The Man Who Turned Credit-Card Points Into an Empire – The New York Times

By Jamie Lauren KeilesJan. 5, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ETListen to This ArticleAudio Recording by AudmListen 49:48To hear more audio stories from publishers like The New York Times, download Audm for iPhone or Android.They came to Dubrovnik by cruise ship or Ryanair — members of a new hypermobile class of tourist, who traveled for cheap and didn’t stay long. They’d seen its walled Old Town on “Game of Thrones,” and they wanted to be there themselves, so they went. Venice, Barcelona, certain beaches in Thailand — these places had all faced their own “overtouristing” problems, but even by this standard, Dubrovnik was extreme. On busy days, tourists could outnumber permanent Old Town residents about 6 to 1. With a main thoroughfare less than a thousand feet long, this pressure on the city’s charm was overwhelming. By 2017, tourism had so overburdened the Old Town that UNESCO was threatening to revoke its World Heritage status. Mayor Mato Frankovic set out to save his city by sabotage, capping passage through the gates at 4,000 daily visitors and functionally banning new restaurants. Nevertheless, the tourists kept coming.But then, around March 2020, they stopped. After the Diamond Princess debacle, no more cruise ships appeared in the port. Airplanes were grounded, then took flight again — ending an age of quick and easy travel and ushering in a new, slower one. Pandemic travel was arduous and impeded by knotty, sometimes contradictory governmental guidelines. To travel under these conditions required an unhinged urge to take flight and a bureaucrat’s eye for parsing fine print. Brian Kelly, the founder of a website called The Points Guy, had both — plus a few million unused frequent-flier miles. This was how, on Saturday, Aug. 7, he found himself heading from New York to Dubrovnik, to see the walled city with nobody there.

Opinion | Books Are Really Easy to Wrap – by Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

“. . . .  But the greatest challenge to online book tours has not been the inevitable glitches of an unfamiliar and not entirely reliable technology. The greatest challenge has been to the survival of bookstores themselves.

A retail bookseller’s bread and butter are live events. The chance to meet a favorite author in real life is one of the crucial differences between a neighborhood bookshop and the online colossus that must not be named. When readers come out to hear an author talk, they tend to leave the store with a new book signed just for them. With any luck, they also leave with a stack of other books from the store’s beautifully curated tables and shelves — and often with a souvenir coffee mug or tote bag to boot.

None of that can happen when author tours are canceled or moved online, which explains in part why bookstores have been particularly hard hit this year, despite the fact that book sales are up over all. According to the American Booksellers Association, at least one independent bookstore has closed every single week during the coronavirus pandemic.

To add insult to mortal injury, the survivors are looking at a deeply troubled holiday shopping season. Mail orders, which have surged during the quarantines, now face significant delivery delays as shipping speeds drop with increased online orders across the retail landscape. Many stores are open to foot traffic but are operating under strict municipal or state orders that severely limit the number of customers who can be in the store at one time — not the ideal scenario in a shopping season that can make or break the entire fiscal year.

Books remain the ultimate gift: easy to wrap, available in such a multifarious array that there’s truly something for everyone and, best of all, a desperately needed break from screens in the age of TikTok and Zoom. A book does not beep at you, spy on you, sell you out to marketers, interrupt with breaking news, suck you into a doomscrolling vortex, cease to function in a nor’easter, flood your eyes with melatonin-suppressing blue light or otherwise interrupt your already troubled sleep. That’s why my best beloveds are all getting books for Christmas. Who wouldn’t want such benefits for the people they love best in all the world?

Once upon a time, at the end of a harrowing year, a way to be a storybook hero presented itself to ordinary mortals in the midst of a dangerous shopping season: Buy books.

Call your local bookshop — or check the store’s website — and order books for everyone on your list. Then pick up your order curbside and head home with a feeling of peace and accomplishment, and the knowledge that you’ve helped to make the world a better place without endangering yourself or anyone else. Because the only way for bookstores to survive is for people to find a way to shop there, even as the coronavirus continues to surge.” . . .

ThriftBooks is not just an Amazon seller anymore | Retail Dive

Secondhand booksellers are ideal when it comes to discovery for anyone who’s willing to browse the aisles (and maybe the piles on the floor) and take a chance with what’s there. If you do find something, you can have it for a fraction of its original cost — especially if you don’t mind the note penned by the original owner’s Aunt Martha, wishing him happy birthday in black ink.But it’s hard to go to a used bookstore with a particular title in mind because inventory is dependent on the quirks of its sources, including people who’ve just watched Marie Kondo’s Netflix show, or who are moving or renovating houses, or whose children have outgrown their copies of Dr. Seuss or Harry Potter.

Source: ThriftBooks is not just an Amazon seller anymore | Retail Dive

The Age of Electric Cars Is Dawning Ahead of Schedule – The New York Times

“FRANKFURT — An electric Volkswagen ID.3 for the same price as a Golf. A Tesla Model 3 that costs as much as a BMW 3 Series. A Renault Zoe electric subcompact whose monthly lease payment might equal a nice dinner for two in Paris.

As car sales collapsed in Europe because of the pandemic, one category grew rapidly: electric vehicles. One reason is that purchase prices in Europe are coming tantalizingly close to the prices for cars with gasoline or diesel engines.

At the moment this near parity is possible only with government subsidies that, depending on the country, can cut more than $10,000 from the final price. Carmakers are offering deals on electric cars to meet stricter European Union regulations on carbon dioxide emissions. In Germany, an electric Renault Zoe can be leased for 139 euros a month, or $164.

Electric vehicles are not yet as popular in the United States, largely because government incentives are less generous. Battery-powered cars account for about 2 percent of new car sales in America, while in Europe the market share is approaching 5 percent. Including hybrids, the share rises to nearly 9 percent in Europe, according to Matthias Schmidt, an independent analyst in Berlin.”

The Teenage Tinkerer Behind an E-Bike Revolution – By Bradley Berman – The New York Times

By 

“The residents of Garberville, Calif., didn’t know what to make of 15-year-old Mike Radenbaugh and the odd motorized bikes he was concocting in his family’s garage.

It was 2005, the home-brew era for electric vehicles, and there he was, a high school freshman zooming by at up to 35 miles an hour, not even pedaling. He seemed to defy gravity as he ascended the region’s steep winding roads lined with 300-foot redwoods.

As the captain of the school’s mountain-bike racing team, he had collected a heap of spare frames and parts. Mr. Radenbaugh started tricking them out with old motorcycle-starter batteries, moped motors mail-ordered from Japan and crude powertrains held together with bungee cords, pipe clamps and thick layers of electrical tape. “I needed to find a solution where I had freedom as a young person without a lot of dollars,” he said.

Before long, he was making his 16-mile school commute on his electric Frankenbike.

Wires fried and batteries died. But after six months of experimentation, Mr. Radenbaugh had a semi-reliable electric bike. “It got better and better. And it got faster,” he said. “All of a sudden, I’d be riding into town passing slow cars. I quickly became known as the kooky e-bike guy in my little hometown.” “

Opinion | The Mistakes That Will Haunt Our Legacy – By Nicholas Kristof – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Randall Hill/Reuters

“As we pull down controversial statues and reassess historical figures, I’ve been wondering what our great-grandchildren will find bewilderingly immoral about our own times — and about us.

Which of today’s heroes will be discredited? Which statues toppled? What will later generations see as our own ethical blind spots?

I believe that one will be our cruelty to animals. Modern society relies on factory farming to produce protein that is inexpensive and abundant. But it causes suffering to animals on an incalculable scale.

Over the last 200 years, the world has become far more sensitive to animal rights. In feudal Europe, a game consisted of nailing a cat to a post and head-butting it to death; now, growing numbers of states have passed animal protection laws, McDonald’s is moving to cage-free eggs and there are legal debates about whether certain mammals should have standing to sue in courts.”

“. . . .  A third area where I suspect our descendants will judge us harshly is climate change. Our generation’s denialism will lead to more extreme weather, more flooded homes, more heat waves — and resentment that early-21st-century humans could have been so selfish as to refuse to take small steps to reduce carbon emissions.

I raised this issue of our moral blind spots in my email newsletter the other day, and one reader, Brad Marston, a physics professor at Brown University, put it this way: “In 100 years our generation may be as poorly regarded as 19th-century racists are today (or worse), due to our failure to tackle climate change, leaving a damaged and possibly ruined planet to future generations.”

So I’m all for re-examining history and removing statues of Confederate generals. But just as important is our obligation to think deeply about our own moral myopia today and address it while there is still time.

Opinion | I’ve Seen a Future Without Cars, and It’s Amazing – By Farhad Manjoo – The New York Times

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Opinion Columnist

“”As coronavirus lockdowns crept across the globe this winter and spring, an unusual sound fell over the world’s metropolises: the hush of streets that were suddenly, blessedly free of cars. City dwellers reported hearing bird song, wind and the rustling of leaves. (Along with, in New York City, the intermittent screams of sirens.)

You could smell the absence of cars, too. From New York to Los Angeles to New Delhi, air pollution plummeted, and the soupy, exhaust-choked haze over the world’s dirtiest cities lifted to reveal brilliant blue skies.

Cars took a break from killing people, too. About 10 pedestrians die on New York City’s streets in an ordinary month. Under lockdown, the city went a record two months without a single pedestrian fatality. In California, vehicle collisions plummeted 50 percent, reducing accidents resulting in injuries or death by about 6,000 per month.

As the roads became freer of cars, they grew full of possibility. Rollerblading and skateboarding have come back into fashion. Sales of bicycles and electric bikes have skyrocketed.

But there is a catch: Cities are beginning to cautiously open back up again, and people are wondering how they’re going to get in to work. Many are worried about the spread of the virus on public transit. Are cars our only option? How will we find space for all of them?

In much of Manhattan, the average speed of traffic before the pandemic had fallen to 7 miles per hour. In Midtown, it was less than 5 m.p.h. That’s only slightly faster than walking and slower than riding a bike. Will traffic soon be worse than ever?

Not if we choose another path.

Rather than stumble back into car dependency, cities can begin to undo their worst mistakegiving up so much of their land to the automobile.”

Opinion | I’ve Seen a Future Without Cars, and It’s Amazing – By Farhad Manjoo – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

“As coronavirus lockdowns crept across the globe this winter and spring, an unusual sound fell over the world’s metropolises: the hush of streets that were suddenly, blessedly free of cars. City dwellers reported hearing bird song, wind and the rustling of leaves. (Along with, in New York City, the intermittent screams of sirens).

You could smell the absence of cars, too. From New York to Los Angeles to New Delhi, air pollution plummeted, and the soupy, exhaust-choked haze over the world’s dirtiest cities lifted to reveal brilliant blue skies.

Cars took a break from killing people, too. About 10 pedestrians die on New York City’s streets in an ordinary month. Under lockdown, the city went a record two months without a single pedestrian fatality. In California, vehicle collisions plummeted 50 percent, reducing accidents resulting in injuries or death by about 6,000 per month.

As the roads became freer of cars, they grew full of possibility. Rollerblading and skateboarding have come back into fashion. Sales of bicycles and electric bikes have skyrocketed.”

Editorial | Income and Wealth Inequality Has Devastated American Workers – The New York Times

“Over the past four decades, American workers have suffered a devastating loss of economic power, manifest in their wages, benefits and working conditions. The annual economic output of the United States has almost tripled, but, with the help of policymakers from both political parties, the wealthy hoarded the fruits.

In the nation’s slaughterhouses, the average worker in 1982 made $24 an hour in inflation-adjusted dollars, or $50,000 a year. Today the average meatpacker processes significantly more meat — and makes less than $14 an hour.

The hundreds of thousands of home health care aides, often female, often minorities, who care for a nation of aging baby boomers rarely receive paid time to care for their own families.

Even in the high-flying technology sector, companies have found ways to leave their workers behind. More than half of the people who work for Google do not actually work for Google. They are classified as contractors, which means they do not need to be treated as employees.

Picture the nation as a pirate crew: In recent decades, the owners of the ship have gradually claimed a larger share of booty at the expense of the crew. The annual sum that has shifted from workers to owners now tops $1 trillion.

Or consider the power shift from the perspective of an individual worker. If income had kept pace with overall economic growth since 1970, Americans in the bottom 90 percent of the income distribution would be making an extra $12,000 per year, on average. In effect, every American worker in the bottom 90 percent of the income distribution is sending an annual check for $12,000 to a richer person in the top 10 percent.”