Category Archives: Uncategorized

Oktober. Not much fest, as yet

How on earth did it get to be October? The temperature’s 33C, the birds are singing, and the massive quantities of work that I have to get finished within the next fortnight are absolutely terrifying [*].

Since all the headline news seems to involve either tedious rehashes of politics (in brief: no presidential debate or party conference speech has ever made a blind bit of difference to anything; they’re like pre-season friendlies for people who follow politics instead of sport) or horrible things happening to women and girls either now or in the past (in brief: it’s impressive how much difference both changing societal attitudes and modern surveillance techniques have made to abusers getting caught), I haven’t had a whole lot to say, beyond one-liners on Twitter.

The global economy? Well, that hasn’t really changed in 12 months. Austerity in Europe failed some more, as everyone who isn’t a raving far-right ideologue predicted. The half-austere USA did slightly better, as, etc. Australia continues to outperform by virtue of being a rock of gold and coal the size of the USA with the population of Florida. Meaningless statements are being made by the ECB, which might be of vague importance if you’re a day-trader or a Greek, but certainly not otherwise.

Assorted Middle East wars: the only one which really matters (unless you live there, in which case there doesn’t seem to be a huge difference in survival rates between the ones where we toppled evil dictators and the ones where we didn’t) is Israel/Iran. It seems unlikely that Benji will do anything before the US election. That’s The One To Watch – a significant Israel/Iran campaign would be the most significant geopolitical thing since at least Iraq 2003, if not the fall of the USSR.

Off to Oktoberfest in Brisbane in a week and a bit, by which point the news still won’t have changed, but hopefully I’ll have a bit less of a workpile. Meanwhile, roger and out.

[*] an interesting difference between being freelance and employed is the extent to which employed people love the weekends, whilst as a freelancer I dread them. “NO, IT’S FRIDAY ALREADY. THIS CANNOT BE!”.

Meanwhile, England gets ‘Jerusalem’

The reason why I don’t mind singing the UK national anthem, is that it’s asking a ridiculous and more-or-less imaginary entity to save another.

Santa save the Defender of the Faith.
Santa save Dr Manhattan.
Santa save Optimus Prime.
Send them all supermega.
Send them all awesometastic.
Long to kick lots of arse.
Santa save Batman.

I’m cool with that.

A quiz it is

Trivia only a day later than promised; that’s practically on time. Vaguely colonial-themed. Question 1 is for non-Sydneysiders only. Leave your answers in comments; winner gets some kind of actual or virtual prize.

1a) Which sport is played most frequently at the Sydney Football Stadium?
1b) Which sport is played most frequently at the Sydney Cricket Ground?
2) Which year was the first US air raid on Tokyo?
3) Who is the Head Chief of Fiji?
4) Which US state has the Union Jack on its flag?
5) What’s the southernmost point in the EU?
6) Which country’s independence was secured under General Halloween the Opening?
7) Why did a hundred Canadians move a very long way south in 1837?
8) Which country’s federal parliament sits furthest away from its cabinet?
9) Which single letter distinguishes the Raven King from Richard IV?
10) Which country’s former national flag included a harp, a fleur-de-lys and four lions?

Deeply odd UK usage

While we’re still on UK-nomenclature, this article (written by an American for a British-based international magazine) has one of the oddest phrasings I’ve seen in a while:

The An-124 will likely be a rare sight in Kinston as Spirit plans to typically deliver its fuselage panels by boat to France, while its wing spars, also built in North Carolina, will be dispatched to Prestwick, Scotland on their way to Broughton in the UK.

‘Prestwick, Scotland on their way to Broughton in Wales’ would be fine. ‘Prestwick, UK on their way to Broughton in the UK’ would be clunky, but fine. But mixing them up like this is just strange (I wonder if he just didn’t know whether Broughton was in England or Wales and couldn’t be bothered to check…). On the plus side, at least he didn’t say ‘on their way to Broughton, England’…

This, this, all of this all of the time

My bankster buddy Dan has an excellent post on Crooked Timber about how the venal British middle class are basically blaming the disaster they created, caused and voted for, on the small subset of the venal British middle class who are actually bankers – rather than on their own stupid and venal decisions. If you disagree, you’re either actually poor, in which case man the guillotines and wise up to the fact that when Mrs Thatcher and her ideological successors fucked the unions, which meant “everyone who works for a wage”, or you’re blaming the bankers for the fact that you’re a venal twat yourself.

Yorkshire Alex’s comment is the best take on the 2000s ever:

In the UK and Ireland, and as far as I know elsewhere, the property boom was an era of absolutely repellent, piggish greed that was actually open to you! It was a culture of speculation that was participatory and all the uglier for it. All sorts of people got the opportunity to behave like caricature bankers, right down to the horrible politics, and they did.

In other news, people who think that Blairy-Browny-Labour was a left-wing party are still mentally ill.

Amy Winehouse Memorial Stupid Quiz

In memory of everyone’s favourite alcoholic Jewish female jazz singer-songwriter (bonus points for anyone who has a different favourite alcoholic Jewish female jazz singer-songwriter: please share in comments), a single question today. What was the highest UK chart position achieved by Amy Winehouse’s cover version of Valerie?

Minor observations and questions

As a 30ish male, if you walk around the place with a black eye, you will get a combination of contemptuous looks, studied avoidance, and slightly unnerving deference. I’m assuming the latter comes from people who assume that the owner of a black eye has managed to acquire it through being an ultraviolent Begbie figure, rather than through falling off a chair.

I’m guessing that most women trying the same public-black eye-experiment would instead get a combination of pitying looks and studied avoidance, for fairly obvious ‘different stereotype’ reasons, even if said black eye were in fact acquired in a bullfight or crocodile-wrestling accident – any of my female readers shiner-ed themselves up and care to confirm?

Also, it being a public holiday, families were out in force at the supermarket. Two-parent-one-toddler family combinations were noticeably less efficient at shopping, and much more likely to feature at least one screaming angry family member, than one-parent-one-toddler combinations. And that this held whether the one-parent was female or male (I didn’t see any two-same-sex-parent-one-toddler combinations, sadly).

Does the “higher adult/child ratio actually makes shopping more miserable” hold true in readers’ experience? Or are there other factors at play (e.g. “the more unsufferable the toddler, the less willing either parent is to take them out solo if avoidable”)?

Cruel and unusual pun-ishment

Bad puns, old Internet memes, very out-of-date ‘cute animal news’ stories, and aviation references, all in one photograph. I’m spoiling you all, just like being left in the sun for a week spoils cream.

Emily the Lolcat

Yes, she really is at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle. Incidentally, this post was based on a tweet by @anattendantlord, which was itself inspired by my link to this gag. But I take full responsibility for the horror.

Airlines and Virginity

There’s been some chat this weekend about a sale of Virgin Atlantic. Very much like the sale of Cadbury, this is a point where my general views about the free market are coloured by views by the awful bastards who might end up owning things that I like to have [*].

Virgin Atlantic are the best international airline, without a doubt. Sadly, I seldom fly on them, for tedious reasons related to former employers’ corporate travel policies and enormous quantities of OneWorld Airmiles. If I knew I was going to have to make two business class trips to the UK over the next 12 months, I’d definitely take both with Virgin (because that would earn me a privilege card and would be aces). Since I know I’m going to have to make one economy class trip to the UK, and various other trips elsewhere also in economy, then it’s not going to happen.

And that – if you replicate for everyone who doesn’t live in the UK but thinks Virgin Atlantic are a great airline – is why Virgin Atlantic are, erm, not in quite the financial situation that a self-respecting billionaire owner would hope for.

The future of airlines is alliances plus MONEY.

As far as alliances go, there’s OneWorld, which features the UK’s second-best major airline (BA), mainland Europe’s second-best major airline (Iberia), the US’s least terrible major airline (American Airlines), Japan’s biggest airline (JAL), which I’ve never flown on, the best of the cheap Asian airlines (Cathay), and Australia’s really quite delightful Qantas. Plus some jokers (notably, Finnair. Usually, it’s cheaper to go SYD-SIN-HEL-LHR than SYD-SIN-LHR…). If you’re from almost anywhere, it has the helpful property of getting you almost anywhere else in two hops.

Then there’s Star. If you’re not from the UK or Australia, Star is not a bad alliance at all. It features Lufthansa, who are mainland Europe’s best major airline; Singapore, who rival Virgin Atlantic for The Best Airline (and, to their complete regret and lack of any kind of synergy, own a 49% stake in Virgin Atlantic); United, who’re slightly worse than AA but not by a huge margin; BMI, who used to fight it out with BA on short-haul routes until Ryanair and Easyjet killed all short-haul premium airline traffic that wasn’t direct transfers; and Air New Zealand. If you’re from almost anywhere that isn’t the UK or Australia, it has the helpful property of getting you almost anywhere else in two hops.

And finally, there’s SkyTeam. In the same way that you have McDonalds, Burger King, and greasy men selling you poisonous burgers; or in the same way that you have Microsoft, Apple, or comedy devices that only geeks can comprehend, there’s SkyTeam. SkyTeam features Air France, the most terrifyingly dangerous and irresponsible airline in the developed world; KLM, who I hate for personal reasons [**]; Delta, who’re slightly worse than United or AA; and some entirely unreassuring third-world airlines.

Aside from the alliances, you also have two airlines trying to convert their geographical and geological advantages into a viable business: Emirates, which is Emirates; and Etihad, which wishes it was Emirates. Both are perfectly acceptable.

Emirates is the best way of flying from $_medium_sized_European_city to $_medium_sized_Asian_city, because it flies to absolutely all of them, having noticed that a) its geography is perfectly suited to this; b) fuel is cheap; c) fuck, we have to do something which isn’t just oil. Having been a very good airline for 30 years, Emirates has reached the point where it doesn’t *need* an alliance. Yeah, it can’t fly transpacific, but it can do everything else. And it’ll probably buy Air New Zealand whenever everyone’s stopped being so paranoid about Arabs, if only to stop Singapore buying it first.

Etihad is more of an unknown concern. It was set up by the government of Abu Dhabi in a fit of pique about the fact that Dubai, despite being poorer and less important than Abu Dhabi, had managed to build a world-class airline. So they’ve poached many of the westerners who built massively successful airlines, and have bought huge numbers of planes, and there’s a huge “this must win” thing occurring. And Abu Dhabi airport is over 100km from Dubai airport, so there’s no actual direct reason why both airlines can’t win at once. The most important thing to bear in mind for Etihad, though, is “must be more important than Emirates”.

Oh, also Etihad has an alliance with Virgin Blue, which is Australia’s second-biggest airline. That’s a bigger deal than you’d expect – given Australia’s size and isolation, it’s a far more important market for aviation than its population would justify. Virgin Blue, under various brand names (V Australia, Polynesian Blue and Pacific Blue – the Singapore/Virgin deal currently prevents them from using the Virgin name for international flights), has a sizeable and profitable domestic, intra-pacific, and growing transpacific business.

So, out of this bunch, who’s going to buy Virgin Atlantic? Well, let’s consider the options.

1) OneWorld. No chance. It doesn’t help their network or brands, and the UK regulators would immediately tell BA to shove it.

2) Star Alliance. No chance. Through BMI, Lufthansa are the second-biggest airline at Heathrow, so slots would need to be sold. Also, it’s clear through Singapore’s behaviour that it has no interest at all in Virgin – it just wants the cash.

3) SkyTeam. Very possible. Would be sad for customers, because VS’s excellent standards would inevitably be lowered to those of the other, dreadful, airlines in that alliance. On the other hand, it’d fill an obvious gap for SkyTeam. It’s a risk for Singapore to sell, though, for the same reason: the giant UK gap in SkyTeam would be filled, which wouldn’t make its Star partners happy. And it’s not like any of the SkyTeam partners are so flush as to make Singapore an offer it couldn’t refuse.

4) Etihad. Would be good for customers: the Virgin brand would help Etihad in non-Asian markets; Virgin Blue’s already affiliated with Etihad; Richard’s involvement in “how to make people love your airline” would be welcomed rather than seen as a pain in the arse. Singapore would probably sell cheaper to Etihad than the SkyTeam airlines, as it’s not a threat on core Asian routes (no SE Asia hub). On the other hand, is there really room for non-alliance airlines, even if they do have petrodollars behind them? And how does not having a hub in SE Asia work for a global airline?

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for option 4, but we’ll see how it goes. In an example of how easy it is for people to differ on these things, veteran Aussie airblogger Ben Sandilands thinks there might be a future in a Qantas/Singapore tie-up, whereas I can’t see either airline leaving their core alliance. If the Arabs are banned, Singapore will buy Air New Zealand at some point, though.

[*] Kraft failed to appoint any Cadbury people to its management team in the US, despite the fact that the whole reason for buying the company was that Kraft had been desperately floundering but was cash-rich due to its evil cigarette dowry whilst Cadbury had being growing massively. And now it seems to be removing Green & Blacks chocolate from Australia, in favour of its pre-owned Swiss brands. No greater calumny could be perpetrated…

[**] In the days when this sort of thing happened, my employer paid over GBP2000 for a business class ticket from Detroit to Glasgow for me with KLM. The Detroit-Amsterdam plane wasn’t a problem, but my scheduled plane out of AMS was cancelled. They then let two more planes leave for Glasgow without me on either of them, on the grounds that people who’d paid GBP100 for a quick hop in economy were more valuable than business class customers and they couldn’t possibly bounce anyone. Even as someone who travels for next-to-nothing at the back of the plane whenever I can, that ain’t right – you find some hippies who’d be willing to spend another night getting stoned, you give them GBP200 to turn up tomorrow instead, and you get your business class passengers on the next plane.

Poms, Paddies, Wogs & Asians All Let Us Rejoyce

Note: this post was written at 1AM on Australia Day, following an evening in which many traditional Australian beverages were consumed. While I stand by its emotional truth in the cold light of day, I’m not making any claims of accuracy for any of the ‘facts’ cited below…

So, today it’s Australia Day.

We’re celebrating the arrival of 11 boats full of criminals and sailors to a place that a grumpy Yorkshireman had encountered seven years beforehand, and brought a map back to London. 224 years and five days ago, the boats in question all landed in a pretty harbour, discovered that it was inhospitably awful (subsequently, they built an airport there, which is fair enough – this would have been my reaction had I discovered Hounslow), and tried to sail somewhere else.

224 years and 0 days ago, they found somewhere else. They did a bloody good job.

Sydney Harbour, or Jackson’s Bay if you prefer, is one of the most astonishingly beautiful, and yet liveable, natural harbours in the world. Fresh water was abundant; it was unreal. As someone who came here on a series of jet planes whilst having a delightful holiday before making real life here, there was still something magical about seeing Sydney Harbour, beyond the bridge and opera house obviousness. I can only imagine – by which I mean I can’t, even slightly imagine – what you’d think on seeing Sydney Harbour for the first time if your starting point had been a year on a prison hulk.

So that was a win, overall. The locals were more or less friendly, although their “not immune to European diseases” and “not having a European conception of land rights” cultural differences turned out to be a bit of a problem in the longer term [*].

This is something which makes Australia very, very different from America. America’s bicentennial, featuring enormous amounts of pomp, circumstance and dedicated Isaac Asimov novels, was celebrated 200 years after the day they told the Poms to fuck off. Australia’s, featuring great gusto, many fireworks, and a lot of Aboriginal tokenism, was celebrated 200 years after the day the Poms turned up. Every year, Australian hats and shorts and bandanas are donned to celebrate Australian-ness. Every quarter of an Australian hat features a Union flag.

And yet, Australia Day is in no sense at all British. The spirit in which I’m going to go and get blind drunk on Australian pale ale tomorrow is the spirit of Australia, and in the hope – which, normally, is reciprocated – that I’ll be understood as someone who loves Australia and wants to be accepted as an Australian. Nick Bryant’s article from Monday has some background, but basically Australia is one of the few – possibly one of the only – places that has managed to transcend its colonial past without really holding any rancour towards anyone.

And yet they probably should be pissed off with us.

Aside from obvious convict-dumping, tariff-milking shenanigans, the British used Australians as cannon-fodder in all wars up to WWI (no more so than we used Brits, but still), and attempted to do so in WWII. This led to what, if Australians were less relaxed, would have been classed as a revolution: they refused to send troops to Europe to protect Britain, because the Japanese were planning to invade Australia and that seemed a bit more important. Then, when the Americans joined WWII, a new saviour was found (if that sounds patronising, one of my proudest possessions is the US Medal of Honor awarded to John Band who died fighting for the Americans as an Australian navy officer, so it wasn’t meant to). The concept that the UK was the mother country that would always protect you was irreversibly dead.

Which, as a Pom, is a bit depressing. One of the few things that I don’t like about Australia is its Yankophilia, but hell – it’s understandable, given who saved whose arses.

Anyway.

Australia’s originally of Pom and Paddy descent (the courts didn’t discriminate), saved by the Yanks, and since the war copious quantities of southern Europeans (known, in a way that horrifies squeamish Brits and Americans, as wogs), south-east Asians, and more recently Chinese people and Indians, have come here to make awesome lives for themselves. It works. It’s the least grumpy and most friendly place I’ve been to out of the 53 countries I’ve been to (Facebook quiz, sorry), and the place I’d most like to live in out of all of the places I’ve lived.

It ain’t perfect, but as far as I can make out, it’s closer than anyone who has the privilege to live here could possible have the chutzpah to expect. Happy fucking Australia Day.

[*] This is obviously the massivest understatement ever, and the bit where all of the minor keys on the piano are pressed at once. Don’t blame me, blame the people who organised the holiday. Yes, obviously Australia’s success is at the complete and utter expense of the Aboriginal population. Next July 4, ask an American the same question (especially as one of the main reasons for that particular rebellion was to avoid the British government’s restrictions on stealing Native American land). Hell, why not go and ask me about why people in England who aren’t of Welsh descent are taller and blonder than me?