Weekly Roundup, March 11, 2022

The massive expansion to Breeze’s route system. See article below.



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Good morning

As I’d anticipated, I was silent last week while down in Texas.  But that does not mean I was doing nothing.  As an outcome of my activities, it seems I’ll be leaving the Seattle area and moving to live in Bay City, TX, just as soon as I get my house sold here (and I may have already done that, just waiting for the offer to become unconditional).  I’d considered moving on 1 April, but then realized that was hardly the most auspicious of dates to choose, so will wait until 2 April.

I am not just changing where I live, I’m changing my life in other very impactful ways, too.  I’m buying two businesses down there.  I’ll tell you more about that when those transactions also become unconditional.

That means my writing will be spotty and sporadic for a few weeks while I race around attending to a million different details simultaneously.  But, in the “calm before the storm”, I’ve a nice article for you today (attached), and of course, the material below, too.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian war rages, and it has provided a “displacement therapy” for many in the west.  Rather than try and address our terribly divisive domestic issues, it has been a “safe place” where we can all unite and agree – Russia bad; Ukraine good.  As a result, virtue-signaling has reached an alarming frenzy, not only among our politicians on both sides of the political divide, who see it as a way to bolster popular support, but also among “normal people”.

Our politicians would have us believe they are economically bringing Russia to its knees, while hoping we don’t notice the unavoidable countervailing cost to us in doing so.  Most visible to date has been the soaring cost of petrol at the pump.  I don’t understand how paying another $1 (or $2…..) at the pump helps the Ukrainians resist the Russians.

The vilification of all-things-Russian has also empowered politicians to exercise kleptomaniacal greed in the unlawful seizings of the assets of “Russian oligarchs”.  Bizarrely, although we claim illegal aliens are immediately entitled to all the protections and benefits of our Constitution, lawful and previously welcomed investments in our economy by wealthy Russians are now being gleefully taken with no judicial process.

Again, someone please tell me how that will help Ukraine.  Might doing this cause Putin to lose the support of his oligarch friends?  Maybe, but equally/more likely, probably not.  Our unlawful stealing of their property merely strengthens Putin’s narrative of how it is the west who is lawless and acting to harm Russia, rather than the opposite which is our perception of the truth.  Even if it does see Putin’s position weaken, do you think that any successor will give back to Ukraine all the territory that Russia has now seized and continues to seize?

I also wonder if I’m the only one to notice a pattern – we went from our Constitution and its private property protections, to the terrible and often abused laws, ostensibly as part of “The War on Drugs” allowing the authorities to seize and keep any cash and assets they like, requiring the owners to prove their lawful entitlement to them (you know, “guilty until proved innocent”); and then on to the moves in Canada, cheered on by other governments, where if you dare to protest, or support a protest, against the government, every part of your financial life might be totally frozen without any judicial revue or process, and now we have western governments seizing billions of dollars in assets and cash that until a month ago, they’d been eagerly keen to receive from Russian investors.  Whatever comes next is surely not going to be a good thing for any of us.

Back to the specifics of the Ukraine war.  Time is of the extreme essence – at present, Russia as the attacking force is weak, while Ukraine as a defending force is strong (the rule of thumb is that attacking forces need to be three times the strength of defending forces).  Unfortunately, possession is not only “nine tenths of the law” but when Russia becomes the occupying/defending force, and some other group (who exactly might that be?) is trying to dislodge the Russians, it will no longer be Russian bombs blowing up hospitals, it will be the “good guys” and their bombs doing exactly the same, and also needing to now come up with the three-fold imbalance in strength.

To be very clear, if Russia takes over Ukraine, dislodging them will become extremely difficult.  Russia has shown, in Chechnya, that it can overwhelm a population simply by ruthless deployment of as much force and destruction as is necessary.  Plus, as soon as Russia gets sufficient presence and a “puppet government” in place, it will, with the Ukrainian “government” agreeing, make Ukraine part of Russia, and so will then interpret any subsequent actions to try to free Ukraine as attacking Russia directly, and out comes the nuclear bludgeon again.

We can only help Ukraine while it remains Ukraine, not subsequently.  When Kyiv falls, and the brave and wonderful President, Mr Zelensky, is killed or captured or evacuated, to be replaced by a friendly-to-Russia new leader, the game is essentially over.  Time is of the extreme essence.

It is not just politicians who are doing things “for show” rather than “for effect”.  I’ve driven past houses now festooned with blue and yellow flags (Ukraine’s colors).  How does that help?  We already know that Mr Putin doesn’t care one iota what Americans think.  Will he somehow discover that a local house put blue and yellow flags in their yard in Redmond WA and have a change of mind?

An orchestra in Cardiff, Wales, yesterday cancelled a concert of Tchaikovsky’s wonderful music.  Why?  Tchaikovsky lived in Tsarist Russia and died in 1893 – almost 130 years ago.  He has nothing to do with Putin’s Russia or the war.  Cancelling a concert of his music, while disappointing the concertgoers and costing the orchestra lost revenue, again, doesn’t do a single thing to help the Ukrainians.  A day later, an opera company in Switzerland cancelled a production of a Tchaikovsky opera.

Talking about Britain, while the US has absolutely stopped accepting Russian oil, at a growing cost visible to us at the pump every time we visit, the UK has said it will phase in a ban by the end of 2022.  By the end of 2022, there’s a probability there’ll no longer be a Ukraine.  If – and it is a big if – refusing to buy Russian oil has any material impact on the war, the UK needs to refuse the oil now, not in nine months time.  In a similar vein, Amazon said it won’t accept new business for its cloud servers from Russian companies, but is not planning to disconnect current customers.  That might be responsible and ethical, but it surely can’t be viewed as imposing another immediately impactful sanction on Russia today.  Other companies are sticking to “business as usual”.

And please don’t forget reverse sanctions from Russia.  Our self-imposed refusal to buy Russia’s oil is already harming us.  As for the alternative – rushing off to buy an EV, Russia’s restrictions on aluminium and nickel are already representing a $1,000 increase in the cost of some Tesla vehicles, and that price increase is expected to rise further and spread to other auto manufacturers, too.

Russia is also one of the world’s largest suppliers of agricultural fertilizers.  Without access to their fertilizer, crop yields will drop and food prices – already at all time highs, are projected to soar still further.

While we can impose sanctions on North Korea or other insignificant countries with no measurable consequence, no-one seems willing to acknowledge the costs that all of us will be expected to accept as the flipside of the meaningless sanctions we’re imposing on Russia.  It is a lose-lose game in which we have the most to lose.  Well, correction.  Our country’s survival is not directly at risk.  While we play the sanctions and counter-sanctions game with Russia, Ukraine is quietly crumbling, one bombed building after another.

A YouTube personality held yet another of the now bazillions of fundraisers for Ukrainian people, and received a generous amount of contributions.  Like every other similar fundraiser I’ve seen, the funds raised will be spent on aid for refugees.  Not on “nasty” bullets or guns or bombs.  Some reports have suggested there is an impossible-to-handle-or-distribute enormous amount of refugee aid already flooding in to countries bordering Ukraine.  Ukraine needs bullets and bombs as a highest priority – if they don’t get those, the entire country will become refugees.  But “donate to buy bullets and bombs” isn’t as soft and gentle a concept.

One more thing about the refugees – now possibly 2 million, and rising every day.  Those people leaving are the Ukrainians.  The Russians in Ukraine are more likely to be staying where they are, ready to welcome their fellow Russians.  The refugees leaving Ukraine are reducing the country’s nationhood almost the same as if Putin’s bombs were killing them outright.

We also have this perception that the world is united against Russia – that Russia is an outlier, and a global outcast.  Ummm, that’s not actually so.  Look at the countries that either voted against the UN resolution criticizing Russia (another totally meaningless gesture) or just abstained entirely.  The world’s largest or second largest economy – China.  The world’s largest or second largest country – India.  Turkey, ostensibly on the west’s side, is its usual ambivalent self and remains at least as eager to cozy up to Russia as the west.  A selection of other nations are at best neutral.

We boast of how we are limiting Russia’s access to the worldwide SWIFT international banking/funds-transfer system.  Maybe.  Or perhaps what we are actually doing is accelerating the development of a parallel, competing, system, to be controlled by Russia and China?  That is already happening with credit cards.  That also means the dollar becomes less the default currency of international trade, and we lose financial “levers” and “control points” not just on Russia and China but on many other nations who will now see a more fully developed alternative to the western banking system.

The same thing with trade sanctions.  What use are trade sanctions when China doesn’t participate?  As Russia itself points out, not only can it rely on China, but trade sanctions are merely accelerating the move to make itself more self-sufficient and immune from such impacts, both now and in the future, which is a positive outcome for Russia while robbing us of this tool of gentle economic rather than military persuasion.

Politicians in the west make a great show of listening to President Zelensky of Ukraine and applauding his courage and leadership.  But do they then give him what his country needs?  Most of all, his pleas for air cover – a no-fly zone?  Or, second best, missiles capable of reaching not just low-flying planes (Stinger type MANPADS can only go up to 11,500 ft and have a maximum range of about 2.5 miles) but also capable of knocking down planes at high altitude?  Poland’s noble gesture of donating its fleet of MiG-29 multi-role fighters was summarily killed by the US.  Apparently Mr Putin allows us to give Ukraine some small arms support, but not to give them almost 50 year old MiG fighters.

Why have we let Mr Putin tell us what we can and can’t do?  Why not station an international peace-keeping force in Kyiv and tell Putin “If you attack our people, lawfully present in Kyiv, you are attacking us”?  Turn the tables on him, and simply have the peace-keeping force protect Kyiv.  Instead, every international official rushed to evacuate the entire country at the first sign of war, and we’re allowing ourselves to be constrained by Mr Putin’s claim that if we defend our people while they are lawfully in an independent country, we are initiating an attack on Russia.

To close, I’m not advocating we should go to war with Russia, and I’m not even advocating we should risk much to help Ukraine.  Maybe the countries who abstained from the UN censure vote were the cleverest of all.  What I am saying is that pretending we’re helping, while in truth we’re doing nothing except harming ourselves for no good purpose, is the worst of all possible results.  The two people in the world who count the most – the leaders of Russia and China – are laughing between themselves at our “all talk and no action” response, while inflicting at least as much economic harm on our own fragile economies as we are on Russia.

And then there are other countries, including North Korea and Iran, who see how Mr Putin’s invoking of nuclear consequences completely neutered any possibility of western participation in the conflict.  The lesson is clear (and always has been clear to all who chose to see it) :  A nuclear capability is a “Get Out of Jail Free” card that enables you to silence any other nation of any strength, because they have more to lose in a nuclear exchange.

MAD was always a half-mad idea, because it assumed rational actors on both sides.  Now that – at least by our standards – we are confronted by an irrational actor, we feel unable to do anything but instantly and utterly capitulate as soon as Mr Putin makes vague threats about using his nuclear capabilities.

Short of a sudden palace coup in the Kremlin, it is hard to see how this is going to end well.  Even if Ukraine capitulates and maybe survives in some reduced form, that is unlikely to mark the end of Mr Putin’s territorial ambitions and empire (re)building.  If past history has taught us anything, it is that people like Putin, Hitler, Napoleon, and countless others before them, are emboldened by their successes and press on for further adventuring and successes.  The only thing that stops them are defeats and failures, not successes.

Lastly on this topic, a sad measure of the mindless hysteria that is now fanning the flames of anti-Russian-everything is the French restaurant in Quebec that has had to explain to outraged patrons that its name, “La Maison de la Poutine” is nothing to do with Mr Putin.  The Canadians should surely know that poutine is a common dish in their country, comprising French fries, gravy, and cheese curds.

It is a sobering thought to realize that although we’re three hundred and more years on from the days of, for example, the 1692 witch hysteria in Salem, we’re not really any cleverer.

With those comments as lengthy introduction, you might find the reader survey results about the impact of the Ukraine war on this year’s travel plans interesting.  And hopefully, you’ll find some other items of interest, too :

  • Reader Survey Results – Ukraine War Impact on Travel Plans
  • US Air Passenger Numbers
  • My First Flights in Two Years
  • Bravo, Breeze
  • “Engine In-Flight Shutdown” – aka…..
  • Perpetual Motion?
  • $450k a Ride Not Enough for Virgin Galactic to Break Even?
  • More on the Hertz Scandal
  • EV Dreams
  • And Lastly This Week….

Reader Survey Results – Ukraine War Impact on Travel Plans

In the last newsletter, I asked readers what impact the Ukraine war might have on their travel plans for this year.  Of course, that is a question which people might be answering differently each day, depending on new developments, isn’t it.  So the results might already be diminishing in accuracy.


As you can see, almost exactly half the replies said the Ukrainian situation would have no impact on their travel plans.  Fewer than 5% of replies said they would cut back on everything.

But what does “mild impact” or any of the other responses actually mean?  That’s of course because I chose vague terms, which I felt was all any of us could use in terms of our degree of exactness.  Suffice it to say that almost a quarter of responses are talking about a major or total impact, and another quarter are talking about mild or moderate impacts.

When you overlay that with the previous newsletter’s survey on this summer’s travel plans (40% suggesting the possibility of diminished travel), it would seem to suggest that travel numbers overall may be down this summer, or at least for the part of it during which the Ukrainian situation remains unclear and unstable.

But, that means it could be a great year to travel – Europe might not be overfull with tourists as it has been in 2019 and earlier years.

Something to consider, though, might be travel insurance, in case it really truly does become imprudent to travel.  But, be careful.  As this article tangentially mentions, travel insurance doesn’t always cover terrorism and political unrest related disruptions.

US Air Passenger Numbers

Strange things have happened to the US air passenger numbers over the last two weeks.  The most recent rising trend, which sort of started around late January, suddenly reversed itself on 4 March and has been steeply dropping over the days subsequently.

What happened in early March to cause that sudden switcheroo?  Will it continue?  Is it perhaps Ukraine related?

Lots of questions, but only guesses rather than answers.  The next week will be interesting to watch, and might show if it was an anomaly or is a new extending trend.  By all accounts, this year’s Spring Break might see record numbers of students going to beaches, although I guess it is a few weeks yet before that will start impacting.

And what better segue than air passenger numbers to move into the next section.

My First Flights in Two Years

When booking my travel to Houston and back, and on my way to the airport, I reassured myself that air travel numbers remained 15% under 2019 numbers, so the total travel experience wouldn’t be too bad.

But what I omitted to consider was that the airlines, airports, and other related service providers of course had reduced their flights and their staff to reflect the reduced passenger numbers.  So lines were generally as long as they have always been, and three of the four flights were completely full – only the last flight, a Saturday afternoon flight from Vegas to Seattle, was not full, and of course, almost no-one flies from Vegas to Seattle on a Saturday afternoon.

Alaska Airlines continues to provide excellent service (SEA-DFW), but the long-standing lies of “code share” flights being for the convenience of passengers remain as false today as they did (about) 30 or more years ago when code-sharing first started appearing (the term is believed to have first been used to describe shared flights between Qantas and American Airlines).  Although I guessed/knew the flight from DFW-IAH would be on American, all my AS ticket told me was “regional carrier” and trying to match the Alaska flight number to an AA flight number was close to impossible.  I couldn’t book my AA seat through the AS website, and so on.

Code sharing has always been an inconvenience for passengers, but a convenience for airlines.  The DoT refuses to acknowledge this.

After writing about my past Turo rental car experiences recently, I thought I should risk renting from them again in case my article needed updating, so hired a car through Turo to collect upon arrival in Houston.  This was made more difficult due to delays in the AA flight DFW-IAH and needing to communicate every last change in schedule to the car owner.  It was slightly difficult not to feel sorry for him having what was supposed to be a simple handover end up messing up most of his afternoon with the usual scenario of creeping delays.

The owner is a semi-full-time Turo supplier, with a fleet of nine cars that he currently rents through the service.  He seems pleased with the owner side of the experience, but did acknowledge that some rental types are easier/better than others, and of course, it is also very much a function of the market you are in, the type of car(s) you wish to rent, and how easy it is for you to drop off and pick up your cars from the airport.

The car itself – a Ford something with 125,000 miles on the clock – was “well worn” but functional.  It was only very slightly cheaper than a “brand name” rental car, and a discovery during my time in Bay City that my return flights, on Spirit, had a luggage check-in close-off 90 minutes prior to departure meant I had to cajole the car owner to change his Sunday and meet me earlier to take the car back again.

My thoughts on Turo remain essentially unchanged.  If you have a for-sure fixed schedule, and if there’s a sufficient saving in costs between them and a regular rental, it might make sense.

I stayed at a nice motel in Bay City.  I was there for only six nights, but the weekly rate ($249) was much lower than the nightly rate times six.  It proved to be surprisingly difficult to explain to them that I was not staying for the entire week – indeed, they called me the day after I returned home to ask if I was extending my stay or whatever; I told them I had explained to two of their staff already (both Indians) that I was leaving early on Saturday morning.  I got the impression that communication problems like that were nothing new to them!

One more thing about the weekly rate.  I paid $249 for a spacious well appointed room for my stay.  My poor dog endured a week in the boarding kennels here, at a cost of $301!

I’ve also written, obliquely, about Spirit on a couple of occasions recently, and particularly their shameful reduction of the standard weight per suitcase from 50lbs down to 40lbs.  I thought I should try them out – having always made a point of avoiding their flights in the past, and so flew back on Spirit, IAH-LAS-SEA.  I already mentioned their ridiculous requirement that bags must be checked 90 minutes prior to the flight’s departure, and I was glad I got there early, because there was an enormous long line of people spilling halfway across the airline terminal.  At the end of the line was a confused mess where it was not clear if you should then lose your place in line to get bag tags, or take your untagged bags on up to the checkin counter, or what.

Isn’t it surprising that something as simple as setting out the lines and process flow through checking in is so abjectly mishandled.  It really speaks to both an airline’s incompetency and its uncaring approach to their customers’ travel experiences.

The Spirit gate area was a mess, with way too many people milling around and gate announcements sometimes completely unintelligible.  Eventually, I boarded the Spirit A320, to encounter the thinnest seats I’ve ever seen on any plane.  Plus they had no recline, and tiny tray tables.  As for at-seat power, of course not!

So the flights were uncomfortable.  I also relearned the lesson that there’s little point in paying for more legroom in an emergency exit row, because so often these days, the comfort-limiting factor is not seat length but seat width.  The lady who came to sit next to me probably weighed twice what I weigh, and not only did I rather doubt she’d be much help with the emergency exit if something bad happened, it was far from clear to me how she’d fit through it.

One more thing.  After two years, surely people would know, by now, how to wear a face mask.  I saw almost every imaginable type of wrong approach – of course, an abundance of people with a mask only over their mouth, but not over their nose.  And then, for the first time, I saw several people with a mask over their nose, but not their mouth!  Plus people with upside down masks or back-to-front masks.  It is a just as well we don’t require voters to pass a mask-wearing test before allowing them to vote – half the population would be instantly disenfranchised.

On a related note, the TSA has said it will extend the mask-wearing requirement, currently set to expire in a week, and it will now run until April 18.  Past extensions have been for longer periods, for example, from August last year until March this year.  This suggests the one month extension might be the last.

A quick summary of the above is that air travel is as bad as it has ever been, and after two years away from it, the shock of returning to it was unpleasant and unwelcome.

Bravo, Breeze

Serial airline starter-upperer (is that actually a word…..) David Neeleman’s latest creation, Breeze, seems to be doing well, and earning plenty of appreciation from its customers.  Neeleman’s consistent approach seems to be to create airlines that are a little nicer, kinder, and fairer than their competitors, a concept that most passengers respect and enjoy.

The airline is now getting ready to receive and start operating its A220 planes – to date it has been using smaller and shorter range Embraer E190 and E195 jets.

It announced earlier this week a massive route expansion with ten new cities added to its network, and 35 new routes, including some trans-continental routes, a big change from its initial network of short and underserved routes (see route map at top).  Although now featuring some much longer flights due to the greater range of the lovely A220 planes, Breeze is keeping the concept of underserved routes alive.  This is apparent when you see its transcontinental flights from San Francisco are to Richmond, VA and Louisville KY, or from Syracuse NY to Las Vegas, or Los Angeles to Savannah, GA, and so on.  More details here.

Nothing yet to Houston or Seattle, but I remain hopeful.  Perhaps in its next round of growth.

“Engine In-Flight Shutdown” – aka…..

That is such a lovely and safe mundane phrase, isn’t it.  An engine in-flight shutdown.  Such as, do you remember, the United Airlines 777 that experienced an engine in-flight shutdown shortly after taking off from Denver Intl Airport in February last year?  The “shutdown” was more like an exploding disintegration, with amazing video clips showing large pieces of plane falling down into people’s yards, parking lots, and playgrounds.

Just over a year later, the FAA has come up with some new safety requirements that apply to mainly older 777s operated by JAL, United, ANA, KAL, Asiana and Jin Air (a South Korean low-cost airline).  The FAA used this lovely phrase to describe what the new measures are designed to prevent – engine in-flight shutdowns.  Oh yes, in case that phrase didn’t catch your attention, there was also the risk of “uncontrolled engine fires”.

Details here.

Perpetual Motion?

Australia has announced a new freight train that will never need fueling, no matter how many journeys it makes on its route between mines and the docks in Western Australia.  Can you guess how that is possible?

Easy.  The mines are at a higher altitude than the port.  When the train, fully loaded with 34,000 tons of iron ore in 244 rail wagons, goes downhill to the port, the extra energy of the heavy train going downhill is recovered into onboard batteries.  Then, when it returns, light and empty, back to the mines, there’s more than enough energy in the batteries to power it on the return journey.

So, not perpetual motion.  But still a great idea.  Details here.

$450k a Ride Not Enough for Virgin Galactic to Break Even?

Virgin Galactic, many years before, had initially been selling joyrides on its high-altitude rocket/airplane for $250k per person.  But now that it actually has something almost ready to start taking passengers aloft, it has redone its sums and is now charging $450k.  That’s becoming quite a lot of money for a short flight and a few minutes of weightlessness.

This article “ran the numbers” and wonders if that will be enough to cover its costs.  It calculates the company will need to operate 33 flights each calendar quarter, but contrasts that with a plan to actually operate only nine flights a quarter, and suggests that the best possible scenario sees Virgin Galactic not approaching breakeven until 2026 at the earliest, and almost running out of cash prior to getting to break even.

I’d add to that a further observation – noting the company’s abject inability to achieve any timeline goals to date, any plans based on assuming the company sticks to its stated timeline would seem to be very optimistic indeed.

Add to that all the people who have already prepaid some or all of their tickets, and the probability that it will get harder and harder to sell to more people once the “low hanging fruit” potential passengers have flown, and one has to wonder if the company will ever reach profitability, especially with newer generations of possibly better space-flight experiences being developed by competing companies.

More on the Hertz Scandal

My blood pressure rises every time I read of Hertz’ egregious actions – not only in falsely accusing its customers of stealing cars, but in then refusing to help clear up its own mistakes that created the false accusations.

This latest article in the developing scandal provides still more examples of people who suffered their lives being ruined as a result of baseless accusations by Hertz and the eagerness of the police to accept anything Hertz says without question and to arrest people and toss them in jail on nothing more than an accusation by Hertz.

In response to the lawsuit now being filed by some of the people who suffered at the hands of Hertz, the rental car company doubled down on its perfidy and accused the attorneys of making baseless claims that blatantly misrepresent the facts.  Please read the article and then see if you can find any blatantly misrepresented facts – other than those that came from Hertz in the first place.

EV Dreams

Sony and Honda have announced plans to jointly develop a range of electric vehicles.  That could be an exciting and powerful combination of resources and talent.

But as best we can tell, Mr Musk is not too worried.  Why not?  Because, like all the exciting new developments in EV technology, it remains something promised for the future, not the present.  This article suggests the first vehicles are hoped to appear in 2025 – in other words, something more than three years in the future.

By then, Musk might even be on Mars.  Or, at the very least, the moon!

In other EV news, it is a while since we last mentioned a futuristic amazing new battery.  This article brings up the latest amazing new battery, but is even lighter on details than most such announcements.  Will the new battery allow faster charging?  Will it have a longer life?  Will it be more energy dense?  And, most of all, will it cost more or less than current batteries?

The answers to all those questions are not provided.  And, of course, the plans for commercial production of the batteries is also somewhat vague.

And Lastly This Week….

There’s no doubt that inflation is real, but there’s also no doubt that some companies are using the cover of inflation as an excuse for charging outrageous prices.  Such, as, for example, Apple’s $129 price for an ordinary 5 ft Thunderbolt 4 cable.  That’s $21.50 per foot.  And that’s also a ridiculous ripoff.  Shame on Apple.

On the other hand, Sony doesn’t pretend to be providing an everyday product when it offers some new “Walkman” players, priced at $1600 and $3200 respectively.

This article is a formulistic treatment about tensions between the US and Russia migrating up to the ISS.  As such, it is eminently missable, but I noticed an interesting claim in it :

….the International Space Station, where research has led to some of the most important discoveries of the 21st century.

I’m genuinely curious.  Exactly what are the “most important discoveries” that have been made on the ISS in the last 22 years?  I’m not aware of any.  Are you?

Talking about space puzzles, this article talks about new Kennedy Space Center tours to previously restricted areas of the sprawling facility, for the first time ever.

Well, that sounds good and interesting.  But what the article doesn’t tell us is what the restricted areas are, why they were restricted before, why they are not restricted now, and what exactly one would see in such places.

The US is about to introduce new passports.  They will be more secure than current ones, although two of the new security features seemed strangely insecure.  The current color photos will become black and white, and passports will have their number punched in perforated dots on each page.

I know passports used to have black and white photos many years ago, and also I vaguely remember early passports – possibly my New Zealand ones – had perforated numbers in them too.  Progress is a funny old thing, isn’t it.

Old passports remain valid until their current expiration dates, of course.

You might recall I’m struggling with the issue of what type of car to buy to replace my lovely but terminally ill Land Rover.  I do want something with a bit of carrying capacity, and of course, room for the dog and daughter, too.  I think I may have found a possible answer.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels





7 thoughts on “Weekly Roundup, March 11, 2022”

  1. Like most people, I am horrified and angered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But I have real doubts what most of our sanctions will accomplish, beyond hurting our middle class and our economy.

    For example, trying to ban use of Russian energy has driven up energy prices and increased inflation, even though we use very little. Europe (likely) and China (definitely) will buy it instead. Their sales will not decline. In fact, with the rise in prices, Russia will likely make even MORE money to fund their aggression than in the past. American firms leaving Russia seems destined to result in a windfall for Russian companies, who will take over joint projects (energy exploration, fleets of airplanes, etc.). And we now seem ready to send tons of money to Venezuela’s Maduro and loosen things on Iran. Are these good outcomes?

    Shutting down financial access may threaten the US dollar’s stature as a “reserve currency” and creates more interest in the Chinese/Russian efforts to remove it. Finally, we drive Russia further into the arms of China, as if things weren’t already bad enough there.

    Russian retaliation in the areas of rare metals will drive up electronic prices, and “green technology”; and reduction in export of wheat and other foodstuffs will harm multiple nations. They are also the biggest producer of fertilizer, further affecting prices and food output.

    I don’t pretend to know the right course of action. But it seems many of these seem self-defeating and attempts at “quick fixes” that make DC feel good, but may hurt us even more …

    1. “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you” seems no more valid in this context as any other context. Your point about the increased oil prices actually benefitting Russia when it sells to different markets is very much on-target, as are your observations that we’re now playing a losing game of “whack-a-mole” and being forced to turn to other bad choices for oil instead.

  2. David, I appreciate your travel and gadgets writing, but your take on the politics of the Russia / Ukraine war appear way off base to me. For instance, suggesting that the rise of gas prices here is related to our response to the war lacks any factual basis. Gas prices were already up based on increased post-COVID demand and ongoing constrained supply (OPEC). Instability in Russia and Ukraine added fuel to the fire. Gas prices are higher because worldwide oil prices are high (a small factor) and oil companies are profiteering (a large factor). Biden could give Putin the A-OK to crush Ukraine and it wouldn’t bring gas prices down.

    Similarly, business pulling out of Russia has a tangible impact on the Russian populace. Even if Putin isn’t allowing the Russian “press” to inform the citizenry of what’s happening, the plummeting ruble and closure of scores of international businesses will make it clear that something’s up. The loss of all those jobs will also impact the populace, and not in a way which bolsters Putin’s popularity.

    Finally, the “meaningless” show of support for Ukraine by your neighbors is indeed fostering a sense of unity among an otherwise hopelessly divided populace. This works its way to our politicians and gives them cover to provide a (relatively) united front behind the Administration and our allies in taking tangible actions, rather than seeing yet another opportunity to denigrate the President and further rile up the MAGA crowd.

    I wish you luck in your move to TX (I hope the vastly different climate will be to your liking).

    1. Hi, Bill, thanks for your comments and good wishes. The TX weather is probably the biggest negative, but I’ll happily accept it as a small price to pay in the overall pluses and minuses, and for sure, these days the craziness of the Seattle area is impossible to ignore.

      Most commentators, while acknowledging a steady rise in oil and gas prices ever since Biden took office, have also noticed the sudden leaps in price that – you might say by coincidence – have happened at the same time as Russia invaded Ukraine and we started responding.

      The oil companies profiteering charge is commonly laid, but seldom quantified. Could you please “put your money where your mouth is” and show us exactly how much profiteering from the oil companies is present, and its impact on the per gallon pump price of petrol, please.

      You totally misunderstand Russia. Putin is not a democratically elected leader, and couldn’t care less about his popularity among Russians.

      But, in any case, his popularity seems currently unshaken, either because Russians like to see their country trying to regain its former Soviet – and before that, Imperial – glory, or perhaps because of the media control and blackouts that prevent the truth from getting out there. Maybe it is clear to them something is up. But the interpretation of that “something” is generally, in Russia, that the west are trying to interfere where they have no justification to interfere, and are deliberately harming Russia because they begrudge its growing strength.

      Perhaps you could list the “tangible actions” taken by the politicians to help the Ukrainians. As I said, they need air defenses, anti-artillery, and longer range weapons. Instead, we give them short-ranged and low power weapons. The primary factor interfering with the Russian advance is their own ineptitude, not the proficiency and arms of the Ukrainians.

      Keep in mind that any negotiated truce/peace/settlement that sees a single Russian soldier anywhere in Ukraine would be a loss for Ukraine, a success for Putin, and a visible show of just how emasculated we are in the west. It will embolden our enemies and encourage the undecided and opportunists out there to side with the “winner” rather than with us in the future.

  3. Hey, David,

    It’s largely opaque how much profiteering the oil companies and refineries are experiencing, though objectively the oil companies have reported at-or-near record profits over the last few quarters (granted that pre-dates Russia’s invasion, but does rising gas prices over the last six+ months). Subjectively it’s apparent that gas prices at the chain stations sent up far more rapidly upon the invasion than did their underlying costs (given that it takes weeks for the gasoline in their tanks to reflect higher oil prices), and I’ve never seen prices fall with the same velocity as they rise. In an attempt to provide some transparency the California Senate is considering a bill which would require the state’s five big refineries to disclose the monthly cost of the crude oil they buy, what they pay to convert it into gasoline and how much they sell it for (https://www.dailynews.com/2022/03/11/bill-seeks-profit-transparancy-from-california-oil-refiners/). Given that there are aspects of the gasoline market which lend themselves to monopolistic traits I think this proposal would be instructive.

    I agree that Putin’s popularity isn’t as relevant as that of a truly democratically-elected leader, but he’s also not 100% bulletproof. If the Russian economy tanks to the extent that those surrounding Putin are feeling real pain he could be taken down. It will also be interesting to see whether the general population can move the needle if enough outside information is available for them to understand the cause of their strife and to rebel in numbers large enough to overwhelm the “justice system”.

    There are clearly no easy answers, but I think an aligned US populace is far more likely to give our politicians and the administration the backing needed to make increasingly difficult (i.e. risky) choices in supporting Ukraine and opposing Putin.

    1. Hi, Bill – there’s nothing wrong with record profits. Are they record in terms of percentage of gross revenue? Or just absolutes? Are they up because all the numbers are up, or because they’ve saved costs, or because they are charging more?

      There are measures already in place to show the “spread” between crude oil costs and gasoline at the pump costs. Those spreads have widened and shrunk over the years, and are a much more accurate measure of refinery inputs and profits than just looking at gross profits alone.

      There is nothing new about prices rising quickly and falling slowly. I’ve never seen it any other way, other than at Costco, where they buy on the spot market.

      As a rule of thumb, you’re more right than wrong to say “anything California does is wrong”, and requiring reporting of profit is only one thin measure away from fixing prices and margins, and that’s something that never works well or as intended. It is possible to glean a lot from their current statutory reporting, without requiring further measures.

      As for increasingly difficult/risky choices in supporting Ukraine and opposing Putin, it is hard to think of stronger support than currently. Soon enough, people’s attentions will fade and they’ll be back to some other outrage-du-jour. If the guy in the White House has any thoughts of stronger responses, surely know – while there’s still a Ukraine to save, and the issue is still seen as clear black and white – is the best time.

  4. The “War on Energy” over the past two years has come to haunt us. From exporters to importers. We therefore cannot help the situation by supplying oil or natural gas to our allies (so they can buy less from Russia). Also if we have nuclear power, we would need less oil and gas and improve our (and the allies) energy shortfalls. The tree huggers (along with everyone else) complain about the price of gas, but don’t want any exploration or pipelines.

    Also, President Biden said he had things in place before the Russian attacks – he said he knew it was coming weeks beforehand. Yet as soon as the 1st Russian soldier crossed the line, not much happened. Weapons and restrictions should have been staged to send immediately – before Russia had a chance to gain ground. If Biden had everything ready, why did he say afterward he was going to increase the help? The delay probably cost Ukraine thousands of lives – but noone brings up this point. If a major hurricane is going to hit in 4 days, do you wait until after you see it happen to start buying supplies?

    What do we do if China attacks Taiwan? Nothing I assume as they have nukes also.

    Much too little, too late.

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