The Boeing Comet is still on sale

The first jetliner was Boeing’s square-windowed 707; it was grounded after a few months following tragic incidents which wiped out a fair proportion of elite Americans. The money flowing to De Havilland to create a civilian airliner progamme to promote their non-murderous plane trumped nationalist concerns.

Despite the fact that the 707 is a finer airliner than the Comet, nobody trusts it, and even Pan-Am and TWA are acquiring Comets. The fact that nobody had really understood pressurisation before Boeing’s painful lesson ensures that De Havilland’s planes became the narrow-body airliner to beat all airliners.

Fantasy world: #2: the first supersonic jetliner is Boeing’s supersonic 7NN7. While it made a bit of noise, the need to beat the Comet – because, despite the technical superiority of the Comet, the sheer cash of the US government and the fact that we all need to make up for America’s humiliation  has ensured that nonsense about ‘supersonic booms’ was defeated by the allegiances of the civilised world.

With its Rolls-Royce/Pratt & Whitney engines, it has been allowed to fly supersonic over all territories outside of the USSR. New York-London-Singapore-Sydney-Los Angeles-New York on Pan-Am was do-able in under a day. Fashionistas signed up, in the hope it would make them sexy and youthful. The conception that transatlantic flight takes more than 4 hours became ludicrous, like the concept of taking four days in a flying boat before WWII,

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.

Why the G4S Olympics screw-up proves that outsourcing is good

Everyone seems very upset about the fact that private security firm G4S has not delivered as many guards as contracted to police the white elephant that is Sports Day 2012, with many people suggesting it’s an example of why outsourced contracts are terrible . I’m not sure they should. Let’s rewind on what’s happened here…

G4S was contracted by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) to deliver 2,000 security guards, as part of total security staffing of 10,000 people. The requirement for private security was increased to 10,400 out of 23,700 in December 2011 for reasons that were left obscure at the time, but can be presumed to be down to some combination of fear of imaginary terrorists and the desperate need to prevent people bringing in off-brand merchandise.

The company agreed to the increase, having its existing GBP86m contract value increased to GBP284m. It then carried out 100,000 job interviews over the following six months for staff, but failed to find enough people available at the right time and willing to take the work. Eventually, it had to admit that it had massively screwed up by taking on a near-impossible task, was not able to meet the 10,400 requirement, and LOCOG (presumably with government help) has instead brought an unspecified number of police and 3,500 soldiers  in to make up the shortfall.

While detailed contractual arrangements for the G4S deal haven’t been published, people familiar with LOCOG say that its Olympics contracts generally contain two separate contractual penalty elements: 1) payment by results, so if you don’t deliver, your pay is scaled back; 2) reimbursement for the costs of getting someone else to finish the job if you can’t.

So we can reasonably assume, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that G4S is getting its pay scaled back and paying for the police and soldiers to step in. There’s a standard rate of GBP55 per hour at which cops are billed out to festival organisers; while I’m not sure the Army makes itself available for hire on quite the same basis [*], the soldiers presumably should command something similar.

This double hit – less pay and much higher costs, offset by much smaller savings on wages for the staff that haven’t been hired – is reflected by G4S’s statement to the London Stock Exchange last Friday, in which the company said it expected to make an overall net loss of GBP35-50 million on the Olympics contract. According to FT Alphaville, the total profit for G4S if everything had gone according to plan would only have been in the region of GBP10m, or 4% of the revenue from the deal. In the best-case scenario for G4S, 96% of the GBP284 million paid by LOCOG to the company would have have been paid out in costs [**].

Net result:

1) Sports Day will still be going ahead with a full security contingent;

2) the net cost to LOCOG of the deal will be lower than if G4S had delivered, because of the impact of the penalty clauses;

3) the police and the army will also get decent reimbursement from G4S, so the taxpayer will win out to an even greater degree;

4) G4S will make a significant outright loss on the LOCOG contract, which is at least four times the size of the profit it would have made had everything gone well.

Had security staffing been carried out directly by LOCOG, there’s little reason to assume it would have gone appreciably better. G4S is probably the organisation in the UK with the most experience in recruiting security people for events, and this is one hell of an event; if the task were easy, they wouldn’t have stuffed it up so badly. Unlike G4S, LOCOG has a million other tasks to focus on to the same deadline, and no direct experience of recruiting security people.

LOCOG perhaps could have made the cops and the army part of the original plan – but then the taxpayer would be paying the full billing rate, rather than having G4S picking up the tab. Or it could have massively raised wages for everyone (including the people already hired, not just the extra people at the margin – I’m fairly certain this is why LOCOG and G4S didn’t go down that route once problems arose) – but again, the taxpayer would then be paying the full rate for everything.

In other words, the risk of failing to deliver on the contract was successfully transferred from the taxpayer to the private sector, without being significantly elevated. For just 4% margin, G4S was willing to assume the entire financial responsibility for the staffing project. The consequences of the epic failure fell entirely on their shareholders, and not on the taxpayers.

Conclusion:

The outsourcing model [***] has won the day, and the wicked private capitalists are the only ones to lose out. Hurrah!

[*] although I suppose this could be one way to offset the impact of military cuts in future.

[**] the only reason to take such a low margin on such a high-risk contract is as a loss-leader, with the whole world watching G4S’s performance as a contractor. Which has admittedly happened, although not quite as planned.

[***] when combined with tough contracts that have decent enforceable penalty clauses. Without them *cough*Metronet*cough*, it’s a terrible model and people who use it should be horsewhipped.

A template for non-spammers sending ludicrous PR emails

As someone who works in social media marketing, my definition of ‘spam’ isn’t aligned with the definition among techie purists. This is mostly because I think “talk to someone unless they tell you to go away” is a completely legitimate way to behave, in life as in work, whereas techie purists tend to think “don’t talk to anyone, ever, unless they beg you to talk to them” is the way the world should be. Yes, stereotypesLOL.

I can certainly make common ground with techie purists on the concept of how fucking annoying it is when you do tell people at nominally legitimate companies (not talking “send your money to Nigeria for Viagara” crap here, all of my email addresses are on the web and I’ve not received that kind of spam for years. FILTERS: THEY WORK) to go away and they don’t.

However, given the utterly pisspoor state of lists at nearly all companies of all kinds, and the utterly urchin-child-intern nature of the poor sods who generally end up processing lists at PR firms, it seems unreasonable to get angry at the individual on the end of the email (*). So I don’t.

My recentest response to such an email is here, partly for public edification, and partly so I can Google it next time.

Dear [xxx]s as an organisation, please remove me from all of your press lists of all kinds and add me to your (DPA-mandated, so you must have one, right?) list of people who have requested that you never contact them again – obviously, apart from the email to confirm that this has been done.

Dear [yyy]l, I’ve asked your predecessors to take me off their lists before but apparently my address has still been passed on to you. Apologies for sending you a grumpy message due to wider organisational problems that aren’t your fault, please don’t take it personally.

Sorted.

(*) far more unreasonable than, say, a comedian getting angry at a heckler who’s deliberately choosing to be part of the comedy act, rather than some poor sod who’s getting paid and doesn’t want any trouble. People who get personally lairy at customer service operatives are the lowest of the low.

The future of News: from one oligarch to the next?

In the wake of a punch to the face from phone-hacking-Leveson-scandalous-British-naughtiness, and a kick to the balls from shrinking print revenues, News Corporation is contemplating splitting its TV assets from its print ones.

The plan would be to remove the newspaper drag from the share price, and hopefully bypass some of the regulatory fallout from News International’s behaviour. In Australia, that’d mean the Foxtel, FoxSports and Sky stakes going into ‘Good News’, and the papers, magazines and book publishing (HarperCollins) going into ‘Bad News’.

An obvious problem here is that Bad News would be, well, bad news.

The analysts at Nomura have worked out what the historic and forecast income statements would be for both demerged companies. They’re projecting that, despite the newspaper division halving in profit (EBIT) in 2012, future profit declines will only be in the region of 5% a year – and that global newspaper division (including digital) revenues will show slight overall growth. Nomura values the print company worldwide at around US$3-4 billion.

To me, that sounds optimistic. 2012 is going to be particularly awful for the newspaper division because it’s the financial year after the cash cow of the News of the World was killed, sure. Nonetheless, looking at Fairfax’s position, the Guardian’s position, News Limited’s announced cuts in Australia, the Times and Australian’s massive losses, and the ongoing march of often free, often superior (albeit seldom both) online news sources, growing sales even at the rate of inflation seems like a pipedream.

Supposedly, the WSJ’s finances are in a better state than most of the other titles, because people actually pay for business information online. The four remaining sensational big city tabloids in the group – the UK Sun, New York Post, Sydney Daily Telegraph and Melbourne Herald Sun – likely still make money, since they were never reliant on classified advertising. But the Times and the Australian are reported to lose vast sums annually, despite the imposition on both of draconian paywalls which very few people have taken up, and which mean that they form no part of the online conversation.

(the Times recently started a Tumblr for some of its opinion content, in a desperate attempt to maintain some kind of relevance to the outside world…)

Now, Rupert Murdoch is 81, and his children show absolutely no interest in taking over the print business. And Bad News would be a publicly traded company with shareholder obligations.

When you’re a vehicle for an oligarch to promote his corporate interests to politicians, in the way Mr Murdoch has used his papers for the last 50 years, bunging tens of millions of dollars a year into a respectable-opinion-leading project like the Australian or the Times can get you results far in excess of your investment: tax reliefs, exemptions from competition laws, broadcasting licenses, etc.

But once you break the link with the corporation that benefits from the regulatory corruption, lose the oligarch to retirement/senility/Old Father Time, and lose the ability to shape national conversation by excluding your pieces from most modern forms of sharing and discussion, then really, what’s the point?

So the only way for the Times and the Oz to survive is to be sold to some kind of oligarch who’d benefit from their advocacy. In London, you can barely throw a stick and not hit some overseas billionaire or other, so that should be easy enough.

In Australia – now, who might be interested in buying a voice in the national conversation? Who easily has the money to continue publishing the Australian, tearing down the paywall, making it into perhaps (if Fairfax’s desperate plans are followed through) the only free source of premium news and commentary in the country? Who has a conveniently close ideological position to the one the Australian is already pushing? And who’s just been rebuffed in her attempt to gain control of a couple of newspapers whose readers and editorial staff are completely opposed to her ideological position?

Gina for the Oz. You read it here first!

All open letters are pathetic in the same way

Inspired by the “send a letter to the Government of Ecuador” left-meme, here’s my letter to the Government of Ecuador:

Dear the Government of Ecuador. You’ve got a slightly disturbing Cuba-light personality cult going, and Julian Assange is an autistic pervert who I wouldn’t let within a hundred yards of any female friends or relations. Nonetheless, the Yanks are still probably mad enough to torture the hell out of the poor sod for the rest of his natural life for making them look silly, so saving him from that one is an excellent PR opportunity for yourselves. Best, John. PS, I love your song (*).

I’m sure this will address matters.

* this one, I mean.

If we had the same sports, we might properly fight

List of significant winter sports and the teams who play them seriously who are from English-speaking countries

American Football (USA)
Australian Football (AUS)
Ice Hockey (CAN, USA)
Rugby League (AUS, GB[ENG],NZ)
Rugby Union (GB [ENG, IRE, SCO, WAL], NZ)
Soccer (GB [ENG,SCO,WAL,NI], IRE)

List of significant winter sports and the serious teams who play them seriously who are from non-English-speaking countries

Ice Hockey (SWE, NOR, FIN)
Rugby League (FRA)
Rugby Union (FRA)
Soccer (THE ENTIRE REST OF THE WORLD, SERIOUSLY, THE ONLY FUCKING GAME, NO, ENGLISH SPEAKING PEOPLE ARE WEIRD)

A man of genius makes no mistakes

“[Great Blasket] island was inhabited until 1953, when the Irish government decided that it could no longer guarantee the safety of the remaining population. It was the home of three noted Irish writers: Tomás Ó Criomhthain, Peig Sayers and Muiris Ó Súilleabháin” - some slightly ropy web slideshow.

It’s a fair call. There is absolutely no effing way I would consider myself safe if sharing a small island with three noted Irish writers. One, you could overpower. Two, you could feed them whiskey and song until the one killed the other. But three? Jaysus.

Relatedly, happy Bloomsday.

The sun is, most likely, still gonna shine in November

After a massively high-spending recall campaign, a controversial Republican state governor has held onto power with a slightly increased majority (while losing control of the state senate). Naturally, the oh-so-left-wing US media are spinning this as Terrible Democrat Defeat, Disaster Due for November, etc.

To highlight the fact that this spin is absolute dingoes’ kidneys, it’s been pointed out that the Walker campaign spent $7 for every $1 his opponent could muster, which is not really a feasible plan for the November election (no, not even for someone with Mitt Romney’s wallet).

This figure is slightly unfair: the difference wasn’t as stark between interest groups which didn’t donate directly to the campaign. Not much less stark, though. Some quick-and-dirty analysis on CNN’s handy “who gave what” piece shows that we have:

Walker $30.5m
Named R lobby groups $16.9m
Estimated R lobby groups* $0.8m
Total R $48.2m (71% of total)

Barrett $3.9m
Named D lobby groups $14.9m
Estimated D lobby groups* $0.7m
Total D $19.4 (29% of total)

So the Republicans only need to manage to outspend the Democrats by 2.5:1 in November. That’ll be nice and easy for them.

They’ll also need a charismatic candidate who’s become popular among independents (17% of Walker voters currently say they’ll go for Obama in November) through being fiscally conservative but avoiding the social culture war. That’ll be nice and easy for them.

* The “estimate” is where I’ve split the outside donations that aren’t named to specific groups between the parties according to the split of named groups. If you ignore it instead, you get 72%/28%.

100% true, 100% of the time

From Ian B at Tim’s place:

The problem with a society in the grip of a moral panic- an example is the Gay Panic that started in Victorian England- is that it does not recognise it. The hysterical and extreme behaviours exhibited by panickers are considered not only normal, not even just desirable, but effectively obligatory. It’s quite interesting to note that the paedophile as folk devil has almost perfectly replaced the homosexual as folk devil, with only the degree of hysteria being even greater. The fact that many of the victims of this witch hunt are not, as noted above, even recognisably suffering from the aberration described as paedophilia does not matter, because unfortunately when it’s witch huntin’ season all that matters is that one joins in with the hunt (or raise suspicions that one is worthy of becoming the quarry).

…and this is why we throw people in jail for possession of Simpsons slashfic and manga. Even though only a certifiable lunatic could consider such an outcome just, The Great And The Good don’t want to march in the streets in defence of Someone Who Might Be A Nonce.

The idle musings of John B