What I’ve been up to, week ending 2010-04-18

  • RT @HowardLovecraft There is a gnawing in my abdomen which at first I mistook for festering hunger. That is, until discoloration appeared. #
  • Oddly, Communist Party enter #ge2010 with sensible economic manifesto: http://bit.ly/boElfb – wealth taxes are the best taxes #
  • Another day, another #ebz refill http://fallenlondon.com/c/50394 #
  • hates: a) iinet b) TP-Link c) Vodafone d) himself, for buying a naked broadband connection and a cheap router off ebay #
  • I have five devices allegedly capable of picking up broadband of some description. And no broadband. Yay technology. #
  • That's two DSL routers, two 3G modems, and a 3G phone with modem capabilities, in case you were wondering #
  • I can make one of the 3G modems provide fairly decent broadband by taking it out to the pub. Like master like servant, I guess. #
  • Darling Harbour at sunset is pretty. Why are we so attracted to large bodies of water? #
  • Dear Iceland. Thanks and all that, but we actually said we wanted your *cash*. Ta, The British People #
  • Met the excellent @ChrissieM yesterday, after 10 years of internetty acquaintance. Top Quality, Would Recommend, etc. #
  • More crowdsourcing: anyone know a good RSS reader for #nokia #n97? Or a VHP reader would probably do. #badIndianfarrightpoliticspuns #
  • This is a glorious language rant; I agree with every word: http://bit.ly/brnhZc #
  • For once the Internet's working, so a quick #ebz sesh is in order… http://fallenlondon.com/c/52856 #
  • is off to the pub. To drink beer. With a Welshman. And probably some New South Welshmen too. #
  • That was meant as a FB update, but it can stay. In other news, I'm slightly too stupid for multiplatform messaging software… #
  • Over 60% of Brits say they'll vote for centre-left parties, and the next government will probably still be Tory? That's the real fail… #
  • …petty fights over *which* centre-left party will get the most seats are irrelevant by comparison. #
  • Pleased the RMT got stuffed. Unlike Unite/BA, the dispute is *entirely* the RMT making shit up, and Network Rail *entirely* in the right #
  • If any of the parties were to promise an Act of Attainder under which Bob Crow would be hanged, drawn and quartered, I'd vote for them. #
  • RT @cearta: Charleton J: internet is populated by fraudsters, pornographers and cranks. Me: so is Ulysses but we don't ban that any more #
  • Another year with no Orwell award nomination. Fuck, how many elephants do I have to shoot? #
  • I thought that might happen. #
  • #ebz or pub? Still rather hungover… http://fallenlondon.com/c/53572 #
  • Irritatingly, I think my elephant comment was the wittiest thing I'm ever going to say. And it was wasted. Luckily, so am I. #
  • If I was the completely chilled person I want to be perceived as, I'd make a certain phone call right now. But I'm not, so I can't. #
  • is stone cold sober and looking for bottles of love. This is lies; I'm actually plastered. But I like Del Amitri #guiltypleasures #

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What I’ve been up to, week ending 2010-04-11

  • Vodafone Australia must die. GARR. Useless eejits. Who builds an epayment site that rejects domestic debit cards *and* foreign credit cards? #
  • Looking 4ward to Times going paywall: website badly coded w/plain text pages 1MB & breaks mobiles. Nasty Twitter surprises will diminish… #
  • Tookey's review of Kick-Ass daft for obvious reason: 0% overlap between geek kids who'll watch movie & chav kids who do knife-crime… #
  • Loving the original #Airport movie. Especially the world's silliest British accent on the BOAC pilot… #
  • Old lady fairdodger in original #airport movie is quality. #
  • My god! It's a white chap with a bomb! #originalairportmovie #
  • Twitter keeps failing. #originalairportmovie impressive in setup – it's been on an hour and *all* just buildup… #
  • Blimey, she's not a BOAC stewardess, she works for Unbranded Gonna Crash Yank Airline. Why would a pretty English girl do such a thing? #
  • Plane looks cgi, but I think that's just because a 4-engine narrowbody is crazy-retro #originalairportmovie #geekery #
  • Haha, reminded that US airlines charge for booze #originalairportmovie #unspeakablebastards #
  • So the white guy with a bomb is Italian. Oooh, those crazy Italian terrorists. #originalairportmovie #
  • Descend to 10,000ft you fools #originalairportmovie #
  • Italian suicide bomber has exploded. Plane descending to 10,000ft #wellduh #originalairportmovie #
  • Nun drinking whiskey just won a million points. #originalairportmovie #clichetastic #
  • One of the many cheesy subplots of this movie is the screwing-over of NIMBYs and BANANAs. I endorse this subplot #originalairportmovie. #
  • Enjoying the hardcore Boeing product placement (in days when MDD and Lockheed made pax planes) #originalairportmovie #
  • "an escaped convict who lived in 2 worlds", says ABC trailer. Err, isn't that the whole populace? #
  • #ebz The Starveling Cat! The Starveling Cat! Sits on your chest when you're sleeping flat! http://fallenlondon.com/c/47018 #
  • Easter was a big weekend. I'm now trying to work, but mostly failing. Tomorrow I hope to not feel like death. #
  • Theresa Villiers is an idiot – this is precisely the situation where gov't paying lawyers and accountants is needed: http://bit.ly/9enQL5 #
  • Enquiry showed DfT's starting premise was wrong. That made it worthwhile. By TV's logic, any experiment that refutes hypothesis is a failure #
  • WIN: "if a film's going to turn us into paedos, it’s no bad thing if it also encourages young ladies to carry knives" http://bit.ly/aJvq6M #
  • Amusing RATM-style #Save6Music stunt, with side benefit of promoting the excellent HMHB: http://www.joydivisionovengloves.com/ #
  • Yes: RT @mrpower 1997 was one of those times when change was necessary. I was hopeful. It didn't last long. Eventually found Blair loathsome #
  • Great stuff from Merrick on the criminalisation of young people solely for being young: http://bit.ly/bnJb4m #
  • I've just signed up to have someone apply a metal grater to the surface of my eyes. Insert S&M jokes here. #
  • Study finds that badly educated people like moronic comedians & well-educated people like clever comedians. Shock! http://bit.ly/cB0xRd #
  • #ebz is a welcome distraction from #ge2010 fever http://fallenlondon.com/c/47565 #
  • Obvious but needs reiterating -> "Cameron’s message is clear. And it isn’t change" http://bit.ly/9mD7o8 #
  • I know BNP-ist Nick Eriksen's pro-rape comments are horrible, but HELLO, HE'S A FUCKING NAZI. "Nazi in 'is vile'" shock… #
  • Not fond of Boris, but whoever's brought a complaint re his Brent Cross speech is a git and deserves to lose. #
  • …both as Boris elected and correct avenue for complaint is next election (as for Ken), and as slating Nimbys and Bananas is to be praised. #
  • "I meant to say, it was aces" RT @tonytrainor VA governor apologizes for leaving slavery out of Confederate History Month http://goo.gl/t07X #
  • Excellent. Not only are #Tories fighting #ge10 on a manifesto of hating gays, they also hate women: http://bit.ly/9tOcxN #
  • This is why anyone left-liberal who lives in a Lab/Con marginal is morally obliged to vote Labour. They are different, and Tories much worse #
  • Good point -> RT @mudlarklives: Cameron obv getting advice from Yank advisers. Bad enough to support their wars, now their bigotry too. #
  • "Fuel poverty" nonsense on the news. I don't believe in fuel poverty in the UK, never mind in a state where it *doesn't get cold*… #
  • Anyone else think Labour have seriously ballsed up Tory-shafting potential re ID cards, if cost of cancelling is only gbp40m? #
  • The only reason not to commit more cash upfront is that the next Labour gov't planned to abolish them anyway. Which is reassuring. #
  • Hmm. Stuart Rose criticises Brown for suggesting Tories misled him; Terry Leahy supports govt. Now compare M&S performance with Tesco… #
  • Unforgivable Brit-bashing bullshit from @TIME http://su.pr/23szAj – yet another reason to stay home next time the US launches a stupid war #
  • Slightly depressed about Innocent Drinks' sale to Coca-Cola. Not surprised, but slightly depressed nonetheless. #
  • #ff #followfriday @themanwhofell (like you don't already) @anattendantlord @Oedipus_Lex @alaindebotton (no, really) #
  • "Oooh, it's the money" analysis of #debill has one serious flaw: telcos (=ISPs) have *far* more cash than record/movie companies #
  • In particular, UK movies are paid for by the lottery. If from now nobody ever paid for a movie, it wouldn't impact UK film industry at all. #
  • Actually, that gives me an idea – gbp7 grant to cinemas to reimburse every entry to a UK film. That way, they might occasionally show one #
  • Note to online publishers: if you think your feature article needs to be spread over multiple web pages, IT'S TOO LONG! Also, it doesn't. #
  • is wondering whether Poland did anything to annoy Mr Putin recently… #
  • Linda Bowman is like NAMBLA: while she can't help her feelings, she should realise they're wrong rather than trying to change the law… #
  • Once again, best commentary on #ge2010 comes from a fictional character: http://bit.ly/9UYPJY #
  • It's a Sunday morning, so of course I'm on #ebz http://fallenlondon.com/c/49775 #
  • Right-wing-pseudo-victimhood item number 23,335: despite the fact that we live in a culture which is filthily barbaric to criminals and… #
  • …fetishises crime victims and their relatives to a frankly surreal degree, pretending that it's the opposite (w.r.t http://bit.ly/cNMEGc ) #
  • Does anyone else get annoyed at the bit in Shaun of the Dead where Shaun's being a tit about despatching his zombie ma, and the Irish guy… #
  • …who's otherwise a wanker is being entirely sensible and right, and everyone sides with Shaun and drives the Irish guy to his death? #
  • Possibly this is another sign of my inability to deal with the 'fact' that bereaved people are allowed to act like twats with no comeback. #
  • FACT: @daveweeden's cat (and Twitter avatar) is really quite exceptionally cute. #

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Consequences, or their absence

I originally posted this in the comments at Crooked Timber as an aside, but thought it deserved elevation of sorts:

It’s worth remembering the very limited harm that was done by Tony Blair’s stupid and wrong decision to get involved in Iraq. The net result was that:

a) a lot of people internationally thought the British were slightly more wankerish than they previously thought us, at least until they forgot about it again.

b) the risk of Islamist terrorism against UK nationals rose from imperceptibly low to still imperceptibly low but slightly higher than before.

Also, some of the military casualties of the war became people with British passports instead of people with American passports, and some of the civilian casualties of the war were shot or bombed by people with British passports instead of people with American passports.

But as far as I can see, that doesn’t affect the total harm done, unless you think the British Army is appreciably worse than the US Army at minimising casualties (which doesn’t appear to be the case either from the casualty data or the anecdotal evidence that I’ve seen), or that American deaths are more acceptable than British ones.

What I’ve been up to, week ending 2010-04-04

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Why pointless parliaments don’t and shouldn’t exist

Something which surprised me when I first researched moving to Sydney was that the city (in the sense of “wide urban area”) has no governing authority: the CBD and some of the inner suburbs are called the City of Sydney, but the vast majority of the city (including places that are only 10 minutes’ walk from the city centre) is made up of independent boroughs.

This felt familiar: it was also the case in London for 15 years, following Mrs Thatcher’s bizarre ideological crusade against local government, cities, any kind of planning of anything and the poor. And the resulting lack of focus on anything was pretty disastrous for London’s development over that time – hence why we now have a Mayor and an Assembly with control over major strategic issues affecting London’s development.

However, in Sydney, there’s never been much real pressure to do the same – because there’s already an authority that’s well qualified to do the job.

Greater Sydney has a population of 4.5m people, and so it makes up two-thirds of the population of the state of New South Wales. The NSW government and civil service are based in Sydney, and – because it accounts for most of NSW’s people, economy, media, culture, and events good and evil – devote a large majority of their time and budget to Sydney’s governance.

In other words, while the system governing Sydney is a little odd, probably wouldn’t be one that you’d choose if you were starting from scratch, and means that the metropolis is administered at a different level of authority to all the other cities in NSW, the net result is something that works, doesn’t pointlessly duplicate layers of effort, and is pretty much fair to everyone involved.

Sydneysiders, being a laid-back and sensible bunch of people, are happy with this state of affairs, and don’t kick up a fuss about people who live in Wagga Wagga getting to vote for the state government even though they don’t live in the city.

The comparison with the un-laid-back, un-sensible types who devote their time to campaigning for an English parliament despite England making up 84% of the UK’s population, is noticeable.

A point of view, albeit not a good one

In the comments at CiF, a commenter called Heyone summarises their supposed ‘non-racist’ objections to immigration:

It’s ridiculous that whenever immigration is talked about there’s always people shouting “racists!” and everybody starts debating what’s racism. This is just counterproductive.

These people have all missed the point. The majority of people are not concerned what race these immigrants are; they have real concerns about the strain that’s being put on NHS, schools, policing and the benefits system with a ever rising population due to Labour’s mass immigration policy.

No – rather, we’ve taken on the point that none of these ‘real concerns’ are, in fact, true. The NHS, schools, policing and benefits system all work well in the UK; hence why our levels of health, education, serious crime and absolute poverty as a society are all at comparable levels to other wealthy developed countries, and haven’t changed appreciably over the last 10 years of relatively high net migration.

The only way you can make a case otherwise is rely on “ooh, it’s all gone to the dogs round here” anecdotes. And yes, of course the occasional granny will preventably die in hospital; some yoofs will leave school with no skills; some stabbers and robbers will go unfound by overworked coppers, and so on, generating emotive stories. All of which would still happen if we had no immigrants at all and doubled the funding for all public services…

So the ‘pressure on public services’ case against immigration is instantly undermined by all the relevant data, and can only be defended through copious use of irrelevant anecdotes and idiotic assertions like “ooh, the numbers are all rigged” or “ooh, you can prove anything with facts”. In other words, it isn’t really a case at all.

So no, ‘it’s all about the resources’ anti-immigration people, you’re not racist in the same sense as someone who explicitly says they want to kick out the darkies. However, your premises for your stated argument are completely, demonstrably untrue. The remaining question is whether you cling onto demonstrably untrue beliefs solely through ignorance, or whether your stated argument is just a rationalisation of the fact that you don’t like to see foreigners…


I probably ought to add that the post above only applies to people who use the argument above.

If, on the other hand, you think that immigration is wrong because it depresses wages for low-skilled UK-national workers, and believe that 1) a mild disbenefit to a minority of UK nationals somehow isn’t outweighed by the enormous benefits to the migrant *and* 2) the problem can’t be solved by income redistribution from the population as a whole (who benefit from immigration) to unskilled locals (the only people who don’t), then you’re deluding yourself in a completely different fashion.

Those British Airways strikes

While there’s been a lot of commentary on the British Airways strikes, the analysis (whether pro-company or pro-union) tends to miss two major points.

The business model is unsustainable – but that’s the management’s fault, not the unions’

BA’s model before the global financial crisis was to charge a fortune for excellent service in Club World and First, while matching its competitors’ prices and service levels in World Traveller. Together with BA’s massive global coverage and its excellent connections between the financial boom centres of London, New York and Singapore, this business model allowed BA to attract a lot of passengers and make a lot of money.

This was lucky, as BA’s cost base is and remains far higher than that of its competitors. Not on planes, or marketing, or even management – but on staffing. At the time, the money that bankers were willing to pay to fly to Singapore in a bed whilst being served champers by reassuringly camp gentlemen was so vast that BA could get away with paying long-serving cabin staff double the national median wage.

However, this wasn’t a sustainable business model unless you believed the boom times would never end. BA should have taken advantage of the good times to stuff its current crews’ mouths with gold (pay rises, massive early retirement packages, one-off bonuses), in exchange for permission to hire new recruits under less generous contracts so that the long-term cost base was more sensible. Virgin Atlantic pays new recruits gbp15,000 ranging up to about gbp30,000 for senior crew, and anyone who’s flown on Virgin will confirm that this is enough to attract motivated people who provide excellent customer service.

Unfortunately, BA’s CEO for most of the boom – Rod Eddington – had approximately no aptitude for long-term strategic thinking, so kept with the status quo for an easy life (my assessment of his aptitude is supported by his report on UK transport policy two years ago, which managed to miss out high-speed rail completely. I’ve only just discovered via Google that he’s done much the same half-arsed job in Melbourne). Willie Walsh has a better track record, but by the time he’d taken over and settled in, the recession was already imminent. Now, BA has to cut costs for long-term survival, but doesn’t have the money to bribe its staff to accept the cuts.

The unions are in a far stronger position than most commentators realise

BA’s enterprise value – the amount that its assets plus goodwill are worth, before taking into account its financial liabilities – is something like GBP7bn. The reason its market cap is only GBP3bn is because it also has a GBP4bn pension deficit. In other words, money that BA owes to its workers and former workers accounts for more than half of the company’s total value.

This has two policy implications.

One is that Red Tory Philip Blond’s suggestion that the government should mutualise BA isn’t quite as insane as it looks – more than half the company is already owned by the workers, and if things were to get worse then the pension fund has priority over the shareholders as a creditor. A deal like the one the US government brokered for GM, leaving the workers as majority shareholders, isn’t totally implausible.

The other consequence of this ownership pattern is something which should make BA shareholders rather nervous.

If the industrial action were to turn into a major, long-term dispute that drove down passenger numbers and revenues to such a severe extent that BA had to go into administration, then the pension fund would have priority over BA’s assets (including not only its physical assets, but also its brands, goodwill, systems, etc). It’d be hard work to rebuild BA as a global brand after that kind of collapse, but it wouldn’t be impossible – particularly with worker ownership ending the company’s labour crisis overnight. The shareholders, however, would lose everything.

So while the “nobody backs down” outcome isn’t good for either side (as the workers lose salary in the short term, and in the long term their pensions end up secured on a much less valuable asset), it’s a lot more optimal for the workers than it is for the shareholders. This makes negotiations, erm, challenging.

Conclusions? None really, except that I wouldn’t want Willie Walsh’s job, and Rod Eddington shouldn’t be put in charge of the strategic direction of a whelk stall (although he’s probably competent to administer one day-to-day).


Update: another conclusion is that if you blame the strikes on Gordon Brown’s ‘weakness’, you’re so utterly clueless that you shouldn’t even be allowed to assist Rod Eddington at his whelk stall…

Update 2: Jim notes that BA’s business model is also unsustainable in the sense that the oil’s going to run out. This is true, and worth a read (I’m not yet totally sold on Jim’s view on precisely when the oil’s going to run out, but that’s mostly based on sheer incredulity that if the oil’s really going to start running seriously short by 2015, governments and large companies haven’t done more to mitigate that. The GFC highlights that this may be over-trusting of me…).

The idle musings of John B