They Did What?

We are often told that the world is a divided place. That we are divided socially, economically and politically at local, national and international level by a plethora of issues from climate change, Brexit, Trump, Syria and on and on. Until this week that is. It has fallen to two corporate giants to bring together people from their individual soapboxes across the world. Thank you Pepsi and thank you United Airlines. Pepsi’s ridiculous new commercial attracted such a biting negative response that it was withdrawn almost immediately. That storm will pass. No such luck for United Airlines, this years hands-down winner of the Ratner Corporate PR award. For United, (Fly the Friendly Skies’), the bad news just keeps coming as spoof ads on social media grow ever more creative. United has now fallen to 68th place in the influential SKYTRAX airline ranking, just one place ahead of Copa Airlines, Panama’s flag carrier and its unlikely to recover anytime soon especially as the story just gets better and better. 

Two days ago the traveller in Chicago refused to give up his seat on an overcrowded flight to Louisville, Kentucky, airport security pulled him unceremoniously into the aisle and dragged him by his hands along the floor, bleeding after he cut his head on an armrest. A bit like travelling Ryan Air in reverse really. The fact that the intransigent passenger was supposedly a former doctor struck off for exchanging drugs for gay sex is not particularly a factor in the story, (especially as these smears have been called into question). Obviously, the whole thing was recorded on multiple smartphones. The company’s response was possibly the worst bit of crisis-PR in history. As videos of the bleeding man went viral, Oscar Munoz, United’s CEO and recent winner of ‘best communicator’ award, apologised for having to “re-accommodate” customers. In an internal letter to staff, Mr Munoz said crew had “no choice” in their action and blamed the flyer for not co-operating. Subsequently, with his back nailed to the wall by social media and mainstream US television talk shows, a more sombre apology was issued but is widely felt to be insincere. What probably happened was a phone call from the board, 'Oscar, what in the flying fxck are you doing, get out there, get on your knees and start grovelling. You're booked on breakfast TV, be there.'

Note United's share price fell before the peak in social media activity. There are Twitter and headline reading algorithmic trading systems out there that scan, read and action headlines with trades before you have got to the end of the first word.

Note United's share price fell before the peak in social media activity. There are Twitter and headline reading algorithmic trading systems out there that scan, read and action headlines with trades before you have got to the end of the first word.

Of course, the ejected and somewhat distressed passenger was being tossed off the aircraft to make room for some late arriving United employees. Given the weight of the average American has increased by 20lbs in the last 20 years I did think it odd that they chose the slim Chinese bloke but there you have it. While a travel voucher incentive was offered to volunteers to leave the aircraft passengers were reluctant because the next flight was not due until the following afternoon. Moreover, United failed to offer the incentive up to the maximum Federal limit of $1350. Everyone has a price. 

The manner of the passengers ejection perhaps reflects a Homeland Security mindset that pervades everything related to air travel these days. Passengers became commoditised a long time ago and there is little that is pleasurable about flying in the back with any airline. Most of us accept that. The abuse, or exploitation of the whole security mindset though in order to strong-arm ordinary decent passengers is completely unacceptable in any jurisdiction. While I think David Dao is a bit of an arse nothing in this series of events reflects well on United.

Meanwhile, the spoof ads just get better and better and better with more arriving with each hour. Clearly, what has become a classic in corporate PR disasters will be taught in business schools for generations. The interesting aspect is that that while the share price has wobbled it has remained reasonably stable. The airline will lose some business but perhaps the market is taking the view that some temporary ticket price adjustments will eliminate any consumer resistance to the brand. It is risky to be complacent though. Once these brands go into a death spiral it is difficult to recover as others have found. I quietly expect this incident to cost the CEO his job, for the airline to eventually embark on a ‘customer orientated retraining programme,’ (in fact the CEO has announced just that), and for all major companies handling the public to totally rethink their crisis PR strategies. One last thought, the passenger in question arrived in the US from Vietnam after the war and is of an age where he might have fought or experienced war-like violence. If he plays the PTSD card in court in the action he has just launched it good turn into a bigger PR catastrophe.

Texting Trauma

For a parent, the worrying never stops. Remember the days when we used to worry about stair-gates being left open or perfectly functioning baby monitors being mistrusted because the baby was sleeping not crying, 'I'll just go and check, the monitor might be broken.' Well, it doesn't get any easier. The worry level just goes up a gear . A big contributing factor are mobile phones and texts. Life was so liberating without them despite the obvious drawbacks of often finding oneself being in the wrong place at the wrong time, there being no quick means of contact outside using rarely working public telephones. 

It's been a standing family joke for years that wherever the kids are, their Mum will have spy planes constantly on patrol monitoring their movements. If you don't believe me then stand within 500 m of one of the kids and odds on you'll see an aircraft in the sky. Anyway, look what dropped into my in-box this weekend......

Son No 1

What could possibly go wrong............ 

Son No 2

Clicking on the link takes me to this map, identifying his precise location as the Middle of Nowhere. Good thing these boys were taught by a Jedi.

 

The good news is, for I'm a sharing person, is that you too can climb the wall of worry given the location map is to be found on the Golden Arc expedition website. When the boys kick off later this month the map should update throughout each day of the expedition allowing us to monitor progress. You can find it here

Incidentally, if you thought in passing that the development of satellite GPS technology had anything to do with NASA and the American military industrial complex then think again. Jewish mothers made it happen.................

Uber; Actually, Pretty Good

Actually, that's not me and that DEFINITELY isn't Mrs flashbang

I’m a bit of a stick-in-the-mud die hard traditionalist and deeply resistant to change. I’ve been following the development of Uber over the past 12 months but hadn’t used it until last evening. I had been at a book launch just south of Kings Cross, it was raining and I couldn’t find a cab. It took a few minutes to download the Uber app and electronically hail one having first done a fare check.

The email told me Hocine was three minutes away in his E Class. I could see that on the map and tracked him as he zeroed in on me. 13 mins later I jumped out at Waterloo, no money changed hands, just the email receipt above which is roughly the same as a Black Cab charge for the journey. I rated the driver with his 5 stars and he rated me. Job done. Friends tell me one irritating flaw is the “price surge,” when prices increase with demand but given fares can be checked before ordering I can live with that.

Now, much as I love Cabbies, and I’ve used them all my adult life, they are going to have to seriously up their game or they will be extinct. They can start by turning off their radio’s which constantly blare out inane LBC football talk shows; I don’t care if Arsenals centre forward is Polish or Peruvian, “know what I mean cause I told him, told him John…” Incidentally, should you register using this promotional code, 44zvl Uber tell me you will receive £10 off your first ride.

Ebola Virus; Risks

Click  to view interactive version

Click to view interactive version

Ebola, or Filoviral hemorrhagic fever (FHF), is a scary, scary thing. One minute the victim thinks he has a mild dose of flu, the next his insides are turning to mush. It usually has a fatality rate north of 90%, (this particular strain is around 56%), and is one of the most deadly and virulent known viral diseases. Worryingly, it is on the move. The current outbreak, which started in February in Guinea and is the largest in history, has claimed some 729 lives out of 1323 known cases so far. It has struck in  Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone and has now killed a 40-year-old man who travelled through a Lagos airport. The incidence of Ebola viral diseases (EVD) has been growing in the past 20 years and has been striking this year in previously unaffected areas in West Africa rather than Central Africa which has been the norm. 

Trying though, to work through the shrill media headlines is becoming more tricky as the media herd sense a “big new story,” to fill their endless airtime. The reality is that while its obviously not much of a winner for the people unfortunate to catch the virus, the probabilities of a pandemic remain low.

The World Health Organisation are obviously on the front foot in terms of the current outbreak which they describe the epidemic trend in their latest update as “precarious,” with 122 new cases between the 24th and 27th with 57 deaths.

The death reported in Lagos is unhelpful. The individual arrived there by air on the 20th via Togo and Ghana. 59 contacts, (15 airport staff and 44 from the hospital), have been identified so far. More are probable and the movement of the disease to Nigeria is a significant development.

The World Health Organisation doesn’t yet recommend any travel or trade restrictions to Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone or Nigeria nor does our own National Travel Health Network ; (obviously they’ve had a letter from a gentleman in Lagos telling them everything there is fine). The default position to manage these things is to tell everyone not to panic while quietly ramping up surveillance and biorisk security. Our own Foreign Office are masters at this; “This is not an issue that affects the UK directly. We have experienced scientists and doctors – the Royal Free Infectious Disease Unit, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – and a lot of experience of dealing with dangerous diseases. The risk of this disease spreading fast in the UK is much lower because of that.” 

That though is very probably the case. Previous outbreaks have been characterised with an increasing localised death toll but which has turned down steeply as precautionary measures, principally health worker biosecurity and patient isolation, have been deployed. The disease usually starts in rural areas where the population have close contact with wildlife and burial customs usually include handling the dead. With underequipped clinics and porous borders it is unsurprising that it spreads. In recent years, the disease has failed to get a hold in urban areas where the threat of animal to human transmission is much lower and medical facilities more advanced. Also, the disease is not highly contagious, it’s simply deadly if you are unlucky.

 The disease has an incubation period of between 2 and 21 days but one bit of luck is that people infected with Ebola cannot infect others until they have the symptoms. This makes it markedly easier to track and control. Fortunately, one of the few areas of slick international cooperation in the world appears to be that of disease control and the WHO and CDC appear to be all over this one. Nonetheless, many humanitarian organisations are pulling their people out of the at-risk areas and travel restrictions are beginning to come into force at the local level. My favourite travel advice incidentally is from the CDC who helpfully recommend that “travellers to these areas avoid contact with blood and body fluids of infected people to protect themselves.” Seriously? 

In summary, the pandemic risk of a virus is the result of its ease and rate of transmission which makes Ebola a very different kettle of fish to say, the Spanish Flu epidemic after the Great War. While it is possible that a case could enter the UK, Europe or the US, expert virologists expect the worst that can happen would be clusters of infection and death that would be quickly and efficiently contained. Just to give you some perspective, AIDS has killed 30m people so far and Ebola has, so far at least, killed less people than does Malaria every two days. 

Market impact is likely to be similar; localised hits on companies that have specific trading or manufacturing links with these areas but which are unlikely to have an impact at the broader asset class level. As it is, equities are so fragile they are quite capable of displaying the symptoms and characteristics of the Ebola virus on their own without any outside help.

 

If you want something to worry about which is far more likely to affect British and American citizens then consider this flesh eating nasty in Florida…………

There, as the old head of the anti-terrorist squad George Churchill-Coleman used to say on the news after PIRA had blown up another London postcode, “There is no cause for alarm..”

 

Train Goes Walkabout

Class 170/3 set of the type used by South West Trains on the Salisbury to Waterloo line

In a worrying incident this morning, several hundred passengers on the 06:45 commuter train from Salisbury to London have become stranded in Matlock, Derbyshire; some 150 miles from their intended destination. In what Network Rail managers called, a rail traffic control nightmare,€ the South West Trains service was redirected several times following an electrical fault which delayed the train at Basingstoke.

Mr Roy Parrish, Director of Services for Network Rail said,  "The train experienced electrical issues at Basingstoke and was moved temporarily onto another line to keep the main line clear. When the fault was cleared it was unfortunately not possible to move the service back because of other services using the main London line."€ He went on to explain that once on the Reading line it was easier to divert ahead via Reading but due to confusion there, the service was misdirected to Oxford by which time it had been inadvertently labelled in the Network Control Centre as a train destined for Birmingham New Street. Mr Parrish continued, "immediately the error was spotted, a decision was taken to bypass Birmingham and route the service up the Sheffield line from where is would continue to Doncaster and join the high speed East Coast line back south to London. The train though, broke down en route to Sheffield several miles outside Matlock."

€Although it sounds like a comedy of errors,€ a harassed Mr Parrish explained, "€œit really is just an unfortunate sequence of events. I want to emphasise that passenger safety has not been compromised and everything that can be done is being done to get these people to their destination."€

Matlock Station

Passengers on the train however, vented their anger and irritation to news desks by mobile telephone. Mrs Margaret Evans-Pritchard (67), a retired teacher from Shipton Bellinger was an exception and said in a telephone interview, "it's all been rather fun really, a sort of mystery tour and the Peak District is so pretty at this time of year." However, a Mr Francis Dart, (45), an insurance broker from Salisbury, summed up the prevailing dark mood on the train when he said, "it's utterly absurd. What should be a one and a half hour journey has taken all day going in the opposite direction and now we'€™re stuck in the middle of nowhere with only one loo between us. Just sums this country up."

Investigators from the Rail Accident Investigation Branch are said to be not involved given no incident€ has actually taken place but, they €œmay take an interest to see if lessons can be learned, an unnamed spokesman said. 

South West Trains said they were confident of getting all the passengers to their ultimate destinations in time for work tomorrow.

Much Missed

Much missed

Attempting to figure out the short term ebb and flow of stock markets is, at the moment, every bit as challenging as trying to figure out what my tormentors at South West Trains are going to spring on me next. Arriving at Waterloo last night somewhat later than usual I was taken aback to discover that my journey home was to terminate at Guildford, some 22 miles short of my destination but the offer of rolling through the Surrey countryside at midnight in a double decker bus was obviously an experience I just couldn’t live without. Just to pile pain on misery I arrived at the station at ten to six this morning to find that the little station paper seller on the platform, which has been there as long as the station has, has abruptly had its lease terminated by South West Trains at a few days notice in favour of “redevelopment,” and that’s permanently buggered up my morning routine on a go forward basis. They are an absolute shower the lot of them and I look forward with unrestrained enthusiasm to the day that I can terminate them. 

Pains on Trains

I've traveled up and down the Portsmouth line to Haslemere for years. I've done it in first, in second, I've done it standing and I've done it staggering. I've traveled with loud drunks, happy drunks, noisy drunks, and punchy drunks. I've sat with the interesting, the dull, the entertaining and the downright miserable. I've listened to jokes, to tales of woe and of wonderment, sports reports and holidays from all over the world from companion travelers, some of whom I've known, many I haven’t. I prefer to sit in silence, happy in my own bubble for the 58 minutes in the day each way that is mine. In the old days it was 5 hours in Club to New York or Tokyo or even shorter on Concorde but we are where we are. Like many others, I've occasionally tolerated loud music from other peoples headphones. Although with whatever suppressing technology they now use it’s not the plague it used to be, most passengers ignore the hip-hap-housy-rag-rip-roll junk that some of these idiots play with equanimity.

Crumble's carriage on the 18:15pm shortly after switching his one-pod on

Crumble's carriage on the 18:15pm shortly after switching his one-pod on

That is, until one very particular piece of music is played. I've never seen such shuffling, nodding and shaking accompanied by those Death Ray Eyes as I do when I happen to play some pipe music on my one-pod. Indeed, the alacrity displayed to any other social nuisances is replaced with heightened tension, bulging eyes and elevated blood pressure. Poor souls, it’s not my fault if modern headphone sound suppression technology can’t cope with the massed bands of the Gordon Highlanders.

I simply like to think I’m there to enlighten and educate; I’ll bring them round......... eventually.

Give Them An Inch

 

 

A contribution from fellow long suffering communter Dirk is long overdue; heres the first of a number that are backed up: 

There are an infinite number of ways to get my goat these days, and two of my most excitable ones were so peeved by what I witnessed today that they broke free of the leash and leapt the fence separating the two station car-parks.  

To the bald man with the Musto back-pack who parked his white Volvo behind me this morning at the station…shame on you.  It was the flash of gobby whiteness in my peripheral vision that first caught my attention and I was quietly fuming at this in my wing-mirror when I witnessed him hold open the door, have a quick check around to see if anybody was looking and then reach inside and pull out an empty can of coke, some crisp packets and random packaging.  All this he chucked out onto the tarmac before kicking the whole lot under his car.  I have no doubt that this is a regular occurrence, this is how people like him clean their cars and since I already had reason to hate him I decided to prove that I’d clocked his behaviour by giving a hoot on my horn.  

His furtiveness betrayed the fact that he did at least realise that what he was doing was antisocial so It was hardly a confrontation and several leagues short of making a citizen’s arrest but I did at least provoke a staring contest which I subsequently won,  for as he rounded the back of the car still scowling at me he clipped his knee quite sharply on the bumper.  As Louis L’Amour was wont to say, “Victory is won not in miles but in inches”.   

He gave me that inch and I took a mile.      

Cyclists on Bloody Trains

 

One of the less attractive and welcome experiences of the commuters life is the plague of septic maggots who run or cycle to the station in the morning and then force their half naked, sweaty, smelly bodies on the rest of us who incidentally, have had the common decency to bathe before dressing. I would no more step onto public transport dripping with sweat than I would walk into a cocktail party red faced and panting. Weren't these people taught to shower after sports? It's an utter disgrace and affront to good manners not to say a threat to health and hygiene. Anyway, before I get into my stride our old friend Dirk has beaten me to it and once more holds the flag high for the ordinary decent commuter....

"I had to endure Dirty Stinky cyclist-man today who sat steaming in the seat beside me in his yellow and black uniform while tucking into his energy gel. 

I know about these awful things from running, which by the time you get round to plucking up the courage to get one down have warmed to,(your), body temperature and are horribly cloying. They come in various flavours and the vanilla waft added to road-grime and his rancid aroma was almost too much to bear. Despite the chilly morning I was in no mood for his radiated musk and so my private fantasy which involved bundling him out into the dark next time the doors opened was effectively derailed when a propos of nothing at all he suddenly turned to me and asked very politely if he could read a bit of my paper. 

With this mild interaction my murderous thoughts seemed churlishly over-the-top and to absolve a sense of guilt I thought I'd show an interest in how far he'd ridden that morning.Ten miles apparently, part of a fitness campaign he'd started in the summer and would continue day in and day out until the Spring. Definitely a driving ban then. It was all I could do not to enquire if it was all in the same kit."

Start the Week With Dirk

 

After a pause of some weeks, Dirk is back with a double helping from his "diary of an ordinary commuter." There's nothing ordinary about our hero I can tell you, he carries the standard for us all and dares to articulate all those dark thoughts that even the most Christian minded of us occasionally harbour against our fellow man.... or women.

 

 

"I think we're all a bit stressed at the moment and it wouldn't take much to nudge us over the edge.

Back in the calm of an office I can see why physical assault induced by the loud eating of crisps may not have stood up in court. I have nothing against crisps but would refrain from eating them on a train after dark, partly in consideration to other passengers and partly because I find myself very conscientious re the noise. I'd like to think the girl behind me was trying to be polite too but in carefully taking out each one in turn she merely prolonged the torture. 

 Giving each one a preliminary suck reduced the crunch, (I applaud that), and then it was back in for another rummaging cranckle. Polishing off the final one with a quick slick to each finger I thought that was the end of that but after a brief intermission she delved into her cavernous bag and started on a second packet. Why this should have such an effect on my blood pressure is a worry. This was not the Royal Opera House, this was not even the Remembrance Day 2 minutes silence and nor were we the Famous 5 crouched in hiding from the smugglers on Billycock Hill so why should it matter?  This was merely a train with several dozing passengers, but when the only other sound is snoring there's nothing so irritatingly intrusive as a writhing crisp packet.  

It could be that I am in need of therapy but my suggestion is to sell them in plastic bags, preferably soggy, or better still get it over with quickly and simply enjoy a potato

 *****************


With several weeks of remission I was just wondering what had happened to Tourette's woman and then there it was in the background, that unmistakeable glottal stop feature which to the uninitiated is merely part and parcel of winter commuting with a carriage-full of assorted colds.

To the more experienced there's a world of difference, and just as a dedicated bird enthusiast can distinguish between the call of a swift and a swallow,(almost an accidental pun there),so I can tell the difference between a tickly cough and a permanent affliction designed to drive us all mad. This would be the inoffensive-looking lady with the velvet Alice-band, the sort you'd find yourself luring in towards the vacant seat if only as a trade-off versus a potentially-worse travel-mate.

It's not until she's fully settled that the vocal tic makes itself known and she doesn't know it but she gets my pulse racing for all the wrong reasons. If she takes to eating crisps I shall be driven over the edge into enacting my own version of Tourettes in its most coprolalic form.

It takes one to know one, and perhaps she'd understand if I blurted out a stream of invective. To avoid a scene maybe I'll just add headphones to my Christmas list."

 

Know Your Place

 

Time for another report from our old chum Randolph as he describes another chapter in the daily commuting grind,

"There's a new man on the platform for whom I've developed an unreasonable degree of resentment. 

I long ago decided that commuting on a daily basis was perfectly bearable once a certain rhythm was established, but to covet any particular type of seat was a slippery slope into nerdism.  Besides, a slouch to the same side on a regular basis can't be good for the spine.  It's better to mix it up a bit, convince yourself that sitting backwards is perfectly fine, steer clear of the loos and it matters little where you end up and pity those who don't actually have a choice of seats at all. 

With all this karma in mind why is it then that I object so much to this young blade who insists on being the one to hit the yellow button?. There you'll be, 15 yrs of experience to tell you where the doors will come to a halt and he springs in from stage left like Billy Goat Gruff (he lurks in the lee of the pedestrian bridge).  He's been known to stand aside to let a woman board but he's already ahead of her when it comes to the seats.  There's an almost audible sigh as he stakes his claim, movements now in slow motion since the battle's won for another day.  Did I imagine it or was he looking round for approbation? 

Anyway, no room for smugness later for it was only as he made to get up at London Bridge that he discovered he'd made the schoolboy error of failing to spot the chewing gum.  Rather fresh too, made malleable from 45 minutes of pressurised warmth and creating significant drag on his coat which he then had to remove while he made good.  A small moment to treasure and a rare high-five to the schoolboy."

Go, Having Gone

 

Time for a quick update from our chum Dirk in Kent,

"Just a few more days of the summer holidays and then the trains will be back to normal.  The first few carriages from the buffers should be studiously avoided for this is where families head, looking ideally for a table, where an early incumbent with any sense will quickly make himself scarce....chivalry has nothing to do with it. 

They will need a surface on which to eat their food, a last-gasp treat of Burger King the bribe for foregoing yet another ice-cream earlier in the afternoon.  If really lucky this sticky pod will also be close to one of the train loos, for apart from the obvious reasons they can play with the automatic buttons on the doors.  It hasn't happened in a while, but until we got the hang of how to lock from inside it used to be common for people on the loo to suffer the indignity for the doors to mysteriously gape open of their own accord.

A particularly restless little tyke couldn't resist the inviting yellow button, pressed it, and was so startled by the ensuing command to "get out" hissed from the wretched woman within that instead of hurriedly closing the door she ran away.  It must be said that these loos are generously proportioned to cater for disabled passengers so it's more than just a stretch to reach the 'close/lock' button.  Men can at least be facing the far wall, but women have no choice but to hide their faces and pretend it's not happening. 

Be warned that in this open-plan situation there's not a lot you can do until you're ready to get up and go, having gone."