gambitch - now available in blue
Our constant efforts to reinvent ourselves reveal how much we fear our own images.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

News is emerging from Australia that Trade Minister Mark Vaile favours a merger between Qantas and Singapore Airlines, after the latter airline's application for access to the lucrative Australia-America trans-Pacific route was deferred by the Australian government, rather than rejected outright, a couple of weeks ago.

Personally, I'm quite skeptical about the odds of that merger happening, although I do think that some kind of collaboration between the two major airlines is not out of the question. But a merger? You must be kidding.

Why is access to the trans-Pacific route such a special issue in the commercial aviation business? Just look up a simple map of the world and you might appreciate the dollars and sense of it. If you drew a straight line between Sydney or Melbourne on one end, and Los Angeles or San Francisco on the other, you would quickly realize that there was practically no third country where planes could stop over, never mind the possibility of short trips in-between. The lack of direct options made it possible to milk as much money out of this route as one could desire - within limitations, of course, but these limitations didn't necessarily include rival airlines.

If you're anywhere in Asia east of Pakistan, and you tried to fly into America from across the Pacific rather than the Atlantic, traditional route combinations usually involved a stopover at either Tokyo or Osaka, both in Japan, or Taipei. But many airlines offer that kind of transit service. Indeed, an indirect flight originating from Melbourne or Sydney would probably stop over at Tokyo as well. But direct flights originating from Australia - well, they're held by very few airlines, chief among them United, Qantas and Air New Zealand. Big pie shared by a few... Now you see why SIA, the leading brand among Southeast Asian airlines, is so keen on landing this route.

Problem is, Qantas needs the income it can generate from this route. It's not doing particularly well overall for a few years now, and recent news regarding oil prices are but one factor among many that will continue to dent its performance. There's also that pest of an entrepreneur, Richard Branson, who's still having a major stake in Virgin Blue, threatening to upset Qantas in the Oceania domestic market. It may be holding on to a strategic partnership with British Airways, but the truth is that allying with BA hasn't done enough yet to give it a toehold on the international market outside of Australia.

That's why all these years, it has begged the Australian government not to open up access to the trans-Pacific route to SIA and other interested parties. If it loses its hold on that too, then it's quite possible that the airline will go down.

But why should it matter this much to the Australian government? That's where we go back through some history and look at a time when airlines were national brands. When commercial flight was first possible, like all new business opportunities, people wanted to start airline companies and make some money. But then there's a big problem - money. It takes lots of money to buy aircraft, not to mention maintain them. And then there's also the issue of access to the skies. These, and perhaps other factors as well, meant that in most cases, there was only enough room for one airline, and that airline was probably state-owned or otherwise state-affiliated because airspace access was a matter negotiated among state governments. Startup costs for airlines were so prohibitive that there were only two ways the money could be raised - you needed either a frighteningly rich private consortium or massive state sponsorship to raise the money.

(Digressing slightly, this snippet of knowledge makes it intriguing to think just how nations used to negotiate the issue of naval passenger travel between countries. But that's really old stuff now.)

Coupled to that is the historical fact that the early to middle 20th Century, apart from witnessing the advent of commercial flight, was also a period that saw a global rise in nationalism, and the corresponding demise of imperialism, marked particularly by the end of the British Empire. The rise of nationalism from China to the Congo led to the formation of many new nations and nation-states, many of whom were eager to find symbols to rally around and take great pride in.

The national carrier was an excellent symbol for a number of reasons. One was money - starting an airline is so expensive that having enough money to start one could be considered a representation for the financial strength of the state, as well as the ability of the nation's leaders to manage that financial strength. Better that than an opulent palace, one could say.

The second reason it made such a good symbol also has to do with the costs involved. Because it was so expensive to start an airline, new nations like India and Botswana weren't likely to have six or seven different airlines appearing all at once in a hurry. That made the national carrier unique within its home nation, which made it a better symbol than if there were several other, probably privately-owned airlines as well.

The natural effect of this uniqueness was that the national flag, or some other form of national insignia, could be painted onto the planes' exteriors, and that opens up the idea of symbolism. Consider for example the pride inspired among the Swiss (hardly a new nation, I know, but that's hardly important) when they see an airplane bearing the Swiss national flag zooming across the skies. For new nations more than established ones, the wave of nationalism is so strong that every single thing that can make them feel proud of their nascent state draws up much more emotion, enough to forget that their economies are hardly getting off the ground (and, as history will tell us years later, have not done so for more than 30 years in a huge number of cases). When you can fly, it makes you believe that nearly anything else is possible.

Which helps to explain why some really poor nations, typically formed after the end of World War II, still decided and managed to put together a national airline that may have all of six aircraft, but they didn't care.

The result of national carriers being turned into national symbols was that suddenly their well-being had an influence on the citizens' ego. Thus, Singaporeans for example consistently talked about SIA and the Singapore Girl as symbols they were so proud of, it actually mattered to them that the airline was doing well. If the airline suffered some setbacks, political leaders could use it as an example to extend to the state of the whole country's economy. And if an air disaster befell SIA, as had happened a few years ago with the SQ006 disaster in Taipei, it would suddenly be national news worthy of continuous coverage. Same goes with Qantas and Australia.

Of course, it could be argued that we've moved on quite a bit from the peak of the nationalist wave in the mid-20th Century. There's a bit more money circulating around the world now, and there have been many more privately-owned airlines springing up. The last ten years have also seen the emergence of budget airlines as an affordable alternative. This has already proven a hit in Europe with RyanAir in particular, and is now taking Australasia, the next big market, by storm. Even old national carriers are becoming open to foreign investment and partial ownership by foreigners.

Furthermore, cutthroat competition leading to a rationalisation phase has knocked out inefficient or otherwise loss-making airlines. The aforementioned Swissair is one example of an airline that has folded, and various American commercial airlines have filed for Chapter 11 in the past.

Nevertheless, in the particular instances of Qantas and SIA, both remain the dominant - in fact, effectively only - players from their respective nations. For this reason, the "national carrier" label continues to stick firmly to these two airlines. For political reasons, it would be highly unlikely for either country to accept a merger that leads to the disappearance of one of these brand names, and by extension a symbol these governments have used frequently in the past. Barring a shock PAP defeat at the polls, Singapore is unlikely to let go of their premier pride and joy, considering the political and economic backlash that will certainly result. Nor is Australia going to be actually all that happy to see their Qantas kangaroo disappear from the skies.

Mark Vaile may be Trade Minister, and Deputy Prime Minister-elect, but - or rather, perhaps therefore - when he talks about merger between the two airlines, you cannot realistically expect him to be saying "Let's sell Qantas off". Certainly not if it means the resulting airline isn't majority-owned by Australians. His suggestion may be an "interesting idea", as said by SIA spokesman Stephen Forshaw, but Forshaw himself does not really believe that this is going to happen in the near future, and does nothing to resolve the issue of one of the most protected trunk routes in the aviation industry.

To Nyanko et al - you'd do well to read up a bit on this. I know it's business news, and it's hardly what you're used to, but I would think that you might get tested on this. Better safe than sorry...

gambitch [ 5:41 AM]

Friday, June 24, 2005

I'm used to being a loner. That's the way my life has been for the best part of over twenty years. I'm not known for being good at making friends, or keeping them, mostly because my life frequently changes this way and that, and I just end up losing contact with people. No big deal. I've still got my footballing friends every Sunday, and for all the surprise that fact alone gives me, they've been good friends to have.

But sometimes there's that jealousy when I hear about my friends going out for a spin or some supper, and realize I wasn't invited. No, my friends don't hate me, it's just that it never crossed their mind to call me along, just as it sometimes doesn't cross their mind to call any number of other people along as well. On the one hand, you can't blame them - they've been friends with one another even before I entered the fray. On the other hand, it does remind me of the fact that I don't go out with friends that often on their invitation. And that does suck.

Okay, so why don't I do the inviting? Well, for starters, I'm more fringe guy than central hub. I'm not way out on the fringes, fortunately enough, but I'm not the best type of person when it comes to trying to organize something that suits everyone. Even a dinner outing is a problem because I don't go out to eat all that often, so I don't know where the decent joints are. Plus, I don't drive, and we all know how that limits the individual's ability to explore on his own before suggesting things for other people to try. Add to that a flat wallet and a bank account staring at low triple-figures, and you sort of see where that's going.

Unfortunately, having a life costs money. Having a life where you're willing to be experimental costs even more. I've never been a clubbing person in my teenage years mostly because I was determined to stay above it all - no drugs, no smoking, no drinks - but if I thought about it really hard enough, it was also because I didn't have the capital to do so, and if I started splurging, I'd land my family into bankruptcy really fast. Which is why, in the last three years, I've severely cut back on my theatre trips - I haven't watched a play in at least two years, and considering how I used to rave quite a bit about them in the past, that's quite something.

Sometimes I do wonder - when I chose to forsake all those things I did back when I was a kid, when I became the eccentric one that led such an inconceivably abnormal life, did I ever imagine how it'd all come back one day and bite me in the posterior? Maybe I should have. Maybe I thought nothing of it and just decided to shrug it off, just to see how things would go. Maybe that was a mistake, maybe not.

I'm well into my twenties. Give me a few years, and I'd be thirty. Yet I count in my life few friends, and a substantial number of acquaintances who could have been better friends if I wasn't so obstinately disinclined to trust them with my life, or more than a tiny morsel of it. Sign of an uber-control freak, you might say. And I'd totally agree with that, because that's right. I am a control freak, a congenital one. Can't seem to let go of that.

And now I'm paying the price. Have been for the last ten years or so. Coming from an all-male school for long spells of my education, and being as unsocial - I'd say antisocial, but I'm not sure if that's the best word describing my condition - as I was, it does something to my ability to form relationships of any kind with members of the opposite sex. And I was too busy studying and puffing up my resume to care about making friends with people of the same sex either. Of course nowadays teenagers mature faster, and there are things like chatrooms, ICQ and phone messaging, so if I was born ten years later, I might not withdraw myself into a corner that easily. Or I might. Who knows?

But the damage is already done, and will continue to be done for probably the rest of my life. Unless I change my ways, perhaps, probably following some kind of formula laid out by so-called experts. But I am perhaps too rebellious and obstinate to follow such rules. That's me, stuck in paradox mode.

Sometimes I wish I had a friend who'd introduce me to a gym and hit the treadmill with me so that I'd lose some weight and gain some stamina. (I could jog on my own, but there is something highly unappealing about jogging and the fact that you're actually moving from point to point that makes the treadmill seem so much more desirable - again, control issues.) Sometimes I wish I had a friend who I could call, and on short notice we'd be out in town looking at buildings or shopping in bookstores. (We could check out babes, but I'm admittedly no expert in the field, and considering how I had cultivated a reputation for being nothing short of stone cold in my youth, the sudden turnaround would be seriously out of the blue.)

Also, out of consideration for my friends, I often try not to upset their lives with impulsive and selfish demands like "Let's do tea" or things like that. A friend once described me as kind by nature. He's right - perhaps too right. My kindness leaves me handling all my friends with well-padded kid-glove delicacy. Avoid disturbing them as far as possible - and it's always easily possible. For the same reason, perhaps, I'm hopelessly lousy at making new friends without making some effort to do things which can be interpreted as being intrusive at some level. That, or I'm left with making intellectual friends with people who make intellectual talk with me, but don't talk to me about more, um, airheaded stuff. Because I'm no good at being an airhead when the situation calls for it.

Nowhere has this been more obvious than the fact that, to this day, I remain unshockingly single, and find it difficult to count even one female among the group I can seriously call friends. One or two fair ladies might object about this last statement, but my response to you is this: When's the last time I've managed to converse with you, by voice or text, for a continuous stretch of time lasting no less than three minutes? I don't think I've managed that anywhere in the last year, and I'm not exactly delighted about that statistic.

Actually, I'm not so much upset, but closer to ambivalent, and there's nothing particularly satisfying about that kind of feeling either. Despite the stone cold face I've been putting up all these years, underneath all the makeup, it does matter. Because if I've been like that for about ten years, I can be like that again for the next ten, and by that time I'll be over thirty, in fact within touching range of forty. I could say "okay then" now with a shrug of the shoulder, but there is every possibility that ten years on, I'll regret having said that. Never mind the sex, just think of the massive emotional hollow!

Yeah, I know what you're thinking - gambitch's gone soft and is practically pleading for affection. Let's suppose I am. If there's something funny about me going soft, is it the end state or the initial state you're having a laugh at? And is it anything to laugh at in the first place, given that most other people have no problems going soft anyway? I'm not sure there is.

Ack, who cares about this nobody anyway?

Back to my loner's life.

gambitch [ 1:06 AM]

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Here's the Premiership fixture schedule for 2005/6.

Wigan have it good, hosting Chelsea as the opener and being the last team to play at Highbury in a League match - unless Ashburton Grove construction works get delayed.

And in case you all missed the news, Park Ji Sung has joined United for four million. Decent money, actually. And he wants to earn it playing, not modelling.

To round off this very short entry, just what the hell are Chelsea up to this time?

I don't mind them dumping Glen Johnson, mostly because they aren't really thinking hard about using him anyway, and he's hardly proven himself since leaving West Ham. But offloading Huth may be all too panicky a move, and only goes to show how much Chelsea underestimate Spurs' likelihood to respond angrily to what could or could not be a stupid faux pas.

gambitch [ 11:07 PM]

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Time for the occasional potpourri.

The other day, without quite knowing why, I had this dream about President Arroyo of the Philippines dying. One odd thing about this dream is, in my dream, I was either watching TV or reading the newspapers when I learnt about it. In other words, I didn't see President Arroyo die first-hand - it was a news story.

I'm not President Arroyo's friend - I don't actually know her as a person - but after a dream like this, I think it appropriate to wish her good health. I do know that she's going through a tough time politically, with some people calling for her resignation, but I wouldn't want it to start turning into a bloody coup. It just doesn't go down so well that way.

I caught this TV ad the other day where three young women made a phone call to Dell and wanted to buy a computer from them. The only reason this otherwise nondescript ad makes it into this blog entry is the fact that I'm happening to think about buying myself a new computer about a year or longer from now. My current laptop's lasted slightly over two years, and it has about another year and a half left in it, possibly longer. So I've to plan for the future.

Thing is, I'm thinking about buying myself an assemble-your-own machine, like so many PC whizzes before me have done (not that I'm one myself, mind). Mostly because I might think about how to squeeze a bit more out of my new machine by overclocking it - whatever for, I don't yet know - or putting together a stronger structure than one piece of RAM, one large harddisk and all that standard fare. I'm looking at two harddisks rather than one, partially in the belief that having one to store data and one dedicated towards providing virtual memory would probably be a more desirable setup. Well, I'll see how it goes...

But what does that have to do with Dell's ad? Well, it's just an interesting juxtaposition how a male geek like me is thinking about assembling your own computer (something that, funnily enough, is still not such a popular thing here, for reasons I can imagine), while on the other hand, the ad features three girls wanting to buy a pre-done package. Maybe it's trying to play into some kind of gender stereotype when it comes to computer-related buying habits, or maybe it's Dell's way of trying to attack the Asian female market. Either way, the ad's a bit funny. And going by how it was put together, the ad was also quite budget. Quite in line with Dell's "low pricing" policy, I would say.

Final piece for the day - Dutchman Patrick Kluivert will be moving to Spanish club Valencia from English outfit Newcastle United. The process has been slightly longer than expected because of medical problems, but for the well-known hitman it represents a return to Iberian shores after leaving Barcelona last year. Potentially joining him is Arsenal winger Robert Pires. The Frenchman is rumoured to be unhappy about not being offered a two-year contract extension, a consequence of Arsenal's policy of giving those over 30 only twelve-month deals.

Already moving to Valencia in the summer is Brazilian Edu, who funnily enough also joins from Arsenal. So it could be a strange reunion of sorts for Pires.

The take from this football watcher? Well, I can only be moved to remark what a strange cosmopolitan mix this will lead to for the Spanish club. There's nothing unusual about players who speak Portuguese or Spanish playing for Spanish clubs. But when you're looking at having a Frenchman, a Dutchman and a few Italians (notably Marco Di Vaio) hanging about as well, for some reason it starts getting surreal.

True, club football has become very much more cosmopolitan in the last twenty years, and it's not an altogether new phenomenon. Just today I read about Real Madrid getting an invitation to play a bunch of Hungarians for a match honouring legendary Magyar Ferenc Puskas, who way back in the '50s was among the first foreign stars to play for Real. But it used to be about one or two foreigners in a team, and usually not that foreign, lest it led to adjustment problems on the player's part. Nowadays people of five or six different nations can play for the same club team, and sometimes it'd go so far as to have no player from the club's own home country making the starting eleven, or the bench too for that matter. Just look at Arsenal this season when they lost Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole to injuries and suspensions.

But what's the big deal about this? I mean, I support Manchester United, don't I? Isn't my own team littered with foreign stars? Yes, it is. So why am I finding it stranger when Valencia are seeing the same kind of thing? Maybe it's because in my mind, I don't find it quite so strange for English and Italian clubs aggressively buying people from other cultures. Yet I find it odder for Spanish clubs, with the convenient exceptions of Real and Barca. Those are household names with solid international reputations, not to mention lots of cash or equity to burn (I must have mentioned Real's real estate and their ties to the Spanish royal bank before). The rest? Maybe it's a reflection of my belief that Iberian cultures are somewhat xenophobic. Where I picked that up, I don't know.

Then again, this is the modern footballing age, where Italians run German clubs and Dutchmen boss Spanish outfits. Hell, even England's national coach is Swedish. When 'smaller' nations like those in Africa or Asia hire European or Brazilian coaches, we can make the argument about how the Westerners are better, blah blah blah. When the same situation surfaces in leading European nations, that's when you must acknowledge there's something else at work.

gambitch [ 1:16 AM]

Monday, June 20, 2005

The job is done, and I've sent my work to the customer.

Not that I'm completely satisfied with it. There is some information I know I'm missing. Problem is, I'm missing that information because the source didn't have it either. Now I could be sloppy and just get away with it, but I'm at that stage of my career when it does matter more than usual to make a positive impression, mostly because it'll help bring in more deals from the same customers in future.

Looks like I'll gradually enjoy this line - which was part of the plan anyway, but I'm just saying!

In other (not quite affecting me personally) news, the kids are probably going through that agonizing period when those applications they sent weeks ago go through the processing mill (or the shredder), and they either get the news that they're accepted, or get practically no news - in which case they're probably rejected. Yeah, I know, the kids are still 15- or 16-year-olds, when they've yet to become old and war-battered, and in some cases bitter. I'm more than a bit older than these kids, which means I've been through some (though, I'm frank enough to admit, not all - yet) of this. But here's a few words from an old warrior in this business and others like it.

(That is, if the kids know this website and care to read it.)

If you make it, good for you, and congratulations. If you don't, tough luck, shrug it off, and carry on what you've been doing. It doesn't get much more complicated than that, and it shouldn't have to be.

And that's because, when it all adds up, this shouldn't have to matter so much. You might think it should, because it's a crowning glory and an endorsement of your God-given and self-improved talents. Forget all of that. If you're good, you're good, and not making this thing shouldn't necessarily change that. It doesn't mean you're a flop, it just means 'they' don't want you. And 'they' are but one body. There can be others. There aren't, but there can be. And that should say quite something else in itself.

Many a time and oft I've heard stories of footballers who were rejected at this club or that club when they were trying out for apprenticeships. Some of them go on a few years later to become superstars. Heard of Andy Cole? He was a one-time Arsenal reject. David Platt of the early '90s? United didn't think he was good enough - yes, I'm not kidding! Oh, and what about Manchester City not realizing they had a gem of a left-winger on their books when United came along and pinched Ryan Wilson (now Giggs)?

The point to be made is, you can make it without that rubber stamp. It's going to be a wee bit harder, maybe, when you don't have that rubber stamp, but if all that gives you is a certain sense of comfort, security and self-affirmation, it's not going to do much to make you a better sportsman. Indeed, if anything, let rejection spur you on and give you the "I'll show them" attitude. Show them what fools they were to leave you out. Or quit something you once thought you loved, only to realize you loved it because it could give you all these symbols of status and excellence, and not because you enjoyed what you were doing (you never did, did you?).

On the flip side, to those who have made it, congratulations, but this is by no means the end of the road. You should know this by now - you're supposed to get better after this, and the only way you can do that is embrace that which you claim you love with ever more affection and enthusiasm. Ask every question, even the ones your instructors tell you never to ask. Much to learn, you have, indeed. And be willing to broaden your horizons, because if you don't, they'll narrow down all by themselves. The system's built that way. And the system should be fought. It doesn't have to be defeated, but it must be fought and understood. Only through fighting the system will you understand it. Otherwise, you're swallowing feed.

So much for my brainwashing and poisoning young minds. But one man's poison is another man's meat. It's all a matter of perspectives - be it the one you chose or the one others chose for you.


gambitch [ 12:04 AM]


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