Icebound: a book about the original polar explorer

If you were a school boy/girl/other in the Netherlands you would have learned about Willem Barentsz, who made three voyages to the Russian Arctic while Shakespeare was scribbling out The Comedy of Errors, Romeo and Juliet and the Merchant of Venice (1594-1597). If you weren’t, there’s a great new book: Icebound: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World, by Andrea Pitzer.

What was known?

The Greeks later determined that the farthest places from the equator where the sun is directly overhead at some point during the year sit at predictable distances north and south of the equator. As a result, along with the equator circling the Earth, they had added one line above and one below, both parallel to it. The northernmost extreme of the sun’s travels was christened the Tropic of Cancer, and the southernmost band the Tropic of Capricorn. And the ancients realized that because of the changes in the sun’s position, there should be another line of latitude closer to each pole, beyond which it would be possible to see the sun at midnight during the summer, and for sunlight to vanish entirely during part of the winter. The Greeks named the Arctic Circle for the polar constellation that should always be visible inside it—Ursa Minor, or Little Bear. The “Arctic” in Arctic Circle comes from arktikos kyklos, or “circle of the bear”—not creatures on the ground but the stars in the sky.

What was conjectured? That there would be an open warm-ish sea once you pushed through the initial ring of icebergs. Thus, it made sense to consider going over the top of Russia to trade with China, the world’s manufacturing superpower in the 16th century.

It is unclear how this idea persisted given that this area was moderately active with humans during the summer months, mostly Russians and Sami people engaged in fishing. Kildin Island was a meeting point and trading post and roughly the limit of non-Russian knowledge.

Any time that it is warm enough for a human to be outside trying to do anything, the polar bears are in the region and hungry. One thing that the Dutch guys never do on any of the three expeditions is run out of ammo:

Slaughter emerged as the instinctive Dutch response to the Arctic landscape, a new theater that would see the same performance again and again with every European wave of arrivals. As historical archaeologist P. J. Capelotti observed about the killing of animals in the high Arctic that accompanied modern exploration, “It’s amazing there’s anything left alive.”

I wonder if polar bears have evolved during the intervening centuries to be wary of humans. Modern tourists on pre-coronapanic visits to the Arctic don’t have nearly the same number of interactions with bear. But perhaps it is just because the polar bear population has been so severely reduced. I couldn’t find any estimate for polar bear population in the 16th century. Even today, people are just guessing at what the numbers might be (unlike coronascientists, though, the wildlife biologists admit that they’re guessing!).

Fighting with the ice pack and the bears at the same time near Nova Zembla, which they’d hoped would be the gateway to the open route to China:

The animal rose up and came for them. They had to abandon the work of turning the ship in order to fight the bear. But before they could kill it, they had to chase it into the water and onto the ice then back onto land again to catch it. After dispatching it, they returned to saving the ship. Whenever things looked bad, there was always something worse waiting to happen.

That last sentence describes the attitude of most of my Facebook friends regarding COVID-19!

Popping vitamin pills in hopes of warding off coronaplague? Maybe think twice…

They hadn’t enjoyed eating the meat from the first bear they’d killed on the voyage, almost a year before. But dwindling rations and the passage of time combined to make them look more keenly at this bear and reconsider. After gutting the animal, they dressed and cooked its liver, which had a much better flavor than the meat they’d eaten before. They were pleased with their meal, but the bear had its revenge when the men started to feel ill. Everyone fell sick, and the cause was clear. Barents and his men had poisoned themselves. Polar bear liver contains enough vitamin A to be lethal to humans. Though the crew had no more idea of the effects of too much vitamin A than they did the lack of vitamin C that caused their scurvy, both wreaked havoc on the castaways’ bodies just the same. Symptoms include drowsiness, headaches, liver damage, altered consciousness, and vomiting. The next morning, van Heemskerck picked up the pot of liver still sitting on the fire and threw its contents out in the snow. Three men soon lay near death. … By June 4—four days after they’d eaten the polar bear liver—most of the crew had recovered, but the skin of the three men who had fallen most violently ill peeled off in layers from head to toe.

I don’t want to spoil the story. Suffice it to say that an unplanned overwintering in the high Arctic will test a group’s resourcefulness. Scurvy turned out to be an even worse enemy than the climate.

Should we hoist a Stroopwafel in Barents’s memory?

Even during his life, Barents had lived a larger life than most humans. He’d been the first to publish an atlas of the Mediterranean, a survivor of nearly ten months in some of the most extreme conditions on the planet, a three-time explorer into the unknown, mapping places no European—and in some cases, perhaps no human—had ever seen. In Barents’s day, the Russians called the sea between Scandinavia and Nova Zembla the sea of Murmans, referring to the Norwegians they encountered there. But in 1853, Barents’s name would come to replace the earlier one, and the waters he sailed three times on his way east would come to be known worldwide as the Barents Sea. Four hundred years later its treacherous conditions would lead some to call it the devil’s dance floor.1

Along with making Zembla legendary, Barents and his men would themselves become famous. By 1600, less than four years after their frozen Twelfth Night feast on Nova Zembla, William Shakespeare would write his own play about the same holiday. Twelfth Night likewise tells the story of a world turned upside down on this strangest of holidays, in which the high are brought low and everything spins topsy-turvy. A not-quite-dead dead twin, cross-dressing, and a plot nested around switched identities lead to a comedy of errors with its own holiday feast at the center—and a reference to Barents. When one character earns another’s disdain, he’s told, “[Y]ou are now sailed into the north of my lady’s opinion; where you will hang like an icicle on a Dutchman’s beard.” In the space of a handful of years, the tale of Dutchmen covered in ice at the northern edge of the world would cross borders to become an international cultural touchstone.

William Barents would become less and less real over time. The gaps left by his biography, and his death, create an emptiness that makes it possible to project or reflect whatever the viewer wants to see. Yet every famous Arctic explorer who endured horrifying ordeals, every adventurer to the North whose story became a bestselling book, every voyager vowing to fill in the map for national glory, every polar adventurer whose exploits were recorded with the newest technologies—from books to telegrams to photos to radio broadcasts to phones to satellite links—has walked in the path first blazed by William Barents. In later centuries, the failure to establish habitable colonies or make successful trade missions wouldn’t count against intrepid explorers. From a monetary perspective in Barents’s era, however, his final voyage was a disaster, so much so that when his wife applied for a widow’s pension from the council of Holland, asking for support for herself and the five children her husband had left behind, she was refused.

A less-known hero from the voyage is the captain, Jacob van Heemskerck (Barents was the navigator).

Van Heemskerck later sailed to [the East Indies] as commander of the fleet and helped shepherd the new Dutch nation as it supernovaed into a vast empire. In less than a century, the goods shipped by Dutch traders would eclipse the combined total of Spain, France, England, and Portugal, with several other European powers thrown in for good measure. Just as he’d outlasted his time in the Arctic, van Heemskerck would survive his southern voyages and return home to take part in the war against Spain that would continue, at greater or lesser intensity, for another four decades. As admiral, he’d lead the Dutch navies against the Spanish fleet near Gibraltar in 1607, dying in battle after losing a leg to a cannonball.

The author closes with a testable hypothesis:

Yet, strangely enough, he was perfectly correct in his assumption. The world to which he belonged set machinery in motion that can now be slowed but not reversed. With some consistency, snow and ice surveys project that by 2040—perhaps as early as 2030—there will be no ice left at the North Pole in summer. By August 2017, the planet had changed so much that a Russian gas tanker equipped for Arctic voyages could travel for the first time without an icebreaker escort, sailing a northern route from Norway to South Korea in two-thirds the time required for the traditional route through the Suez Canal. The open polar sea Barents had forecast will soon exist every year during the hottest months. And the planet will continue to warm. This stupendous change will be the end result of a process in which Barents and his Arctic expeditions were in some ways the opening salvo. Though they returned with a dramatic tale of uninhabited lands and scientific insights, their ships still rode the wave of a tide that would unleash destruction as powerful and enduring as any force in human history. The sea free of polar ice that the Greeks had deliberated over and Barents’s own mentor had insisted was real wasn’t just a figment of their imaginations. The open polar sea that Barents had imagined, the idea for which he’d risked everything, has finally come to pass. He just sailed four hundred years too soon.

Let’s see if the scientific consensus turns out to be correct! I hope that we haven’t all been killed by variant COVID-19 by 2040 and can see if the experts were right. If the CDC lifts its no-sail order, perhaps we can have a comfortable Royal Caribbean cruise from Miami to the North Pole and back by way of Halifax (so as to qualify as an international trip).

Meanwhile… I suggest reading Icebound: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World.

From my own trip to the Arctic, made more tolerable by the presence of a French chef…

Related:

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COVID on my mind (Savannah, Georgia)

This is based on a March 2021 trip to Savannah, Georgia.

Residents of and visitors to Savannah are constantly reminded to wear masks and that COVID-19 is likely to kill them. The city hall, festooned with a “MASK UP: Mandatory Mask Order” banner:

The order itself is Maskachusetts-grade in that people are required to wear masks when walking down the sidewalk, even if nobody else is nearby.

Half the stores and restaurants have a sign on the front door regarding “injury or death … from … COVID-19” and reminding customers of the heroic risks that they’re taking by entering. Example:

(If the law exempts businesses from liability, why do they have to post a sign? Maybe the exemption is operative only if they do post a sign?)

While the private economy shrivels, new government jobs have been created (Savannah schools have been mostly closed during coronapanic, but the paychecks to the teachers and administrators continue to flow). “City of Savannah introduces new COVID-19 resource team”:

25 City Marshals will now be patrolling the streets of Savannah in ATV’s as part of the city’s new COVID resource team.

The main goal of the team is to give out masks and educate both locals and tourists about the current mask mandate in the City of Savannah.

We saw these heroes out and about, but never did they leave the security of their vehicles. (Our exposed-to-coronarisk Uber driver was a recent immigrant from Morocco, but the socially distanced COVID resource team appeared to be drawn from the native-born.)

What’s the effect on a population that gets hit by these messages every few minutes and that is placed under a threat of $500 fines for noncompliance? About one third of people out walking were wearing masks. People mingled mask-free into the wee hours in the city’s many bars. I’m not sure if the sign offering $1 Jello shots was honored, but a casual walk-by revealed that the “Face Mask Must Be Worn” sign had no effect on those inside.

Here are some good citizens in front of the Elon Musk statue (“African American Monument”) on a windy sunny day by the river:

Note the range of styles… no mask, chin diaper, full mask. Even if one accepts that, contrary to what W.H.O. scientists said prior to June 2020, masks for the general public have some effect on the transmission of a respiratory virus (see the Czech Republic), it is tough to understand how the Savannah system is supposed to yield a different result than what would be experienced by a society in which government imposed no orders.

Compared to the mask-free Covidiots in neighboring Florida, how did Georgians do with their muscular interventions by city and county governments? From the CDC:

Meanwhile, let’s have a look at some of the stuff that folks in Savannah were able to build in the good old pre-COVID days (when yellow fever and malaria raged). A church with no BLM banner or rainbow flag (I’m convinced that Christianity is a completely different religion in Massachusetts vs. in Florida or Georgia!):

A ride from an unmasked horse:

A COVID-themed statue, “Come from the Four Winds, O Breath, and Breathe Upon These Slain That They May Live”:

The swan here does not seem to lack for breath:

Most of the famous squares seem to be themed around the American Revolution (i.e., the Rebellion of the Traitors), but here’s a problematic one, named after states’ rights and slavery advocate John C. Calhoun (not even from Georgia!):

An unmasked 12-week-old… (leash illegally held by an unmasked adult human):

Presidents Biden and Harris have failed to reach all of the local merchants:

It turns out that “Liberty” may overlap with “Bull”:

Some tips…

  • a hotel with a great lobby (“living room” overlooking the river): Hyatt Regency (we stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn and would not recommend due to noisy A/C unit next to bed)
  • The Collins Quarter for breakfast

Related:

  • August 2020 mask requirements in other cities and counties in Georgia, e.g., “Atlanta – Includes Atlanta’s airport, city parks and other public places. People under 10 and those with medical conditions are not required to wear masks. Anyone not wearing a mask at the airport will be asked to leave. In other parts of the city, violators could receive a citation and in a strict enforcement, charges with the possibility of jail time or a $1,000 fine.”
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Commercial flights during Coronapanic: a mostly mask-free experience

A tale of a recent trip from Boston to Washington-Dulles on United Airlines… (my first on an airliner since the BC epoch (“Before Coronapanic”))

The good news is that all of our post-9/11 security fears have been resolved. I don’t remember hearing any announcements about “if you see something, say something”, leaving cars unattended at the curb, or calling the authorities after spotting unattended bags.

The not-so-good news is that our security fears have been replaced by COVID-19 fears. The best news, though, as anyone in California or Spain can attest, is coronavirus can never succeed amongst masked humans, no matter how primitive the mask technology. Combining these two, the airport authorities and the airlines have cooperated to bombard passengers with literally hundreds of signs and announcements regarding masks: (1) wear them, (2) don’t wear them under your nose, (3) don’t worry about COVID-19 if you’re masked, etc. I stopped counting at 200 exposures (signs+audio) after less than 30 minutes in Logan airport.

After being educated literally hundreds of time on this topic, did I wear a mask in the terminal? No. I sat down at a Legal Sea Foods restaurant across from the gate, ordered a salad and an ice tea, and timed the completion of my meal to coincide with the final boarding call.

One improvement is that the gate agents no longer do “hurry up so that you can wait in the jet bridge.” I was handed a disinfecting wipe as soon as I walked onto the plane. But if I were worried enough about getting COVID-19 from surface contamination to use the wipe, why would I have been on the plane to begin with? (see Does disinfectant theater contribute to coronaplague?)

Unlike Delta, United does not block the middle seats. They’ve cut so many flights that, despite the minimal demand, most people on my BOS-IAD leg were jammed into completely occupied rows. I’m a “Silver” member so I ended up towards the front in a row with an empty middle seat between myself and a slender young guy who seemed completely uninterested in the Festival of Corona.

The United app delivers this message if you open it up in flight:

The lead flight attendant on the plane delivered the same message multiple times over the PA as well. He took care to say that he’d seen passengers wearing masks improperly and that this would not be tolerated.

As soon as we took off, though, the Cart of Demaskification was brought out. People like me who hadn’t asked for a drink were offered one. I responded to the offer with “Coke please” and was given an entire can… which takes about as long to drink as the flight time from Boston to D.C. The fine print above says that people are supposed to put on a mask “between bites and sips”, but I didn’t see anyone doing that. So masks are like face seatbelts: required for takeoff and landing.

On arrival at Dulles, the messaging regarding masks resumed. Here’s a big electronic sign that presumably used to promote all of the great things going on in Virginia. Now it is “Mask Up Virginia” over a Dunkin’ Donuts sign:

(see also Public health, American-style: Donuts at the vaccine clinic and “90 percent of COVID deaths occur in countries with high obesity levels: study” (New York Post, March 5, 2021))

The only other message that the airport authorities seemed interested in delivering was a hearty rainbow flag welcome:

The return trip was similar, right down to the full can of soda served shortly after takeoff (45-minute cruise segment). Although the flight was not crowded, the terminal was jammed. Perhaps large sections have been shut down, which means passengers are now on top of each other near the gates that remain in use. The sit-down restaurants are, as at Logan, highly sought-after locations for those who want to relax unmasked, and there were (socially distanced) lines forming in front of some.

I joined the connoisseurs at the forbidden-in-Boston Chick-fil-A, which meant that I was unmasked for almost my entire wait. (One doesn’t want to wolf down a delicious meal that is denied to most residents of Maskachusetts.)

If anyone in the gate area actually did have coronavirus, there was a sufficiently dense crowd for spreading it:

I wouldn’t recommended the experience for those who are anxious about COVID-19. While you’re constantly being reminded about how hazardous COVID-19 is, there isn’t enough room in the airport to be truly distant from those who are potentially infected. People sit glumly with their masks on, waiting to see how the Russian roulette game that they’ve chosen to play will turn out. Unless you believe in the effectiveness of crude non-N95 masks, it’s the same risk level as being in a crowded Miami club, but a lot less fun.

Update 3/18: “Climate czar John Kerry caught going maskless on flight” (New York Post); Kerry’s response on Twitter: “If I dropped my mask to one ear on a flight, it was momentary. I wear my mask because it saves lives and stops the spread. It’s what the science tells us to do.

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Turboprop coast to coast to coast with youngsters

A friend wanted to be dropped off in Bend, Oregon and not witness the inevitable mask disputes of commercial airline travel. We loaded up the extra seats with family members for the following route:

  • KBED (Boston area)
  • KGYY (Chicago)
  • KRAP (Mt. Rushmore)
  • KBDN (Bend, Oregon)
  • KHWD (San Francisco area)
  • KBVU (Las Vegas)
  • KBWG (Bowling Green, Kentucky)
  • KGAI (Washington, D.C.)
  • KBED

It was an 11-day trip total and my main take-away is that this is too short if the goal is to show children the United States. Even with a reasonably fast airplane, three weeks would make more sense and be a better use of dinosaur blood and CO2 footprint.

Late fall weather in the U.S. is pretty ugly. On a lot of days roughly half the country was covered with airmets for turbulence and icing and the occasional sigmet for severe turbulence or thunderstorms. Morning of our departure from Boston (ignore the route):

We spent three days getting out to Oregon in order to avoid surface winds gusting up to 48 knots in South Dakota. We left Bend a day earlier than planned in order to avoid strong winds and severe turbulence. We stayed an extra day in San Francisco for the same reason. We departed Las Vegas a day earlier than planned in order to avoid forecast thunderstorms and snow over the Rockies. The Pilatus PC-12 is a good airplane, but we would have needed a plane capable of cruising at FL430 or FL450 (e.g., Phenom 300) to avoid the turbulence and travel in guaranteed comfort on a fixed schedule.

The boys are 5 and almost 7. Their firsts in Chicago:

  • International Style (we did a walking architecture tour)
  • A Picasso sculpture used for skateboarding (why hasn’t Picasso been canceled and the sculptures/paintings sold to the Chinese and Russians?)
  • A massive Chagall mosaic
  • The Art Institute, especially the miniature rooms and arms/armor
  • A protest (“Trump/Pence Out Now!”)

(Central Camera, boarded up after losing $1 million in inventory during the BLM protests:

)

Firsts in Rapid City, South Dakota:

  • seeing Mt. Rushmore
  • meeting some Native Americans (other than Elizabeth Warren)
  • seeing the statues of U.S. presidents all around downtown (Gerald Ford was a big favorite because his statute includes a dog)
  • staying at the historic Alex Johnson hotel
  • breakfast at Black Hills Bagels

Speaking of President Ford, the hotel puts him right next to Gene Simmons of Kiss on the wall of famous guests:

In Bend, Oregon:

  • seeing snow-covered Rocky Mountains (from the plane)
  • Walking up Pilot Butte and along the Deschutes River
  • Mercedes crew car
  • Mount Shasta (way out)

We coincidentally parked said crew car right in front of a candy store!

In San Francisco:

  • Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge crossings
  • Urban sea lions (Pier 39)
  • Redwood trees (Muir Woods)
  • Pacific Ocean (Cliff House)
  • Bison herd (Golden Gate Park)
  • Conservatory (Golden Gate Park)
  • Science Museum
  • gauntlet of hundreds of homeless lining both sides of the street as in a Zombie movie (near the Bay Bridge ramps)
  • SFO and San Mateo (visit to 6-month old cousin)
  • Nob Hill (Mark Hopkins hotel)
  • Union Square (crazy guy screaming continuously)
  • Ferry Building
  • Transamerica Pyramid
  • the highest peaks in the Lower 48 (e.g., Mt. Whitney)

Firsts in Las Vegas:

  • Hoover Dam
  • Bellagio Fountains
  • Bellagio Conservatory
  • High Roller Ferris wheel (world’s tallest!)
  • Red Rock Canyon
  • dinner at Andy and Tina’s (playing the Otamatone, making cotton candy from Jolly Rancher)
  • Animatronic Ratatouille scene at the ARIA pastry shop. Also a house built entirely of sugar and a Henry Moore sculpture (of brief interest by comparison!)
  • The Halo water vortex sculpture at the Crystals mall
  • 800-pound chocolate Statue of Liberty at New York, New York
  • ancient hieroglyphics at Luxor
  • a Komodo dragon at Shark Reef
  • pizza restaurant dedicated to Evel Knievel
  • the Fremont Street Experience
  • In n Out Burger
  • Trump International Hotel
  • Wynn garden
  • Venetian canals (“What news on the Rialto?”) and St. Mark’s Square (improved with handrails!)
  • the best of Paris
  • ancient Rome (Caesar’s Palace)
  • Statue/memorial to Siegfried and Roy (who survived Montecore’s teeth, but died at age 75 from Covid-19)

We had planned to stop at the Grand Canyon, which is blessed with a beautiful airport. However, the shuttle and taxi services are both run by government contractors and they’ve elected to shut down #UntilTheresACure. No rental cars are available. No crew cars are available. We did fly over the Zuni Corridor at 11,500′, though:

In Bowling Green:

  • National Corvette Museum (the sinkhole collapse simulator was a huge hit!)
  • White Castle
  • Mammoth Cave National Park
  • Stalagmites and Stalactites in (Diamond Caverns)
  • “truck on truck” (5-year-old’s coinage)

When they grow up they’ll be asking “What voltage came out of those pumps?”

On a three-week trip we could have relaxed a bit more in Vegas, driven to/from the Grand Canyon and Death Valley, stopped in Colorado, stopped in St. Louis and/or Kansas City, stopped in New York City.

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Trump International Hotel Las Vegas review

One of our young customers got it into his head that we should stay in Bellagio. We indulged him for two nights and enjoyed some of the architecture, e.g., the Conservatory, but the hotel felt crowded despite a 50 percent occupancy limit imposed by the state’s COVID-19 mandarins (subsequently reduced to 25 percent). Lines developed at the breakfast restaurant, for example, and it wasn’t practical to keep a 6′ distance from others when navigating from the parking lot to the room. (Partly this was due to the Swedish MD/PhD prediction that humans wearing masks feel invulnerable to coronaplague.) The air was always a bit stale/smoky. The kids were exposed to scenes of gambling every time we wanted to go out and do anything.

The Trump hotel, by contrast, is all non-smoking and there is no casino. It is conveniently located about one block off the Strip abeam the Wynn. There is a good restaurant in the lobby (“DJT”) with reasonable prices and also a shopping mall across the street with a bunch of additional dining options. We got a corner suite on the 53rd floor. Senior Management: “The bathroom here is as big as our entire room at the Bellagio.” (It was finished with enough marble to entomb a communist leader.)

Our suite had a full kitchen (Wolf, Bosch, Sub-Zero appliances; they must have gotten a screaming deal when buying hundreds of these!), but the plates, silverware, and pots had been removed due to local COVID-19 restrictions.

Valet parking is included.

If you’re a light sleeper, be aware that the hotel is close to some train tracks and heavy/noisy freight trains roll by periodically. (But they’re mostly carrying coal, so President Harris and AOC will put a stop to these soon?) On the plus side, the bed and linens are both top-of-the-line. The photo below shows the train, a sex shop, and a marijuana dispensary (though, as with San Francisco, the sidewalks are now so empty that you might need to buy your own marijuana if you want to get high).

As at other Trump hotels, the staff is superb. We had a great breakfast at lower-than-Bellagio prices and, unlike at Bellagio, the servers got our order precisely correct.

The pool is huge, open longer hours than the casino pools (7a-6p in mid-November during our visit), heated to 80-85, and blessed with open southern exposure for nearly the entire day. It is a perfect late fall/early spring pool. The gym was large, well-equipped, and empty.

Depending on your politics/religion, the strongest or weakest spot might be the lobby’s “Trump Store” with Trump logo items (suitable for wearing in most of America’s counties, if not in the big cities where bigger government tends to spend taxpayer funds). For the Age of Coronapanic, the WiFi is also a weak spot. It seems to be provisioned at 70 Mbps download, but only 3 Mbps upload, a marginal speed at best for video conferencing.

Summary: An almost-perfect hotel in Las Vegas. It would be nicer with outdoor balconies for each room (only a handful of Vegas hotels have these, which is a shame considering the wonderful shoulder season climate) and with a higher WiFi upload speed for Zoom/FaceTime/etc.

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Vegas casinos implement some of my coronaplague ideas

As readers of this blog may recall, I’m a big enthusiast for reengineering our environment so as to reduce the spread of respiratory viruses such as coronaplague:

One thing that I’ve been wondering for months is that, with $trillions allocated for dealing with coronaplague, why we don’t see handwashing sinks appear in more places.

Where is my dream alive? Based on a recent visit… Las Vegas! There are now sinks in the middle of the casino. Wave don’t push to open the doors. From the ARIA:

Instead of impressing by valet parking our rented Dodge Journey, we had to self park it almost everywhere.

Supposedly casinos were limited to 50 percent occupancy during our visit (just recently cut to 25 percent), but most felt uncomfortably packed. People proved the Swedish MD/PhDs correct: told that masks will prevent coronaplague, they ignore the 6′ social distance directive (and 7′ is the new 6′, according to the overhead projections on Fremont Street; see below and note that folks who confront Covid-19 at 350 lbs. or more can eat for free at the Heart Attack Grill).

Also from Fremont Street, the Main Street casino where whatever you lose goes to Wall Street and the California casino where presumably you’re funding retired public employees…

One positive for Vegas in the Age of Coronapanic is that one’s eyeglasses tend not to fog up when wearing a mask. Dry and hot is apparently perfect!

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Coronavirus will breathe life into my two-thirds-full airline idea?

David St. Hubbins: “It’s such a fine line between stupid.”

My idea for an airline that wouldn’t sell its middle seats was greeted with derision back in December 2019. Apparently it was on the “stupid” side of the fine line.

If people won’t support the idea in the name of comfort, speed of boarding/unloading, and overall efficiency, maybe fear of death will make the proposal look better?

A coach seat with a guaranteed empty middle seat provides even more separation from a potentially disease-ridden fellow passenger than a first class seat, right? How is that not worth 50 percent more in the coronavirus age? Set a minimum pitch comparable to JetBlue’s Extra Room seats and everyone can travel again for a reasonable price, with reasonable protection from contagion, a lot faster (total time, including boarding), and with a lot less stress from Fall of Saigon-style lines at the gate. (Throw in a free N95 mask for each passenger as soon as the supply chain returns to normal.)

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Baha Mar hotels in Nassau

Sick of the cold weather yet?

On a no-plans-in-advance island-hopping trip around the Bahamas everyone we asked for a hotel recommendation in Nassau said “Baha Mar”. The good folks at the Odyssey FBO have a corporate rate with the Hyatt Baha Mar so that’s where we ended up.

The Chinese-built complex is the newest development in Nassau and everything sparkles. Staff members at all of the hotels are friendly and competent.

Budget at least $100 per day per person for food within the complex. Restaurants are good, but everything is about 2X the price of what it would cost in a big U.S. city. Restaurants are crowded at dinner. We had trouble getting a table for two at 7:30 pm on a Thursday.

The epic breakfast buffet is worth it, though Michael Bloomberg would not approve of all of the dessert items available:

A taxi downtown is a fixed $18 for two passengers. There are no independent restaurants within walking distance. There is no Uber in the Bahamas.

There are a fair number of activities within the resort, including a twice-daily flamingo walk, a fountain show every 30 minutes, and a marine animal sanctuary containing sea turtles, sharks, rays, fish, etc.

When the massive hotels are full, the pools are busy and not relaxing. The Rosewood hotel is within the complex, but has its own private pools that are much quieter. If traveling with children, one big issue is that the pools close at 6 pm (maybe later in the summer months?). What are the kids going to do from 6 pm until bedtime? Play the slots?

Rosewood:

The beach is reasonably sheltered and the water is calm, though perhaps not as calm as in Provo (Turks and Caicos).

The gym seems to be shared among all of the hotels and it is huge and blessed with water views.

If you need to get work done or just enjoy Skype with friends around the world, the Chinese-financed and Chinese-built Baha Mar offers a Chinese level of WiFi: at least 75 Mbits symmetric everywhere that I tested and usually a bit more.

The Rainbow Flag Religion is weak here:

Competition: we had wanted to stay in Atlantis, but all of the Bahamians warned us against it. “It need to be renovated” and “It is run down” were typical comments. We hopped in a taxi to Paradise Island (formerly “Hog Island”) and were awed by the lobby of the Atlantis. Public WiFi clocked in at 0.82 Mbits (1/100th the speed of Baha Mar) and then failed altogether. There are herds of cruise ship passengers who come here on tours. To keep them from wandering too far, there are security people everywhere challenging people (most of whom seemed like obvious guests, e.g., with nothing but flipflops and a towel) to see proof of hotel guest status. An adjacent marina has some impressive superyachts and signs telling people not to go anywhere near them (ignored by the Chinese tourists). My friend was unimpressed with the Atlantis: “even the chairs in the casino look old.” The lagoon was deserted.

The veneer of luxury and wealth on Paradise Island is thin. Right across the street is a strip mall with a downscale casino, a grocery store with canned goods, and a Dunkin’ Donuts. Farther to the east is the Ocean Club, run by the Four Seasons. This is a small expensive hotel with a single pool, which was fairly crowded. On a day when the Baha Mar beach was nicely sheltered and perfect for swimming, the Ocean Club beach was hanging a “caution” flag and the water was rough. It is a great place for lunch and probably a great place to stay if you want to get away from the crowds (but, if so, why not simply stay on one of the “out islands”?).

Conclusion: the locals seem to be right about the Baha Mar complex being the best place to stay in and around Nassau. However, you have to want to be in a city-sized development (2,200 rooms) that seems to be quite full even slightly off peak. Imagine a huge cruise ship that never leaves the dock. If you want to be in a smaller scale lower-rise hotel and enjoy a perfect beach, consider flying an extra 30 minutes to Turks and Caicos (Provo).

Separately, as here in Massachusetts, the construction of casinos is encouraged. Unlike in Massachusetts, however, it is illegal for a local to gamble:

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Cruise ships in the time of plague

Even if coronavirus isn’t a serious statistical risk from being on a cruise ship, I wonder if the public health response will trim the sails (so to speak) of the hitherto unstoppable industry.

Consider the passengers on the Diamond Princess in Japan. Best case for the healthy ones is to be stuck at the dock for 14 days, mostly in their tiny cabins. From NPR:

On the ship, passengers — including some who had already spent two weeks aboard the vessel before the quarantine doubled their stay — are told not to leave their rooms. They visit the deck in shifts, for a rare breath of fresh air.

But there could be days of quarantine after a scare, right? So if you book a cruise from Date X to Date Y you won’t have any guarantee of getting back to work, family, and other commitments.

Does this prove the old adage that being on a boat is like being in prison, except that you can’t drown in prison?

Related:

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