We don't know about you, but unfortunately we didn't escape the massive flu epidemic sweeping Europe and other places during the first two months of 2018. We'll spare you the gory details, because this is supposed to be a fun page, but we can assure you that three agonising weeks with "la grippe" wasn't pretty. The fact that February, even in our nick of the woods, still brought some unexpected snow, didn't help much to alleviate the sneezing, coughing and other related flu symptoms. So, we're glad the flu bacilli have gone in time for us to put together the Spring issue of Punch Bag.
As you can see, we've lined up quite a few interesting, scary, heartbreaking and hilarious items, so we suggest you sit back and relax and savour this new edition of Punch Bag.

Happy reading

Nol van Fenema


- We take it that you are familiar with the disgusting and cynical reaction by the U.S. National Rifle Association (NRA) to the mass shooting last month at a Florida school that left 17 students and staff dead.
Following the carnage, more than a dozen companies ended their NRA discounts and distanced themselves from the powerful pro-gun lobbying organisation, including Delta and United Airlines, Alamo, Avis, Budget, Enterprise and Hertz car rentals, MetLife and Chubb insurance and Norton computer security.
Surprisingly, Memphis-based delivery giant FedEx stood firm in their relationships with the gun group in the wake of the mass shooting. The express company is listed on the NRA website as providing up to 26% discount for the NRA Business Alliance members and NRA clubs through its FedEx Advantage programme. Rival UPS doesn't have an NRA discount programme in place.
Not surprisingly, the NRA described the decision to end the discounts as "a shameful display of political and civic cowardice." The gun lobby later added that “In time, these brands will be replaced by others who recognize that patriotism and determined commitment to Constitutional freedoms are characteristics of a marketplace they very much want to serve.”
Actually, the blatant viciousness in the reactions by the NRA and its supporters to the stampede of companies ditching their NRA discounts, wasn't better evidenced than in the case of Delta's decision to cut its ties with the gun lobby.
This is what Georgia Lt Gov. Casey Cagle, who is running for governor as a Republican this year, stated in a tweet: “I will kill any tax legislation that benefits @Delta unless the company changes its position and fully reinstates its relationship with @NRA. Corporation cannot attack conservatives and expect us not to fight back.”
In plain English that's called blackmail.

Despite killings, FedEx sticks with U.S. gun lobby NRA


- DHL's half century of shipping knowledge apparently doesn't extend to poultry. Last month, the global logistics/express firm screwed up Kentucky Fried Chicken's supply chain in the UK so badly that the company was forced to shutter more than 560 of its 900 UK restaurants because “operational issues at DHL" left deliveries of chicken “incomplete or delayed.”
The global fast food chicken giant said DHL, which is owned by mail and parcel group Deutsche Post, had experienced what it euphemistically described as “a couple of teething problems,” prompting the disruption to restaurants.
In November, Yum Brands-owned KFC overhauled its British supply chain, ending its relationship with delivery company Bidvest and entering into a three-way partnership with DHL and previous partner Quick Service Logistics (QSL), which has supplied the fried-chicken chain in Europe since 2011.
Ironically, at the time of the signing, KFC stated it had specifically chosen the pair for their reputation of “innovation in logistics” across other industries, while DHL glowingly described the new contract as a “groundbreaking” move that would see DHL “re-write the rule book” and “set a new benchmark for delivering fresh products to KFC in a sustainable way.”
KFC, which uses chicken from British and Irish farms for its “Original Recipe” chicken-on-the-bone menu items but sources meat from overseas suppliers for its other products, was unable to tell fans when local restaurants would return to normal service.
But at press time, KFC confirmed that almost all of its 900 shops in the UK and Ireland were now open again, but that due to "ongoing distribution problems,” several of its outlets were running low on gravy.
It looks like the logistics nightmare continues.

DHL's logistics: no chicken, no gravy


- We hear that a female traveller was recently banned from taking a large "emotional-support peacock" on board a United Airlines flight, even though she had offered to buy the bird its own plane ticket.
The airline refused to let the bird board at Newark airport in New Jersey, saying it did not meet guidelines due to its weight and size.
The peacock, reportedly called Dexter, belongs to Brooklyn-based artist Ventiko, who originally bought Dexter for an art installation. Now involved in her photography and performance art, the exotic bird appears to enjoy his New York life. However, he avoids public transportation, like the subway, because Ventiko doesn't "want to traumatise him.”
Pictures of the striking bird, attempting to travel to Los Angeles, show the animal perched on an airport baggage trolley, as fellow passengers gaze at it in shock.
After six hours at the airport, the exotic bird and its human companions decided to take to the road and instead drive across the U.S.
As reported earlier, airlines in the U.S. have allowed some passengers with emotional or psychiatric problems to take therapy animals on board with them. But the number of emotional support animals has been rising in recent years, sparking suggestions that people are abusing the system.

Peacock Dexter at Newark Airport


- Our favourite budget carrier in Asia must be privately-owned Vietjet. The Hanoi-based airline is not only extremely well-run by CEO and President Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao - Vietnam's first self-made woman billionaire - but the airline has also managed to get tons of free publicity by staffing some of its inaugural flights with air hostesses in nothing more than bikinis.
That, of course, takes a lot of courage in a traditional, conservative and communist country, especially if the bikini performance takes place on a flight carrying the country's U23 football team back home from the 2018 AFC U23 Championship in China.
A clip went ballistic across social media platforms soon after the Vietjet charter landed in Hanoi, showing the bikini-clad dancers strutting and performing suggestive moves on the flight carrying the young footballers.
The young players were visibly uncomfortable next to bikini-clad dancers, Tuoi Tre News reported in an exclusive coverage of the incident, and Vietnamese Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Nguyen Ngoc Thien officially ordered an inspection of the bikini incident, while Vietjet's CEO and founder, Mrs Thao subsequently wrote a letter of apology to the Vietnam Football Federation, players and Vietnamese football fans in which she described the bikini show as a “spontaneous act”. She also said that "the airline's mistakes” were caused by “the urgency of the flight, the harsh weather and the complicated procedures in China."
And the young soccer victims?
They were proudly polishing their silver medals after their snowy 1-2 defeat against Uzbekistan.
Or were they?

"Spontaneous act" for U23 soccer players


- The notion that Trump's White House has been rather chaotic since the start of his presidency, is probably a gross understatement. In fact, according to a recent CNN report, Donald Trump loves chaos. He believes that in chaos or, more accurately, out of chaos comes progress and success.
No wonder then that Chinese astrologers at the beginning of Chinese New Year almost unanimously predicted that the disruptive U.S. president will face a fiery 12 months in the recently started Year of the Dog (2018).
The CNN report went even a step further by claiming that "any even mildly-neutral examination of Trump's White House over the past few weeks would conclude that it had descended into something approaching total chaos -- sidetracked by departures and distractions."
The astrologers' prediction that the coming months will be a rough ride for the Trump administration is therefore probably rather accurate.
According to Chinese astrologer and feng shui practitioner Louis Wong, Trump is a typical Fire Dog: hot-tempered, talkative and not in harmony with others. As a result, "Donald Trump will still be at the centre of arguments within the White House, and between different countries,” says Hong Kong-based Wong.
Trump has all the typical attributes of a Fire Dog, but the conflicts in his birth chart magnify them, which is why he takes a lot of risks and is not afraid of failure. He doesn’t follow the crowd and has a very strong personal belief system, Singapore astrologer Clarice Chan says.
She agrees with Wong that the president will continue to have problems getting along with people, “and he already has his own opinions and unconventional way of thinking. Ultimately, his character will make it very difficult for him.”
Chan predicts Trump could very well experience a major political crisis in 2018. “The opposition party is really going to fight him this year,” she says. “If he is more flexible and tones down his approach, it is likely he will stay on as president. But if he is very forceful, he will face trouble.”
The U.S. president’s potential pitfalls this year will not be limited to the U.S., the astrologers say. From October onwards, Wong foresees a great deal of political instability in South and East Asia, which could very well deal a serious blow to Trump’s standing in the world. “Now, there is harmony between North and South Korea because of the Olympic Games, but in the third quarter of this year there might be some other political crises,” he says.
Ms Chan predicts October will be an unfavourable month, as will July, and especially April. “He will face a lot of problems in international relations,” she says.
Wong adds that on top of potential for geopolitical crises and natural disasters in Asia, he foresees that Trump will have an additional problem: he will have to keep tabs on the health of his kidneys in particular.
Welcome to the Year of the Dog with faulty kidneys.

Fire Dog: not in harmony with others


- Courier company DPD has come under severe criticism when one of its delivery drivers collapsed and died from diabetes after being fined £150 by the courier company for attending a hospital appointment to treat his disease.
The shocking story, first published by the Guardian, revealed how Don Lane, a 53-year-old father of one, collapsed at the wheel of his van while on deliveries a few months before dying in January. Lane missed three other hospital appointments to treat kidney damage, partly because he was afraid of being fined.
Lane worked as a self-employed courier for DPD delivering parcels in Dorset on behalf of Marks & Spencer (M&S), John Lewis and Amazon. The company made more than £100m in profit last year, the equivalent of £20,000 per courier, but does not provide sick pay or paid holiday.
After the Guardian revealed the circumstances of Lane’s death, DPD apologised for fining him in July but denied that when he first collapsed seven months earlier he was threatened with £150 charges.
Following the Guardian story, there were signs of a consumer backlash with shoppers telling DPD and M&S they would consider stopping using them because of Lane’s treatment.
On the political front, MPs, the opposition and trade unions spoke out as well with the shadow business secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey, describing Lane’s case as heartbreaking.
“Bad conditions, bogus self-employment and the non-enforcement of rights have become all too common in Tory Britain and this case shows just how broken the system is. The government must now ...finally take action to tackle the Dickensian conditions too often faced by delivery drivers.”
In a reaction, DPD said it was shocked and saddened and said it did not know he had previously fallen into a diabetic coma or that he had vomited blood before his death.
DPD, which is ultimately owned by GeoPost (part of the French company La Poste), is separately facing an employment tribunal claim brought by couriers with the support of the GMB trade union arguing that they are bogusly classed as self-employed and should be treated as workers with rights to holiday pay and the minimum wage.
Just 24 hours after Lane's funeral, the courier firm threw an all-expenses paid dinner for hundreds of its managers attending the DPD annual business conference.

Don Lane with his wife, Ruth


- We must admit, we have seen similar situations at (mostly Chinese) airports before…people refusing to part with their personal belongings in front of X-ray machines at security checkpoints.
This bizarre action took place at the Dongguan Railway Station in China's southern Guangdong province last month where a woman was hopping onto a conveyor belt and straight into an X-ray machine because she insisted to keep her handbag with valuables by her side during a security check.
Two X-ray images showed a silhouette of the woman, still in her high heels, kneeling on all fours behind her belongings.
Security camera footage then showed her climbing out of the machine and checking her handbag and luggage, before walking away nonchalantly to catch her train.
To prevent similar incidents, local media reported that railway staff are now advising passengers not to ride the X-ray machines, as radiation given off by the scanners could be harmful. Even on all fours.

Me and my valuables