That is a reader request, here goes:
I sometimes describe L.A. as the world’s best city to live in, but one of the worst to visit. Nonetheless you have some pretty good options. With half a day, make sure you have a rental car with the appropriate soundtrack(s). If you start from LAX, pick one road to drive east on, another to head back east to west — how about Sunset and Pico? Wilshire? Stop and walk as you can, convenient parking is often available. Use Jonathan Gold to pick the right eating places, perhaps Thai and Mexican? Veer off a wee bit and visit the La Brea Tar Pits, or for a longer trek Watts Towers. Time the sunset for Griffith Park. Deemphasize “Downtown” but consider the new Broad Museum for contemporary art. Work in a beach walk at Santa Monica or Venice, preferably the former. See a movie. See another movie. Avoid Beverly Hills. The truly ambitious can drive all the way down Western Ave. and stop for Belizean food along the way to that chapel at the very bottom of the road.
Here is the transcript and podcast, here is the summary introduction:
She joins Tyler for a conversation covering the full range of her curiosity, including fear, acclimating to grossness, chatting with the dead, freezing one’s head, why bedpans can kill you, sex robots, Freud, thinking like an astronaut, the proper way to eat a fry, and why there’s a Medicare reimbursement code for maggots.
Here are a few excerpts:
ROACH: It is never uncomfortable. People sometimes say, “The questions that you ask people, is it an awkward interview? When you went to Avenal State Prison for the rectum chapter of Gulp, and you, talking to this convicted murderer about using his rectum to smuggle cellphones and other things, was that not a very awkward conversation to have?”
A little bit, but then you have to keep in mind, this is somebody for whom hooping, as it’s called, is . . . everybody does it. It’s just something that you do; it’s everyday to him. Like for a sex researcher, talking about orgasm is like talking about tire rotation for a car mechanic.
COWEN: To do a whirlwind tour of some of your books, you have a book on corpses. If you could chat with the dead, what would you ask them?
ROACH: Oh, if I could chat with the dead. Are we assuming the personality or the body?
COWEN: Well, both.
ROACH: The corpse?
COWEN: The corpse.
ROACH: Oh, is this a research corpse or . . .
COWEN: It’s a research corpse.
ROACH: …So what I’d say to the cadaver is, “Is this embarrassing for you? Are you OK with this? Are they treating you respectfully? Do you wish you had some clothes on?”
COWEN: Why do only 18 percent of people who are in the position to have a life-after-death experience actually have one? What’s your view on that?
ROACH: The trouble seems to be remembering the near-death experience.
COWEN: Why are bedpans dangerous?
There is much, much more at the link. Jonathan Swift, Elvis, Adam Smith, and Jeff Sachs all make appearances, in addition to Catholicism, bee larvae, Mozambique, whether people know what they really want in sex, and whether it should be legal to harvest fresh road kill in Oregon.
Forbes: What3words (w3w) has a surprisingly simple and efficient way to find an address and get you there. The London startup has divided the world into a grid pattern of 57 trillion 3m x 3m squares and given each one a unique 3-word address. It means anyone can accurately find any location and share it instantly, removing the ambiguity from the search process.
At the Frankfurt Motor Show this week, Mercedes Benz announced it would be integrating this radical new address system into a selection of its models from 2018. “The United Nations and the Red Cross use us in disaster zones, and now Mercedes has realized that there is a problem in the developed world with accurate mapping systems and they have employed our software,” says Giles Rhys Jones, w3w’s chief marketing officer.
Hat tip: Samir Varma.
That is the title given to my latest Bloomberg column. Excerpt:
The new Britain appears to be a nationalistic, job-protecting, quasi-mercantilist entity, as evidenced by the desire to preserve the work and pay of London’s traditional cabbies. That’s hardly the right signal to send to a world considering new trade deals or possibly foreign investment in the U.K. Uber, of course, is an American company, and it did sink capital into setting up in London — and its reputational capital is on the line in what is still Europe’s most economically important city. This kind of slap in the face won’t exactly encourage other market entrants, including in the dynamic tech sector that London so desperately seeking.
I should note that I prefer London cabs, because of their higher quality service, noting that the people most hurt by this ban are from lower-income groups.
Gulangyu — known as Kulangsu in the local Fujian dialect — is a typical example of this [growing tourism] trend, which has been repeated from Tibet to the Great Wall.
The 2 sq km island just off the thriving port city of Xiamen gets more than 10m visitors a year, almost double the number that visited the entire Philippine archipelago last year. On peak days in the past, more than 100,000 visitors clogged the winding, vehicle-free streets of the island, whose resident population is just 20,000. But the government capped the numbers at 35,000 per day this year as part of the Unesco bid.
That is from Ben Bland at the FT.
You need to look at ticket prices inclusive of fees, not just fares. Those have continued the long run trend of falling in inflation-adjusted terms, although not every year.
Airline products across carriers have become less variable/more standardized. Price is only one element of competition. There are significant barriers to entry in the airline industry, not least of which is the prohibition on foreign ownership of US airlines. However that is hardly the only one.
The major reason Alaska Airlines purchased Virgin America was access to gates and in some cases slots at major congested airports. You not only have government-owned airports entering long-term leases with incumbent airlines, you frequently have capture of the bureaucrats running those airports by their major incumbent airline tenants. And where you have multiple airports in a metropolitan area, they’re frequently jointly run by the same bureaucracy rather than competing.
Airlines are highly profitable, though not nearly as profitable as two years ago, the biggest delta has been fuel cost tied to the price of oil. Consolidation allowed airlines to capture much of the gains of lower fuel prices for a period of time, but the smaller number of carriers returned to expansion and competition on the basis of price competing away some of those savings-driven prices.
All that said the only monopoly air routes in the US are the ones no one wants to fly and that require government subsidies in order to entice carriers into the market. Which isn’t to say that consumers wouldn’t benefit from more competition than we have today.
That is from Air Genius Gary Leff.
I frequently see airlines cited as an example where the American economy is obviously more monopolistic. By some metrics, yes, but what about the final deal?:
For more than three years, the average one-way fare between Detroit and Philadelphia never dipped below $308, and sometimes moved higher, topping $385 at one point.
But then, early in 2016, fares suddenly started to fall, according to data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. By the end of the year, the average one-way ticket between the two cities stood at just $183.
What changed? The primary factor was Spirit Airlines [a budget carrier].
…Even as a wave of mergers has cut the number of major carriers to four and significantly reduced competition, lower-cost airlines continue to play a role in moderating ticket costs.
…The cost of a round-trip domestic ticket averaged more than $490 in the first half of the year, up slightly compared with 2016, according to Airlines Reporting Corporation, a company that settles flight transactions between a number of carriers and booking services like Expedia.
The jostling, however, has left airline investors skittish. As the publicly traded airlines in July reported earnings for the second quarter, shareholders sold off their shares, worried about the fight over fares and capacity increases.
That is from Micah Maidenberg at the NYT. In other words, the market still has a fair amount of contestability.
Or consider some more aggregated data. As for output restrictions, here is the DOT series on aggregate miles flown. No doubt, there are problems around the time of 9/11 and also the Great Recession, with 2008-2012 being a period of slight quantity contraction. But in 1985 there were 275,864 [million] total miles flown, in 2006 it was 588,471, and 641, 905 in 2015. I’ll ask again: if there is so much extra monopoly, where are the output restrictions?
Or look at the price index. Overall prices are down considerably since 2008, and from about 2000 to 2016 they run from about 250 (eyeballing) to about 270, noting 1998-2010 saw a huge run-up in oil prices. Since 2005, the U.S. went from having nine major airlines to four.
Maybe you’re upset about quality, but baggage lost each year — one of the easier quality variables to measure — is going down steadily.
Is this perfect competition? No, of course not. Is this ideal performance? No. Will looking at concentration ratios help you understand the industry very well? Even more no. And this is one of the worst cases of changing concentration ratios I can find. Tomorrow, shall we do booksellers? Or do I not even need to bother?
The author is Jeffrey Gettleman, the subtitle is A Memoir of Romance, War, and Survival, and this travel romance of East Africa has taken a beating on Twitter and elsewhere, for its apparently “neo-colonial” approach. I bought the book, wondering if I might find a contrarian take to offer. I’ve only browsed it, but here was one random passage I ran across, noting the scene will culminate in the two making out (and perhaps intercourse?):
As my eye traveled across the faces, I kept coming back to the same one. It belonged to a girl with high cheekbones, wide-set eyes, heavy eyelids and dark hair; her features looked Eurasian, maybe even Eskimo. She was wearing a red dress that showed off her back; she was lithe and freckly. As she danced, the blacks of her eyes shone. There was something in them that I had seen before. She seemed deeply, freely happy, like those kids on Lake Malawi. I could tell she really dug dancing.
Now, I am not here to offer him a deserved bad writing award, nor to shame him, but still I consider this data and I am puzzling over what this data means. In a mere minute of browsing, I found several similar passages, and with a few more minutes they seemed to multiply endlessly. Nor was it easy to stumble across pages with lots of information about Africa on them. And yet he is a Pulitzer winner and a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, East Africa Bureau Chief for a decade.
But exactly which views do I need to revise? The NYT writers and journalists I have met are uniformly impressive. It is not easy to win a Pulitzer Prize.
Here is a review from Laura Seay, she is harsh but it seems to me probably fair. Is Derek Parfit right about the self after all? At the very least, my opinion of the political correctness scolds went up a bit today. And I once again ask myself whether I should spend more or less time writing negative reviews of books (mostly I don’t, though this week’s reading was pretty meh).
Local governments spend roughly $1.6 trillion per year to provide a variety of public services ranging from police and fire protection to public schools and public transit. However, we know little about public sector’s productivity in delivering key services. Public bus service represents a standardized output for benchmarking the cost of local government service provision. Among the top twenty largest cities, there exists significant dispersion in the operating cost per bus mile with the highest being more than three times as high as the lowest. Using a regression discontinuity design, we estimate the cost savings from privatization and explore the political economy of why privatization rates are lower in high cost unionized areas. Our analysis suggests that fully privatizing all bus transit would generate cost savings of approximately $5.7 billion, or 30% of total U.S. bus transit operating expenses. The corresponding increased use of public transit from this cost reduction would lead to a gain in social welfare of $524 million, at minimum, and at least 26,000 additional transit jobs.
That is from Rhiannon Jerch, Matthew E. Kahn, and Shanjun Li, forthcoming in the Journal of Public Economics.
In a recent study by researchers at Stanford University, Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most-populous nation, came in last among 46 countries and territories for the number of walking steps its citizens take, averaging only 3,513 a day.
By comparison, Hong Kong was first with 6,880, and China second with 6,189. Ukraine, Japan and Russia rounded out the top five. The study tracked 717,000 people in 111 countries, who voluntarily monitored 68 million days of activity using an app on their smartphones and watch devices that was designed by Stanford researchers — the largest such tracking study ever, the researchers said. Each place needed to have at least 1,000 participants to be ranked in the report.
Jakarta, an urban sprawl of approximately 10 million people, with a metropolitan region of about 30 million, is the poster child of the nation’s walking woes.
Only 7 percent of the capital’s 4,500 miles of road have sidewalks, according to local government data.
That is from Joe Cochrane at the NYT. Those results are consistent with my intuitions, noting that I sometimes find India difficult to walk in. By the way, the two countries with the highest “Activity Inequality” are the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Here are data on the walkability of various American cities. The estimable Chug refers me to this short piece on the walkability of the Jersey shore.
I will be doing a Conversation with Tyler with her. On the off chance you don’t already know, here is a brief Wikipedia summary of her work:
Mary Roach is an American author, specializing in popular science and humor. As of 2016, she has published seven books,: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (2003), Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife (2005) (published in some markets as Six Feet Over: Adventures in the Afterlife), Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex (2008), Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void (2010), My Planet: Finding Humor in the Oddest Places, Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal (2013), and Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War (2016).
So what should I ask? I thank you in advance for your inspiration.
Theme-based restaurants and parks are passé. A theme-based crematorium is the latest talk of the hour, both online and offline. Antim Udan Moksha Airport in Gujarat, the first of its kind in India, puts the departing souls of the dead cremated here on international flights to the heaven for ultimate salvation or moksha: freedom from the cycle of birth and death.
Located in Gujarat’s Bardoli on the banks of Mindhola River, the crematorium is modeled on an airport and equipped with two giant replicas of aircraft. The airplane replicas at Antim Udan Moksha Airport in Gujarat are named Moksha (salvation) airlines and Swarga (heaven) airlines which seem to transport the souls from the earth to the heaven on cremation of dead bodies here.
What’s the most interesting about Antim Udan Moksha Airport in Gujarat is the airport-like announcement which is made to guide funeral parties on entry into the crematorium and instruct them where to keep the body, how to proceed for cremation, etc. There is very little difference between the announcement made at the crematorium and that at airports as well as in planes.
What makes the crematorium more like an airport is the typical noise that an aircraft makes while taking off. A similar noise is created when dead bodies are placed in furnace at Antim Udan Moksha Airport in Gujarat. The atmosphere of the airport-themed crematorium is intended to soothe the mourning family members under the impression that the dead depart for salvation in the heaven.
Here is more, via the excellent Samir Varma.
Is this convenience, or a new front in the signaling and counter-signaling wars?:
On the surface, it could be your typical trailer park, with its boring rows of modular mobile homes squeezed onto tiny plots of land.
But Montauk Shores features something other trailer parks don’t: million-dollar views — and billionaire residents.
Owning a trailer at the park has become the ultimate status symbol for the tony Long Island town’s summering rich and famous, many of whom use their relatively modest mobile digs as a second pad to escape with the family or even as a glorified changing room after a long day of romping in Montauk’s waves.
There’s also the indescribable cachet that comes with shabby chic.
“All you own is the box of air above the land,” noted a former Montauk Shores trailer owner. “Whoever buys here is essentially buying a 24-foot-wide-by-50-foot-long box of air.”
But for some deep-pocketed denizens, that’s all they want. So many wealthy people have infiltrated the trailer park that it now has its own “Billionaires’ Corner,’’ a local Realtor told The Post.
Here is the full story, with photos and details.