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Ban the Flights! Which Flights? How?

That guy from Liberia who died from Ebola in Dallas – patient zero, right? Well, so far, there have been only two cases of disease transmittal, and they were both his nurses. The 21 day quarantine is over for everyone else who came into contact with him, and no one else contracted the disease.  There are, therefore, two (2) cases of new-onset Ebola in the US in its history, and everyone is freaking the hell out.  

That’s fewer people than have been married to Rush Limbaugh. 

None of this has stopped craven politicians and their ignorant media enablers from demanding an as-yet undefined travel ban. 

Rob Astorino thinks that the governor of New York can ban international travel? Under what legal authority? Wouldn’t this be something to be decided in Washington, or by the carriers themselves? How would the governor of New York gain access to the passenger manifests that federal agencies maintain? Would the governor demand to place State Police alongside customs or immigration agents at JFK – the only airport in the state with regularly scheduled transatlantic flights? Under what authority? Are we banning an entire Delta flight because one passenger connected in Paris from a west African nation? 

While the WHO declared Nigeria (a west African country) “Ebola-free” yesterday, most of the Ebola outbreak in that part of the world has been in the countries of Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. It might surprise you to learn that there are no flights to the US – no flights to JFK – from any of those three countries. The only regularly scheduled flights to the US from that region originate in Ebola-free Senegal, Ghana, and Ebola-free Nigeria. 

As this study by Five Thirty Eight shows, the stricken countries have very few flights through Europe – only 18 weekly flights connect Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone and half of those aren’t operating – so 9 weekly flights that could connect to flights to the US. 

Rob Astorino and other hysteria whores want to ban individual travel between JFK and as-yet-unnamed west African countries, but there’s no state-level authority for that, it wouldn’t work, and it would cost untold money and resources to do the requisite monitoring and banning of flights, and for nothing. If Nigeria can contain its Ebola outbreak, I’m pretty sure the United States  can, too. 

 


Remember the Rochester Fast Ferry?

Via Wikipedia

About 10 years ago, the City of Rochester invested in a fast ferry service between that city and Toronto. The service ran into cost overruns, fuel fees it couldn’t afford, and maintenance issues almost immediately. Per the Wikipedia article, these problems doomed the service from day 1:

  • Slow progress by the Toronto Port Authority in constructing a permanent ferry terminal in Toronto. The delays in getting even temporary terminal facilities built in Toronto during the spring of 2004 was another reason for forcing a delay in starting the service until mid-June.

  • CATS felt that it was being charged excessive Canadian customs and immigration costs. U.S. port of entry services were being provided in Rochester at no cost to CATS whereas Canadian port of entry services had to be completely covered by the company, resulting in a hidden charge on each ticket price.

  • CATS blamed U.S. customs for not giving approval for the Spirit of Ontario I to carry freight trucks and express cargo, claiming that this altered the original business plan.

  • CATS endured criticism from both nations for a decision to have Spirit of Ontario I registered under the flag of Bahamas, a flag of convenience nation, allegedly for taxation purposes. CATS was able to do this since the vessel was operating in an international service; additionally, since the Spirit of Ontario I was a foreign-built vessel, CATS would have had to pay significant penalties were it to register the vessel in either Canada or the U.S. (particularly the U.S., given the domestic-content restrictions of the Jones Act).

  • Because of the foreign flag registry for Spirit of Ontario I, CATS was required to pay for pilotage services on every crossing (approx. $6000 per crossing). Canadian and U.S. registered vessels are exempt from requiring the services of pilots while navigating on the Great Lakes.

A last-ditch attempt to have a professional ferry company run the service didn’t work, and the ship was sold in 2006. The crossing took just over 2 hours at high speeds – significantly less than the approximately 4 hour drive around the lake. 

Now? The ferry is running between Aarhus and Kalundborg in Denmark, after a 5-year stint running service between Tarifa, Spain and Tangier, Morocco. 

Here’s the current route: 

The boat today: 

Via Wikipedia

And the Spanish route: 

It made the crossing from Europe to Africa in 35 minutes. 

Via Wikipedia


Trucks to Lewiston? Good Idea!

The Sunday Buffalo News published a story about a ultra-top-secret plan to divert all truck traffic away from the Peace  Bridge and onto the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge. A lot of customs brokerage jobs would have to be moved from Buffalo and Fort Erie to Lewiston and Queenston, but neighborhood concerns over diesel particulate would be assuaged. 

Funny, because here’s what I wrote in February 2008 – six years ago:

The Peace Bridge Expansion is Dead. That’s my prediction. It is never, ever going to happen. Not in my lifetime, not in yours. Frankly, I think that increased traffic capacity isn’t needed in Buffalo anyway. Why shove it down Buffalo’s throat if it so clearly doesn’t want it?

The Ambassador Bridge to Black Rock? Not going to happen. No one’s going to build a plaza and new interchange on the US side with the Scajaquada and 190 right there, particularly given the fact that the push now is to downgrade the Scajaquada to a boulevard of some sort.

While an ideal crossing would be across the river just south of Grand Island, so that it would connect up with the I-290 and I-190, that disturbs residential neighborhoods in Canada.

Instead, we should completely jettison the Peace Bridge expansion altogether and instead increase capacity at Queenston-Lewiston. That single span gets a tremendous amount of truck and vehicular traffic, and recently received an upgrade to five lanes. The Q-L bridge provides direct access on both sides of the span to a major highway; the 405 to the QEW on the Canadian side, and the I-190 on the US side.

If there was any semblance of forward-thinking on the part of the CVB, it would already have been in talks to develop and construct a gorgeous visitor’s center that is run locally – not from Albany. Lease some Thruway property from the Authority and give border crossers a reason to come to a whole host of attractions in Western New York. The fact that there is no “Welcome to New York” or “Welcome to WNY” center on this side of the border underscores just how backwards and simple our supposed tourism promoters are. They’re at Thruway rest areas, but not at the border. How patently stupid; you have to wait until you get to Pembroke or Angola – well on your way out of the metro area.

There comes a time when you just say “enough”. The Peace Bridge project has spent ten years in environmental review, design review, and negotiations over the now-dead shared border management. We can sit and wait another few years for a new administration to change its mind, but it’s been almost ten years now that nothing tangible has happened. The preservation community has drawn a line in the sand as far as the neighborhood that would be adversely affected by a new plaza on the Buffalo side, and we all know about Al Coppola’s threat to move his Pan Am house. What else could be more persuasive?

So screw it. Enough. Everybody wins.

Expand the Queenston-Lewiston bridge with a second, signature span across the Niagara River, right at the escarpment with a gorgeous view of the meandering river leading to Youngstown, and Lake Ontario beyond.

I think that the current Peace Bridge span should be replaced with a more modern, signature span, and that the current steel span should then be demolished. We should move forward with shared border management, which would allow US-bound traffic be pre-screened in Fort Erie with perhaps only spot-checks on the US side. The problem isn’t just neighborhood anger, the access to the I-190 is very poorly laid out, with the southbound ramp located about 1/4 mile west from the northbound ramp access road.

 

And it’s still a crime that we don’t have a visitor’s center to promote local businesses and attractions to Canadian visitors coming off the bridges, or really any tourism services of any sort, such as currency exchange. Ontario maintains one on the 420 in Niagara Falls, and another on the QEW near Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Let me know if I can help you with any other ideas. 


Travel

Since last week was such a septimana horribilis, and because I’ve neglected posting photos of the day, I’m resetting everything by simply presenting two slideshow embeds from recent travels. One is simply a set of stuff I snapped out the window of a moving car. It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip and the iPhone fed my desire to all but memorialize every moment. Between the four of us, I have well over 3,000 images through which to wade and I’ve barely begun. This is simply the first batch I’ve gone through.  The second batch is a set from London taken in mid-February. 

Because I’m a silly person, I don’t take a DSLR with two lenses because it’s “too cumbersome” and instead rely on an iPhone 5, a Canon Vixia HF200 camcorder with still capability and an awesome zoom lens, and a Nikon Coolpix S9300 which also has a phenomenal wide -> zoom capability. 

 


Post-Bratstvo i Jedinstvo

Filed under: Miscellany
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License plates are little, mundane slabs of metal or plastic that generally serve two purposes – to identify vehicles, and to promote a culture. I find them fascinating.

We just returned from a phenomenal, once-in-a-lifetime 3-generational tour of the former Yugoslavia, from where my parents emigrated in the 60s. Since breaking up in 1991, these countries have gone from waging war against each other to varying degrees of recovery. Slovenia is in the EU, and Croatia will join this July. Bosnia and Hercegovina is almost perpetually in political / ethnic crisis, while Serbia and Montenegro have just recently gone their separate ways, having dissolved their confederation. Macedonia is plugging away, nestled between the Serbia-Kosovo conflict and the Greek economic crisis. 

The title of this post is the slogan of the former League of Communists of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – Tito and his successors promoted “Brotherhood and Unity” among the Southern Slavic peoples, who were united after World War I under Serbian rule and then fought each other mercilessly during the second World War. Perhaps it was always doomed to fail, as the Yugoslav nations had distinctly dissimilar backgrounds – Slovenes and Croats were under the Austrians and/or Hungarians for centuries. The Serbs, Macedonians, Kosovars, and Bosnians under Ottoman rule. Serbs and Croats essentially share a language, but the Serbian Orthodox Christian heritage didn’t always mesh with Croatian Catholicism, and while the former writes in Cyrillic, the latter uses the Latin alphabet. Small differences that, with the right spark, can result in inexplicable cruelty and violence. 

I have a similar fascination with international frontiers. It seems astonishing to me sometimes to think how an arbitrary, imaginary line on a mountaintop or the middle of a creek can so starkly separate two distinct languages, histories, religions, and cultures. 

During our trip, I cataloged the plates I saw that represented a once-united country. The only ones I didn’t see were Kosovo’s (although I saw several new and old-style Albanian plates, which were unheard-of when I was a kid and Albania was Europe’s North Korea.) 

Only Slovenia can display the blue Euroband with the gold stars of the EU. All the rest, except Croatia, have a blue area for the Euroband without the stars, but with the country’s international vehicle registration code. (Slovenia = SLO, Croatia = HR, Bosnia and Herzegovina = BIH, Montenegro = MNE, Serbia = SRB, Macedonia = MK, Kosovo = RKS – note that Kosovo used to be a province of Yugoslavia and then Serbia, and the two countries have not yet resolved their dispute over Kosovo’s independence). Croatia has no Euroband, but left room for it to the left of the regional code that precedes the Croatian coat of arms (shown here is PU for Pula). 

A lot of blood was shed to get to this point, where there now exist seven independent and sovereign republics where once there was one federal entity. The irony, it seems, is that they all seek to enter a troubled European confederation where the movement of people and goods would once again be completely without frontier or limit. 


Shoes

Filed under: Miscellany
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UK Border

During my recent travels, I was lucky enough to encounter a security scheme that was distinctly post post-9/11 and rational.

Security at Toronto Pearson and London Heathrow did not make us remove our shoes.

At Pearson, it was because my family holds NEXUS passes, meaning we are pre-screened and designated as low-risk, trusted travelers. We flash the NEXUS card and get to cut the line, and when we arrive at screening, we were able to keep our shoes on. Oh, glorious day! 

Although Heathrow made us remove iPads as well as laptops from our carryons, shoes could stay on there, too.

When approaching security at T5 at Heathrow, there were greeters at the entryway handing out free liter-sized ziploc bags for passengers to use for liquids. There were easily 20 open security lanes, all moving rapidly with minimal lines. The bins used for loose items were conveniently obtained via an automatic dispenser under the conveyor belt – not by having to go back for a mess of buckets for 4 people and their stuff.

But the shoes – not having to remove shoes makes a huge difference in terms of speed and at least perceived convenience.


Leaving and Coming Home Again

Filed under: Miscellany
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I was out of town for a week visiting London, and neither know nor care what may or may not be happening in WNY politics, much less general American politics. So, instead, just a few logistical observations: 

1. The HAILO app that works in New York, Boston, and Toronto, is fantastic.  It tells you how long you’ll have to wait to hail a cab to your location, tells you when the cab is coming and sends you a receipt. You can pay by credit card with an automatic tip precalculated. Check out the screenshot, which identifies the driver who’s coming, and see how the license plate given matches up with the car that pulled up. I was impressed. You can tell the driver via the app where you’re headed, and when it’s particularly busy, the app gives you the option of letting prospective drivers know that the fare will exceed a certain threshold, bringing a quicker response time. The driver was great. 

 

2. One of the secrets of traveling with little kids is to just let stuff go. Didn’t make it in time for a parade? Go somewhere else. Also – put limits on museums. Two hours max is plenty, and be choosy about what you see. Get a map, select what you like (say, 15th – 17th century Flanders art) and go see it, then leave. Take the kids for ice cream or something. We found that the kids actually enjoyed and didn’t complain about the museums, ice cream notwithstanding. We went to one museum 1 1/2 hours before it closed, so we were forced to keep it short, but learned it was one of the best of the bunch. Another museum was a bit disappointing, so we just left after about an hour. Be flexible, and check your coats; museums suck when you’re too warm. Also, if you go to foodie paradise like Borough Market and it’s 34 degrees out and windy, you don’t eat street food outside while standing up, after 2 hours at the Tate Modern. You find a little Italian place, warm up, sit down, and have pizza and pasta. 

3. Bus vs. Subway – subway bypasses traffic, so it gets you places quickly. However, you see nothing. Bus may be slower, but you see things. Also, kids love the upstairs of double-deckers.  We used buses maybe 85% of the time we were commuting. 

4. From London, we did a day trip to Canterbury to see the historic cathedral of Thomas Becket and Chaucer. It was something of a counterpoint to seeing Chartres two years ago. The cathedral has guides wearing sashes who are all too happy to tell you stories about the history there, and the town itself is a charming reprieve from London bustle. To reach it, we took the high speed rail from St. Pancras, which reached speeds of 140 MPH. 

5. Rent an apartment as a home base. We used www.ivylettings.com and rented a one-bedroom apartment that had a washer/dryer. It had plenty of room for 4 – it was difficult to find affordable hotel rooms for 4 – as well as a full kitchen. We bought groceries like locals and became regulars at local restaurants and cafes.  It was cheaper than most hotels, and although you sacrifice things like daily maid service, the washer/dryer meant we could pack a lot less clothes. 

6. The signage at Toronto Pearson Airport for the Viscount Discount Parking Garage is atrocious. Upon arrival after going through immigration and customs, the first sign we saw for it was a small plaque by an elevator up on the departures level. There was all kids of signage for the daily lot across the street, but nothing for the airport’s own discount lot. This is also true of the signage as you approach the airport – I had to circle both terminals before I finally got a sign directing me to that lot. 

7. I thought this was the coolest food truck: 

 


Away

It’s nice to not think about politics for a week. It’s nice to not pay attention to any news, except maybe for the weather, for a week. It’s nice to get away from western New York for a time.

(All that was excepted only by a flurry of text messages I received and sent in the wake of Jim Heaney’s report about Dino Fudoli’s deliberate, knowing, unjustified refusal to pay property taxes on various properties, of course. What a joke this guy is. Hey, Lancaster, next time why don’t you just elect Bauerle caller “Rambo Jim” as supervisor?)

If I have a non-food related passion, it’s travel. We spent a little less than a week in Williamsburg, VA and about a day in Washington, DC.

In DC, we continued our slow, interrupted process of seeing all there is to see. This particular instance involved a walk to the Tidal Basin, where we took out some pedal boats, and around to see the Jefferson Memorial, FDR Memorial, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. We hadn’t seen the last two yet, and they’re magnificent additions. The FDR memorial is a series of dark stone reliefs, waterfalls, statuary, and quotes from the President’s speeches. He presided over a particularly tumultuous period in American history, and the memorial reflects that. The King memorial also features quotes and a magnificent statue of the man carved out of solid rock – the “stone of hope”, hewn out of the “mountain of despair”.  It accurately reflects the fact that the civil rights struggle of the 50s and 60s involved, to a degree, a cult of personality regarding Dr. King. 

We enjoy eating at chef Jose Andres’ restaurants in DC, and this time we tried Zaytinya, which features eastern Mediterranean (Ottoman?) dishes, and a newly reconstituted Jaleo, which offers Spanish tapas. It was our first visit to Zaytinya, and the food there was fantastically done – it’s a new favorite. 

From there we drove down to Colonial Williamsburg, the preserved and reconstructed colonial capital of Virginia. For a reasonable fee that goes to fund the foundation that operates the village and interpretations thereof, you get a great 200 year-old experience. On one end of the town, you see the houses and facilities that supported the gentry and the King’s governors. A walk through the town lets you visit the various trades that supported colonial life, including brickmaking, textiles, wheelmaking, the jail, government buildings, shoemaking, etc. There, artisans use period technology to create today what was used 200 years ago – oftentimes contracted for by other, similar facilities. The town of Williamsburg itself also hosts William and Mary College – only Harvard is older – so, it’s not just a tourist town, but a college town, as well. 

One added attraction that was great for kids and adults is called “RevQuest“. Participants get a packet of clues and props, and wander the town following these clues and send text messages when they solve puzzles. In the end, you get a prize and you’ve seen a lot of the town, but you also learn something – in this case, the quest is to be a colonial spy for George Washington. A spy whom the British never suspected because he was a slave. I can’t stress enough how much fun this is for kids and adults – the day we participated, it was raining, so we were tagging along with a couple who worked at the stables and got the day off because of the weather. This is the second RevQuest they’ve hosted, and they’re so popular that they will be writing more and cycling through them year after year. 

Now, I return home where people are actually pushing Chuck Swanick for elected office. Where can I go next? Get me out of here. 




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