesting economically given how many people are expected to file for unemployment benefits in SF over the next few weeks, and I know a lot of people who are breaking their leases and going to live with parents or someplace cheap like Nevada or Oregon.
– I boarded a 777-200 via United. I normally fly Southwest, but I think they aren’t doing coast-to-coast flights on weekends for the foreseeable future. I think almost everyone on the plane had their own row. Anyone who was sitting in the aisle was asked to move at least one seat over to allow some distancing while people walk back and forth on the plane.
– All of the flight attendants were wearing masks.
– The usual safety demonstration was conducted, but the flight attendants held up and pointed to the section in the safety card while the pilot was speaking, instead of using the life vest like normal. I suppose it was because the airline didn’t want them to take off their masks to demonstrate blowing into the tube of the life jacket.
– Prepackaged drinks and snacks only. They gave everyone two small water bottles, an additional choice of drink (only water and various juices), and three snacks. (Like I said, I usually fly Southwest and can’t remember the last time I flew United. This particular detail may or may not be relevant ¯\_(ツ)_/¯)
– Everyone had the option of a blanket. They normally don’t wash these very often, so I wonder if covid forced them to wash it after every use.
– A lot more
– A few landing strips were blocked, not sure why.
– A lot more cargo ships in the bay (not docked) than what I’m used to seeing, though I could be wrong.”

Reader, when do you expect to take your next plane flight?

The Subways Seeded the Massive Coronavirus Epidemic in New York City

New York City’s multitentacled subway system was a major disseminator – if not the principal transmission vehicle – of coronavirus infection during the initial takeoff of the massive epidemic that became evident throughout the city during March 2020. The near shutoff of subway ridership in Manhattan – down by over 90 percent at the end of March – correlates strongly with the substantial increase in the doubling time of new cases in this borough. Maps of subway station turnstile entries, superimposed upon zip code-level maps of reported coronavirus incidence, are strongly consistent with subway-facilitated disease propagation. Local train lines appear to have a higher propensity to transmit infection than express lines. Reciprocal seeding of infection appears to be the best explanation for the emergence of a single hotspot in Midtown West in Manhattan. Bus hubs may have served as secondary transmission routes out to the periphery of the city.

That is from a new NBER working paper by Jeffrey E. Harris.

Quarantine markets in everything and stimulus at that

As countries in Asia impose stricter entry requirements on foreign visitors amid a new wave of imported coronavirus infections, hotels in the region are seeing unexpected opportunities as quarantine lodgings for travelers and workers seeking self-isolation venues.

Industry players say the unusual proposal of repurposing hotels as quarantine quarters is one way the battered hospitality sector could fill up some rooms and get much-needed revenue during such tough times, while lending a hand to the most affected sectors or communities amid the escalating situation worldwide.

And:

These full-board packages are targeted at Thais or residents who wish to isolate themselves for 14 days. Meals are delivered to the rooms on trolleys, while dishes, cutlery and bedsheets used by guests in self-isolation will be separated for special handling.

A special team will provide daily housekeeping services and help monitor the conditions of the guests under quarantine. Should any of these guests become unwell or develop any coronavirus symptoms during their stay at the hotel, they will immediately be sent to the several hospitals located in the vicinity of the hotel, according to Shah.

“We hope to get at least some customers with these quarantine packages, as standard tourists will not come during this time,” Shah remarked. These packages are priced very competitively with rates slashed by 20 percent, he added.

With the Singapore government making it mandatory for anyone entering the country since March 20, 11.59 p.m. to undergo a 14-day stay-at-home notice, Park Hotel Group Executive Director Shin Hui Tan has already seen an uptick in enquiries from returning residents wanting to check themselves into hotels during the two-week period.

Here is the full story, via Air Genius Gary Leff.

My Conversation with John McWhorter

This one was done with an associated public event, ah the good ol’ days!  Here is the audio and transcript, here is the summary:

Who can you ask about the Great American Songbook, the finer Jell-O flavors, and peculiar languages like Saramaccan all while expecting the same kind of fast, thoughtful, and energetic response? Listeners of Lexicon Valley might hazard a guess: John McWhorter. A prominent academic linguist, he’s also highly regarded for his podcast and popular writings across countless books and articles where often displays a deep knowledge in topics beyond his academic training.

John joined Tyler to discuss why he thinks that colloquial Indonesian should be the world’s universal language, the barbaric circumstances that gave rise to Creole languages, the reason Mandarin won’t overtake English as the lingua franca, how the Vikings shaped modern English, the racial politics of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, the decline of American regional accents, why Shakespeare needs an English translation, Harold Arlen vs. Andrew Lloyd Webber, whether reparations for African-Americans is a good idea, how living in Jackson Heights shapes his worldview, what he learned from his mother and father, why good linguistics students enjoy both Russian and Chinese, and more.

Excerpt:

COWEN: Let’s say I interview a job candidate using Skype or Zoom rather than face-to-face, how is that different linguistically? How should I adjust? What should I expect that’s different?

MCWHORTER: You mean if they’re not actually there in the room?

COWEN: Right, but I see them on the screen.

MCWHORTER: I think that’s fine.

COWEN: You think it’s just as good?

MCWHORTER: It helps bring the world together. Do I need to be in the room with the person, watching what they do with their legs, getting a vague sense of whatever their redolence happens to be?

COWEN: All of these people have showed up, right?

MCWHORTER: Yeah. To tell you the truth, all of that to me is a distraction. I would rather just hear their voice. Frankly, I despise Skype. You’re sitting there, you look bad, and it always cuts out. Yet your whole life these days is about “You wanna Skype?” And I’m thinking, “Yeah, it’s going to cut out, and we’re both going to look bad.”

But I would rather just hear the person. Maybe that’s because I’m kind of linguist-centric.

And:

COWEN: Here’s a very basic question. Let’s say immersion is not possible. How should an adult study a foreign language?

MCWHORTER: It’s hard. Sleep with somebody, frankly.

Recommended.

Emergent Ventures winners, seventh cohort

Nicholas Whitaker of Brown, general career development grant in the area of Progress Studies.

Coleman Hughes, travel and career development grant.

Michael T. Foster, career development grant to study machine learning to predict which politicians will succeed and advance their careers.

Evan Horowitz, to start the Center for State Policy Analysis at Tufts, to impose greater rationality on policy discussions at the state level.

John Strider, a Progress Studies grant on how to reinvent the integrated corporate research lab.

Dryden Brown, to help build institutions and a financial center in Ghana, through his company Bluebook Cities.

Adaobi Adibe, to restructure credentialing, and build infrastructure for a more meritocratic world, helping workers create property rights in the evaluation of their own talent.

Shrirang Karandikar, and here (corrected link), to support an Indian project to get the kits to measure and understand local pollution.

Jassi Pannu, medical student at Stanford, to study best policy responses to pandemics.

Vasco Queirós, for his work on a Twitter browser app for superior threading and on-line communication.

My Conversation with Garett Jones

Here is the transcript and audio, here is part of the opening summary:

Garett joined Tyler to discuss his book 10% Less Democracy, including why America shouldn’t be run by bondholders, what single reform would most effectively achieve more limited democracy, how markets shape cognitive skills, the three important P’s of the repeated prisoner’s dilemma, why French cuisine is still underrated, Buchanan vs. Tullock, Larry David vs. Seinfeld, the biggest mistake in Twitter macroeconomics, the biggest challenges facing the Mormon church, what studying to be a sommelier taught him about economics, the Garett Jones vision of America, and more.

Here is one bit:

COWEN: But let’s say it’s the early 1990s. Eastern European countries are suddenly becoming free, and they ask you, “Garett, what electoral system should we have?” What do you say?

JONES: What I really would go for is presidential systems, if you can handle it, something like a first-past-the-post system, where those people elected from local districts focused on local problems — which have less of a free-rider problem involved — go up to the parliament and actually argue their case. The presidential element is less important than the parliamentary idea of the single-district voting. I tend to think that creates more accountability on the part of the government.

And more:

COWEN: For the United States, what is the most effective way, in your view, that you would want us to have 10 percent less democracy? What’s the one thing you would change?

JONES: I would change the House of Representatives to a six-year term. I picked that because it’s not outside the range of plausibility, and because I think people would instantly understand what it accomplishes — not because it has the highest payoff, but because it balances payoff with plausibility in a democracy.

And on boosting IQ:

COWEN: But what’s the key environmental lever? Whatever Ireland did [to have induced an IQ rise], it’s not that people were starving, right? That we understand.

JONES: No, true.

COWEN: So why don’t we do more of whatever they did, whatever was done to the East Germans, everywhere?

JONES: Exactly.

COWEN: But what is that lever? Why don’t we know?

JONES: I would say that thing is the thing we call capitalism.

COWEN: Capitalism is a big, huge thing. Not all of capitalism makes us smarter.

JONES: Yeah, that’s the thing — figuring out which things within capitalism — what is it about living in a free society with competitive markets where, at least in our youth and middle age, we feel a need to sell ourselves as valuable creators. There’s something about that that probably is what’s most valuable for boosting cognitive skills. It’s a sort of demand-side desire to try to use our minds in socially productive ways. And I think in communism, we can —

COWEN: So marketing makes us smarter?

JONES: That’s what I would say, yeah.

There is much more at the link, an excellent Conversation.  Here you can order Garett’s book 10% Less Democracy: Why You Should Trust the Elites a Little More and the Masses a Little Less.  You can read the introduction to the book on-line.

Lubbock, Texas notes

Hill BBQ is perhaps the best I have had — ever.  It is open Thursday and Saturday only, get the burnt ends and beef ribs.  Next in line is Evie Mae’s, better known on the barbecue circuit, but still mostly unsullied by tourists and so the lines remain manageable.

There is no real center of town, but you can visit the world’s largest windmill museum (it is windy there), a prairie dog park, and Robert Bruno’s self-constructed, funky Steel House on a nearby lake.  There are Confederate memorials remaining by the main courthouse.  You will see tumbleweed.  There is a strange man walking around town with a tricolor hat.

The economy is cotton, health care, and Texas Tech at about 40,000 students.  Buddy Holly was from Lubbock.

It still has a strong regional feel, much as say parts of the Dakotas do.  The dinosaur displays in the museum are labeled “The Original Longhorns.”

I would go long on Lubbock: no NIMBYs (yet), the housing stock is rising in quality, they are opening an entertainment center downtown, and it could be the next Marfa but on a larger scale.  What’s not to like?

Commuting markets in everything?

From Palo Alto to San Francisco in 15 minutes.

Hello, Palo Alto residents!

We are an early-stage startup that is aiming to shorten your commute times. We use state-of-the-art Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing aircrafts. We have just opened access to early flights:

https://skypodone.com

You would be able to fly from Palo Alto to San Francisco in about 15 minutes for about $23 one-way.

It would mean a lot to us if you could share some feedback and if this kind of service would be beneficial to you.

Thank you so much!

Here is the link, via tekl.

What causes car deaths and how to limit them

Perhaps the biggest reason why we don’t see more fatal crashes on freeways is that there are no intersections on them (with a few exceptions). In fact, there are more drivers killed in intersections (20%) than on freeways.

After accounting for freeways (18%) and intersections and junctions (20%), we’re still left with more than 60% of drivers killed in automotive accidents left accounted for.

It turns out that drivers killed on rural roads with 2 lanes (i.e., one lane in each direction divided by a double yellow line) accounts for a staggering 38% of total mortality. This number would actually be higher, except to keep the three categories we have mutually exclusive, we backed out any intersection-related driver deaths on these roads and any killed on 2-lane rural roads that were classified as “freeway.” So, to recap, 3 of out every 4 deaths in a car occur on the freeway, at an intersection/junction, or on a rural road with a single lane in each direction.

And:

In drivers killed on 2-lane rural roads, 50% involved a driver not wearing a seat belt. Close to 40% have alcohol in their system and nearly 90% of these drivers were over the legal limit of 0.08 g/dL. About one-third involved speeding, and 16% did not have a valid driver’s license.

Here is the full piece by Peter Attia, interesting throughout.  Via Anecdotal.

Cruise ship markets in everything

As the ongoing coronavirus epidemic disrupts cruise operations throughout Asia, Lindblad Expeditions, the cruise operator for National Geographic Expeditions, announced Thursday that it has become “the first self-disenfecting fleet in the cruise industry.”

The company has implemented a disinfectant coating solution developed by Danish company ACT.Global, which uses the photocatalytic properties of titanium dioxide to generate free radicals from airborne water molecules. When exposed to light, the coating converts airborne H20 into OH- ions, which break down bacteria, viruses, mold, airborne allergens and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The coating can be applied to all surfaces to give them self-disinfecting qualities, including food-contact surfaces.

According to Lindblad, ACT.Global’s coating creates a cleaner, healthier ship while reducing impact on the environment. The antibacterial spray is transparent and odorless, and it purifies and deodorizes the air for up to one year.

Here is the full story, via Anecdotal.

*Seven Worlds, One Planet*

That is the new David Attenborough BBC nature show, available on streaming or buy the discs from the UK.  Believe it or not it has better footage than the earlier BBC nature shows, while remaining inside the basic template of what such shows attempt to accomplish.  Here is a very good Guardian review.  Here is a somewhat snotty NYT review, bemoaning Attenborough’s tone of “polite optimism.”  Strongly recommended.

Pigouvian in-kind time horn tax in Mumbai

For the Mumbai’s perpetual honkers, who love to blare the horns of their vehicles even when the traffic signal is red, the Mumbai Traffic Police has quietly come up with an unique initiative to discipline them in order to curb the alarming rise in the noise pollution levels in the country’s commercial capital.

From Friday (January 31, 2020), it has installed decibel meters at certain select but heavy traffic signals to deter the habitual honkers through a campaign named ‘The Punishing Signal’.

Joint Police Commissioner (Traffic) Madhukar Pandey said that the decibel monitors are connected to traffic signals around the island city, and when the cacophony exceeds the dangerous 85-decibel mark due to needless honking, the signal timer resets, entailing a double waiting time for all vehicles.

Here is the full story, and for the pointers I thank Sheel Mohnot and CL.  Here is a relevant ad for the policy.  Here is Alex on honking as signaling.

My chat with Brendan Fitzgerald Wallace

He interviewed me, here is his description: “My conversation with economist, author & podcaster Tyler Cowen covering everything from: 1) Buying Land on Mars (for real) 2) Privatizing National Parks 3) Setting up aerial highways in the sky for drone delivery 4) Buying Greenland 5) London post Brexit 6) Universal Basic Income 7) Why Los Angeles is “probably the best city in North America” 8) How real estate can combat social isolation & loneliness 9) Cyber attacks on real estate assets and national security implications. 10) The impacts, positive and negative of Climate Change, on real estate in different geographies. 11) Other esoteric stuff…..”.

Here is the conversation, held in Marina del Rey at a Fifth Wall event.