Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Another open letter to Aer Lingus on the occasion of their laughable reply to my earlier one.

A while ago, I complained to Aer Lingus about their impressively atrocious service. They replied impressively atrociously:

Thank you for contacting Aer Lingus.

I was sorry to learn you were affected by the disruption to flight EI937 on July 19, 2019. Please accept my apologies on behalf of Aer Lingus.

The EI937 was diverted to Dublin due to BHD curfew. Aer Lingus deems this an extraordinary circumstance and wish to invoke Article 5 Paragraph 3 of the European Regulation 261/2004.
regrettably, there is no compensation due.

There are no words. Oh, hang on: yes there are, and they're right here:

Dear Aer Lingus,

I received your reply of 22nd August. It is appalling.

Firstly, my complaint to you contained quite a large number of matters to be addressed — indeed, the fact that you had got so much so wrong is exactly why I was complaining. Your response addresses only one of those issues, and that badly.

You have had an opportunity not only to respond to the points I raised, but to refute them. That you have not even tried to do so, I shall take as implicit confirmation that all my complaints were essentially correct. I did say that the onus was on you to dissuade me of the obvious, that your staff diverted your passengers to Dublin, further delaying an already badly delayed flight by a further two hours, for their own selfish benefit. So thanks for confirming that.

The one thing you have actually addressed is this:

The EI937 was diverted to Dublin due to BHD curfew. Aer Lingus deems this an extraordinary circumstance and wish to invoke Article 5 Paragraph 3 of the European Regulation 261/2004.

As I said in my first letter, I fly a lot, so I'm quite familiar with the "extraordinary circumstances" clause and airlines' fondness for invoking it when it does not apply. I have to say, though, that this is the most brazenly ridiculous attempt to do so I have ever seen. It is impressive, in a way, that you have responded to a letter about how your staff insulted my intelligence by insulting my intelligence. But, admirable though chutzpah can be, I'm not convinced it's the ideal way to run a customer service department. A time and a place, and all that.

Here's Belfast City Airport's published opening hours:

Operating hours: flights may only be scheduled to operate between 06:30 hours and 21:30 hours.  Extensions may be granted in exceptional circumstances to facilitate delayed aircraft up to 23:59 hours.

Now, that is interesting. Because, on the occasion in question, no extension was granted, which implies either that Belfast City Airport decided that the circumstances were not exceptional or that you didn't even ask them for an extension in the first place because you decided that the circumstances were not exceptional. Do you wish to claim some quibbling distinction between "exceptional" and "extraordinary"?

The other point about Belfast City's opening hours is that they are completely normal. They haven't changed in years. They are published. I assume that even Aer Lingus has heard about them. They are, in a word, ordinary: the completely literal opposite of extraordinary. Do your customer service staff really have the sheer nerve to gaslight your customers in this way? Or do they just not know what "extraordinary" means? I find myself hoping that they're merely ignorant, as the alternative is that you're paying them to be obnoxious bastards on your behalf.

But perhaps you wish to claim that "extraordinary" carries some technical legal sense in this context, that I am missing. OK. Well, your own website helpfully doesn't define "extraordinary circumstances" beyond:

Compensation can be claimed where you are delayed in arriving at your final destination by more than three hours and that delay arises from causes within our control (rather than extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided by taking all reasonable measures).

As luck would have it, though, we're talking about well established law here with loads of precedent, so lots of other people, including the courts, have fleshed that out a bit more than you. For example, here's British Airways, one of your sister airlines, apparently:

If your journey was affected by extraordinary circumstances such as air traffic control decisions, political instability, adverse weather conditions or security risks you may not be able to claim compensation.

Hmm. It doesn't mention opening hours. Perhaps an oversight?

EU Claim says:

An ‘extraordinary circumstance’ is a situation in which the airline is not responsible for the problems with the flight. This includes the following situations:
  • Extreme weather conditions during the flight, such as heavy fog or a storm
  • Natural disasters, such as a volcanic ash cloud
  • Strike action by air traffic control
  • Medical emergency landings
  • Acts of terrorism
  • Situations with passengers on board the airplane
Situations which are not seen as extraordinary circumstances are:
  • Technical faults on the airplane
  • Crew shortages or sickness
  • Strikes by airline personnel 

OK, it's not explicitly addressing the normal published opening hours of an airport, but I have to say this isn't looking much like what you claim it is.

How about the European Commission's own published guidelines?

In accordance with Article 5(3) of the Regulation, an air carrier is exempted from paying compensation in the event of cancellation or delay at arrival if it can prove that the cancellation or delay is caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken. In order to be exempted from the payment of compensation the carrier must therefore simultaneously prove:
  • the existence and the link between the extraordinary circumstances and the delay or the cancellation, and
  • the fact that this delay or cancellation could not have been avoided although it took all reasonable measures.

Well, that first point is interesting, isn't it? Because your flight was badly delayed before you diverted it to Dublin. The only reason that Belfast City closing affected this flight is that it was already late. So I would be particularly interested to see your proof that the flight was delayed as a result of the airport's closure, as such proof would necessarily reverse time and break the laws of physics.

While I am rather enjoying the opportunity to be sarcastic, let's not forget that I have something genuine to be sarcastic about here. Your staff quite thoroughly ruined my day through their utter obnoxiousness, your customer service team can't even be arsed going to the minimal effort of mentioning any of that in their mealy-mouthed mendacious non-apology, and you're refusing to pay the compensation which you are legally obliged to pay. You are clearly hoping that, if you fob me off, I will give up and go away. Good luck with that.

Yours determinedly,

Joseph Kynaston Reeves

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

An open letter to Aer Lingus on the occasion of their quite dreadful service.

Dear Sir or Madam,

I was unfortunate enough to be on your delayed flight EI937 from Heathrow to Belfast City on 19/7/19, so am writing to complain about the delay itself, the way you made the delay worse, and the way you treated your passengers. I fly twice a week and have very low expectations of airlines, generally putting up with the whole awful experience that you all offer without complaining. That Aer Lingus have managed to do so much so badly in just one flight that I am prompted to write this letter is some sort of perverse achievement.

Firstly, as you are aware, since arrival at Belfast City was over six hours late, I am entitled to compensation under EU regulation 261. Please arrange that promptly.

Your flight was scheduled to leave at 19:20. When the boards in the airport showed that it was delayed till (if I recall correctly) 22:40, I went to find some Aer Lingus staff to ask for vouchers for food and drink. Since you are obliged to provide your passengers with food and drink during this delay, of course I should not have to go searching for them: you should be making an announcement over the PA and seeking out your passengers to provide them with what you are legally obliged to. But no.

Your staff directed me to the Aer Lingus customer service desk. There were only five people in front of me in the queue, yet I reached the front some forty-five minutes later. You had just one member of staff on this desk, dealing with all sorts of different queries. Handing out food vouchers takes seconds. I was "lucky" enough to be near the front of the queue; by the time I reached the front, there were dozens of people in it: unless it sped up considerably, those at the back were going to be waiting there more than two hours.

After I got my food vouchers, I asked your employee which airport my flight would now be landing at, since, as you know, Belfast City has a curfew at 21:30. She told me that it was still scheduled to land at Belfast City. I pointed out that the flight was now planned to take off from Heathrow more than an hour after Belfast City had shut. She replied that it was still scheduled to land at Belfast City and that it was too early to know whether it might be redirected, and that such information would not be known until after take-off. I strongly object to being treated as stupid enough to believe that your flights ever take off with no known destination airport — i.e. with no flight plan. Presumably, whether you have enough fuel is mere guesswork and hope. Does the Civil Aviation Authority know? However, this was not the only ridiculous lie your employee told me.

In light of the unacceptably slow progress of the long queue, and in the hope of improving matters for the benighted souls further back than me, I asked your employee whether she might consider calling any colleagues to help. She informed me that she was the only member of Aer Lingus staff available. This was a brazen lie. I responded that there were lots of other Aer Lingus staff in the airport: two had directed me to this desk, for instance; there were others at gates; others wandering around chatting; some I could see from where I was standing. She continued to insist that she was the only member of staff and absolutely refused to consider getting someone else to help your passengers. I pointed out that people in the queue were going to be waiting two hours or more and asked her whether she thought that was a reasonable way to treat people who are paying for this. She replied "Do you think I like doing this?" Perhaps you could explain to your staff that there is a substantive difference between a customer who has paid Aer Lingus for a service and an employee who is being paid by Aer Lingus to provide a service, and that those two groups are not all in the same boat, equally inconvenienced by your delays. I could not care less whether your staff are enjoying making your passengers' lives difficult, and do not expect them to tell me. And if they are so poorly trained as to tell me, I will not sympathise.

I should not but apparently do need to explain to you that the purpose of providing food and drink to your passengers is to make a bad experience — a severely delayed flight — somewhat less bad. Forcing your passengers to stand in a queue for hours in order to earn the privilege of asking for vouchers makes the bad experience worse. That is the opposite of compensation.

My vouchers, incidentally, had "We regret the inconvenience you have been caused and would like you to enjoy Breakfast with our compliments" printed on them. That is the right sentiment and the right attitude. Perhaps whoever wrote the blurb for your compensation vouchers could explain their thinking to your customer service staff.

Still inexplicably wanting to know where I was actually going, I phoned your call centre to ask. The conversation got off to a bad start when your employee initially insisted that she could not give me any information without the booking reference which is not printed on your boarding passes. I had to explain to her that the booking reference was immaterial to my question as every passenger on your plane would (one can only hope) arrive at the same airport, and of course because I didn't even need to be a passenger to request this information — I could be a friend or family member trying to arrange to pick a passenger up after they landed. Destination airports are supposed to be publicly available information. Quite why your staff would choose to have an argument over their obstructive refusal to disclose that information is beyond me.

Anyway, your call centre employee eventually relented, and, like your airport employee, also insisted that the flight would land at Belfast City — although, unlike your airport staff, she at least treated me with enough respect to believe me about Belfast City's curfew and go and double-check. That she double-checked and still gave me the same information tells me that your computer systems were at this point still showing a destination airport that you knew to be impossible. I would appreciate an explanation of why whoever was responsible for updating your flight plan (and surely this person exists) chose not to record that information on your systems so that even your own staff couldn't access it.

I should not but apparently do need to inform you that it is absurdly unprofessional for an airline not to be able to tell its passengers — and, indeed, to give every impression of not even knowing — where their flight is going.

I would love this complaint to end here, but somehow your service contrived to get worse.

Despite your refusal to tell me where your plane was going, I was assuming it would be diverted from Belfast City to Belfast International, as is standard practice. After the flight was eventually belatedly boarded, your pilot announced that it was going to Dublin. This information had of course not been revealed until after all your passengers were in their seats, as it is easier for you to control passengers and more difficult for them to cause you difficulty once they're strapped in. When Aer Lingus are inconveniencing your customers through your own actions, you need to learn that the problem is not that a customer might annoy you by complaining, but that you have given them something to complain about in the first place. The destination of Dublin should have been announced at the gate, if for no other reason than basic politeness. But also, of course, some passengers' friends or relatives were to pick them up at the airport, and many of those people could have driven to Dublin — if you had informed your passengers of the destination when they still had time to contact their friends, rather than after your command to everyone to disable their phones. And there is another reason you should have announced the destination at the gate, which I shall come to.

Your pilot's explanation for diverting to Dublin was that a few other flights had been diverted to Belfast International that evening and that this would, for some reason, cause such severe delays that going via Dublin would be quicker. Belfast International is a half-hour drive from Belfast City; Dublin at least a two-hour drive. Your pilot therefore expected us to believe that, were we to land at Belfast International, it would take more than an hour and a half to get us off the plane, merely because some other flights had landed there that evening. I admit it is possible that he left out some vital detail that could cause this otherwise farcical attempt at an explanation to make some sort of sense. I would very much like to hear that detail.

Your pilot also announced, as is usual but nevertheless wrong in such circumstances, that we should be incredibly grateful to your amazing flight crew for working late to get us to our destination. I see no reason why I should particularly care whether your staff are working late. I know that Aer Lingus are not the only airline guilty of this insulting nonsense, but insulting nonsense it is. To reiterate: your customers are paying for this and are having their leisure time destroyed by you; your staff are being paid while at work. These are not remotely comparable circumstances. Indeed, contrary to the inflated opinion of themselves flight crew like to maintain, it is they who should be congratulating your hard-done-by passengers for putting up with such inconvenience without shouting at them, which would be an entirely reasonable reaction to their treatment. If I were in a restaurant and my food were two hours late, I would not expect to be asked to give the staff a round of applause for working late to bring me my food — and of course no restaurant would be stupid enough to ask me to. Since I was travelling for work, I was in fact working extremely late myself thanks to your delay. Your staff did not congratulate me on my heroism.

These two facts — that your staff stressed to us how late they were working and that no sensible explanation was offered for the diversion to Dublin — lead me to conclude that the reason for flying to Dublin rather than Belfast International was so that your crew could get home to bed, at the expense of further inconveniencing your passengers. Since that is the most reasonable conclusion from the information you provided, as far as I'm concerned, the onus is on you to dissuade me of that.

After landing at Dublin, I was then shocked to pass through Immigration. As luck would have it, I had my passport with me, but I am certainly not obliged to carry it when travelling from one part of my home country to another. There were people on that flight from outside the EU. I shall leave it to them to complain to you on their own behalf, but suffice to say that unnecessarily diverting a domestic flight to a foreign country is an incredibly irresponsible thing to do. I understand there may be occasions where it is unavoidable: this was not one. Your staff had every opportunity to inform your passengers before they were on the plane and it was too late, but chose not to. I know people who are allowed into the UK but not Ireland. For all your staff knew, I was one such myself — no-one thought to ask. Had your staff announced the destination of a foreign country at the gate, such passengers would have had the opportunity to make their situation known, and you could have made appropriate arrangements, such as putting them up in a hotel before flying them to Belfast the next day. That you did not was unprofessional and grossly irresponsible.

Further progress through Dublin Airport was not exactly well organized. Rather than being directed to the bus, I was told to follow a man who was already a hundred yards away and was walking as fast as he could away from me. I move pretty fast, but I lost him, and had to find the bus by luck.

And, after all this, is it really too much to ask that you drive me the two hours to Belfast City on a bus with air conditioning? This may seem a relatively minor problem compared to the litany of obnoxiousness that led up to it, but your bus ride was twice as long as your flight, and it was hot, sweaty, and thoroughly uncomfortable. Your bus dropped us off at the entrance to Belfast City, leaving me to carry my luggage across the car parks to get to the taxi rank. Every little helps.

I reached Belfast City sometime around 03:00 on 20/7/19. Such a massive delay and deprival of so much sleep obviously had a knock-on effect on the rest of my weekend.

As I said at the start of this letter, you are, as you know, obliged to compensate me for your delay. I ask you to compensate me further for the appalling service I received from your staff, who, at every single stage, contrived to make the whole experience unnecessarily worse, particularly your employee at Heathrow, who was obnoxious and who lied twice to my face, and especially for the decision to add an extra one and a half hours to the delay (of a one-hour flight) by diverting to Dublin instead of Belfast International for no good reason.

I await your reply with interest.

Yours faithfully,

Joseph Kynaston Reeves


Aer Lingus did reply, with this laughably insulting missive:

Dear Mr. Reeves,

Thank you for contacting Aer Lingus.

I was sorry to learn you were affected by the disruption to flight EI937 on July 19, 2019. Please accept my apologies on behalf of Aer Lingus.

The EI937 was diverted to Dublin due to BHD curfew. Aer Lingus deems this an extraordinary circumstance and wish to invoke Article 5 Paragraph 3 of the European Regulation 261/2004.
regrettably, there is no compensation due.

I've been too busy to respond to this. Until now.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Fear and loathing and the mob.

I haven't blogged in a very long time. I've had plenty of things to say, but can't face writing them in public. The reason, quite simply, is fear.

A lot of us had high hopes of the new media when it was born. Blogging was a revolution as big as the printing press, they said. The barriers to publishing your opinion worldwide became negligible. Experts in all sorts of fields gave their knowledge and commentary to the world. Dan Rather lost his job.

Had Rather knowingly presented false evidence to the world ten years earlier, he'd have got away with it. Instead, hundreds of experts tore his "news" to shreds, for free. And a news media that had held a monopoly on received opinion for decades suddenly discovered that they could no longer control the narrative.

So it comes as no surprise that the old media do all they can to undermine the new.

I can't say I'm happy that Rather was sacked. Cynic though I am, I believe in redemption. Everyone should be given a chance to recognise that they were wrong and to improve. To be fair, Rather preferred to double down, do-you-know-who-I-am-ing like a dowager duchess. And, of course, lying to the pubic when you work in the news is a bit of a big deal. TV being what it is, he probably had plenty of money put by. But a livelihood is still a hell of a thing to lose. Rather was fine, of course. But most of us wouldn't be. What better threat to wield than loss of livelihood? It was the successful test case that set a horrific precedent. If the new media can take the scalp of one of the most influential men in America, what chance does some schmuck from Coventry have?

So it comes as no surprise, sadly, that the old media have so enthusiastically embraced the new model of enforcement: public shaming by the social media mob.

I'm not going to waste time discussing whether Danny Baker is a racist, partly because anyone with the remotest acquaintance with his career over the last forty years knows damn well he isn't, but mainly because that's not even the point, and, there being so many other victims of this same vindictive spiteful shit, he's not even the point. Right now, the media, old and new, contains literally millions of people picking apart and analysing the details of a simple glib unsophisticated joke. Why? Because the stakes are so fucking high, that's why.

The question isn't one of guilt; it's about process and punishment. The Labour movement was founded, above all else, on the need to protect people from capricious punishment by their employers. Still today, we have idiot libertarians spouting the mantra that a private company should be free to employ or to cease employing anyone it chooses for any reason, as if providing someone's ability to live — and thereby wielding the power to destroy their life — carries with it no responsibility whatsoever. The power to destroy livelihoods is huge, and it is that massive imbalance of power that led to the creation of the Labour movement, who rightly stopped bosses sacking their minions for getting uppity, for not voting the way they were told, or for being female and married, and who gave those minions the power to appeal such life-changing decisions.

And now here we are. The "progressive" identitarian Left that grew out of that Labour movement aggressively campaigns to get people sacked, with no due process, no impartial judgement, no right of appeal: just the angry mob, the Horde of Squealing Shitheads that is Twitter. Then, when they succeed — which they usually do — they gleefully crow over their victim and, of course, their victim's dependents. I'm pretty successful, but, if I lose my job, my kids will lose their home. No matter what you might think of my opinions, is that not taking things a bit far? Apparently not: I've yet to see evidence of the mob experiencing any moral qualms. The New Left are using the threat of destitution and poverty as a weapon to enforce ideological compliance, right down to having the correct approved sense of humour. And they're somehow proud of this, of what they're doing to the world.

Well, fuck that. I don't want to live in that world. And, sooner or later, its cheerleaders will realise that they don't want to either. Saying something that some other people don't like will eventually happen to them all — how can it not? And, whilst I may believe in redemption, they will find that my sympathy well has run dry that day.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

What's wrong with Black Panther.

[There are a few mild spoilers in this. They were all either in their respective films' trailers or in their first few minutes or are frankly trivial and don't matter, so nothing major. Don't read if you don't want to risk it.]

Superman is the dullest of all superheroes. He's just too damn super, forcing the writers to come up with yet another way for a bad guy to get hold of some of the frankly implausible amounts of weaponized kryptonite that are lying around, again and again and again. The writers themselves realised this pretty fast, which is why every subsequent superhero is markedly less super and pointedly vulnerable. Until Black Panther.

The opening of Black Panther tells us about the African nation of Wakanda, built on huge deposits of that old favourite of scientifically illiterate comicbook writers, magic super metal (in this case, apparently, "vibranium", but really, who cares?), which makes absolutely any plot device possible, because it is so super it's magic. The Wakandans have built their civilization on this stuff and make their amazing tech out of it and even weave it into their clothes. This makes them an entire nation of Supermen. Which makes them dull.

For a plot to be engaging, there needs to be jeopardy. It doesn't have to be physical: in a romantic comedy, boy meets girl and they proceed to utterly fail to get together for most of the movie. We have to believe that there's a real chance that Harry and Sally won't end up together, or where's the entertainment? In disaster movies, some of the main characters die, so there's always a chance our favourite will be one of them. In a sport film, we have to think the athlete might lose — and Rocky did. In action films, we have to believe the people we're watching are in danger.

Of course, with CGI and so on, that's getting harder and harder to do. Jackie Chan does it by sticking out-takes at the end of his films, in which we get to see him fuck up and even injure himself, so we know he and his stuntmen really do the stunts we see on screen. That knowledge invests us in what we're watching. Prachya Pinkaew has taken the same approach, to great effect. Dan Bradley is a master of putting actors in the middle of insane action and pulling the audience in after them using sheer inventiveness — getting a cameraman to jump off a roof being my personal favourite of his moments. It doesn't really matter whether it's the actors or the characters in danger. It just matters that we believe in the danger.

With superheroes, this is doubly important, because they're going to spend most of the film being super. This is why Iron Man starts with Tony Stark bleeding to death. Thor starts with his hammer being taken away; Thor: Ragnarok starts with it being destroyed. Captain America starts out as a wimp. Dr Strange starts out by being crippled. Ant Man opens with Scott Lang being punched in the face and bleeding. Peter Parker gets bullied at school. The Incredibles starts with every superhero having to go into hiding from a public that hates them. It is important to establish early on that these characters are capable of being beaten and hurt.

Black Panther starts with a James-Bond-type scene in which it is made abundantly clear to us that this hero is never going to get hurt. He jumps out of a plane without a parachute, lands safely, and then ignores being shot at point-blank range with a machine-gun. In case we thought it was only him who can do this stuff because we hadn't paid enough attention to the introductory spiel about the magicsupermetal, his sidekick Okoye joins in. Soon enough, we see Wakandans thrown hundreds of yards through the air onto rock or tarmac, caught in explosions, etc, and shrug it all off. Wakandans can all do this. An entire nation of Supermen.

This is a real blind spot with the writers, Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole. One of the things the Wakandans have invented using magicsupermetal is a universal remote control for all vehicles: chuck it onto a car or a plane or whatever, and someone back at base can do the driving using the interface of their choice. This is meant to impress you with the Wakandans' astounding technology, and it succeeds — but it also means that the driver in the car chase is never in any danger: they're not even there. Contrast that with Jason Bourne smashing his way through the Lefortovo Tunnel and limping away afterwards.

And it's not just physical jeopardy they fail to convey. Black Panther has a love interest. Is she interested in anyone else? Nope. Does she not love him back? No, she obviously does. At first, she seems to think their getting together would be a bit inconvenient. I don't think this fooled anyone.

There are precisely two points in the film in which any of the good guys are in any real danger: when Black Panther has to ritually abandon his powers for a few minutes to have a fair fight. In both cases, the person in danger is Black Panther himself, and we know he's going to be fine because the film's named after him and was preceded by a trailer for Infinity War with him in it.

I like the character. I like Chadwick Boseman and Lupita Nyong'o and the rest of the cast, especially the criminally underused Winston Duke. I just wish I could have believed for one second that everything might not work out just spiffingly for these people. But I couldn't.

Friday, 29 September 2017

On punching Nazis.

The problem with Fascism is not political.

There's been a lot of debate (well, "debate") lately about whether it's OK to punch Nazis, because apparently that's the kind of world we live in now. Those lovely people in Antifa, of course, say that it is — and, helpfully, define "Nazi" as "anyone I've just punched". Saves a lot of confusion, that. My experience in the mires of the Web tells me that plenty of people who are nowhere near as extreme are still staunchly in the Nazi-punching camp. I despair.

Such people are well-intentioned, of course. Who wants to see the rise of Nazism again? What decent person doesn't wish someone had killed Adolf Hitler in, say, 1928? Surely beating him to death before he really got stuck in would have done the world a favour. Surely.

There are a couple of problems with this. Firstly, and most obviously, punching Nazis isn't a new idea. Some Germans actually thought of it in the 1920s, and gave it a go. In other words, the only reason we're even discussing whether punching Nazis works is that punching Nazis didn't work.

But it's the second problem I want to talk about.

The problem with Nazis was not their antisemitism. It wasn't their economic policy — as a free-marketeer, I'm full of criticisms of it, but nations are often run by people who are wrong. Hundreds of nations had bad economic policy at the time, but most of them were not problems in the way Germany turned out to be. The problem with the Nazis wasn't their social policy, or their nutty racial theories (I say "nutty", but they were shared by rather a lot of the planet's respectable scientists at the time), or even their invention of [shudder] the communal holiday camp. The Nazis could have believed everything they believed and just been bastards. That's not a compliment, but it's not one of history's greatest evils either. Bastards are with us always.

What tipped the Nazis over the edge from bastards to... well, to fucking Nazis was their belief in the rightness of the use of violence against their enemies. Antisemites who use the word "yid", who complain about the International Jewish Conspiracy™, and refuse to have Jews round to dinner are annoying in all sorts of ways, but are not on remotely the same planet as slaughtering six million innocent people.

In the alternative universe where European Jews systematically round up and kill six million innocent Aryans — even Aryans who believe they are the chosen master race and Jews are inferior and the root of all the world's problems — the Aryans aren't the bad guys, and the Jews aren't heroes. That universe's Holocaust is every bit as wrong as our own. The ongoing argument about whether National Socialists were really Socialists is immaterial: what they did would still be evil if done in the name of Liberalism or Conservatism or David Icke's lizard people or preferring The Stones to The Beatles. The underlying reasons don't matter. It's the replacement of civilized argument with violence that matters.

Now, I'm not a pacifist. I'm not anti-war — especially not the war fought to defeat and destroy Nazi Germany. The proud Nazi-punchers like to compare themselves to the Allied forces who stormed Normandy and claim that they're just doing the same thing: using violence against Nazis. Apart from their bizarre aspiration to turn our societies into Omaha Beach, I wonder how far they're willing to strain that logic. If you burn down a house with a family inside, aren't you just doing what the RAF did when they dropped incendiary bombs on German cities? Surely, as long as the parents are on the wrong side, it's OK to incinerate them and their kids. Right?

Well, there are wars and there are wars. War has reasons and it has aims, and it is by them that we must judge it. The aim of the Allies in World War 2 was pretty clear: to prevent the wholesale destruction of European civilization and its replacement with the Fourth Reich, accompanied by the mass slaughter of hundreds of millions of humans. We like to tell ourselves that we fought the Nazis to defeat their ideology, but did we, really? All of their ideology? Well, no, obviously not. The Nazis gave food and shelter to the unemployed and the homeless. They opposed Catholicism. They opposed global trade and Capitalism. They believed private enterprise should work for the good of the community, not for profit. They believed the state should provide healthcare. They controlled food commodity prices through a quota system, just like the EU. The Nazi policy of "creating" employment through massive state-sponsored infrastructure-building schemes is popular with Labour, the Conservatives, and Barack Obama. Antisemitism is, sadly, a bit of a vote-winner these days. Even the improvement of the race via the forced removal from the gene pool of inferior specimens is a horribly popular idea to this day, and involuntary sterilisation of the mentally unfit was state policy in Sweden into the 1970s. You may note that, deplorable though that was, no-one went to war with Sweden over it.

There are people on the Right who delight in producing lists like this to draw attention to the myriad ways in which the Left agree with the Nazis, and thus to imply that the Left are Nazis. I am not one of them. The point I'm making is quite the opposite: that a lot of Nazi policies were actually OK, and that agreeing with them on some of these points is perfectly respectable. I disagree with most of them, but not enough to go to war over. Most of it was just wrong or misguided or inefficient or a matter of opinion, not evil. Most of it. But the small core that was evil, well... it was everything.

The reason we had to fight the Nazis, the reason that they represented an existential threat, was not any one of their preferences within the realm of politics, but their belief about what that realm should encompass, about what politics itself should be. They didn't just reject democracy — which is bad, but not necessarily all that bad. They didn't just reject the principle that the strong have a duty to protect the weak — a principle with less of a historical pedigree than we might like to think. No, they inverted it: they embraced the principle that the strong have a duty to destroy the weak — and, of course, that the good should destroy the bad. Once they'd done that, the definitions they came up with for "strong" and "weak", "good" and "bad" were immaterial: the results were going to be just as evil regardless, and any society they built was going to be a hell. In their early days, it was street brawls; once they got power, it was genocide; but they're just two points on the same continuum: if you start with the principle that the former is right, you're on the path to the latter. Of course their target was the Jews — it's always the Jews — and of course it wasn't only the Jews — it never is. But the Nazis would still have been evil, and it would still have been necessary to destroy them, had they picked on someone else.

If, for instance, they'd taken to the streets to punch Nazis.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Nothing changed yesterday.

I've seen a lot of claims that what happened yesterday in Manchester represents some sort of new low.

It doesn't.

Mark Steyn wrote this in 2004, after Beslan:

When your asymmetrical warfare strategy depends on gunning down schoolchildren, you're getting way more asymmetrical than you need to be. The reality is that the IRA and ETA and the ANC and any number of secessionist and nationalist movements all the way back to the American revolutionaries could have seized schoolhouses and shot all the children.

But they didn't. Because, if they had, there would have been widespread revulsion within the perpetrators' own communities. To put it at its most tactful, that doesn't seem to be an issue here.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Apparently, we need to explain the difference between Jeremy Corbyn and John Major.

Brendan O'Neill, a man who usually talks a great deal of sense, has ceased to do so:

Corbyn and the IRA: an infantile scandal

O'Neill has been saying for months that one of the great things about Brexit is that, now our political class are having their scapegoat taken away, our politics is now much more about proper issues that matter. And he's right about that. But now he's annoyed that people might care whether the Prime Minister of a country supports or opposes the murdering of that country's citizens. What issue could be less infantile?

Right now, nothing better sums up the moral infantilism of the opinion-forming class than its obsession with Jeremy Corbyn and the IRA.

Nothing, he says: nothing is more infantile than this silly little concern over murdering people. Not even mobile phone roaming charges, presumably.

You don’t have to be a fan of Corbyn to find this incessant IRA talk childish and irritating. It captures the media and political class’s preference for gotcha moralism over serious debate about the important issues of today, in Brexit Britain, 20 years since the Provisional IRA last detonated a bomb.

They murdered Adrian Ismay with a car bomb just a year ago. They blew up Newry Courthouse seven years ago. But sure, let's leave the splinter groups conveniently to one side and say O'Neill's got a point. So what does he say to the victims of the Omagh Bombing whose case against the last suspect only collapsed last year? "It was nearly twenty years ago so get over it"? Breda Devine and Maura Monaghan were only one year old when they were blown up. I'm betting twenty years doesn't seem like water under the bridge to their families.

Anyone who knows anything about the Troubles, which started in 1969 and ended with the first Provisional IRA ceasefire in 1994, knows British officials were talking to Sinn Fein and the IRA in the same period Corbyn was meeting with them.

O'Neill is particularly adept at calling out politicians' bullshit, which makes it so much more disappointing that he's helping spread Corbyn's disingenuity here. No-one's accusing Corbyn of talking to Sinn Fein. He's accused — correctly — of supporting the IRA: supporting both their strategy and their tactics, and wanting them to win.

John Major himself okayed these discussions between officialdom and the IRA’s Army Council. If Corbyn is a nutter unfit for public life because he talked to the IRA before it stopped its campaign, so is John Major.

Is there a single person anywhere on the planet who genuinely believes that John Major commenced negotiations with the IRA because he was a keen supporter who celebrated their killings? Really?

The talks between the Major Government and the IRA were fraught, because they were between opposing sides — enemies, in fact. The talks were very difficult and took many years, because the two sides disagreed with each and largely hated each other fundamentally. Corbyn's "talks" with Sinn Fein were not fraught, because they didn't disagree about a single damned thing.

The Queen shook hands with Martin McGuinness, IRA man turned first minister of Northern Ireland. Ah, but that was in 2012, not 1988, and that makes the world of difference, say Corbyn’s haters.

Firstly, yes, obviously the time makes a difference, just as there's a teensy bit of a difference between meeting the President of Turkey in 1916 and in 1930. McGuiness clearly disagreed with O'Neill here: there's no way on Earth he'd have shaken the Queen's hand in 1988.

Secondly, this sort of thing is the Queen's job. She has to shake the hands of some truly awful people. If Recep Erdogan visits the UK, she'll probably have to shake his hand. That doesn't signify that she or anyone in the Government supports him.

Is Mandela beyond the pale, too? Should we take down his statue in Parliament Square? Will Arlene Foster attack him in her next speech? Of course not. He isn’t Corbyn, and they’re out to get Corbyn, not to be consistent or principled.

Is Nelson Mandela standing for election to be British Prime Minister? What is O'Neill suggesting here? That we can't criticise someone who is standing for election without also criticising every historical figure with comparable views? Needless to say, O'Neill doesn't follow that rule himself.

Then there’s the warped moralism of the constant demand that Corbyn should condemn the IRA ‘specifically’.

Yes, obviously, since it is specifically the IRA that he has actively supported. O'Neill is being disingenuous again. No-one has ever suspected that Corbyn might be a UVF fan, so there's really no need for him to clarify his position on them. Similarly, no-one is asking him for his views on nun-beating. And?

If Corbyn is ‘pro-IRA’ for refusing to single out the IRA as the worst group, are these people pro-UVF, pro-UDA, pro-the Shankill Butchers for refusing to single out loyalists, and even worse for effectively saying: ‘Stop condemning loyalists, just condemn the IRA alone’?

See, the trouble with starting with a bit of rhetorical sleight of hand is, before you know it, you've followed your own logic and wound up talking complete bollocks. (And I should know.)

Because really, what on Earth is O'Neill on about? Is he suggesting that the Conservatives support the UVF? They don't. Is he suggesting that mainstream British political parties have a history of failing to condemn the UDA? News to me.

There was official recognition, both in the UK and Ireland, that the Loyalist paramilitaries wouldn't have existed without the Republican paramilitaries, and that therefore stopping the Republicans was the strategic priority. And one can have legitimate problems with that position, sure. But I don't remember a Tory leader ever praising the UVF's bravery or supporting their tactics. Maybe it slipped my mind.

DUP officials did more than whip up a climate of violent contempt for Catholics. Some of them had links with groups that worked with loyalist death squads.

O'Neill's point about various DUP bigwigs' dodgy history is well taken, but is again disingenuous. The point of a peace process is not that it magically turns bastards into nice people but that it ties the bastards up in constitutional politics long enough for a couple of generations to get out of the habit of violence. Those of us living in Northern Ireland have to put up with having some murderous hateful bastards in government for a while, which, it seems, is a price most of us are willing to pay for the peace. But Corbyn isn't a part of that. He's a Londoner. We don't have to put up with a terrorist-loving leader of the British Labour Party in order to preserve peace. There's no trade-off there: he just supports terrorists, and in return we get supported terrorists. Arlene Foster, whatever you may think of her, is not Corbyn's counterpart; Theresa May is. And, unless Brendan O'Neill is sitting on the scoop of the century, I don't think she has a history of torturing Catholics to death.

Jeremy Corbyn didn't negotiate with the IRA. He didn't even — as O'Neill claims — merely talk to them. He supported them. Alex Massie has a handy list:

No-one who was seriously interested in peace in the 1980s spoke at Troops Out rallies. The best that could be said of those people was that they wanted ‘peace’ on the IRA’s terms. In other words, they wanted the IRA to win.

If that had not been the case, if they had been interested in an actual settlement, they would not – as Corbyn did – have opposed the Anglo-Irish Agreement. They would not have denounced John Hume and the SDLP as craven sell-outs. They would not have insisted that the armed struggle was a vital part of getting the Brits out of the northern Irish statelet.

But these people did do that. All of that and more.


[In 1993], Corbyn was a member of the board of Labour Briefing, a fringe magazine for diehard leftists that unequivocally supported the IRA’s bombing campaign. Corbyn organised the magazine’s mailing-list and was a regular speaker at its events. In December 1984, the magazine “reaffirmed its support for, and solidarity with, the Irish republican movement” ... “Labour briefing stands for peace, but we are not pacifists”. Moreover, “It certainly appears to be the case that the British only sit up and take notice when they are bombed into it”. That being so, discussions with the SDLP and the Irish government were, at best, a distraction. Only Sinn Fein and the IRA spoke for Ireland. Labour Briefing explicitly opposed the SDLP, preferring instead to endorse the republican terrorist campaign.

This was published a few weeks after the Brighton bombing. ... Condemning the bombing showed that the Labour party had lost its ‘political nerve’. The Corbynite left, however, was made of sterner stuff. As Labour Briefing had previously written: “We refuse to parrot the ritual condemnation of ‘violence’ because we insist on placing responsibility where it lies…. Let our ‘Iron Lady’ know this: those who live by the sword shall die by it. If she wants violence, then violence she will certainly get.”

That, for the avoidance of doubt, is what Brendan O'Neill is referring to when he talks about

the time [Corbyn] took tea with the leaders of Sinn Fein and said a few critical things about Britain’s actions in Northern Ireland.


You can take the boy out of the Revolutionary Communist Party....

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Trump derangement syndrome.

In the light of the latest completely unhinged accusations against Donald Trump — accusations so utterly hingeless that even I won't dignify them with a link — I have this to say.

Donald Trump is not only an easy target; he's an easy legitimate target. He genuinely and obviously is so bad in so many ways that it should be really really easy to criticise him. And yet the Left keep coming up with these stupid convoluted and often false accusations, which both help Trump by making his opponents look insane and him reasonable in comparison, and force me and anyone else who may not support him but does value truth into the position of having to defend him.

Stop it. I don't want to defend him. He's a wanker.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

A conflict of interest.

The news was on in the background, as it always is at work, and I saw that a committee of MPs are calling for the RSPCA to be stripped of the right to prosecute. Why? Because, they claim, for the RSPCA to prosecute cases of animal cruelty is a conflict of interest.

I admit to having been utterly baffled by this. What conflict of interest? Do the RSPCA somehow make a profit out of prisons or something? So I looked it up.

The Commons environment committee said there was a "conflict of interest" between the charity's power to prosecute and its role in investigating cases, campaigning and fundraising.

A conflict of interest between investigating cases and prosecuting them? What the what? Couldn't we say the same about the criminal justice system?

But read on a bit and suddenly this nonsense all jumps into focus.

Last year the RSPCA spent £4.9 million on legal fees and cases. [David Bowles, the RSPCA's head of public affairs] said that represented about 3% of the charity's budget.


The charity's prosecution success rate is 98.9%, according to 2014 RSPCA figures

Ahhhh, so the CPS are moving to stop the RSPCA from prosecuting criminals because they're so damn good at it they're embarrassing the hell out of the CPS.

The RSPCA is a charity, supported by private donations. With a mere 3% of its budget, using independent solicitors rather than professional Crown Prosecutors, it is achieving a 98.9% success rate in prosecutions. And our MPs want this stopped?

I have a better idea. Let's let the CPS continue to handle the incredibly important cases of people being obnoxious on Twitter, and hand the responsibility for prosecuting assault, rape, and murder cases over to the RSPCA. The country should be crime-free by Christmas.

Thursday, 10 November 2016


Over the last couple of days, I've realised that an election in which both viable candidates are absolutely fucking awful is absolutely the best kind of election. I'm really happy that Clinton lost. She deserved to lose. But, if she'd won, I'd have been really happy to see Trump lose. He deserved to lose too.

Course, one of them had to win. And that was bound to be a bit of a problem. But then it always is. Every bloody election, no matter what happens, we end up with a politician in charge. It's an annoyance, but one I've got used to over the years.

And there's just so much more pleasure to be derived from seeing a politician lose than there is misery from seeing one win, it's not even close. Truly, in an election like this, there is really very little downside.

Mind you, if you're one of those people who believes that one of the human calamities on offer deserved to win, that the world would be a better place if they won, that they're even a nice person, I can see how the wrong result might be upsetting.

But that's just crazy talk.