Archive For The “Journeys” Category

Tourists are Happy When Taken Off the Beaten Track (and Smaller Cities and Towns can Tap into That)

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Yes, it’s a beautiful part of the world, but what sets Ballyhoura apart is the deliberate focus on a warm, local welcome.
stephendotcarter/flickr, CC BY

Author(s): Elizabeth Turenko, Griffith University and Karine Dupré, Griffith University

Big cities and places with internationally renowned attractions have long been the most popular tourist destinations. Even today, Chinese tour companies in Australia, for instance, mostly focus on the biggest cities – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane – and landmarks like Uluru. But modern tourism is starting to take a slightly different path, regional travel, which creates economic benefits for towns and also leaves tourists with a better impression of a country.

Unpublished research undertaken by one of us (Elizabeth Turenko) while working as a tour leader in Ukraine in 2013-2014 confirmed this. Feedback from guests traveling on a group tour to Europe showed 80% preferred to visit “well-known” large cities, mostly capitals when it came to choosing a tour.

Most of the time, though, these tourists were disappointed because the cities did not live up to their expectations. But, the study revealed, 75% of tourists enjoyed traveling to smaller towns when they did decide to visit them as part of a tour.

Big cities are losing their local flavour

There is no doubt the major cities are attractive and are still perceived as the essence of a country for many tourists. Yet the question remains: are these cities actually showing the “real country”? At a time of globalisation and global cities, to what extent do the larger cities still give tourists “the taste” of local culture.

Rural Tourism Marketing Group CEO Joanna Steele writes:

In the past five years tourism has seen some big changes. Large numbers of travellers have lost interest in cookie-cutter restaurants, lodging and attractions. Instead, they want local food, local attractions and connection to the lifestyles of local people.

The best places to experience that are often small local towns and villages. Here life hasn’t yet been adapted to tourist needs and the authenticity feels right.

Turenko also investigated the tourists’ preferences during a group bus tour in Europe. The main program involved a one-day visit to Amsterdam and a second day on which tourists could spend their free time in Amsterdam or go on a group trip to Volendam, a small town 20km away. The 90% of the group who opted for the town visit were very satisfied with their decision.

So, was there anything special about Volendam? Not really.

Much like many small towns in the Netherlands, Volendam has limited tourist attractions, these being mostly its built heritage (wooden buildings) and cultural assets (a museum and a cheese factory). When surveyed, the visitors explained they enjoyed the glimpse into the local culture and the routine life of the locals.

The tourists appreciated going to local shops and eating at local restaurants far away from standardised brands and international franchises. They felt they could feel the “soul” of the country.

What does Volendam have that Amsterdam doesn’t? It probably comes down to everyday local character.

At the time of this 2014 survey, cities and holidays at the coast were the main attractions for visitors to the Netherlands (36% and 22%, respectively). But interest in the countryside and touring the Netherlands (12% and 10%, respectively) has been increasing.

Finding a local tourism niche

Let’s be frank: smaller towns and villages have not been dormant, and many have jumped at the opportunities offered by tourism. We all have heard about farm holidays, horse riding, wine tasting tours, nature guided walks and so on.

Building on this, innovative regional tourism practices have been recognised worldwide for displaying a breadth of approaches and end products. A good example in Ireland is Ballyhoura, “a world where the little pleasures of sharing everyday things with the locals in Ballyhoura – talking with them, walking with them and sharing a joke – is possibly the greatest attraction of them all!”

Despite a lack of outstanding tourism resources, the area became a successful tourism destination thanks to a very personalised marketing method. Visitors even received a welcoming letter. The focus on “promoting a genuine rural experience and warm welcome” creates an incentive for more local start-up enterprises and for a co-operative, closing-the-loop process of quality control.

Longreach and Winton are Australian towns that have taken advantage of distinctive local histories and features such as old mines and fossil beds. Longreach has the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame and the Qantas Founders Museum, while Winton’s Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum offers “products” of the natural environment such as dinosaur stamps and bones.

Nowhere else has one: the Stockman’s Hall of Fame in Longreach, Queensland.
James Shrimpton/AAP

Yet all attempts have not been met with success. Many smaller towns are slowly disappearing in Australia. Main streets with closed shops and abandoned business are not uncommon.

The combination of lack of employment and population ageing and loss is a chicken-and-egg situation. The various levels of government are acutely aware of this, and tourism offers a possible way out of the dilemma facing these towns. Several recent initiatives have shown how tourism can contribute to the development of these areas when innovation, expertise and community participation are brought together.

Charleville in far west Queensland offers a great example of this, with the outback town working on making the most of its clear nighttime skies, far from the city lights. An extension to the Cosmos Centre and Observatory, funded by state and local governments, has boosted visitor numbers in just one year. The extension displays fun and serious facts about planets and life in space, enhanced by interactive media.

The ConversationFor the town of fewer than 4,000 people, the growth in tourism is like a nice spring rain after a long dry season. It’s another reminder of why rural tourism can be “the perfect small town business idea”.

Elizabeth Turenko, PhD Candidate, Griffith University and Karine Dupré, Associate Professor in Architecture, Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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You (and Most of the Millions of Holiday Travelers You Encounter) are Washing your Hands Wrong


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Not all bathrooms are clean, which poses a problem for holiday travelers trying to keep their hands clean.

Author: Michelle Sconce Massaquoi, University of Oregon

For my fourth-grade science fair project, I tested different soaps to see which ones were the most effective at keeping my hands clean.

Now, nearly 20 years later as a microbiology doctoral candidate, I can’t help but think, “Ugh, the fourth-grade me was such an amateur scientist!”

My experiment lacked obvious control groups and ultimately asked the wrong question. Instead of asking which brand of soap was the most “effective” and classifying all bacteria as germs, I should have been investigating how to prevent the growth and spread of specific disease-causing bacteria, or pathogens.

This question is difficult to answer. You can’t tell by eye which bacteria growing within a petri dish are the “good guys” versus ones that cause disease, and some pathogenic microbes, like viruses, can’t be detected within agar petri dishes.

Nevertheless, with the upcoming holiday travels, asking how to prevent the spread of disease-causing pathogens isn’t just for aspiring microbiologists but a great question for everyone.

Do we really stand a chance of keeping our hands clean from germs?

Two-fisted approach

There are two main strategies.

The first is to decrease the overall biomass of microbes – that is, decrease the amount of bacteria, viruses and other types of microorganisms. We do this by lathering with soap and rinsing with water. Soap’s chemistry helps remove microorganisms from our hands by accentuating the slippery properties of our own skin.

Studies have shown that effectively washing with soap and water significantly reduces the bacterial load of diarrhea-causing bacteria.

Washing hands with warm soap and water is the best way to keep your hands clean.

The second strategy is to kill the bacteria. We do this by using products with an antibacterial agent such as alcohols, chlorine, peroxides, chlorhexidine or triclosan.

Some academic work has shown that antibacterial soaps are more effective at reducing certain bacteria on soiled hands than soaps without them.

However, there’s a problem. Some bacterial cells on our hands may have genes that enable them to be resistant to a given antibacterial agent. This means that after the antibacterial agent kills some bacteria, the resistant strains remaining on the hands can flourish.

Further, the genes that allowed the bacteria to be resistant could pass along to other bacteria, causing more resistant strains. Together, the “take-over” of resistant strains would render the use of the antibacterial agent essentially ineffective.

Also, the long-term use of some antibacterial products may harm your health.

For example, animal studies investigating the antibacterial agent triclosan, which used to be in soaps, toothpastes and deodorant, has been shown to alter the way hormones work in the body. The Food and Drug Administration has prohibited the use of over-the-counter antiseptic wash products containing triclosan and many other antibacterial active ingredients.

With this in mind, you may want to stick with plain old soap and water.

Best practices

Kids traveling during the holidays often have a hard time keeping their hands clean, just as adults do.

To clean our hands, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that we:

  • wet hands with clean water.
  • apply soap and lather/scrub every nook and cranny of your hands for 20-30 seconds (about the time to sing “Happy Birthday” twice).
  • rinse well with clean running water.
  • dry hands with a clean paper towel or air-dry.

I was shocked to read a study that indicated that 93.2 percent of 2,800 survey respondents did not wash their hands after coughing or sneezing. Also, a recent study showed that across a college-town environment with observations of 3,749 people, the average hand-washing time was approximately six seconds!

If soap and water are not unavailable, the CDC recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent ethanol. Alcohols have a broad-spectrum of antimicrobial activity and are less selective for resistance compared to other antibacterial chemicals.

However, alcohol-based hand sanitizers may not work on all classes of germs.

Not all microbes are germs

The presence of some bacteria isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

In the lab where I am pursuing my dissertation, our focus is understanding the complex interactions between animal hosts and bacteria. I would be remiss to not mention that the bacteria that live on or within us are essential for us as hosts, especially considering their role in protecting us from pathogens.

We live in a microbial world: Trillions of different bacteria colonize our skin, gut, and orifices. Collectively with yeast and viruses, they are called our microbiota. A plethora of exciting research suggests that the associations of animal hosts with their microbiota are not rare occurrences but in fact are fundamentally important for the host’s biology.

Our microbiota can protect us from germs by training our immune system and by colonization resistance): the characteristic of the intestinal microbiota to block colonization of pathogens.

Although more research needs to be done to understand the intricate interactions between microbial communities with host cells, consistent work illustrates that a diverse population of microbes and a balance of this community is important for our health.

Poor diet, lack of sleep, stress and antibiotic use can negatively perturb our microbiota communities, which in turn can put us at risk for diseases . In fact, it is becoming clear that our microbiota are active participants in preventing and sometimes driving disease, depending on the state of the microbial communities .

So what is the take-home message?

There is no doubt that washing our hands with liquid soap and water is effective in reducing the spread of infectious microorganisms, including those that are resistant to antimicrobial agents.

When you don’t have the opportunity to wash your hands after touching questionable surfaces, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Limit the touching of your hands to your mouth, nose and eyes.

The ConversationFurther, maintain a healthy microbiota by limiting stress, getting enough sleep and “fertilizing” your gut microbes with a diversity of plant-based foods. It’s not only a small world, but a dirty one as well.

Michelle Sconce Massaquoi, Doctoral candidate, microbiology, University of Oregon

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Why There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays

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George Henry Durrie’s ‘Winter in the Country: A Cold Morning’ (1861).
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Author: Frank T. McAndrew, Knox College

While Christmas playlists often include cheesy favorites like “Rockin Around the Christmas Tree” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” there are also a handful of wistful tracks that go a little bit deeper.

Listen closely to “I’ll be Home for Christmas” or “White Christmas,” and you’ll hear a deep yearning for home, and sorrow at having to spend the holidays somewhere else.

Strip away the cursory Christmas rituals – the TV specials, the lights, the gifts, the music – and what remains is home. It is the beating heart of the holiday, and its importance reflects our primal need to have a meaningful relationship with a setting – a place that transcends the boundary between the self and the physical world.

Can you love a place like a person?

Most of us can probably name at least one place we feel an emotional connection to. But you probably don’t realize just how much a place can influence your sense of who you are, or how essential it is for your psychological well-being.

Psychologists even possess an entire vocabulary for the affectionate bonds between people and places: There’s “topophilia,” “rootedness” and “attachment to place,” which are all used to describe the feelings of comfort and security that bind us to a place.

Your fondness for a place – whether it’s the house where you lived your whole life, or the fields and woods where you played as a child – can even mimic the affection you feel for other people.

Studies have shown that a forced relocation can elicit heartbreak and distress every bit as intense as the loss of a loved one. Another study found that if you feel a strong attachment to your town or city, you’ll be more satisfied with your house and you’ll also be less anxious about your future.

Gusztáv Magyar Mannheimer’s ‘Factory Site at the Outskirts of Budapest’ (1893).
Hungarian National Gallery

Our physical surroundings play an important role in creating meaning and organization in our lives; much of how we view our lives and what we have become depends on where we’ve lived, and the experiences we’ve had there.

So it’s no surprise that architecture professor Kim Dovey, who has studied the concept of home and the experience of homelessness, confirmed that where we live is closely tied to our sense of who we are.

An anchor of order and comfort

At the same time, the concept of home can be slippery.

One of the first questions we ask when we meet someone new is “Where are you from?” But we seldom pause to consider how complicated that question is. Does it mean where you currently live? Where you were born? Where you grew up?

Environmental psychologists have long understood that the word “home” clearly connotes more than just a house. It encompasses people, places, objects and memories.

So what or where, exactly, do people consider “home”?

A 2008 Pew study asked people to identify “the place in your heart you consider to be home.” Twenty-six percent reported that home was where they were born or raised; only 22 percent said that it was where they currently lived. Eighteen percent identified home as the place that they had lived the longest, and 15 percent felt that it was where most of their extended family had come from.

Matsumoto Shunsuke’s ‘Suburban Landscape’ (1938).
Wikimedia Commons

But if you look at different cultures across time, a common thread emerges.

No matter where they come from, people tend to think about home as a central place that represents order, a counterbalance to the chaos that exists elsewhere. This might explain why, when asked to draw a picture of “where you live,” children and adolescents around the world invariably place their house in the center of the sheet of paper. In short, it’s what everything else revolves around.

Anthropologists Charles Hart and Arnold Pilling lived among the the Tiwi People of Bathurst Island off the coast of Northern Australia during the 1920s. They noted that the Tiwi thought their island was the only habitable place in the world; to them, everywhere else was the “land of the dead.”

The Zuni of the American Southwest, meanwhile, have long viewed the house as a living thing. It’s where they raise their kids and communicate with spirits, and there’s an annual ritual – called the Shalako – in which homes are blessed and consecrated as part of the year-end winter solstice celebration.

The ceremony strengthens bonds to the community, to the family (including dead ancestors), and to the spirits and gods by dramatizing the connection each party has to the home.

During the holidays, we might not officially bless our home like the Zuni. But our holiday traditions probably sound familiar: eating with family, exchanging gifts, catching up with old friends and visiting old haunts. These homecoming rituals affirm and renew a person’s place in the family and often are a key way to strengthen the family’s social fabric.

Home, therefore, is a predictable and secure place where you feel in control and properly oriented in space and time; it is a bridge between your past and your present, an enduring tether to your family and friends.

The ConversationIt is a place where, as the poet Robert Frost aptly wrote, “when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

Frank T. McAndrew, Cornelia H. Dudley Professor of Psychology, Knox College

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Thinking Like an Economist Can Make Your Next Trip Abroad Cheaper

A record number of tourists and business travelers visited another country in 2016, and this year is already on pace to exceed that tally.

Author: Jay L. Zagorsky, The Ohio State University

One thing you definitely need when traveling abroad besides a passport is local currency, such as euros in Europe, yen in Japan or rubles in Russia. In the past, travelers would typically withdraw what they need from an ATM in the country they’re visiting or simply use a credit card, letting their bank calculate the cost in their home currency at roughly the market rate. There was usually also a foreign transaction fee.

Increasingly, however, retailers, restaurants and ATMs are offering travelers the option to pay or withdraw money in terms immediately converted into their home currency. Companies offering the service call it “dynamic currency conversion.” For example, an American tourist visiting Paris is able to use her credit card to pay for a fancy meal at a French bistro in U.S. dollars, instead of euros.

This may seem innocuous – or even convenient – but agreeing to use your home currency in a foreign land can significantly inflate the cost of every purchase. Thinking a bit more like an economist can help you avoid this mistake, and save a lot of money.

Surge in tourists

A century ago, international travel was only for the rich. These days, almost anyone from an industrialized country can see a bit of the world on a budget.

While people commonly complain about “high” airfares, the real cost of flying has never been less expensive – it’s half what it was in the early ‘80’s – or safer.

And that’s one reason why a record 1.24 billion people visited another country in 2016. Naturally, financial firms have sought to capitalize on all this wandering by inventing ever more ways to separate travelers from their hard-earned money.

Buying things abroad

Tourists rely on credit, debit or ATM cards to pay for hotels, restaurant meals and local trinkets.

A complex international computer network checks if a card is valid for the transaction and transfers the money. Traditionally, to help pay for this, banks and credit card companies have charged customers a foreign transaction fee.

However, banks are now offering more cards with no foreign transaction fees. At the same time, “free ATMs” are popping up around the world that don’t charge local transaction fees (though your own bank may still do so).

So how do banks cover the costs of these transactions if they are increasingly letting consumers use the system for free? One way is offering the option to pay in a user’s home currency. Even some bankers warn against consumers doing this because the exchange rate used is much worse than the one your bank would offer.

For example, say you’re a Spaniard visiting New York City and shopping for some clothes at a department store. After scouring the store for the right sweater for your mother, you go to the cashier to pay the US$50 bill (tax included). After you swipe your Spanish credit card (which boasts no foreign transaction fee), the cashier asks if you’d like to pay in euros instead of dollars.

If you stick with dollars, your bank would convert the price into euros at about the market rate, €43 at the moment. If you choose to pay in euros, however, the currency conversion includes a fee for the privilege, which may be as much as 10 percentage points. So you might end up paying about €47 instead.

The same thing happens with ATMs. I was recently in London’s Heathrow Airport and needed some British pounds. In the old days, an ATM would simply offer a few denomination options, issue me money and my bank at home would eventually calculate the cost in U.S. dollars. Instead, the airport ATM asked me if I wanted to lock in the exchange rate and know exactly how many dollars would be debited from my bank account.

I wanted £100 and tried two different ATMs. The currency rate offered in dollars ranged from almost 4 percent to 10 percent more than what my bank charged (or about $134 to $142). I rejected both offers, did the transaction in the local currency and ended up with a total charge of just $129 from my bank.

I have observed numerous international travelers as they made this choice, such as an Italian family arguing about it at the next ATM, and most chose the dynamic conversion into their own currencies.

So why do travelers pay more by accepting a worse exchange rate when they could simply say no?

An ATM at Heathrow Airport offered to debit my bank account in U.S. dollars rather than the British pounds I was withdrawing. The rate it charged would have been $1.42 per pound, or 14 cents above the market rate that day.
Jay Zagorsky, CC BY-SA

Three functions of money

Economists consider any item as money if it performs three different functions: unit of account, store of value and medium of exchange. Two out of three explain why so many international travelers act the way they do.

The first function of money is a unit of account, which is how people post and keep track of prices. This is why banks and credit card companies get people to agree to pay in the currency where they live, instead of using local money.

When people travel to a country with a different currency, they often mentally keep track of their spending using their home currency, converting all prices in their heads as they shop and eat. If an ATM or credit card terminal asks if you want to pay for something in the currency you use as your unit of account, your brain says yes.

Money also acts as a store of value. Items used as money provide the ability to make purchases now and also in the future. At the end of a trip, travelers not planning on returning to a country tend to spend leftover money in airports buying things they don’t really want. They don’t want to hold onto foreign bills since they are not a store of value. For the same reason, they prefer to be charged in their home currency when getting money from an ATM.

Money is also a medium of exchange, which is anything readily acceptable as payment to buy or sell goods and services. This is why people have to convert money when they travel abroad. In New York City, a dollar bill is a medium of exchange for food, drink or a ride on the subway. However, those dollars are not a medium of exchange in, say, China, where waving a wad of greenbacks would mostly get you stares. And that’s why travelers must convert money from one currency to another.

How to save money abroad

When faced with an ATM or credit card machine that asks if you want to convert to your home currency, I recommend you decline, especially if you went to the pain and effort to ensure you have a card or bank with no extra foreign exchange fees. Even if you don’t have one, and your debt card charges a fee, in most cases it still makes sense to use the local currency.

An exception to this rule, of course, is if your bank or credit card charges a very high fixed foreign exchange fee and you need only a little bit of money. If this is your case, then saying yes might save you money even if you get a poor exchange rate.

The ConversationThe main thing is: Think it through! Resist your natural inclination to say yes just because it makes you feel comfortable. Don’t be fooled when asked if you want to complete a transaction using your home currency. Using the local currency can save you money, making your next trip abroad less costly.

Jay L. Zagorsky, Economist and Research Scientist, The Ohio State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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At the Texas Prison Rodeo, A Color Line Dissolved

A convict hangs on to a bucking bronco c. 1940. Courtesy of Texas Prison Museum

Well into the 20th century, segregation was a fact of daily life in Texas. Black citizens were barred from attending many sporting events, couldn’t eat at certain restaurants and weren’t able to stay at many hotels.

This was particularly true in the Texas prison system, where there were segregated work crews, barbershops, showers and dining halls. Recreational activities were also traditionally segregated by race, from sports teams to glee clubs.

So while researching my book “Convict Cowboys: The Untold History of the Texas Prison Rodeo,” I was surprised to find that, as far back as the 1930s, African-American and white convicts were permitted to compete in the same rodeos, despite the fact that spectators had to sit in segregated grandstands as they watched their favorite cowboys risk life and limb.

Decades before they had the same opportunity in other sporting events across Jim Crow America, the rodeo offered African-American inmates a rare chance to compete against their white counterparts.

Destination: Huntsville

The brainchild of the Texas prison system general manager Marshall Lee Simmons, the prison rodeo began its 50-plus year run in 1931 at Huntsville State Penitentiary. It was originally supposed to entertain the local prison community and correctional officers. But so many locals began showing up that Simmons realized that if they began charging gate fees, money could be raised to help fund education, recreation and medical programs for prisoners at a time when the Texas state legislature had allocated few resources for inmates beyond basic food and lodging.

The rodeo took place every Sunday in October between 1931 and 1986 (except 1943, when it was canceled due to the war) and lasted about two hours. Except for the most incorrigible inmates, all prisoners had the opportunity to attend one October Sunday show each year, and prison administrators even developed a protocol to bus them to Huntsville from the far corners of the Texas prison system.

The prison rodeo mimicked professional rodeos in that the main events featured saddle bronc riding. But in order to draw bigger crowds, organizers added more dangerous events, like chariot racing and wild horse racing, and invented sideshows steeped in racist caricatures: comedy sketches that featured the exaggerated pratfalls of black entertainers and performances by the Cotton Pickers Glee Club, a troupe of singers selected from the prison’s farm units.

The event also added celebrity appearances to increase attendance, including cultural icons Tom Mix, Mickey Mantle, John Wayne, Steve McQueen and Johnny Cash. (This was the first prison Cash ever performed at.) The rodeo became so popular that the arena needed to expand, and by the 1950s, the Huntsville arena could accommodate 30,000 spectators at a time.

“They don’t draw the color line”

Beyond the spectacle and the swelling crowds, one journalist in 1936 observed a particularly notable aspect of the prison rodeo: “They don’t draw the color line in these contests,” he wrote, “Negro and white convicts being equally free to enter.”

In mid-20th-century Texas, that was a big deal.

In fact, during the 1950s, Texas would implement more new segregation laws than in any prior decade. Amendments to the state penal code required that public facilities be segregated by race, from state parks to tuberculosis wards. Voters were still required to pay poll taxes, and anyone who entered an interracial marriage could be sentenced to two years in prison.

Until the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education – which outlawed de jure racial segregation – the Texas prison rodeo was, as far as I’ve been able to discover in research, the only competitive sporting event in the South that wasn’t segregated.

It was so popular among black Texans that families would trek to Huntsville from across the state, filling the colored sections of stands. Ebony magazine, the country’s leading African-American periodical, took notice.

“Contrary to customary practices in the Southland,” one article noted, “the Prison Rodeo is not a segregated competition and usually a fourth of the contestants are Negroes.”

The February 1953 edition featured a photograph of a black couple trying on souvenir cowboy hats. In an interview, the couple said they had driven more than 100 miles from Port Arthur to Huntsville to take in the spectacle “Because of the great number of Negro participants in the annual rodeo.”

Over the years, many of the most talented riders – the winners of the coveted Top Hand Buckle – were black convicts. They include Willie Craig, who won the Top Hand Buckle in 1976 at the age of 56, and Emmett “Lightning” Perry and Alex Hill, who never won the top award.

But the best was the legendary O’Neal Browning, whom Ebony lavished with coverage.

At six feet 180 pounds, he was an imposing presence. He had witnessed his first prison rodeo event as a free man in 1946. Three years later, he’d have the opportunity to compete after being sentenced to life in prison for murdering his father with an axe.

By the 1970s, he had won the Top Hand Buckle a record seven times, despite having only one thumb. In one interview, Browning was matter-of-fact about the injury: He explained that while steer roping, his left thumb got caught in the rope loop and “When the steer jerked, it pulled it completely off.”

He enjoyed sharing this story with younger convict cowboys, usually noting that he was lucky it wasn’t his right thumb: If he’d lost that, he would have lost the ability to grip the rigging when he rode bulls, which he managed to do with only one thumb well into his fifties.

Browning would never get a chance to test his skills outside the prison walls. But other convict cowboys with lighter sentences had little chance of continuing their careers upon their release. In order to compete, they needed the blessing of the Rodeo Cowboy Association (RCA), which prohibited riders with a criminal record.

The Texas Prison Rodeo’s run came to an end in 1986, when the prison board in Austin finally pulled the plug, citing falling revenue and fears of injury lawsuits.

The ConversationYet to this day, its biggest legacy is one tinged with irony. Only within the walls of a prison arena were social barriers that existed in the free world able to be toppled.

Mitchel P. Roth, Professor of Criminal Justice, Sam Houston State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Ocean life: 5 Essential Reads

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Great white photobomb.
George T. Probst/NOAA/Flickr, CC BY

Author: Jennifer Weeks, The Conversation

If you’re spending this holiday weekend at the beach or headed there later this summer, take a moment to consider how many amazing life forms inhabit the oceans. From microscopic plankton to apex predators like great white sharks, the marine world teems with bizarre and often beautiful life forms. Here we offer looks at a few of them.

My, what big teeth you have

Readers who grew up with the 1975 hit movie “Jaws” may still hear its ominous two-note theme in the back of their minds when they step into the surf. And it’s true that along many U.S. coastlines you could sight a shark, possibly even a great white. But that’s good news, explains George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research and coordinator of operations at the Florida Museum of Natural History:

“Like it or not, sharks are part of a balanced ocean ecosystem. After a decline of up to 90 percent for some species in the United States, they are beginning a gradual rise toward the numbers of a century ago.

“That suggests some of the damage we’ve done to the oceans has been reversed, and that’s something to celebrate.”

Burgess readily acknowledges that great whites and a few other shark species will attack humans. But in his view, the burden is on us to understand that when we step into the ocean, we enter their world, and should understand the risks and take reasonable precautions – just as we do to guard against drowning.

That’s especially true for people who engage in activities like surfing, where the chances of encountering sharks are higher. Policies such as culling sharks near popular surfing beaches won’t work, Burgess warns:

“Sharks are low-density, highly migratory animals that readily recolonize areas denuded of their kind, rendering any attempt to cull an ineffective strategy.”

Moreover, Burgess points out, culling programs kill many nondangerous sharks, thereby harming ocean ecosystems that need these large predators to keep smaller species in check.

Welcome back, otters

If great white sharks are the most-feared species in the oceans, sea otters may be the most-loved. But otters’ congenital cuteness didn’t stop fur traders from hunting them to near-extinction along the Pacific coast in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Since they received international protection in 1911, otters have gradually repopulated the West Coast. But it’s tricky for scientists to count and track wild animal populations, especially when their targets spend a lot of time underwater.

Colorado State University associate professor Melvin Hooten and postdoctoral fellow Perry Williams turned to math to document sea otters’ return to Alaska’s Glacier Bay. Starting with a mathematical model that used partial differential equations to describe the growth and spread of sea otters, they used statistical methods to infer how quickly the Glacier Bay otter population was growing.

“Using our new approach, we discovered that the Glacier Bay sea otter population grew more than 21 percent per year between 1993 and 2012…That means that the Glacier Bay sea otter growth rate was near or at maximum, and greater than any recorded sea otter population in history,” they write.

Chilling in Glacier Bay.
National Park Service

Aquatic hitchhikers

Since there are no borders in the oceans, scientists need to know where sea creatures travel in order to make effective conservation plans. That’s especially true for sea turtles, which can migrate thousands of miles to reach their preferred nesting beaches.

Nathan Jack Robinson, a postdoctoral fellow at Indiana University, studies epibionts – tiny organisms that attach to sea turtles’ shells as they swim. Examining sea turtles that came ashore to nest in Costa Rica, Robinson and his colleagues found diverse epibionts, from barnacles to small remora fish. Different turtle species carried different colonies of tiny hitchhikers. Robinson believes these tagalongs provide valuable data.

“[I]t’s becoming clear that the creatures found on each sea turtle can tell a story about where that turtle has been and what it was doing there. The information encoded in each sea turtle’s unique set of hitchhikers can, in turn, help guide management decisions to protect these animals during their lives at sea.”

As a bonus, he points out that saving endangered sea turtles will also help conserve the tiny organisms that catch rides with them.

Barnacles on an Olive Ridley sea turtle, photographed in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Heather Paul/Flickr, CC BY-ND

Going with the flow

Most marine organisms don’t travel via turtle. Numerous plankton species and fish larvae drift freely, steered by ocean currents. Intriguingly, however, some species show up in the same places every year, even though they seem to be at the mercy of winds and tides.

Researchers at North Carolina State University and the University of California, Davis teamed up to study where marine larvae go and how they get there. NCSU’s Tom and Donna Wolcott designed floating robots that could swim vertically like marine larvae and record data on their surroundings, such as depth and water temperature. UC Davis researchers released the bots (nicknamed ABLEs) in California’s Bodega Bay to see how larvae programmed with different swimming patterns would behave.

They found that vertical positioning in currents – whether larvae floated at the surface or sank to deeper water – strongly affected where the larvae moved:

“Larvae of many species occur near the surface in offshore-flowing currents early in their development and are carried away from shore. Older larvae descend into deep shoreward-flowing currents and return onshore to habitats in which they can metamorphose and become adults. In effect, they use currents like conveyor belts to travel out and back across the continental shelf.”

The ConversationNext, the scientists want to tease out connections between larvae’s vertical migration patterns and whether they travel far offshore or stay near the coast. Knowing how larvae behave could inform many ocean policies, from designing marine protected areas to tracking the spread of invasive species.

Jennifer Weeks, Editor, Environment and Energy, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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All Aboard for a Train Ticket to Bring Europe Together Again



Turning 18 never was so sweet until now.

Photo Courtesy of  Shutterstock

Author: Nikolaos Papadogiannis, Bangor University

In many countries, turning 18 marks the transition into adulthood. With it comes the delights and difficulties of all new rights and responsibilities, from voting to drinking alcohol. Now, there’s talk that it could also be the beginning of an international adventure.

Last year, members of the European Parliament debated whether young Europeans should be given a free Interrail pass on their 18th birthday. The initiative was welcomed by representatives from across the political spectrum, and attracted grassroots support from over 33,000 petitioners. Although the idea has yet to become an official policy, the European Commission has shown interest.

Since Interrail launched in 1972, it has given young Europeans the opportunity to travel at low cost across most of the continent, including countries that don’t belong to the European Economic Community or the European Union. At the moment, a monthly Interrail pass costs between €43 and €493, depending on how far and how frequently one travels. Around 300,000 young Europeans use this programme each year, but if the free Interrail pass initiative is successful, it could attract a sizeable proportion of the 5.4m 18-year-old Europeans annually.

The argument goes that underwriting Interrail passes for young adults is good value for money, because it helps the next generation of European residents to experience and understand other cultures. In theory, meeting and making friends with people from other European countries will strengthen cultural and political ties across the continent. Yet this optimistic outlook deserves closer scrutiny: we shouldn’t simply assume that young Europeans will take up the offer, or that travel will build a common European identity.

Destination: Europe and beyond

This is not the first time that travel has been touted as a way of fostering good relations across Europe. From the ashes of World War II, diverse initiatives sprung up to promote reconciliation through youth tourism. For example, the International Youth Hostel Federation successfully persuaded European governments to ease restrictions on youth travel by changing or getting rid of passport, visa and currency requirements.

Such initiatives proved attractive, and young people increasingly engaged in cross-border travel. By the 1960s, the majority of people aged 20 to 24 in West Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands had visited two or more “foreign” countries. This trend continued in the following decades: in Germany, at the beginning of the 1990s, 17 to 19-year-olds had visited seven to eight countries on average, both within and outside of Europe.

Young hearts ride free.
Giorgis Charalampidis, Author provided

But since then, the financial crisis in several European countries, together with high youth unemployment rates, have apparently taken their toll. Recent market research has shown that the number of foreign trips by young Europeans has fallen by around 10% over the decade to 2015. Based on these observations, it seems that initiatives which make travel cheaper and easier can encourage young Europeans to venture across the continent – and that the time is ripe to introduce another such policy.

Ever closer union?

The question remains, whether traveling would strengthen cultural or political ties across Europe. There is some basis for such a claim: young supporters of European unification in 1950 asserted that “our passport is the European flag”. It was not just youngsters who were already pro-European, that traveled across the continent. According to a study by Ronald Inglehart in the 1960s, the younger people were, and the more they traveled, the more likely they were to subscribe to the idea of an ever closer political union in Europe – though this did not necessarily mean that they approved of the existing European institutions.

Yet, historically, youth tourism has brought about frictions as well as friendships. For example, my own research shows moments of cultural misunderstanding in youth hostels as far back as the mid-1960s, when staff at one West German youth hostel bemoaned that many French guests drank too much alcohol. Other scholars have investigated why local men in Greece in the 1980s sought out women from Northern Europe, including young ones, in tourist resorts to have sex with. Those men saw themselves as part of a poorer society, and sought to “sexually conquer” women tourists from richer countries, in order to take “revenge”.

These experiences show that youth tourism has the potential to deepen divides in Europe by playing on some negative stereotypes.

Leaving the station

A free Interrail pass could increase the number of young people traveling across the continent. But if the European Commission is looking to build stronger ties across Europe, this scheme won’t necessarily be enough to challenge negative stereotypes, let alone save the European idea. The commission will need to seek out other ways to maximise the impact of the scheme.

Giorgis Charalampidis, Author provided

Getting young tourists to narrate their Interrail experiences on social media could help achieve that. It wouldn’t be difficult: those who take up the pass could be asked to contribute to a blog, Instagram page or Facebook group. This would create a place for young travelers to describe how they feel about the people of different nationalities, ethnicities (including migrants) and genders they encounter on their travels, and where residents are given the chance to respond.

The ConversationThis would present an opportunity for all to honestly reflect on moments they shared together – both enjoyable and uncomfortable. Ideally, the commission would encourage all to think critically about the prejudices against one another that circulate throughout the media. Travel and the use of social media won’t eliminate racism. But they could well help people from across the continent to empathize with one another – and that is certainly a goal worth funding.

Nikolaos Papadogiannis, Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary History, Bangor University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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What Languages Should Children Be Learning To Get Ahead?



The languages children learn in school might not be the most useful for their future.

Photo courtesy of

Author: Warren Midgley, University of Southern Queensland

There are 7,099 known languages in the world today. Choosing which of these to teach our children as a second language is an important decision, but one that may be based more on feelings than facts.

There are several different ways of thinking about what languages we should offer at school. Research suggests that Australian school children may not be studying the right ones.

The world’s most commonly spoken languages

If sheer numbers of speakers is our primary consideration, and we want our children to learn languages that have the most speakers, then – excluding English – the three most commonly spoken languages are Mandarin (898 million), Spanish (437 million) and Arabic (295 million).

The languages of emerging economies

If the focus of language learning is to improve business prospects, then one strategy would be to select those that are spoken in the fastest-growing emerging economies in the world.

At the beginning of the millennium, the four big investment countries were seen to be Brazil, Russia, India and China.

The mood seems to have swung, however, and a recent report of top emerging economies now lists the top three as India, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Thus the top three would be Hindi, Indonesian and Malay.

The languages for travel

English remains firmly at the top of the list of languages useful for travel (spoken in 106 different countries). Other than English, the languages spoken in the highest number of countries are Arabic (57), French (53) and Spanish (31). This is the only list on which French, a popular choice with Australian students, is included in the top three.

The languages of Australia’s trade partners

Australia’s top two-way trading partners are China, Japan, the US and South Korea. Excluding the US – a predominantly English-speaking country – the top three second languages from a bilateral trade perspective would be Mandarin, Japanese and Korean.

The languages of other Australians

Another way to consider importance is to think about the languages most commonly spoken as second languages where we live. This can be measured at various levels. The top three second languages in Australia are Mandarin, Italian and Arabic.

Comparing ‘the best’ with what Australian school children actually learn

So how does our list of possible “best” second languages line up with the languages that are actually studied in Australian schools?

Of the ten “best languages” we have identified on our various lists, seven are in the top ten languages studied in Australian schools. However, three – Hindi, Malay and Korean – are not studied widely. And three of the most commonly studied languages in Australia – German, Greek, and Vietnamese – are not on any of the top three lists.


Why the difference?

There are a number of historical reasons that may explain this disparity between the two lists.

Greek and German, for instance, were historically important second languages in Australia. Now the communities that speak these languages in Australia are much smaller in number in comparison with communities that speak Mandarin and Arabic. Our languages education has not kept up with changes in demography.

Japanese is another interesting case in point. It is the most commonly studied language in Australia. The push for Japanese in schools began in the late 1970s, gaining momentum with strong government funding in the 1980s. During the years that have followed, South Korea has moved up into the fourth position in bilateral trade.

Despite government funding in 2008 to promote learning Korean, along with Chinese, Japanese and Indonesian, this has not resulted in strong numbers studying Korean at schools in Australia. Again, languages education seems to be having trouble keeping up.

Who decides what languages to offer?

In Australia, each state has jurisdiction over which languages to offer in their schools, and so the regulations differ slightly.

In Queensland, for example, the Department of Education and Training instructs principals to make decisions about the choice of language, in consultation with their school communities.

Part of the complexity around making these decisions is that it takes many years to train school teachers who are capable of teaching languages. Therefore it is difficult to respond quickly to changes in demand for different languages to be taught at schools.

Some innovative strategies

One innovative Australian project addresses this issue by recruiting elderly migrant language tutors with local school students, meeting the need for competent language tutors, and having the added bonus of providing these migrants with the opportunity to feel they are making meaningful contributions to their new communities.

Another project which began in the US uses digital technology to pair up students as peer tutors: each student is a fluent speaker of the language the other is trying to learn. The effectiveness of this and other digital strategies have not yet been fully investigated in the Australian school context.

Where to from here?

Given the rapid changes in the status of languages across the globe, it is critically important to regularly review the languages that are offered and promoted to students at schools and to explore innovative approaches to these languages.

In this way, we can maximise the opportunities for children to learn languages that will be of practical advantage to them into the future.

The ConversationCorrection: This article was updated on 27 March to change the word used to describe the language spoken in Malaysia from “Malaysian” to “Malay”. This is the term used by the UN, and it was seen to be more accurate.

Warren Midgley, Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics, University of Southern Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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From Nazis to Netflix, the Controversies and Contradictions of Cannes



The past, current, and future history of the Cannes Film Festival will always be complicated.

Photo Caption: Students and striking workers occupy the projection hall of the Cannes Film Festival Palace to prevent showing of films in 1968. (Courtesy of AP Photo/Raoul Fornezza)

Author: David Scott Diffrient, Colorado State University

On May 17, the 70th edition of the Festival de Cannes kicked off with the opening-night screening of director Arnaud Desplechin’s “Ismael’s Ghosts.” It will wrap up 11 days later, when the Pedro Almodovar-led jury bestows the highly coveted Palme d’Or on one of the 19 international productions in the festival’s main competition. The Conversation

In between, dozens more motion pictures will flicker to life in theaters along the Croisette, a sun-kissed promenade dotted with luxury hotels that attracts a swarm of paparazzi with the promise of celebrity sightings and scantily clad starlets.

But behind the pageantry, controversy has been brewing. Netflix has two entries premiering during this year’s event. The popular streaming service will then release the films to its millions of subscribers – foregoing the exclusive run in French cinemas requested by the organizers. In turn, they’ve threatened to ban Netflix from submitting any films to future editions of the festival. Telegraph reporter Robert Mendick called this dustup Cannes’ “most explosive.”

If it is, it’s only the latest.

As Lucy Mazdon, one of the few film scholars to have studied this annual event, points out, the Festival de Cannes has long functioned as an expression of France’s national identity. It reinforces the important place that film occupies in the country’s culture, along with its reputation as a purveyor of artistic – rather than strictly commercial – cinema.

But Cannes has sometimes struggled to live up to this ideal, and the competing agendas of art, commerce, international politics and national pride have long roiled the festival.

Anti-fascist origins

In 1938, French diplomat Philippe Erlanger, film critic René Jeanne and Minister of National Education and Fine Arts Jean Zay were disturbed by that year’s Venice Film Festival, when pro-fascist films from Germany and Italy – Leni Riefenstahl’s “Olympia” and Goffredo Alessandrini’s “Luciano Serra, Pilot” – jointly won the top award (the tellingly named Coppa Mussolini).

They were also appalled by the hostile reception given to Jean Renoir’s anti-war masterpiece “The Grand Illusion” one year earlier. (Joseph Goebbels, the Third Reich’s minister of propaganda, who had been a “guest of honor” at the Venice Biennale, had called it “Cinematic Public Enemy Number One.”)

In response, they came up with the idea of a French “counter-festival” that would stand in opposition to Italy’s. Originally branded as the “Festival International du Film,” the organizers hoped the event would outshine its European counterparts, celebrating the art – rather than political value or propagandist content – of cinema.

However, politics almost immediately came into play. On the night of the inaugural gathering on Sept. 1, 1939 – as guests were arriving at the Casino Municipal, including Hollywood stars Gary Cooper, George Raft, Norma Shearer and Mae West – Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Following a single screening of the RKO production “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” organizers brought the festival to a sudden halt.

Great Britain and France declared war against Germany two days later. It would take another seven years before Erlanger, Jeanne and Zay’s vision was finally brought to fruition.

Art clashes with commerce

In 1946, the first full-fledged film festival held in post-Liberation France took place, featuring soon-to-be classics like Roberto Rossellini’s anti-fascist neorealist film “Rome, Open City” and Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller “Notorious.”

Even then, the festival was torn between dueling agendas, with European ideals of art cinema rubbing up against popular Hollywood productions that many French audiences clamored for.

The contradictory nature of the Cannes Film Festival has only intensified since.

In 1959, the French Minister of Cultural Affairs André Malraux called for the establishment of an international “film market,” the controversial Marché du Film.

Intended to strengthen the commercial appeal of the festival, the Marché brings together industry professionals for the purposes of networking and brokering deals between buyers and sellers. Meet-and-greet opportunities are formalized through the inclusion of daily breakfasts, round-table talks and workshops with industry leaders.

A 1967 photograph of French film director François Truffaut. Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Significantly, that initial foray into the business side of cinema took place just as the festival helped launch the “Nouvelle Vague” (French New Wave), a hugely influential, decidedly noncommercial film movement. Led by François Truffaut, whose autobiographical coming-of-age tale “The 400 Blows” earned him a Best Director award that year, French New Wave cinema privileged the personal expression of young filmmakers. Films like “The 400 Blows” and Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless” (made one year later, in 1960) also expanded storytelling possibilities through a reflexive foregrounding of the cinematic medium itself (with characters frequently “breaking the fourth wall” and looking directly at the camera). (Ironically, Truffaut had been banned from Cannes one year earlier after he criticized the festival for prioritizing entertainment and spectacle over art and personal expression.)

A decade later, in 1968, student and worker protests swept through Europe. Truffaut and other French filmmakers and intellectuals, including Jean-Luc Godard and Claude Lelouch, called for a premature end to the 21st edition of the festival. The festival, which was supposed to run between May 10 and May 24, was shut down six days early in a show of solidarity with those who were opposed to American cultural imperialism, the Vietnam War and the global spread of capitalism.

Since then, other well-publicized episodes have disrupted the Festival de Cannes, from the discovery of a handmade bomb beneath a stage at the closing ceremony in 1978 to Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier’s explosive (if jesting) claims that he was a Nazi who “understood” Hitler in 2011.

Grappling with Netflix

This year’s edition of the festival is no exception to that history of politicized hullabaloo. Much of the recent commentary surrounding Cannes concerns the current state and future of film exhibition and distribution.

Specifically, the decision of the festival’s artistic director, Thierry Frémaux, to include two Netflix-produced films – South Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s “Okja” and American filmmaker Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories” – has been criticized.

The move has drawn the ire of the National Federation of French Cinemas (FNCF), an organization that represents the interests of local theater owners who worry international streaming services will threaten not only their own livelihood but also the quality of cinema in the years to come.

Almost immediately after this year’s Cannes program was announced in early April, speculation arose in the pages of U.S. trade magazines as to whether online streaming services and small-screen platforms would be blocked from entering forthcoming film festivals. According to The Hollywood Reporter and Variety, a new rule set to go into effect next year will require any competing film at Cannes to be distributed in French theaters before being made available for online viewing.

Moreover, current French law requires a window of 36 months between theatrical release and streaming availability, a stipulation that Netflix, Amazon Studios and other streaming services aren’t likely to abide by.

The wrenching changes brought by streaming services to the TV and movie industries mark a departure from the political conflicts of years past. But controversy is certainly nothing new on the Cote d’Azur: a long view of its history suggests that strife and contention have distinguished this French cultural event since its very beginnings.

David Scott Diffrient, Professor of Film and Media Studies, Colorado State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Why Banning Laptops from Airplane Cabins Doesn’t Make Sense

There is a case to be made that this ban isn’t a very wise move.

Author(s): Cassandra Burke Robertson, Case Western Reserve University and Irina D. Manta, Hofstra University

Recent reports suggest that terrorists can now create bombs so thin that they cannot be detected by the current X-ray screening that our carry-on bags undergo. The Conversation

In an effort to protect against such threats, the U.S is considering banning laptops and other large electronic devices in the passenger cabins of airplanes flying between Europe and the United States. This would extend a ban already in place on flights from eight Middle Eastern countries.

Given the significant disruption such a policy would cause tens of thousands of passengers a day, a logical question any economist might ask is: Is it worth it?

It is tempting to think that any level of cost and inconvenience is sensible if it reduces the risk of an attack even a little. But risks, inherent in flying and even driving, can never be avoided entirely.

So when weighing policies that are designed to make us safer, it is important to consider both their costs and potential effectiveness.

Unfortunately, whether the benefits justify the costs is too often not the yardstick used by officials determining whether to pursue these types of policies. Instead, as law professors who have researched how the government’s travel policies affect civil liberties, we have found that it is more likely that political considerations motivate the adoption of restrictive policies, which in the end actually do little to protect citizens’ security.

Placards at Casablanca Mohammed V International Airport inform passengers that laptops and other electronic devices must be checked on flights to the U.S. and the U.K.
Abdeljalil Bounhar/AP Photo

Expanding a ban

The current laptop policy regarding some flights from the Middle East was put in place in March apparently as a result of intelligence that ISIS militants were training to get laptop bombs past security screeners and onto planes. The U.K. adopted a similar rule.

The Department of Homeland Security wants to extend that ban to transatlantic flights. This would cause major disruption and “logistical chaos.” Approximately 65 million people a year fly between Europe and the United States.

Business travelers are concerned about the loss of productivity and the risk that a checked laptop with sensitive information could be damaged, stolen or subjected to intrusive search. Families worry about traveling without electronic distractions to soothe tired and uncomfortable children. Airlines expect a loss of business as people opt out of transatlantic travel altogether.

Past policies such as limiting the liquids that can be carried on and requiring passengers to remove shoes are a case in point. They have increased burdens on both travelers – who must pay to check baggage and face added inconvenience – and taxpayers – who bear the costs of every policy change – while likely doing little to nothing to improve security.

Benefits and costs

Regulators throughout the government typically must rely on a cost-benefit analysis to determine levels of acceptable risk, weighing the potential safety gain of a new policy against its costs and added risks.

But when dealing with a fear of terrorism, it is common to find policies that are not cost effective. And if we subjected the laptop bans (the original and expansion) to a cost-benefit analysis, they would likely fail. The costs are high, the potential security gains are small, and the policy adds hazards of its own.

To make its case, the government seems to be relying on several purported benefits of stowing laptops in the luggage hold. First, checked bags undergo additional screening for the presence of explosives. Second, it is possible that luggage in the cargo area could provide some insulation from an explosion. Finally, bombs placed in the cargo area require a sophisticated timing device, unlike simpler explosives that could be set off manually.

But these benefits appear dubious as support for a laptop ban. Carry-on luggage could go through expanded screening, for example, while the notion that checked luggage might make an explosion more survivable is speculative – and such gains might in any case be offset by the dangerous greater vibration found in cargo cabin. Lithium batteries have, after all, been forbidden from the cargo compartment for a reason – and must instead be carried on – to avoid the risk of fire.

And of course, this does little to protect against the risk of an explosive device in the cargo cabin. It just moves the risk to an isolated area of the plane.

Lithium batteries were considered the likely cause of a UPS cargo plane crash in 2010 near Dubai that killed both crew members.
Kamran Jebreili/AP Photo

Moving the devices to the hold could actually make such devices harder to detect if they slip past airport screening. The exploding lithium batteries in Samsung devices, for example, show how even ordinary fire risks can be greater when passengers are not there to notice a smoking battery in a bag in the overhead compartment.

Similarly, the presence of observant passengers can help thwart terrorist activity when it does occur, as happened with the underwear bomber. One should keep in mind that one of the greatest airline tragedies of all times, the attack on Pan Am flight 103 that exploded over Lockerbie and claimed 270 lives, was caused by a bomb that went off in a suitcase in the cargo hold.

On the economic side, the financial costs of the policy change would likely be very high. Based on statistics from the U.S. Department of Commerce, travel industry professionals estimate that the cost of lost productivity alone for business travelers unable to work on flights between the U.S. and Europe is estimated to be as great as $500 million a year.

The potential loss of tourism revenue may be even greater, as families avoid vacationing in the United States and business travelers choose to meet by teleconference instead of in person.

Questionable politics

So if the laptop ban would be ineffective – or worse yet, even make airline travel less safe – and be very costly, why would the government consider it?

The answer is likely politics. And that is because people overestimate the likelihood of being harmed by a terrorist attack, which lends extreme actions like the laptop ban public support, while they underestimate the risks of more ordinary occurrences like car accidents or defective batteries.

From 1975 to 2015, fewer than 84 Americans a year died due to terrorism, and that includes the attacks on 9/11. Meanwhile, in 2015 alone a total of 38,300 people died in traffic-related accidents in the U.S. And lithium batteries have been blamed for dozens of aircraft fires and may have been what brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared in 2014 with more than 200 passengers and crew.

At the same time, officials on whose watch an attack or other disaster occurs receive disproportionate blame, something that does not carry over to more ordinary risks. People fear terror attacks more than the common threats that are actually more likely to cause them harm. Politicians may respond to their voters’ concerns, and may even share the same cognitive biases.

As a result, government decision makers have an incentive to overvalue measures taken to prevent terror attacks, even at the expense of increasing more ordinary – yet more likely – safety risks.

While there may not be much we can do about Americans’ misconceptions about the risk of terrorism, public policy on an issue as important as airline safety should not blindly follow them.

Cassandra Burke Robertson, Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Professional Ethics, Case Western Reserve University and Irina D. Manta, Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Intellectual Property Law, Hofstra University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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