Category: Travel

Are cruise ships saving the theatre industry?

Cruise entertainment doesn't have the best of reputations, but I took my maiden voyage earlier this year and it was a real eye-opener. I was there to review shows on board the Celebrity Eclipse, and both the productions and facilities were extremely impressive. The theatre itself was actually of a far higher standard than many of the West End's crumbling playhouses – more comfy seats, better sightlines, excellent acoustics and high-end equipment.

Celebrity spends up to $1m per show for three 60-minute productions on every ship in its line. Each vessel has a 1,150-seat theatre, employs a cast of 18, plus nearly 40 musicians, a stage crew of six and various other technical crew across the music lounges on the ship.

And cruising is a huge growth area in the entertainment business. Looking across some of the other lines – P&O has its own on-board theatre company with more than 100 entertainers, Royal Caribbean is staging cruise versions of Hairspray and Chicago, and elsewhere there are licensed versions of Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals or other popular shows such as Saturday Night Fever.

But no Chekhov.  The full story is here.

Kidnap Radio

The first rule of kidnapping insurance is that you don't talk about kidnapping insurance.

That's Seth Gitter summarizing some of the economics of kidnapping insurance over at the Blog of Diminishing Returns.  Seth also points us towards a story about Caracol Radio, a radio station in Colombia that broadcasts messages from families to hostages every Saturday night:

The show is called Voces del
Secuestro, or Voices of Kidnapping. (There are several other stations
in Colombia that send messages out on other days of the week). The
host, Herbin Hoyos, is a journalist who started this program in 1994,
after he was briefly kidnapped…

For more, see Tyler's excellent analysis of the economics of kidnapping insurance.

Which are the least bohemian cities?

Johan Almenberg writes to me:

I have a blog request: a list of the top ten least bohemian cities in the world. Why are some cities more conducive to bohemian lifestyles than others? Does rent control result in more or less of this? I would love to read your thoughts and hopefully so would other people.

Writing this from rent-controlled Stockholm which I believe deserves a place on the top ten.

I won't give him ten, but how about Kuala Lumpur as the world's most non-bohemian city, counting the free world only?  (Otherwise Pyongyang wins.)  It doesn't have much to do with rent control.  Dubai is an interesting choice but I don't think it counts as part of the free world.  Santiago, Chile does not strike me as very bohemian.  Better not nominate Prague!

In the United States, I would name San Antonio as the most non-bohemian major city, or maybe El Paso, with Atlanta as a runner-up.  Might there be somewhere very non-Bohemian in northern Florida?  Does Richard Florida have an index for this somewhere?

What are your picks?

*Lost*: commentary on the final episode

Most of all, it reminded me of Jacob's Ladder and especially Michael Powell's Stairway to Heaven (A Matter of Life and Death), two movies worth rewatching in any case.  The final scene, while the credits roll, is simply that of a plane crash with no survivors.  I view the show's cosmology as reflecting the existence of all possible universes and we get to see, and live with, a few of them.  That includes the universe where they all die in the initial crash, the universe where they all die in the hydrogen bomb explosion, the universe where the hydrogen bomb creates an alternative reality, the universe where there really is a miraculously surviving "Oceanic Six," the universe where the main island narrative happens, the universe where it is all a dream of Jack's, and bits of others as well.  This Leibnizian move "explains" the show's numerous unanswered questions, such as those about the lottery numbers and many more.  It was possible, so it happened, toss in the anthropic principles as well.

The most striking moment of the final episode was when Locke tells Jack, quite sincerely, that he does not in fact have a son.  The question remains how the different universes fit together or interact and in some manner it seems they do.  The final episode is extremely effective in bringing out the dreamy and speculative tones of many of the previous episodes.

Most of all I viewed the ending as tragic.  It was not mainly about any particular account of the metaphysics of the island.  It was about how few couples had the chance to actually live together, love together, and stay together.  The perfect reunions of the couples in the "we're all dead" scenario only drove this point home.  I found this contrast moving.

At the end, the door is left open for Jack (the body of Jack?) to become the next smoke monster on the island and you can spot some clues to this effect, such as Jack's body being strewn on the stones in the same manner as it was for The Man in Black.

I saw two major weaknesses in the denouement.  First, Widmore is dispatched too summarily in the penultimate episode.  That thread of the story is not so much hanging (which would have been OK), but rendered irrelevant.  Years of dramatic gravitas were swept away in a single, hastily executed murder scene.  Second, Ben is a weak and poorly defined character in the final episode and runs around like a puppy dog, with no clear moral stance.  Since he usually dominates any scene he is in, this is strikingly incongruous.

Overall I thought it was the best final episode of a series I have seen, with close competition from The Sopranos.

Markets in everything

British actor John Cleese of Monty Python fame opted for a daylong cab ride halfway across Europe after the dust plume from an Icelandic volcano left him stranded.

Cleese paid $5,100 for a Mercedes taxi Friday from the Norwegian capital, Oslo, to Brussels, said Kjetil Kristoffersen, managing director of Publicom, his agent in Norway. Cleese was in Oslo to appear on the talk show Skavlan.

The article is here.  Cleese and Monty Python, of course, were the original inspiration for the MR "Markets in Everything" series.

Temporary Marriage in Shiite Islam

ON A DUSTY MORNING in the holy city of Qom, I went looking for a shrine in a walled cemetery of martyrs known as Sheikhan. The graveyard's walls are lined with glass cases containing the framed photos of soldiers felled by the Iran-Iraq war. The shrine, I'd been told, is a hangout for women seeking temporary marriage, an intriguing mechanism in Shiite Islam for relieving sexual frustration. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, sex outside of marriage is a crime, punishable by up to 100 lashes or, in the case of adultery, death by stoning. Yet the purpose of a temporary marriage is clear from its name in Arabic–mut'a, pleasure. A man and a woman may contract a mut'a for a finite period of time–from minutes to 99 years or more–and for a specific amount, mehr in Farsi, which the man owes the woman.

Interesting throughout, from Mother Jones.

Where should you wish to visit in a hurry?

Here is the reader request:

A friend remarked that on his trip to Cuba, the inclusion of modern buses imported from China had started to erode the charm of the vintage car culture we associate with the island. This is one factor, among many (including the possibility of the embargo being stopped), that made her travel to the island before it changed too much.

What other countries (or cities) are undergoing signficant change and will be presumably very different in a few years from now? Which ones would you travel to if you had the chance now before they underwent that change?

Here is my list of places to visit in a hurry:

1. Cuba

2. Bali, Laos, and Cambodia, which are all losing traditional culture.

3. Any wildlife or game reserve.

4. Yemen (maybe too late already?)

5. Tibet and possibly Bhutan

I can't bring myself to put North Korea on that list.

Here is my list of places which will only get better to visit:

1. China (air pollution will diminish, reading MR might become easier)

2. India (pollution will diminish, sanitation will improve)

3. Greece (someday will be cheaper)

4. Canada, New Zealand, and Australia: they don't have much old stuff anyway and what they do have will be preserved.  The U.S., in contrast, was interesting in the 1950s (or the 1920s) in a way these places were not and many aspects of that period are being lost. 

What suggestions do you have?  Iraq definitely belongs to one list or the other, we just don't know which.

The strangest sentence John de Palma read yesterday

"(…)Tourists at the Koorana Saltwater Crocodile Farm in Coowonga, Queensland, Australia, including 62 males and 41 females, aged 18–66 (M = 34.2, SD = 13.3), were randomly assigned to play a laptop-simulated Electronic Gaming Machine (EGM) either: (1) prior to entry, or (2) after having held a 1-m saltwater-crocodile(…)"

The link and explanation, if you could call it that, is here.

How to fall six miles and survive

I found this article fascinating throughout, here is one excerpt:

Granted, the odds of surviving a 6-mile plummet are extra­ordinarily slim, but at this point you’ve got nothing to lose by understanding your situation. There are two ways to fall out of a plane. The first is to free-fall, or drop from the sky with absolutely no protection or means of slowing your descent. The second is to become a wreckage rider, a term coined by Massachusetts-based amateur historian Jim Hamilton, who developed the Free Fall Research Page–an online database of nearly every imaginable human plummet. That classification means you have the advantage of being attached to a chunk of the plane. In 1972, Serbian flight attendant Vesna Vulovic was traveling in a DC-9 over Czechoslovakia when it blew up. She fell 33,000 feet, wedged between her seat, a catering trolley, a section of aircraft and the body of another crew member, landing on–then sliding down–a snowy incline before coming to a stop, severely injured but alive.

Surviving a plunge surrounded by a semiprotective cocoon of debris is more common than surviving a pure free-fall, according to Hamilton’s statistics; 31 such confirmed or “plausible” incidents have occurred since the 1940s. Free-fallers constitute a much more exclusive club, with just 13 confirmed or plausible incidents, including perennial Ripley’s Believe It or Not superstar Alan Magee–blown from his B-17 on a 1943 mission over France. The New Jersey airman, more recently the subject of a MythBusters episode, fell 20,000 feet and crashed into a train station; he was subsequently captured by German troops, who were astonished at his survival.

Whether you’re attached to crumpled fuselage or just plain falling, the concept you’ll be most interested in is terminal velocity. As gravity pulls you toward earth, you go faster. But like any moving object, you create drag–more as your speed increases. When downward force equals upward resistance, acceleration stops. You max out.

It's possible to hit the ground (or whatever) at no more than 120 mph or so we are told.  The writer offers another tip: don't land on your head.

Hat tip goes to The Browser.

Who are the friendliest people on earth?

Chug points me to this latest survey, and here is the list:


1. Bahrain


2. Canada


3. Australia


4. Thailand


5. Malaysia


6. South Africa


7. Hong Kong


8. Singapore


9. Spain


10. United States


That means friendly to expats, not friendly to each other.  You’ll notice that English-speaking or English-fluent countries are overrepresented, plus Thailand (ahem).


Here is a critique of the survey and mostly I concur with the criticisms (sorry Omar).  More generally, unless it is a woman seeking marriage, I view “friendliness to expats” as a social strategy, often intended for internal consumption, not necessarily insincere but not reflecting true temperament either.  It’s not driven by actual friendliness.  By the way, how did Spain ever make it to number nine?


Are the Japanese the most or the least friendly people on earth?  “Helpful” isn’t the same as “friendly.”  In what country are you most likely to make real friends?  Marry a native?  Aren’t those two variables inversely related?


“Friendly” is one of the words most likely to arouse my deconstructive suspicions.