Category Archives: Uncategorized

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Bad puns, old Internet memes, very out-of-date ‘cute animal news’ stories, and aviation references, all in one photograph.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.


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?

The American race narrative is unique and irrelevant

In Anglophone countries, we tend to view race through a US prism.

The recent Teacupgate saga that black (meaning black, not BME) students are underrepresented at Oxbridge is a good example.

In the UK, and every other majority-white country except the US, black people are just another immigrant group – they’re people who’ve mostly come to the relevant country in the last 50 years, alongside people of all other ethnic groups who’ve done the same as international migration has taken place. They represent about 2% of the UK’s 10% ethnic minority population.

In the US, 13% of the population are African-American, and the vast majority are the descendants of people brought over forcibly, 150 years ago or more, to work as slaves.

So what? Well, “choosing to come over recently to avoid poverty or torture” is a choice. An excellent choice that people should be allowed, but a choice. And a choice that took place within living family memory.

“Being the descendants of people you don’t know and whose history you don’t know who were brought over in chains” is rather different. It’s much closer morally – and, as the data says, in terms of levels of deprivation and lack of civic engagement – to being part of an indigenous community.

So however the US government treats black people isn’t relevant to how European governments should relate to black people, in the slightest. Black people in Europe are equivalent to South Asian and East Asian people in the US – a minority with specific cultural needs, but not a group to whom a special obligation are owed.

In Australia, New Zealand and Canada, there are directly analogous groups: the Aborigines in Australia, the First Nations in Canada, and the Maori in New Zealand. Of those, the Maori are the most relevant, as they account for a similar percentage of the population of New Zealand as African-Americans account for the population of the US.

In the UK, the closest parallel are people of Pakistani origin working in northern ex-textile towns – although they weren’t sent over by force, whole villages were offered migration in a “everyone else is going, so you’d better” deal in the 1950s and 1960s to serve the textiles industry as cheap labour. And, oddly enough, the obstacles those groups face are similar to those faced by African-Americans.

But that’s got sod-all to do with being black – indeed, if you called the average Bolton Pakistani black, they’d be distinctly cross. It’s to do with being a minority group that’s been transplanted en masse, rather than through voluntary “I’m going to leave everything and head elsewhere” choice, to another place.

So can we please drop the pseudo-American discourse under which ‘black’ is a unique and specific cultural difference worth making something of?

The reason black Caribbean British people have a shitty time of it is because they’re in the same boat as white working class British people. Which is a shitty boat, but the stats suggest that the white working class and black Caribbean immigrants live in the same places, do the same things, and have an equally rubbish time of things.

Meanwhile, other immigrants – excepting the descendants of Pakistani and Bangladeshi mill-workers, but including black African immigrants – view themselves as middle-class and get treated that way.

Soccer, with added self-loathing versus racism

OK, so as an Englishman following the World Cup bidding whilst living in and loving Australia, the last 20 minutes have been kinda sad.

My pre-draw, pre-looking-up-facts take on things would be “it’s most likely that Russia and Qatar will win, because the draw is decided by crooked bastards from the third world appointed by crooked Mr Blatter”. I still half stand by that: they did, and on one side, it was. On the other side, I was a bit hasty.

England is going to have hosted an even bigger event six years beforehand and will have the infrastructure in place. Meanwhile, as well as being massively incompetent at everything and almost as crime-ridden as South Africa, Russia is notoriously one of the most corrupt countries in the world, is desperate for international validation, and has enormous mineral wealth.

But I think England can hold its head up high. Russia is, in any sane sense, a worse candidate to hold the World Cup than England, and only won due to the fact that it’s run by lying, cheating bastards who don’t care in the slightest that we all know they are.

Qatar’s victory isn’t quite so simple. While Qatar is a mineral-wealth country, it’s not very corrupt. Indeed, according to the rankings above, it’s no more corrupt than the UK or Japan.

However, unlike Australia and the US, Qatar seriously devoted itself to the World Cup bid. Instead of bribing corrupt officials, it cultivated diplomatic relations with their countries (bribery is evil when it involves individuals, but when a poor nation’s Treasury is enriched by a kind foreign country, giving them your vote in a soccer election isn’t a terrible thing). And it showed that it could build infrastructure, which (let’s be honest – hell, this is the main reason I was hoping we’d win) Australia isn’t great at without an external push of some sort.

So yeah. The Russia World Cup is going to be a terrifying and inept event, which they never should have won. The Qatar World Cup is going to be a boringly competent event, which would have been more fun if it would’ve been in Australia.

And despite stereotypes of Arabs, Qatar won primarily on merit. Unlike the fucking Russians.

It’s a Jolly Fun Bank Quiz

It being Sunday, or Monday, or one of those kind of days, and this being a Journal of Record [*], I thought I’d put out the kind of quiz that only my readers could answer.

What do the following UK-headquartered banks:
* Lloyds Banking Group
* Standard Chartered

…have in common with no other UK-headquartered retail banks?

[*] I’m almost embarrassed to say that this blog is being archived by the British Library. I actually have no idea what the hell 25th century historians of the 21st century will do – well, I recognise half of my readers believe they’ll occasionally venture out of their caves and wonder why the outside world still makes their skin blister or similar. But right now, every humanities undergrad thesis candidate is delighted to find a neglected text to use for their work – in 2500, this crap will be (and, in terms of proportion of utter shite to “survives”, actually will be) available for an undergrad thesis. In which case, hello 2500 person, I hope they’ve genetically engineered girls to look like Natalie Portman, gizza shout if you’ve got a time machine, OK?

Crooked Timber comments deliver, again

From a post on the correlation between studying engineering and becoming a violent extremist, commenter Tom Bach:

Hitler was notoriously lazy and profoundly ignorant; in large measure because he never studied anything and read less. He enjoyed rambling monologues filled with made up facts.

Commenter Stuart:

It sounds as if Hitler had been born a few decades later he might now have a show on Fox News.