Blockchain, voice, data: which rabbit hole should you run down?
Blockchain technology is not a top priority for Booking.com’s principal data scientist, Onno Zoeter. In response to a question posed during the opening panel at EyeforTravel Europe yesterday, about blockchain’s potential to disrupt the business models of the OTAs, Zoeter said: “It is so difficult to keep pace with [what is happening in] machine learning that I deliberately tell myself: ‘Don’t go into a rabbit hole’”.
The success of blockchain will “really depend on whether a distributed system can create more trust than a central authority”
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June 5, 2018 at 11:25AM
How to Avoid Cancellation Fees When You Book an Award Flight
Nearly all stores accept returns, and you can cancel most services like cable without paying a penalty. But airlines can collect outrageous cancellation fees when your plans change and you have to reschedule a trip.
In today’s post, I’ll explore how you can avoid flight cancellation fees when booking flights with your points or miles. Let’s start off with the hacks to turn to when you need to change your award trip.
Use the 24-Hour Cancellation Policy
DOT regulations require airlines to offer full refunds on tickets sold within 24 hours, with no cancellation fee, so long as the tickets were booked more than seven days before departure. Thankfully, these rules also apply to award tickets.
Most airlines also waive the seven-day advance purchase requirement, although Allegiant and Spirit don’t. Furthermore, Alaska only offers refunds for travel beginning more than 24 hours after purchase.
Don’t Pay the Cancellation Fee Until Absolutely Necessary
The airlines would probably love if you immediately forked over a couple hundred dollars after your plans changed, so they could re-sell your seat to another customer. But when you do that, you give up on the chance that the airline may have to delay or cancel your flight, entitling you to a refund.
Possible reasons that could trigger a refund include schedule changes, weather, mechanical problems, air traffic control, crew availability or late-arriving inbound aircraft. In fact, any significant flight delay can be sufficient grounds to request a refund.
Cite Circumstances Outside of Your Control
Ultimately, airlines have the discretion to waive award cancellation and mileage redeposit fees, and they will often do so when presented with a sufficient excuse, and documentation to prove it. Valid reasons could include a death in the family, jury duty, military deployment, natural disasters or severe illness.
In most cases, the airline will offer to waive the change fee, but not cancel and redeposit the miles. But if you can find a valid reason that would prevent you from traveling in the next year, you might be able to receive a refund of your miles at no cost.
Have Elite Status
Many airlines waive award ticket cancellation and mileage redeposit fees for those with elite status. Here’s a summary of major US airline policies:
- American waives the $150 award reinstatement fee for Executive Platinum members using miles from their account.
- Delta waives its $150 award redeposit fee for Platinum and Diamond Medallion members.
- JetBlue waives award change fees for Mosaic members.
- United waives its $75 -$125 fee for Premier Platinum canceling tickets more than 60 days out and for Premier 1K cancelling at any time. Premier Gold and Silver members have reduced award cancellation fees.
Change, Don’t Cancel
A surefire way to avoid some award cancellation fees is to simply change your award to a later date. For example, American lets you change your awards for free, provided that the origin and destination remain the same. So you could theoretically keep changing your award until you find weather or another circumstance sure to cause a delay, and then have the fee waived when you cancel the flight due to the delay.
Southwest has no award cancellation fees at all, making all of its awards fully refundable at any time before departure. And in practice, I’ve found that Southwest will even refund award tickets after departure if you ask nicely.
Use Your Card’s Trip Cancellation Coverage
Many credit cards include trip cancellation and trip interruption coverage, but only a few cover your award bookings.
For example, the coverage available on several Chase cards including the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Ink Business Preferred Credit Card covers the trip cancellation of award tickets booked with points or miles in a program affiliated with the Ultimate Rewards program (so, British Airways, United or other Chase airline transfer partners). It covers you for 1 cent per point or mile redeemed, which will often exceed the award redeposit fees. You’ll just want to pay any taxes or fees on your award ticket with your eligible card.
The Citi Prestige Card also offers trip cancellation coverage that includes change fees. And like with all of its travel insurance policies, it covers award trips so long as you use the card to pay any taxes or fees, or if you book the ticket with Citi points. Finally, award trips using miles from cards like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and the Barclays Arrival Premier World Elite Mastercard are booked like normal trips, using your miles for travel statement credits. Therefore, your award travel will be covered by the card’s trip cancellation insurance, just like any other travel purchase would be.
Book Round-Trip Tickets
If you have to cancel a trip booked as two-one way flights, you’ll pay the cancellation fee twice. By booking all your flights in a single reservation, you’ll — worst case — only be on the hook for a single award redeposit fee.
Award Cancellation Policies By Airline
Alaska Airlines — The change and cancellation fee is now $125. For awards booked before June 5, 2018, there isn’t a cancellation fee for changes made more than 60 days before departure. Less than 60 days before departure, the fee is $125 for all paid and award tickets, except refundable first class. Same-day confirmed changes are just $25.
American Airlines — Canceling an award ticket is $150 for the first award, and $25 for each additional award reinstated at the same time for the same account. Award change and reinstatement fees are waived for Executive Platinum members using miles from their account.
Delta Air Lines — Delta charges a $150 reissue or redeposit fee that’s waived for Diamond and Platinum Medallion members. Also, award flights cannot be changed within 72 hours of departure, though Delta has been known to grant exceptions on a case-by-case basis.
Frontier Airlines — Award tickets can be changed with no fee 8 days or more prior to departure; otherwise the $99 change fee applies.
Hawaiian Airlines — The award ticket redeposit fees are $150 for mainland and international flights, and $30 for inter-island award tickets.
JetBlue — Charges a $75 fee for changes or cancellations made more than 60 days prior to departure. Otherwise the fees are:
- $75 per person for fares under $100
- $100 per person for fares between $100-$149
- $150 per person for fares $150 and above
However, cancellation fees are waived for TrueBlue Mosaic elite members.
Southwest Airlines — The airline is famous for charging no change or cancellation fees, and when an award ticket is canceled the points arere-deposited in the member’s account and can later be used by anyone.
Spirit Airlines — Charges a cancellation fee of $110 for award flights. There’s no fee to change or cancel a ticketed flight within 24 hours of booking, so long as the reservation was made at least 7 days prior to departure.
United Airlines — This airline has such a complex fee structure for award cancellations that it’s best to just show you the chart:
Photo by Eva-Katalin/Getty Images.
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June 5, 2018 at 11:15AM
Q&A: Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Wants Tourists to Stay Away from Volcano
Traveling between Washington and the eight Hawaiian islands she represents is second nature for Representative Tulsi Gabbard, 37, but it’s still grueling and time-consuming. It’s a 5,000-mile, two-flight, 11-to-15-hour trip home to Oahu. Then she boards another plane to each of the islands.
This has been a rough couple of months for Hawaii. The Kilauea volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island that erupted on May 3 has frequently been in the headlines. There also have been record-breaking rains — more than 49 inches in 24 hours — on the island of Kauai and in parts of East Oahu that have led to flash flooding, landslides and sink holes.
Ms. Gabbard, a Democrat who represents the 2nd District of Hawaii, has visited the affected areas several times to help mobilize support and to ensure safety precautions are taken. She is also a member of the Hawaii Army National Guard and was called for duty shortly after the eruption to help people evacuate and keep them out of dangerous spots.
Following are edited excerpts from a conversation with Ms. Gabbard.
How do you keep up with the latest news about the volcano?
I rely on multiple sources to tell me about conditions on the ground and where the threats are highest. Residents call or send me text and social media messages. I get updates from government and emergency management workers and the National Guard. And live notices go out via cellphone.
What do things look like now?
There’s a fast-moving lava flow going to another section of the Lower Puna community. Cellphone service has been cut off because power lines and cell towers are down. A major thoroughfare has been cut off and many families had to evacuate in the middle of the night. Local agriculture is devastated. Farms have been overrun by lava or crops have died due to volcanic gases in the air.
What are some of the dangers?
The direct threats to residents and first responders are the lava flow, which has created a 2,400-acre lava field and destroyed over 100 structures, and the volcanic gases. The volcano emits sulfur dioxide, which at high concentrations can be a health hazard especially for children, the elderly and people with respiratory illness.
The broader threat is gaseous vog and ash — vog is the volcanic form of fog. It not only threatens the immediate community but depending on how the wind travels is potentially dangerous to other communities miles away.
What precautions should travelers take?
We don’t recommend and actually discourage tourists from visiting the active volcano area. Resources are strained. First responders — police, fire, civil defense and the National Guard — are focused on evacuations and keeping residents safe. The situation is continually changing and evolving. Now is not the time for tourists to blanket the area.
Has tourism been affected by the volcano?
The portion of land directly impacted by the volcano is quite small. Only 10 square miles are off limits. Big Island is over 4,000 square miles, almost the size of Connecticut. Most of the island is safe and of course our other islands haven’t been affected.
How do you manage your long-distance life?
Carefully. Personally, my husband and I take turns traveling back and forth, sometimes meeting in the middle.
Professionally, I thank God for technology. There are many ways I stay in touch with my constituents — telephone town halls, FaceTime, Skype, email newsletters, social media, letters, phone conversations and texts.
I drink a lot of coconut water. It’s one of the most effective natural electrolyte liquids one can drink to prevent dehydration. When you’re constantly on a plane staying hydrated is critical to staying well.
Does surfing help you unwind?
Yes. Growing up in Hawaii the ocean has always been a really big part of my life. My husband proposed to me four years ago at one of our favorite surf breaks during sunset. When I’m home in Hawaii we make it a priority to get in the water. We’ll try to go for a sunrise surf before I start my day.
Surfing also helps with jet lag. The ocean is calming, peaceful and rejuvenating.
What do you pack in your carry-on?
I always bring a reusable, refillable water bottle. I go to refilling stations in airports to be sure I have a full bottle when the plane takes off. I take hand sanitizer, anti-bacterial wipes — I give everything a quick wipe down when I sit down in the plane — headphones, meditation beads and my laptop because work never stops. Wi-Fi over the continental U.S. is fine but as soon as we hit the Pacific Ocean it’s wiped out. That’s when I can begin to relax.
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June 5, 2018 at 11:12AM
Footsteps: James Salter’s ‘Blue, Indolent’ Corner of Burgundy
Set in provincial Burgundy in the early 1960s, “A Sport and a Pastime,” the 1967 novel by the American writer James Salter, depicts a love affair between an aimless Yale dropout named Dean and an 18-year-old local shop girl, Anne-Marie, through the lushly fragmented, elegiac recollections of an unnamed narrator who knew them.
Now widely considered a masterpiece of erotic fiction, the novel did much to cement Salter’s literary reputation, if not his mass appeal, in the years leading up to his death in 2015. The book’s visceral, unvarnished, sometimes disturbing depictions of sex helped set artistic terms for the then-unfurling sexual revolution.
And yet after reading “A Sport and a Pastime,” which was based in part on Salter’s own experiences while deployed to southeastern France by the New Jersey Air National Guard in the early 1960s, what stayed with me most were the descriptions of France, “the real France,” as Dean calls it in the novel — Burgundian villages like Châlons-sur-Seine, Beaune, Sens, Auxerre, through which Dean and Anne-Marie drive in his hulking 1952 Delage convertible, living “in Levi’s and sunlight.” But most of all, I was gripped by the descriptions of Autun, a sleepy hilltop commune about 185 miles southeast of Paris, where the 34-year-old narrator goes at the book’s outset to stay in the vacant family home of friends.
“This blue, indolent town,” Salter writes. “Its cats. Its pale sky. The empty sky of morning, drained and pure. Its deep, cloven streets. Its narrow courts, the faint, rotten odor within, orange peels lying in the corners.”
This isn’t the Burgundy of sunlit vineyards and joie de vivre, but of haunted blue mornings, the smell of soil, of weathered stone walls behind which life goes on in muffled tones. Autun exists in the book like an evocation, a dream place, eternal and yet always slipping away. But it also feels as real, as alive, as any travel writing I’ve encountered. I had to go there.
So I began, like the narrator does, on a luminous September day at the Gare de Lyon in Paris, still the main send-off point for train travelers due southeast. The coaches described in the book — “dark green, the paint blistering with age” — were replaced long ago with sterile and streamlined high-speed TGV trains, but as I boarded, I could recognize the same “comfortable feeling of delivering myself into the care of those who run these great, somnolent trains, through the clear glass of which people are staring, as drained, as quiet as invalids.”
Inside the carpeted, industrially lighted interior of the TGV, it was hard to connect the people slouched over smartphones and laptops, reaching absently into the crumpled foil of potato chip bags, with Salter’s sensuous, plaintive description of the scene in the train. Yet as we exited Paris and headed deeper and deeper into “green, bourgeoise France,” the rush of scenery out the window was much as he described. There were century-old stone farmhouses, walled pastures, “canals, rich as jade,” “the blue outline of Sens,” then after boarding a new train in Dijon that cuts straight through the Burgundy wine regions of Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune, miles and miles of golden-hued vineyards.
If the Autun that Salter depicted in the 1960s was sleepy and forgotten, many lifetimes past its prime as an important seat of power in the Roman world, the town today is doubly so. Due, at least in part, to questionable budgetary decisions by the local government, Autun was excluded from both the A6 highway system and the TGV train line, the two major land routes between Paris and Lyon, and in 2017, the last regional train pulled out of the station.
I arrived the only way a carless person can these days: by bus. But I first saw the town just as Salter’s narrator did: “ … in the distance, against the streaked sky, a town appears. A single, great spire, stark as a monument: Autun.”
Autun sits amid the rolling blue-green Morvan highlands, and you have to walk uphill through the town to reach the oldest section, where Salter’s narrator stays in a large, stone house “built right on the Roman wall,” on a small street behind the magnificent 12th-century St.-Lazare Cathedral. I had looked online for the nearest approximation and found the Hôtel Les Ursulines, a 43-room budget hotel set in a lovely, albeit atrociously renovated 17th-century stone convent overhanging the old Roman ramparts at seemingly the exact location of the house in “A Sport and a Pastime.”
Like Salter’s narrator, I awoke early to find the town covered in a dense, cool mist that concealed nearly everything. The garden outside my window was blanketed in white. Only the base of the cathedral’s studded spire remained visible. And like him, I spent my mornings walking Autun’s winding stone streets as the mist gradually lifted and then burned away. “Slowly now, the shape of things is revealed,” Salter writes. “Roofs emerge. The tops of trees. Finally the sun.”
Salter’s nameless narrator spends the autumn photographing the town for some vague future project that grows increasingly obsessive and immense. It’s from his notes to these photographs that he says he is assembling the novel.
I started out, as he did, “beneath the long, sulking flank of the cathedral” and then descended, cataloging streets and buildings, the smallest details: rue Dufraigne; rue du Faubourg St.-Blaise; place d’Hallencourt, where the “trees stand like brewers”; huge crumbling stone walls; the cemetery “that glitters like jewelry in the last, slanting light”; the central square, Champ de Mars, where the narrator watches cars full of American G. I.s circle, afraid one of them is Anne-Marie’s former lover, come to enact revenge on Dean.
At the Place du Carrouge, where Anne-Marie lives in an alleyway above a Corsican fruit seller, I saw a white-haired, heavyset woman smoking out an open window, from which a shard of light fell over the darkened street.
Eventually I arrived at what was once the Grand Hotel Saint-Louis, a frequent haunt of the narrator, now boarded up. I pressed my face against the window and saw its opulent interiors frozen in time, darkened and coated in a thick layer of dust. I asked around, but no one seemed to know why or when it closed. “They don’t want to pay and so fermé,” said a local innkeeper, using the French word for “closed.” “I think it never will be a hotel now. It’s too late. It was very beautiful, dommage [shame].”
It was all still here, much as Salter described. And yet, insists the narrator: “None of this is true. I’ve said Autun, but it could easily have been Auxerre. I’m sure you’ll come to realize that. I am only putting down details which entered me, fragments that were able to part my flesh.”
There are many passages like this in the book that cast doubt on the narrator’s account, and I had wondered before coming whether the real Autun would even resemble the one in the book. That it’s so very similar points to Salter’s deeper project — to question the nature of experience and memory. Our lives, he suggests, consist of fragments of stories, of shifting and illusory perspectives.
I can’t tell if it’s the town or the book that does it — probably a combination of both — but walking the streets of Autun, I found myself gripped by a powerful melancholy, a sense of passing time, of my own mortality. There are tacky sports bars now along the Rue de la Grille, where locals sit under the blue glow of televisions, but it was not enough to break my reverie. In the evenings I ate rich Burgundian meals of snails and beef and coq au vin at the restaurants flanking the cathedral. I spoke to no one, and no one spoke to me.
It’s something any frequent solo traveler knows: Spend enough time wandering alone through a foreign town, and it will begin to enfold you. You acclimate to incomprehensibility, to a detachment that causes past and present to blur. Reality appears in fragments, and so you give yourself over to moods, to emotion. It’s hard to imagine a place that captures this feeling more than Autun “in the blue of autumn,” and it occurs to me that what Salter is actually writing about is the way we walk through our memories like a stranger in a forgotten town.
“The myriad past, it enters us and disappears,” he writes. “Except that within it, somewhere, like diamonds, exist the fragments that refuse to be consumed. Sifting through … one discovers the true design.”
On my last day in Autun, I visited a few local booksellers, curious whether any of them had heard of James Salter or “A Sport and a Pastime.” No one had. I looked for a recent history of Autun, hoping for information on the Grand Hotel Saint-Louis. In the end, all I could find was a faded and used black-and-white postcard depicting one of its rooms — the “Chambre Historique de Napoleon” with a message scrawled in red pen on the back and addressed to a “Madame Ballot.” I tried to make sense of it, but the script was faded and smudged, impossible to discern.
Charly Wilder is a frequent contributor to the Travel section.
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June 5, 2018 at 11:12AM
Chasing the Deal: 5 Summer Skiing Getaways in the Southern Hemisphere
Summer is a popular time for beach vacations, but if you’re not into sun and water, why not consider a ski getaway instead? In parts of the southern hemisphere where it’s winter during the warm weather months in the United States, the slopes beckon travelers who prefer snow over sand.
Terrain Skiing and Free Meals in Santiago
Valle Nevado, 90 minutes from Santiago, Chile, has access to 7,000 acres of terrain and is one of the largest ski resorts in South America. The resort offers weeklong ski packages at three different hotels from the end of June to the end of September. At the two-star Hotel Tres Puntas, rates begin at $1,386 a person, and at the Hotel Puerta del Sol, they begin at $1,600 person. At the upscale Hotel Valle Nevado, they begin at $2,205 a person. These prices include lift tickets and breakfast and dinner. Book by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling the resort at 844-657-0466. Three- and five-night packages are also available.
Luxury Ski Lessons and Slopes in Patagonia
In Argentina, Powderquest Tours is offering the upscale eight-day Ski Progression Adventure in Patagonia from July 28 to Aug. 4 (the trip can also be booked privately). Skiers stay at small hotels in the villages of Bariloche, Villa La Angostura and San Martín de Los Andes and receive daily ski lessons and lift tickets. The package also includes breakfast and dinner, red wine at dinner and private transportation throughout. Book by calling Powderquest Tours at 888-565-7158.
Budget Friendly Weekend Getaways for Couples at Valle Nevado
The four-star Courtyard Santiago Las Condes is offering the “Snow” package on weekends from June 25 through August that includes skiing at Valle Nevado. Guests get breakfast, two tickets for one-day access to Valle Nevado and hot chocolate for two at the end of the ski day. Tickets cost $199 a night for two people, and a two-night minimum stay is required. Book online at the resort’s website.
Slopes in New Zealand for Young Adventurers
Youth travel agent STA Travel offers a seven-day ski trip to Queenstown, New Zealand, called Ultimate NZ Ski. Travelers get to hit the slopes in three different areas, the Remarkables, Coronet Peak and Cardrona. The trip starts June 23 and includes accommodations, four-day ski passes and some meals. Prices start from $1,183 per person. You can book by calling STA Travel at 800-494-9260.
Luxury Skiing in Tierra del Fuego
For seekers of bespoke luxury, this is a trip for you: Liz Burgos, a travel agent with Protravel International who operates tours in Latin America, offers a private seven-night “Ski the End of the World” getaway to Ushuaia Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. Included is a stay at Las Hayas Ushuaia Resort, breakfast, four days of full access ski lift tickets, private car transfer between the hotel and the ski area, a private tour of Tierra del Fuego National Park and a cruise along the Beagle Channel to see sea lions. Prices start at $7,100 a person, and you can book by calling Ms. Burgos at 212-755-4550.
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June 5, 2018 at 11:12AM
Most advertising in airports is vapid (with the exception of the coordinated campaign at CMH).
But, I do have to give props to Enforce Consulting for their recent ad in the concourse of the Madison Airport.
Madison is a magnet for talent. Its vibe is ultra-hip, music scene solid, culinary offerings off the charts and blessed with amazing lake views and the most gorgeous Capitol and Convention Center combo in the country (hey, it’s why we live here).
But…it does suck in February. No contest there. It does…unless you like to ice fish and cross country ski.
Enforce knows that and plays it perfectly (click image to see the ad). 61 degrees in February, indeed.
Well played, my friends.
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June 5, 2018 at 10:56AM
Bill Clinton and James Patterson’s Concussive Collaboration
Collaboration is a murky trade, and it covers quite a range. Whether you’re siding with the enemy in Nazi-occupied France or laying out the lyrics to “Edelweiss” so that Richard Rodgers can devise a tune to match, you’re a collaborator. But no joining of forces is more difficult to fathom than the partnership between two writers. Writing, like dying, is one of those things that should be done alone or not at all. In each case, loved ones may hover around and tender their support, but, in the end, it’s up to you. So, when two writers decide to merge, what do they actually do?
Well, I’ve heard rumors of novelist couples who produce alternate chapters: one for you, one for me. A tidy scheme for twin souls but otherwise, assuredly, a prelude to divorce. Also, how can you guarantee that the cracks won’t show between your styles? John Fletcher, a popular and gifted playwright, once hooked up with some old slacker named Shakespeare to bring us “Henry VIII,” which was first performed in 1613, and linguistic analysis can propose, scene by scene, who delivered which slices of the cake. (Fletcher, who liked to get by with a little help from his friends, later conjured a play with three other writers. I bet that was peaceful.) Even so, nobody is sure about the sequence of events—whether Fletcher rounded off what Shakespeare couldn’t be bothered to complete, or whether the play was genuinely conceived in perfect harmony, with one guy sitting on the other’s lap, their fingers interlaced around the quill.
All of which brings us to another famous William. Bill Clinton, who can write, has hooked up with James Patterson, who can’t, but whose works have sold more than three hundred and seventy-five million copies, most of them to happy and contented customers for whom good writing would only get in the way. This unlikely pact has resulted in “The President Is Missing” (Knopf and Little, Brown), which we must, not without reservations, describe as a thriller. Get a load of this: “The stun grenades detonate, producing a concussive blast of 180 decibels.” A hundred and eighty, mark you, and not a decibel less! If that isn’t thrilling, I can’t imagine what is.
The book itself is a concussive blast of five hundred and thirteen pages. Though not as massive as “My Life” (2004), Clinton’s autobiography, which was twice as long, it’s a welcome return to bulk after his slender offerings of recent years—“Giving: How Each of Us Can Save the World” (2007) and “Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy” (2011). Neither of these volumes, it is fair to say, was a thriller. Both contained plenty of sage advice but were scandalously short of car chases, eruptive fireballs, and missile-bearing helicopters, and that is where the new book has the edge: “The Viper arrives, firing another Hellfire and completely incinerating the attack boat.” The world is saved, not by giving, still less by economic strength, but by the efforts of one man. Guess who.
Jon Duncan is the President of the United States, “fifty years old and rusty.” The events in the novel are designed to put the shine back on. Duncan is, by his own account, “a war hero with rugged good looks and a sharp sense of humor,” not to mention a beguiling modesty. He served in Operation Desert Storm, in Iraq, where he was wounded. He is also a former governor of North Carolina. His wife died not long ago, and now it’s just him and his daughter: the exact situation, as it happens, that confronted Michael Douglas in “The American President,” Rob Reiner’s 1995 movie, a direct precursor of “The West Wing.” The President in that show, played by Martin Sheen, suffered from multiple sclerosis, and Duncan, too, has a medical burden, grave yet controllable, to bear: immune thrombocytopenia, which means that his blood won’t clot as it should, and which leaves him with bruising on the legs. His physician warns that he could have a stroke at any moment, especially if he is under stress.
Cue the stress. Duncan is facing possible impeachment, partly because his opponents are careerist weasels but mainly because, according to leaked reports, he held a telephone conversation with “the most dangerous and prolific cyberterrorist in the world,” Suliman Cindoruk, who leads an organization known as Sons of Jihad. (“He’s Turkish-born, but he’s not Muslim,” Duncan says. That faint sound you can hear is our two authors treading very, very carefully.) Now, if the opening chapter is to be trusted, Duncan is to answer for this bizarre and perhaps treasonable lapse in front of a House Select Committee, many of whose members pine for his fall from grace. “They can impeach me for anything they want,” Duncan remarks. “It doesn’t have to be a crime.” A nice line, which, depending on your point of view, either glances back at President Clinton’s own tribulations, in his second term, or peers ahead to the putative deposing of Donald Trump.
Another problem: a female assassin is in the offing. We are as yet unaware of her targets, but she’s no ordinary killer, for every aspect of her craft is tinged with Johann Sebastian Bach, including her weapon of choice: “Anna Magdalena is a thing of beauty, a matte-black semiautomatic rifle.” Let us hope that her passions last for two and a half hours, preferably in the company of a hunk named Mr. Goldberg. But she’s not the only incoming threat. There are also a couple of computer wonks, motives unclear: the first, “a cross between a Calvin Klein model and a Eurotrash punk rocker,” if you can picture such a creature; the second, a frightened fellow who arranges a covert meeting with the President at Nationals Park. Nail-gnawing stuff. No wonder Duncan dreams of sitting there in the stadium, crisis-free, with a hot dog and a beer. And he knows which beer, too: “At a ball game, there is no finer beverage than an ice-cold Bud,” he says to himself. Not since Daniel Craig practically ruined “Casino Royale” by pimping his watch to Eva Green (“Rolex?” “Omega.” “Beautiful”) has a product been placed with such unblushing zeal.
The reason Duncan can attend the game, alone, is that he’s wearing a Nationals cap, plus thickened eyebrows and spectacles. Aided by this impenetrable disguise, he slips out of the White House and, bereft of a security detail, goes on the lam. Hence the title of this book. The notion that the Commander-in-Chief could be elusive, camouflaged, or absent without leave is a promising one—“Dave” (1993), starring Kevin Kline, mined it for comic value—and it’s odd to see how little attention Patterson and Clinton (who may sometimes have prayed that he could go missing) pay to their main conceit. You’d think that such a vanishing act would raise an unrelenting hue and cry, but the media aspect is scarcely touched upon, and the entire novel has an air of narrative lockdown, with Duncan seldom interacting with anyone beyond his immediate circle or his international peers, even after he has flown the official coop. His pronouncements, on the page, evince an ardent faith in government of the people, by the people, and for the people, but you badly want him to hang out with the people. Maybe all Presidents feel that way, and I believed in Duncan’s admission, at once touching and exasperated, on page 99: “I haven’t opened my own car door for a decade.” The fingerprints of Clinton are all over that line. So where else can we find him in this book?
Not in the sex, that’s for sure, because there ain’t any. I’ve looked. It will be the first thing, let’s face it, for which hostile readers will hunt, but the forty-second President of the United States is smart enough to give any hint of carnality the widest of berths. There are teasers, naturally, but they lead nowhere. “I uncurl the gooseneck stem of the microphone so that it is taut, fully extended,” Duncan says, as early as the fourth page, yet the goosing goes no further. Yes, the Bach-flavored assassin had a lover, but “she slept with him no more than three times a week to maximize his potency,” a regime that statisticians alone are likely to find arousing. Coders, similarly, are given something to moon over: “There is nothing so sexy as a good, destructive overwrite.” Only once, in the entire novel, do two regular people come close to tossing aside all inhibitions and getting it on:
“Noya.” I give her a long hug, enjoying the comfort of her warm embrace.
“I could stay, Jonny,” she whispers in my ear.
Hot stuff, except that the huggee in question is the Prime Minister of Israel, with her “delicate, wrinkled hands,” who’s about to board a Marine helicopter with the German Chancellor. She could indeed stay, though not in Duncan’s lonely bed. Not tonight.
In 2003, in downtown Little Rock, there was an exhibition devoted to Bill Clinton’s favorite books. It was solid fare, and doughtily unmodish. T. S. Eliot, Yeats, Orwell, Sophocles, and Marcus Aurelius were present, and also Reinhold Niebuhr (of whom Barack Obama, likewise, is a devotee). There was a face-off between biographies of Lincoln and Leopold II of Belgium. There was even something entitled “Living History,” by Hillary Rodham Clinton. How on earth did that make the cut? Then, last year, on Facebook, the former President issued a fresh roster of recommendations, this time with extra quirks: Oliver Sacks and Carly Simon, a book about the making of “High Noon,” and “House of Spies,” by the indefatigable Daniel Silva, whose recurrent leading man, over seventeen books, displays a knack for espionage, judicious homicide, and art restoration.
The literary diet that emerges from these lists, mixing disposable genre fiction with unrepentant classics and, for the most part, skipping the indigestibly middlebrow, is one that I happen to share. And, if you’d told me, in strictest confidence, that Clinton was now planning a novel, I would have wagered that mysteries and thrills, with a topdressing of moral rumination, would be on the menu. And so it proves.
Yet the puzzle remains: why James Patterson? Why not Daniel Silva? It’s understandable that Clinton, with limited time on his hands, might well scout for a partner; you really need a Sundance Kid, if you want to be a Butch. Clinton could have taken his pick from the ranks of American novelists, though whether Don DeLillo would have leaped at the chance is open to debate. Personally, I’d have plumped for Martin Cruz Smith, who has demonstrated, since the first two sentences of “Gorky Park” (1981), that the English language lies at his command, whereas Patterson is helplessly at its mercy, as even the briefest browse of his corpus will confirm. Still, what a corpus: almost two hundred books to date, of which sixty-six have headed the Times best-seller list. In 2016, Forbes estimated his net worth at around seven hundred million dollars, a sum that would have made even Marcus Aurelius ditch the Stoicism and buy a yacht. If Clinton, like all aspiring novelists, yearned for his book to sell, he chose the right wingman. It could be called “The President Is Cashing In.”
But the gods are just, and although they denied the gift of literary grace to Patterson, they bestowed on him an even rarer skill. As a collaborator, he’s the top. Barely can he sketch an outline without reaching for a sidekick. So numerous are his assistants that one has to ask, less in snotty disapproval than in ontological awe, how many of Patterson’s books are actually “his,” and to what extent he is a writer at all, as opposed to a trademark or a brand. Were he to unearth a distant ancestor, in cinquecento Florence, whose output is mostly attributed to “the workshop of Giacomo Paterfilio,” no one would be surprised.
Last year, in a splendid article in Digital Humanities Quarterly, Simon Fuller and James O’Sullivan applied stylometric analysis to a variety of Patterson’s texts—much as earlier scholars attempted to sift the Fletcher from the Shakespeare in “Henry VIII”—and reported that “Patterson’s collaborators perform the vast majority of the actual writing.” The article, far from deriding his approach, connects it to older habits of cultural production, recalling the auspicious stamp of authority in the phrase “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and noting that Alexandre Dumas, in the mid-nineteenth century, ran what was basically an assembly line, staffed by lowly sub-scribes. Fuller and O’Sullivan conclude that Patterson’s œuvre is “exemplary of the experience of leisure-time in late capitalism.” Just what I was thinking.
We are left, therefore, with a copy of “The President Is Missing” and a consuming question: who ghosted whom? Did Patterson supply the bones of the story, as is his wont, and Clinton tack on the flesh? Or did Patterson reverse his usual process, merely tinkering and smoothing after Clinton, musing on his years in office, had brought forth a plot—in essence, his reverie of responsible power?
Whatever the ratio of their labors, one thing is certain: everything you expect from Patterson is here, unadulterated, right down to the ritual mixing of the metaphors—“She had to bite her tongue and accept her place as second fiddle,” say, or “the sorrowful, deer-in-the-headlights look is long gone. The gloves have come off.” Fauna, for some reason, bring out the very best in the makers of this book. The stealthy assassin, seeking a forest perch from which to shoot, has a Bambi moment: “Along the way, little animals bounce out of her path.” On a more rueful note, “Augie looks at me like a lost puppy, in a foreign place with no partner anymore, nothing to call his own except his smartphone.” So true, and so very sad. It’s not enough to give a dog a phone.
In short, not even an ex-President, for all his heft and influence, can mar the charms of so transcendent a technique, or curb its ability to suck us in. When Duncan tells us, “Adrenaline crashes through my body,” we are meant to get caught in the crash. It goes without saying that “The President Is Missing” is written in the present tense, or, to be accurate, in a specialist subset of that tense. Think of it as the hysteric present. “I grab my phone and dial my go-to guy.” “I hit the bottom of the stairs.” “I punch out the phone call and flip on the overhead light.” Who would not follow such a man, and heed his call? Make no mistake, though. If he needs to play dirty, he will: “I terminate the connection and walk out of the room.” You want dirtier? Duncan can do that, too: “I can get pretty creative with my cussing.” No shit.
What fascinates me, above all, are the people of Pattersonia, that fabled land where sentences go to die. Its inhabitants carry and express themselves like eager extraterrestrials who have completed all but one module of their human-conversion course: “Volkov’s eyebrows flare a bit.” Or “Augie lets out a noise that sounds like laughter.” But isn’t. And what can you do with a line like “her face once again becomes a poker-face wall,” except revel in its delicious tautology? Time and again, the folks in this very peculiar novel indulge in gestures that would be difficult—and physically unwise—to emulate, even in the safety of your own home. “Carolyn tucks in her lips.” “Casey falls to a crouch, gripping her hair.” One character has “eyes in a focused squint,” a second performs “a sweeping nod,” while a third “shakes his head, hiccups a bitter chuckle.” As opposed to chuckling a bitter hiccup. That would be absurd.
Not that Duncan is immune, with his weirdly alien moves: “My head on a swivel, I focus on Devin.” Fie, his very locomotion is a riddle: “I break into a jog, something close to a full sprint.” Well, which is it, a sprint or a jog? A jig, maybe? Or a sprog? Whatever the case, it’s patently arduous, because, three pages later, the poor guy can’t stop puffing. “I blow out air, my nerves still jangled,” he says, temporarily transformed into a porpoise. And again, “My pulse banging, I take a breath.” The whole question of air, in fact, seems vital to both Patterson and Clinton, forever ruffling the pages of their busy book. If you can read a sentence like “The wind off the river lifts his hair,” for instance, without thinking of the current American President, you’re doing better than me. Duncan takes “one of the deepest breaths I’ve ever taken, sweet, delicious oxygen,” which is a relief to anybody who feared that he was giggling through this major emergency on helium. Most stirring of all is the emotional flatulence that blares out when the pressure is on: “A collective exhalation of air escapes from the room as the world’s foremost cyberops experts gasp in wonder at the empty screen.”
You can’t blame them for gasping, though, since the core of the book’s plot is technological, and the primary tool of aggression is not a warhead but a virus—not any old bug, mind you, but “a devastating stealth wiper virus,” initiated by a villain who wishes to “reboot the world.” This master plan may be timely and plausible, but I’m not altogether convinced that either Patterson or Clinton is, as yet, a master of the vocabulary that this strand of the story demands. At one point, we are met by monkey emojis instead of prose, and at another by “a bunch of scrambled jumble,” a phrase that would not disgrace the poetry of Edward Lear. A computer, we learn, “changes from a black screen to fuzz, then a somewhat clear screen split in two.” Loveliest of all, and a reminder that both authors are revered senior citizens, is their desire to help those who are less digitally dexterous than themselves: “That word is trending, as they say on the Internet right now.”
Let’s be fair, though. Somehow, “The President Is Missing” rises above its blithely forgivable faults. It’s a go-to read. It maximizes its potency and fulfills its mission. There’s a twist or two of which Frederick Forsyth might be proud. So, if you want to make the most of your late-capitalist leisure-time, hit the couch, crack a Bud, punch the book open, focus your squint, and enjoy. Moreover, in two important respects, this novel is a dead ringer for “War and Peace.” First, there’s the cunning brevity of the chapters—a hundred and twenty-nine of them—that makes a long story zip by. And, second, there’s the chutzpah with which Clinton (Patterson, I would suggest, may have stepped aside at this stage) waits until the twilight of the novel and then, like Tolstoy, squares his shoulders and expounds, in fiction-free form, his politico-historical thoughts. The gloves come off the deer. It’s notionally Duncan who is speaking, addressing Congress, but we know whose noble words he is declaiming. “Today it’s ‘us versus them’ in America. Politics is little more than blood sport,” he warns. Yet the man does not despair. Things could improve. He still sees the city upon the hill. “I want the United States to be free and prosperous, peaceful and secure, and constantly improving for all generations to come.” Amen. ♦
via Everything https://ift.tt/2i2hEWb
June 5, 2018 at 10:19AM
Blockchain projects to be quietly shelved in favour of traditional processes
Data analyst GlobalData has poured cold water on the potential success of many new blockchain-based projects.
The company has claimed that many initiatives will be “quietly shelved in favour of more traditional approaches” or end up reducing their dependence on blockchain technology.
Blockchain has gained huge publicity in the past couple of years – primarily from its role as a digital ledger for transactions made through cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin. But many industries, including travel, have been looking at how it can be used in their sectors.
In travel, Australia-based OTA WebJet has created a new accounts reconciliation system using the technology, while the Canadian government is testing a blockchain-based project for traveller identification.
Lufthansa is also examining how the technology could be used through a partnership with Winding Tree, a specialist in blockchain-based B2B travel bookings; and Singapore Airlines plans to launch a digital wallet for its KrisFlyer loyalty programme using the technology later this year.
But in a new report, GlobalData says the “the market is awash with absurd claims about the benefits of blockchain technology”.
Despite this skepticism, GlobalData does admit:
“There are some key domains where the ability to execute distributed transactions without relying on a single central authority will bring significant value.
“While blockchain technology will have lost much of its gloss by 2025, it will have found its way into the heart of many key business processes; especially those involving multiple, disparate, participants.”
Gary Barnett, GlobalData’s chief analyst, technology thematic research, argues that blockchain is now entering “a new phase” with more focus on finding practical uses for the technology.
‘‘Over the next 24 months the more outlandish claims made by proponents of blockchain will be debunked and technology providers and users alike will begin looking with clearer eyes at the narrow but significant set of use-cases where blockchain and distributed ledger technology can add real value.”
GlobalData says the technology would be seen as a “powerful antidote to the high fees” charged by intermediaries, as it allows individuals, corporations and devices to carry out transactions independently of these third parties.
via tnooz https://www.tnooz.com
June 5, 2018 at 10:01AM
News: IATA AGM 2018: New open borders strategy to spread benefits of free movement revealed
Governments have been urged to intensify efforts to spread the economic and social benefits of aviation by removing onerous barriers to the free movement of people across borders.
“Over the next 20 years, the number of passengers will double.
“That’s excellent news for the global economy, as air connectivity is a catalyst for job creation and GDP growth.
“But we will not get the maximum social and economic benefits from this growth if barriers to travel are not addressed and processes streamlined,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA director general.
There are many barriers to travel, ranging from visa restrictions and government information requirements to the capacity of current facilitation processes to absorb growing numbers of air travellers.
IATA has evolved a comprehensive Open Borders Strategy to help governments work with industry to maintain the integrity of national borders while removing inefficiencies that prevent the industry from satisfying travel demand.
Research by the UN World Tourism Organisation and the World Travel & Tourism Council on the impact of visa facilitation indicates that $89 billion in tourism receipts and 2.6 million jobs would be created in the Asia-Pacific region alone with the reduction of barriers to travel.
The IATA Open Borders Strategy has four main components:
- Reviewing visa requirements and removing unnecessary travel restrictions: The goal is to remove unnecessary barriers to travel. Existing visa regimes are overly restrictive, expensive and inefficient, and will be unable to cope with forecast travel demand. The solution to this lies in unlocking the potential from shared information in a trusted framework. This will improve security, while smoothing passenger flows and easing demand for new infrastructure to accommodate the forecast doubling in air travel over the next two decades.
- Including travel facilitation as part of bilateral and regional trade negotiations: Free trade agreements have seen an expansion of goods and services moving across borders. This has stimulated economic growth for participating countries. Restrictive visa requirements are non-tariff barriers to trade, yet they are not normally addressed in trade discussions. IATA believes that removing restrictions on the free movement of travellers should receive as much priority as other barriers to liberalised trade in goods and services. One way is for governments to include liberalised visa requirements in trade agreements.
- Linking registered-traveller programs: Several states already operate registered traveller programs. Research shows that a large majority of travellers are willing to provide personal information in exchange for expedited handling in the travel process. Registered-traveller programs are a key component of risk-based security measures which help governments to use scarce resources with maximum efficiency. Where these programs are linked (Canada-US for example) the efficiencies grow. But these are still rare cases. IATA encourages more governments to build links between their programs.
- Using API data more effectively and efficiently: Airlines spend millions of dollars providing Advance Passenger Information as required by governments. Governments must process API data efficiently. For example, as governments have information in advance of boarding, inadmissible passengers should be notified before their journey begins, rather than on arrival which is costly for airlines and disappointing for passengers. Similarly, arrival procedures should be streamlined for passengers whose data has been vetted in advance.
via Breaking Travel News http://www.breakingtravelnews.com/
June 5, 2018 at 09:49AM
News: IATA AGM 2018: Global governments urged to free blocked airline funds
Airline officials have called on governments to abide by international agreements and treaty obligations to enable airlines to repatriate revenues from ticket sales and other activities.
According to IATA, the amount of airline funds blocked from repatriation totalled $4.9 billion at the end of 2017, which was down seven per cent compared to year-end 2016.
However, airline funds remain blocked in some 16 countries.
“The connectivity provided by aviation is vital to economic growth and development.
“Aviation supports jobs and trade, and helps people to lead better lives.
“But airlines need to have confidence that they will be able to repatriate their revenues in order to bring these benefits to markets,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA director general.
“We have had some recent success.
“The $600 million backlog in Nigeria has been cleared.
“And we have made $120 million of progress from a peak of over $500 million in Angola.
“I encourage the government of Angola to work with airlines to help to reduce this backlog further,” said de Juniac.
The top five markets with blocked funds are:
- Venezuela, where airlines have been unable to repatriate $3.78 billion.
- Angola, where approximately $386 million remains blocked.
- Sudan, where $170 million is blocked.
- Bangladesh, where $95 million is blocked.
- Zimbabwe, where $76 million is blocked.
via Breaking Travel News http://www.breakingtravelnews.com/
June 5, 2018 at 09:39AM