Monday, May 28, 2007

In Pursuit of the Eatable

Wouldn't it be a great world if hunters, instead of getting boozed up with their posh chums and ripping a fox apart with dogs, went down to Gloucestershire for a bit of Cheese Rolling.

Wouldn't the thrill of hurling themselves down a wet 1:1 slope after a wheel of fermented curd make up for the absence of frightened fox ? Also the sheer joy of using the word "truckle" must be a suitable alternative to smearing blood on your first-born's face and galloping through your neighbour's property.

Just a thought.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Surely Mc JOB was a hip-hop artist

There's an entirely artificial campaign (stirred up by You-Know-Who) to rid the Oxford English dictionary of the word "McJob".

I understand that Merriam-Webster in the US is being similarly pressured and no doubt wherever there is a potential market for pressed cow-pats of nearly-meat in flavour-free buns, there will be McLawyers earning their money.

I wonder if the on-line dictionaries can be bullied. For example, at the moment has the definition :-
an unstimulating, low-wage job with few benefits, esp. in a service industry.


[Origin: 1991, Americanism; coined by Douglas Coupland (b. 1961) in the novel Generation X]
Can they be forced to remove or amend it ?

They also quote The American Heritage Dictionary definition which goes to the trouble to point out that it's jobs in mass-production industries like McDonalds that are being alluded to. The word isn't getting at McDonalds exclusively, and it doesn't rule out the possibility that there is more to McDonalds than the obesity production line.

If all else fails there are the "open source" sources of information like wikipedia and its little brother wiktionary, which exist in most world languages, and you would hope are safe from Corporate Interference.

Well, let's see ...

While I was checking the French version of wiktionary I noticed their definition of "McJob" was missing.

So I helpfully added a translation of the OED entry.

Let's see how long it takes for a McDonalds stooge to overwrite it.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Media circus

Following up on mi'learned colleague Stan's point below, I think we should analyze a little further afield here.

I have long since held that particular vertical industries or indeed horizontal industries (for those MBAs out there, A & B profile companies) sit there in a permanent state of navel contemplation, believing it to be in the best interests of the general public. This is clearly not so.

Besides Stan's well made point about media hype, let me point out some other random bits of things that have irked my jockstrap over the last few years:

-- The media fascination with itself is bordering on incestuous. When there are whole sections of newspapers and whole TV shows devoted to analyzing other reporters' coverage of something, you get into a world where the watchers are watching the watchers who are watching them, and three dimensions suddenly becomes twenty. Before you know it, we have disappeared in a spiral "up-your-own" manouvre. It's cliquey and only a minority of people are interested (mostly journos, editors and producers). Sadly I must have to class myself as one the sad few who is interested, just because I'm sure if I had my time again I would have wanted to be in that industry.

-- Closer to home, I have done some time in marketing, both technical and marcomms. As I sit watching the TV in the evening, eating my cheese on biscuits and sipping my brandy and coke, I do what what most marketing people do -- dissect the meanings behind the ads and try to spot the clever bits. Unless it's Mr "Oxyclean" or "DirtBuster" who just shouts at you, generally these adverts are misguided. They are made by marketing agencies who think too deeply about the message they are trying to get across but manage to convince corporate marketeers that their idea is so fiendish that it will work. The reality is that most adverts look like they are marketing to marketeers and no-one else. For example, my old VP of marketing (as much as I liked him) was naive enough to spend $40000 on a brand new Volvo, because he bought into the "Volvo, for life" campaign and he honestly thought he was protecting his kids more by spending an extra $20k. He, out of everyone, should have seen right through the triteness of that. I know it's a tad brash, but if it makes things white, just say it makes things white and have a distinctive brand -- no rocket science there. If it has four wheels and goes like sh*t off a silver shovel, there's your USP. No point dressing up a one line logo to mask the fact that your product is either rubbish, a death-trap or over-hyped. I could go on about this one for hours so I'll leave it alone.

Stan is absolutely spot on. The media dictates the agenda and it shouldn't. When we have so many news sources, you would have thought that they would not be trying to out-do each other on the amount of coverage a particular topic gets but highlighting what they saw fit, not what the rest of the press do. In some ways this is why, while I hate the Independent's sensationalism, I actually hold it quite high esteem. They never follow the crowd. I hate their headlines but whatever...

Probably 1% of you will know this unless you were reading my own blog 18 months ago, but a little girl was murdered about 2 miles away from my house. She wasn't much older than Madaleine. She was conclusively dead, not just missing. There are still flowers placed where she was found to this day. It bought her all of 30 seconds on the local news and a half inch column in the papers. If her parents had been a cardiologist and GP on holiday, maybe she might have made the national obsession. But no, she's Jo Ordinary from 'Oop Norf so she might have her photo shown at the local Bingo Hall.

The disparity is criminal. As much as I want this little girl back safely, we live in a media-fueled back-scratching, circulation battle as to who can out-sycophant their rivals. Markets market to themselves and no-one else, unless there's a bloody great O2 sign behind their PR guru as they sit talking trifles with Natasha Kaplinski (who is increasingly starting to annoy me to death). Or if they can smell a profit on the basis of a public outcry.

Enter stage left: Max Clifford.

Gah. Sickening.

Out-of-control Saccharine Bandwagon

The Diana Spencer madness in 1997 was not a good time in the mental health of our country. Some people put their lives on hold and some pretty darned good causes were overshadowed for months. For example, Mother Theresa of Calcutta died shortly after and hardly anyone noticed. Don't make me enumerate the ways in which one was more worthy than the other.

Maybe a country needs an emotional crisis every decade or so, because now the tragic disappearance of Madeleine McCann is becoming just as unhinged.

Don't get me wrong, if Stanetta were missing, I know I'd be trying everything to get her back. But Madeleine McCann is not the only little girl in trouble at the moment. Don't make me mention Darfur again.

She's not the only cause worthy of appeals from David Beckham and Cup-Final videos. And it seems that the attraction of a multi-million pound reward and global media coverage is attracting conmen, publicity-seekers and the mentally impaired. This is not helping the job of the people trying to do their jobs and find her.

You've got to watch Billy Wilder's 1951 film, "Ace in the Hole". A guy is trapped down in a cave and a media circus is created by a needy reporter, resulting in the guy's pain being forgetten and a quite literal circus being created around the cave site complete with ice cream, balloons and amusement park rides. People come from miles away to gawk and experience the carnival atmosphere.

I think we're getting there.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Furious Angels

"Cause love, like an invisible bullet has shot me down and I'm bleeding - yeah, I'm bleeding. And if you go, furious angels will bring you back to me"
After four years I've finally worked out that my car's audio system is set-up in "small tinny transistor radio" mode, and that by pressing a few buttons it can actually make a big fat gorgeous noise.

I'm kicking myself that I've missed out on the full impact of my travelling music, but I'm making up for lost time now. The bass-line to "Cash Machine" by Hard-Fi is wonderful, so wonderful I had to get Mrs Stan to explain why it's so good.

Skunk Anansie also make an amazing sound - I'm gutted that they broke up six years ago, without really making it big. "Everyday Hurts" is as good a piece of rock as I've heard in many years.

My major discovery though (five years late) is Rob Dougan. He wrote a bunch of tracks for The Matrix films, extravagantly scored dance music that is utterly impossible to dance to. OK, maybe if Ecstasy is involved - but otherwise, just sit and listen.

His lyrics are a class above - complex, dark and emotional. Like something one of the Metaphysical poets would write. In fact the phrase "Furious Angels" I love so much is Jean Cocteau's description of WW1 fighter aircraft in his preface to Roland Garros' "Dans Le Ciel De La Patrie" [In The Sky Of The Homeland].

It's a wonderful two word poem - "Furious Angels", sounds even better in French "Les Anges Furieux".

Sunday, May 13, 2007

End of the Season

Today was the last day of the Premiership football season, and I shouted myself hoarse as Bolton's crumbling form was just enough to see them into 7th place and snatch the last European place from Reading. A suitable metaphor for their form would be the car in "The Blues Brothers" that just reaches the destination before the doors fall off and the engine blows up.

On the terraces, there was much browsing of mobile websites to try and keep up with the changing permutations of results. One old bloke next to me took the lo-tech approach and called a friend watching at home for an up-date. This reminded me forcefully that gizmos really are for people who don't have friends.

If Bolton was like that, I can hardly imagine the feverish browsing going on at the relegation match at Bramall Lane, where Sheffield United's loss to Wigan was enough to pitch them out of the Premiership (subject to legal challenge).

I was reminded of a survey where Sheffield United was far and away the team whose fans thought about it the most. These people will be gutted (poor Sean Bean, for example), but support like that will get rewarded in the end. I'd say a fanatical support is worth two Russian oligarchs.

The Aston Villa fans at Bolton were wonderful - nothing to play for but singing their hearts out anyway. Absolutely the loudest away support all season. Very amusing song about Sam Allardyce too - great banter.

Days like this are what keeps me coming back to football. Forget the high finance and the lawyers - it's all about the team and your extended family of 30,000 singing that insert team here are the Greatest Football team, even though your striker couldn't hit the lake from a rowing boat.

Saturday, May 12, 2007


I hate it when someone you disagree with makes you laugh. Cheat Neutral is a spoof website that allows you to pay someone to be faithful to their partner, so that you can go cheat on yours with a clear conscience.

I still think carbon offsetting can be made to work, but Cheat Neutral has rather neatly demonstrated the craziness of thinking that money can totally wash whiter-than-white.

Right-wing comedians like P.J O'Rourke and Dennis Miller make me laugh, but I find their opinions objectionable. The Blue Collar Comedians too. People on the left these days seem to be humourless and solemn - it wasn't always so.

Where have all the funny pinkos gone ?

Captain's Log Supplemental : Yes, I forgot about Mark Steel and Rory Bremner and Jeremy Hardy and Mark Thomas.

But apart from them ... ah poop, I don't have a point do I ?

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Heir to Blair

I think I'll resist the temptation to do a political obituary on Tony Blair.

Ok, maybe I'll do a little one.

This man is responsible for a lot of lost Labour Party members, myself included. He changed it into something I barely recognisable, and for that reason I despise him.

His policies on Iraq were either insanely misguided or criminally evil. I'm sure time will tell whether he will be considered a joke prime minister like Eden, or will be the first PM to grace The Hague during a War Crimes tribunal.

Brown, as I've said before, may pleasantly surprise us - if he does, I still haven't signed up with another party, so maybe he can win me back.

Demand 1 : Pull out of Iraq by a given date - how does December 31st sound ?
Demand 2 : Some kind of balance to the right-wing thug element at Home Office would be lovely
Demand 3 : Taxes up, green taxes hugely up, spending on everything apart from Trident up as well
Demand 4 : Listen to the rank-and-file members, at least sometimes. I found there was no point being a member of a party where the chances of my view being heard was laughable.

Not much to ask in return for an annual fee and a donation to the Labour Party jumble sale. That's if I can find a local Labour Party big enough to hold a jumble sale.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Is "new Atheism" like "new Coke" ?

I have so many comments on Madeleine Bunting's article in The Guardian. It may take some time to cool down to the point that my fingers can emerge from my clenched fists and type them sensibly.

"The New Atheists loathe religion far too much to plausibly challenge it"


Let's break that sentence down.

(1) "new atheist" - an atheist is an atheist.

(2) "loathe religion" - not all atheists loathe religion. Most just believe religion is incorrect and get on with the rest of their lives.

(3) " ... loathe ... too much to plausibly challenge ..." - I loathe child molesters. Does that mean I'm in no position to challenge them ?

And that's just the title of the piece. Maybe tomorrow I'll have calmed down enough to tear into the wrongheaded garbage between the headline and the byline.

Reid Bails Out Again

I've never had much respect for John Reid, but even by his standards his sharp exit from government just as his policies are being implemented must be a new low.

When he signed on at the Home Office, he knew just fine what the political situation was. What's happened to change his mind ?

The only rational explanation I can see is that he knows he is doomed to fail and wants to get out to leave someone to try to rescue the situation, thus saving something of his reputation for a future leadership battle.

He should be a Man, have the courage of his convictions, and try to do the job he was appointed to. It won't be easy, there are many circumstances and people conspiring to make thing difficult, but a true statesman would persevere to the end.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Working from home

Apologies for the delay. I've been working from home, which makes me feel guilty about taking some free time to blog. If you're in an office you go home or back to the hotel, and the night is your own. Working from home, it feels wrong somehow. I'm sure that feeling will go eventually.

Stanetta is only one week away from her SAT exams. The relentless hot-housing has died down a bit and they actually did some activities not related to cramming for the exams. They did the inventions of Leonardo da Vinci, and Stanetta came home and had fun making a model funfair using the basic ideas of inclined plane, screw, lever and wheel.

It was a delight to see her enthused and creative - SATs really do take the fun out of being 11.