Define “Powerful”

Britain’s Daily Express just ran an article ranking the various countries’ passports in terms of what they term “power” — which for them means the number of foreign countries to visit without requiring an entry visa of some kind.

American passport holders have less power to travel visa-free compared to countries such as Germany, South Korea and the UK, having dropped down one tier in the Arton Capital passport index rankings since 2016.

Austria, Switzerland and Singapore rank with the above at or near the top of the list; we’re about fourth or so, because there are quite a few countries which require us to get a visa prior to arrival — India, as I once discovered for myself, being one.

And a lot of times, this is simply retaliation when we impose a visa restriction on their country:

Earlier this month, Turkey removed the visa-free status to the US after a row with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
US passports could be set to get weaker still, as the European Parliament voted to end visa-free travel for Americans back in March this year.
The vote came after Trump refused to allow visa-free travel to members of five EU countries: Croatia, Cyprus, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria.

Last time I looked, we still don’t need a visa to go to France for less than a 90-day period, which is good because I’m going to France for a week later on in the year and I’m damned if I would submit to their bureaucratic rigmarole just for that.

I once estimated that the average U.S. citizen will spend about $10,000-$12,000 (excluding airfare) over a two-week vacation trip to Europe. I am pretty sure that were the EU to make things more difficult for us to travel there, a number of people (myself included) would simply decide to go somewhere else — and thus spend our highly-prized U.S. dollars in a place where we’re apparently more welcome.

Which brings me back to the issue of “power”. Being able to visit a country without a visa does not fit my definition of power. This does.

If a citizen of a country is kidnapped or otherwise harmed when traveling in a foreign country, do you think the wrongdoers would feel more comfortable knowing that the victim is Singaporean (to pick one of the top passports at random), or an American?

Put even more simply: is there a risk that the Singaporean military would send a drone strike to snuff out the bad guys?

To me, that’s the real power of a passport: whether you can mess with your visitors with impunity, or whether you may get some more visitors from a Special Forces team in response.

So how does that make the U.S., U.K. and Germany (to name but three countries with bad-ass special forces) look now?

Of course, given the state of affairs right now, U.S. citizens face added insecurity when they travel because Muslim assholes look on us as high-visibility targets — so in that regard, we’re worse off than the South Koreans. Frankly, though, as long as Americans avoid traveling to places we’re warned about by the State Department, we do just fine. (And for those idiots who just have to spend their vacation in Yemen or Syria, you deserve everything you get.)

Right: I’m off to finish packing.

K-Cups In Britishland

 

No, this is not about some Brit tart with huge breasts — larger still than a “GGG” cup size — oh no, this is a serious post. Reader Chris C. sends me this news:

I remember you mentioned something about having a Keurig K-Cup brewer — I have one too. I also remember you mentioned something about not being able to find one in 220-240V for UK and other non-North American use.

I’ve actually found an option:

Stateside Coffee (Bidford)

They have the Keurig K140 which I think is the older version of the K145 commercial brewer that you can find in Office Depot right now. The price isn’t fantastic (£150), but given the dearth of options, it’s at least a workable one.

I don’t know about the K140/145, but I used to have the larger K150 which is an excellent coffeemaker.

(Daughter stole it from me and it’s still working, some five years since I bought it.)

So for all my Brit Readers who want to escape the Nespresso Matrix, here’s an option. As I see it, however, the only problem is the poor choice of K-cup coffee available Over There; even a cursory look through amazon.co.uk yields few options — although the Green Mountain coffee isn’t bad, it’s not Dunkin Donuts (which they may get, though, if you pester them for it. And the price isn’t too bad, about £1 per cup).

And for those of you Murkins who are looking for a more rugged version of the Keurig for your travels, Reader Chris suggests the CoffeeBoxx (which accepts K-cups):

Tactical coffeemaker? Kim likes, but the price is a little yowzer. Still (as any fule kno) you always pay more for mil-spec, so it may be worth it.

Many thanks, Chris.

I have the best Readers of any blog on the Internet. And now I think I’ll go and make me another cup of coffee, on my Keurig.

Then I’ll look at pics of Casey Batchelor on the Internet.

Not Wanted Here

Following the anti-tourist demonstrations in Majorca last week comes this new outburst of hatred for tourists — this time, sadly, in one of my favorite cities in the whole world: Amsterdam.

AMSTERDAM has launched a city centre crackdown against holidaymakers as anti-tourism riots gather pace across Europe.
Souvenir shops and bicycle hire, as well as fast food outlets boasting ice-creams, waffles and cheese, have now been blocked from opening in the Dutch city.
Officials say the shutdown is in a bid to stop “mass tourism” ruining Amsterdam’s “magnificent streets”.
It is the latest city to hit back at holidaymakers, with rioters and protesters intimidating tourists in Spain and Italy claiming they are ruining the country.
Mayor of Amsterdam, Kajsa Ollongren, said: “Tourists are very welcome, but we want to avoid mass tourism taking over our magnificent streets, canals and neighbourhoods.”

Ms Ollongren added: “We want to make sure the city centre remains attractive and liveable for the residents of Amsterdam.”

Let’s be honest, here. “Mass tourism” is a euphemism for “masses of drunken foreigners, especially Brits” because like Marbella and Ibiza, Amsterdam has become a destination — this time for bachelor parties — with ultra-cheap airfares and ferry fares making it less expensive, in many cases, for partygoers to travel there than to, say, hire a bus to take the party from Manchester to Margate. And with the high cost of hotel rooms in Amsterdam, the drunks don’t stay overnight — at least, not in hotel rooms: they simply drink themselves into a stupor, pass out in the streets and parks (Amsterdam has a very tolerant police force), and then catch the morning flight back to Britain, severely hungover (or still drunk). Here’s an example — and imagine if this happened at your favorite restaurant:

So I can appreciate the Amsterdam government’s point. Like the Balearic Islands, there has to be a point where you draw the line and say, as the mayor did: we’re going to put our residents first. And for those who don’t know this, Amsterdam, unlike tourist meccas such as Paris or London, is actually a tiny city: you can walk it flat in three days — I have — and pretty much see all the sights (unless you’re an art aficionado and spend hours in the Rijksmuseum, as I also have). So yes, it’s easy for the city of Amsterdam to be swamped and overwhelmed by tourists — more tourists than they’ve normally had to deal with in the past — and especially by tourists who act like the foul slobs above instead of like well-mannered guests.

And let’s be clear about this: if the wonderful, civilized and tolerant Dutch people are getting pissed off about these invasions, then things have really deteriorated.

I’m sad about this because in the past I’ve tried constantly to be the absolute antithesis of the above-mentioned unspeakables: I’m quiet, try to fit in by acting like a local, eat the local foods and in general, be a traveler more than a tourist. In other words, I’ve always been aware that I’m not a local, and there under sufferance. But thanks to the bad behavior of some revolting louts, it looks like I’m going to be caught in whatever net the various tourist cities erect to preserve their sanity.

Which sucks.

I love to travel, and it pains me to think that one of my great pleasures in life is going to be restricted because of the baleful outcome of the coarsening of Western society.


Update: I forgot to include the official anthem of Amsterdam. (Okay, it isn’t; but it should be.)

Fear Of Flying

As one who will be flying over The Pond again in precisely four weeks’ time, I read this Drudge-linked article with interest. For those who want to follow the link: yeah, it’s an NBC article and you can ignore the first third of it, which is a classist rant against the fact that wealthy people can cosset themselves against the rigors of modern-day air travel by buying their way into luxury lounges and wider seats, etc. BFD. A sample:

Ordinary passengers, however, shuffle along in line, and then just before they pack into coach, they have to edge through first class — where cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and hot towels might be passed around, even before the cabin door closes. Airlines are increasingly catering to their premium customers with fancier seats and beds, and most passengers never even see the comfortable terminal lounges for first-class seat-holders and very frequent flyers.
At Los Angeles International Airport, the wealthy can pay for an even greater buffer from the great unwashed, courtesy of an exclusive new club, The Private Suite. The service — with a $7,000 initiation fee and $2,700-per-trip price tag — allows travelers to ensconce themselves in a retreat on the south end of an airport that, by consensus, is one of America’s most crowded. Members can dine on caviar, take a shower and get a pedicure while waiting for their planes. The Private Suite has its own TSA agents, far from the exasperation of the long lines. And when it’s time to board, a car whisks Private Suite members across the tarmac, directly to their gates. Gavin de Becker, the entrepreneur who founded the Private Suite, hopes to expand to other airports.
Stressed and financially strapped, Americans are sensitive to any additional signs that they are falling behind, said Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. “People are working two and three jobs to get by, and the disparity of wealth is growing,” Nelson said. “People are upset.”

Oh, mercy me: rich people have it better than the peasants. The iniquity! (In other breaking news, water is wet, and General Custer’s having a little trouble with the Sioux.)

The rest of the piece is far more interesting, especially this:

Though the airline industry was deregulated by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, it would take several other systemic jolts — notably the terrorist attacks of 2001 and the Great Recession, with its sharp reductions in discretionary travel — to get the airlines to trim money-losing routes. The downturn also triggered a series of bankruptcies, followed by consolidations. Delta Airlines consumed Northwest, United gobbled up Continental, Southwest took over AirTran, and American Airlines swallowed U.S. Airways.
Those four giant carriers finally had the reduced competition — combined with newfound discipline over the number of routes offered and the size of air fleets — to forge consistent profits.
One result: The number of flights offered annually declined by nearly 1.5 million over the last decade. Less service and fewer partially filled planes, combined with sharp cost-cutting, drove revenue to new highs.

Yeah, the airlines are making a profit again, after years of massive losses caused mostly by high fuel prices. I don’t have a problem with that. What I do have a problem with is the fact that airlines can get away with treating us like shit, generally under the guise of “security”, which is all the excuse the little gauleiters need to mess us around.

The plain fact is that air travel is no longer “fun”, as the article puts it. Those days of glamorous passengers and gorgeous, svelte young stewardesses have given way to the International Backpack & Sandals Set and grim-looking middle-aged “flight attendants” who bitch and moan about passengers — with, it should be said, quite a lot of justification — but which is all to be expected when you make an activity available to the masses by making it cheaper.

That said, there’s no excuse for the airlines treat We The Farepayers like self-loading cargo (which to be honest is what we are, really), but then get surprised when we get pissed off when we’re over-charged for crappy meals, a suitcase that’s a half-pound overweight, cramped seats and [2,000 other complaints deleted because duh]. and don’t even get me started about “involuntary ejection” or whatever cute little euphemism they employ when they toss a fare-paying customer off a flight for whatever reason they want to.

So it’s small wonder we try to game the system wherever possible.

Fact is, there is no more romance involved with flying; it’s just like being stuck in rush-hour traffic on the interstate, only more restrictive. And for me personally, all this just reinforces my conviction never to fly domestically — i.e. never fly anywhere I can drive — so the airlines can just fuck right off. They’ve got me on the international flights, and they’ll just have to be content with that — just as I’ve resigned myself to being forever subject to “random” searches and closer scrutiny in their fucking domains.

As with so many things, I just long for things to go back to being more civilized:

… or at least fun:

…but it doesn’t look like this airline travel ordeal is going to get better anytime soon, more’s the pity.

Backlash

I see with interest that the people of Majorca have had enough:

Streets of Majorca were filled with 3,000 people protesting over mass tourism in a latest backlash in the British holiday hotspot.
Holidaymakers in the capital of Palma looked on as the angry crowd chanted “Without limits, there is no future” and “tourists go home”.
Spokeswoman Margalida Ramis said the holiday island was being saturated by visitors at the expense of the environment, local jobs, housing for residents and general co-existence.
She said the islands’ dependence on tourism was not a good thing from an economic point of view and was “precarious”.

I should point out that the “onlookers” (tourists) at this protest march probably outnumbered the protesters by about ten to one, which should give the proper perspective to the situation.

So let me see if I’ve got this straight: you encourage tourism by offering cheap hotel accommodation, allowing budget airline flights to land on your sun-drenched little Mediterranean island, and in general cater to the meme of “Holiday In Paradise”, and then you are shocked — shocked! — when a bunch of loutish drunks invade your little paradise and fuck things up?

Let’s be honest: the Balearic Islands have little to offer except tourism, so if tourists were suddenly to disappear, Majorca’s and Ibiza’s economies would fall into the pit, so to speak, their citizens’ standard of living would resemble that of a Third World village, i.e. grim and poverty-stricken, and they’d have to resort to fleecing the wealthy foreigners who’ve paid untold millions for their tropical getaways — which is what the Balearics used to do before the era of cheap flights, cheap accommodation and cheap booze.

There’s a solution, of course, but their government won’t take it: raise taxes on holidaymakers, institute curfews, imprison revelers who take it too far, and in general make it uncomfortable for tourists. (The cynic in me would suggest that they allow a different kind of visitor — Middle Eastern refugees / migrants — and let events take their natural course after that. If that doesn’t discourage tourism, nothing will.)

Makes the Florida spring break destinations look quite placid, by comparison.

Suspicion Confirmed

I suspected that I’d been “randomly” selected for additional screening when I left Britishland (see below), and I was correct. After reading this article, I found my old boarding card and lo: there in the corner was the “SSSS” notation.

This is why I couldn’t check in online, this is why the ticket-chickie was so curious about my trip Over There, this is why I had a pat-down at the entrance to the secure area, and this is why I had another body-cavity search at the gate, without even the courtesy of a reach-around.

What interests me is that the TSA had selected me for additional screening and then communicated that to American Airlines so they could tag my record locator to start the whole process. And they hadn’t done it for both legs of the flight, just the return.

AA is already on my Shit List because even when one has the proper U.K. temporary firearms licence, they flatly refuse to transport any privately-owned guns to the U.K.  — long guns, not just handguns, which I’d understand given the Brits’ mortal fear of the latter. This means that when I go to visit Mr. Free Market for a bit of birdshooting or deerstalking, I can’t fly on American; I have to use British Airways. As they’re “OneWorld partners”, it doesn’t affect my airline miles, but it does limit my travel options somewhat. And to judge from the comments on frequent-flier websites and forums, BA seems to have turned into a pretty second-rate airline over the past few years.

And yes, you read that right: an American airline refuses to transport legally-owned long guns to Britain, while a British airline has no problem doing so. Were it not for the fact that I fly out of DFW (American’s major hub), I’d using another airline, you betcha — but all other U.S. airlines out of DFW require that I connect in another city rather than fly direct to Heathrow. And in a couple of those connecting cities (Newark, Boston, New York), possession of a firearm can result in harassment at best, and being arrested at worst — even though you’re just passing through their little gun-hating jurisdiction. (Amazingly, Chicago isn’t a GFW city, in this situation anyway.)

Bah. A pox on all their houses.