Thursday, January 26, 2017

President Khan meets with Wallachian Head

from our own correspondent in Karakorum

Newly elected President Genghis Khan had his first meeting with a foreign head of state today. In a brief visit, Voivode Vlad Dracula of Wallachia had lunch with the President in the Summer Palace. Although there is little contact between the two countries, President Khan said that he had always been an admirer of Dracula's methods and was keenly interested in what he had to say.

"We're gonna bring back traditional Mongol practices of flaying people alive and tearing them apart between wild horses. Our people voted for that. But this guy, he's been around and he knows how to kick Turkish butt and they've got some great counter-terrorist methods in his country that we can learn from" the President said "I'm specially keen to hear more about impalement. Ramming a spike up somebody sounds wholly in keeping with the great law-abiding traditions of the Mongolian people, and it sure as hell stops them being terrorists ever again, or taking up terrorism in the first place".

Vovoide Dracula commented "I find the Mongolian way of unexpectedly riding up to cities, slaughtering the defenders with arrows and then slaughtering everyone else, something we can all learn from."

Asked about his habit of sleeping in a coffin, wearing black satin capes and having rather unfeasibly large front teeth, the Voivode replied "We should respect all cultures and traditions. In my country this is the normal way of life. Here they have camels, in my homeland of Transylvania we have bats. Same difference, huh?"

After lunch the leaders watched a traditional Mongolian football match. The Voivode was clearly impressed by the use of human heads for balls and was seen sizing up the heads of some of his entourage. Meanwhile President Khan signed an executive order to make a thousand ten-foot stakes for "purposes to be explained later and anyway the Chinese are gonna pay for them, sooner or later".

The Chinese ambassador declined to comment.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Those awful advertising slogans - no. 13 - Sainsbury's

First the confession. Mrs Commuter and I shop at Sainsbury's every week. There, I've said it. I know that, for some, that places us at once in a certain category and social class. But that is their problem. We shop there because it is one of the closest supermarkets to us and we can find everything we want in one go.

This week, whilst Mrs C dutifully sorted out vegetables and fruit and began loading up the trolley (which my proud task is to push, let me hasten to add, this is a team effort), my eye was drawn to banners and posters festooned around the place. So thickly strewn in fact that it was impossible to avoid the message. Remember that we were already in the place and buying stuff. So why on earth do Lord Sainsbury and his pals think it in order to proclaim the following gibberish?

#fooddancing is living well

Before I dissect this slogan, let me point those of you who find this sort of thing fascinating in the general direction of the ad world. The Creativity online website, for example, carries some revealing quotes from the agency who came up with the slogan and the campaign that showcases it, and from the adman from Sainsbury's who is paying for it (out of my and other regular shoppers' money!). Explaining that food dancing is people dancing in their kitchens whilst preparing food and that the people portrayed in the TV ads (which I sincerely hope I never watch) are real people who just happen to be twirling about when filmed, a creative director of the agency behind the campaign said

the aim of the campaign is to give Sainsbury's a more consistent look and feel, and also a "cooler" edge. Both the TV and print work contrast black and white portraiture of people with vibrant food in color, 
Oh, and get this, some of the films are filmed on iphones and gopro phones "to add an authentic reality-style TV edge". Filmed by the professionals from the agency, mark you, so really not in any way authentic or edgy at all.

Look, mate, I don't give a flying toss what other people do in the privacy of their own kitchens. If they choose to be filmed on behalf of a supermarket then I hope they got a decent fee. But why on earth should I shop at your client? I shop to buy food. I don't dance with it, or whilst preparing it (or whilst watching Mrs C doing it, to be a bit more realistic) nor whilst eating it. digesting it or evacuating the remains in the usual way a few hours later. Filming in black and white merely suggests utter pretentiousness, as though only admen can afford colour film so the rest of us have to make our home videos in black and white. Jeepers, even in the 1960s people made home movies in colour. Alternately it screams out perfume ad but at least now that Christmas is over we are spared that lot for another ten months.

How does this give Sainsbury's an edge? Do only their customers dance? I put it to the court that this is singularly unlikely; indeed, given the age profile of the average lot shuffling round my local store, the best they could manage would be a couple of half-hearted waltz steps before sinking back into a padded armchair and putting the telly on.

Incidentally, note the adspeak use of the word 'cool'. Question - what is the difference between a cool edge and an edge? [Ah, I think I know this one, give me a moment would you? Ed].

So the film of people apparently dancing spontaneously can be filed under Z for zilch interest. Let us turn to the hashtag.

This is the crux of the nub of the heart of the problem. A hashtag at the start of a word used in a publicity campaign has only one real meaning, if used correctly, and that is to indicate that the word in question is being used to tag postings on social media. Now this may be the case here but it is surely only incidental to the TV/Press/Poster campaign, where it is utterly irrelevant and moreover insulting, trying to suggest that this is a sort of grassroots idea that the caring, listening supermarket has taken up, instead of a slogan dreamed up in an agency by a man wearing odd socks and braces, whilst waiting for an intern to bring coffee. Hashtags were a novelty once. About ten years ago. Time to let them go.

But what do we make of the slogan itself?  How can fooddancing (with or without an otiose hashtag) be said to be living well? The people who do it may or may not be, but the action itself? This is why I was to be found staring up at the top of the food counters last week. I was trying to imagine the mind of the person who thought that this slogan conveyed a meaning and it was not a pleasant experience.

Sainsbury's already has a perfectly good slogan - Live well for less - which at least is understandable and conveys something, although since they don't define what they mean by 'less' it is still adspeak rather than anything useful. I can see why they have tried to give it a new twist [Is that a dance related pun? Jolly good: Ed] but they seem to have put a foot wrong here. Time for a new man in charge (or as they say in Italy, bossa nova).

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Move over, Ziegler

Readers who lived through the Watergate affair and the impeachment of President Nixon will also vividly recall the hapless Press Secretary Ronald L. Ziegler. An adman close to Nixon's aide Bob Haldeman, Ziegler was the one who had to turn out time and again to face the press and try to explain away the increasingly damning and overwhelming evidence for the conspiracy to use illegal means to damage Nixon's opponents. He will be remembered for his wonderful rebuttal of his own vehement attacks on those who tried to uncover the truth when he told the press that all his previous statements were 'inoperative'; it has been suggested that what he meant was not they were untrue but that the truth itself was simply whatever he happened to be saying at the time, and if he changed his mind then the old truths were no longer in operation.

A brand new Ziegler, in the shape of President Trump's Press Secretary has stepped forward. Sean Spicer has trumped [Must you? Ed] Ziegler with his very first official announcements over the size of the turnout for the presidential inauguration. Spicer has

  • Claimed a greater attendance than previous years, despite absolutely no official confirmation of the turnout and aerial photos showing far more empty space than for Obama's
  • Claimed that plastic sheets used for the first time in some way mysteriously made the crowd invisible. Plastic sheeting was used in 2013. How this would affect the visibility of attendees was not explained.
  • Threatened to hold the press accountable. "...things are going to change now. And they are going to change, and they are going to get it, right?" - Nixon speaking to Haldeman and John Dean in 1972 quoted in Dean's book Blind Ambition. 'They' refers to the press.

Reporters covering the Watergate story called Ziegler's assertions, claims and bluster "ziggies". I wonder if the "spices" will follow suit.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Meanwhile, at a football ground in Corleone ...

I am grateful to someone I follow on Twitter (a followee?) for drawing my attention to a fascinating statement from the Chief Executive of Leyton Orient FC. You can find the original here and it is well worth a look even if your interest in football is smaller than Donald Trump's humility but for those who prefer a precis, the statement refers to difficulties in which the club now finds itself. It is close to the relegation slots from League Two and may find itself there in a couple of weeks, and there has clearly been fan anger and unsettled players. Unusually the CE, whose use of English is interesting to say the least, attributes much of the problem to the absence from matches and from training of the owner. This gentleman is a Mr. Becchetti and the apologist is Alessandro Angelieri. The key phrase is

His personal business did not allow him to be close to the team, when he would usually come to the training ground every Friday and to the games on a Saturday. Mr Becchetti has a great charisma and the players definitely feel his absence.

 I fear it is time to return to a certain Sicilian town ...

The players were nervous that afternoon. It was the annual derby against Tattaglia Wednesday and the Corleone Rovers, playing at home, found their eyes turning again and again to an empty seat in the main stand. Where was their iconic boss, their inspiration? Why had he missed the training session? And lunch in the boardroom even though the menu featured his favourite dish, Pasta a la Yorkshire, in his honour?

Borgia, the hulking centre forward could stand it no longer. He turned to the chief executive, the boss's right hand man, Al Angels.
"Where is he, Al? He never miss a game. Why today?"
"I can't help you there son" Angels grunted in his Halifax accent "The boss does things his way and I don't ask questions, alright? There's nowt as queer as folk, as my old nan used to say and I don't cast a clout, sithee".
Much of his patois was lost on Borgia but he restrained himself and he went to gather the team for the kick-off, doing his best to reassure them.

For Angels the first half was a nightmare. Where the hell was Lucas Bexley? That enigmatic, sharp faced man from Leeds who had bought Corleone Rovers two years before and whose acid comments from the sidelines had fired up the whole team. He had his business interests to be sure - but every Saturday he would shut up his pie stall and take his place by the touchline, shouting out words of wisdom in a language that was unmistakeable, though none of the players actually had a clue what he was saying. But that did not matter. Today, sensing their chance, Wednesday had scored two easy goals while the hapless Rovers defence waited for a blast of abuse from the sidelines to unsettle the assistant referee and force an offside flag. They went in and stared glumly at the half-time pizza and it was all Borgia could do to motivate them to start the second half.

Still that empty seat. Rovers defended grimly but their hearts were not in it. The Wednesday strolled around, keeping possession, taunting their old rivals. Time was running out.

"Put some bloody life into it"
Borgia spun roun, heart pumping. Almost unnoticed, Bexley had taken his seat, hands firmly clasped around his flask of tea, that familiar flat cap jammed over his head. "Eee, that were rubbish, lad, rubbish. Seen better round our morgue"
The Rovers midfield perked up. With newly found speed they challenged for the ball. Borgia thundered forward. A Wednesday defender attempted to hack him down and the referee looked the other way until a bellow of "What the hell was that, ref? Put your bloody glasses on. That's a red card that is in any book and no mistake" made him hastily blow up, award a penalty and send off the trembling back. The goalkeeper, jiggling on his line as he tried to guess which way the kick would go, heard "Get that jessie off the pitch" at full volume, turned to give the heckler the finger and watched in horror as Borgia slid the ball into the net.

The Rovers were back in it and four goals later and the match won in style they trotted triumphantly to clap at their cheering fans amidst whose delighted ranks sat one stony faced figure.
"Call that football cause I bloody don't. Our nan could have done better even after she had her second hip done."
Nobody knew what he meant except his trusted consigliere Angels and he did not enlighten them. The boss was back.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Bad Taste Corner - 2

Dr. Henry Heimlich, inventor of the "manouevre" that bears his name, died last month.

Family and friends are said to be choked.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

President Khan Speaks Out

From our own correspondent in Karakorum 

Fresh from slaughtering his enemies, old friends who looked a bit like enemies, ordinary people who might well have been enemy-sympathisers and foreigners on the grounds that they look funny, President Genghis Khan has been making statements about his policies as a newly elected leader of the glorious Mongol Empire.

On being pressed by some of his old tribal allies about future rights to share waterholes, President Khan said that of course he would be keen to share everything fairly, but anyone who took his water would get what was coming to them.  "Let there be no doubt" he was quoted "It's our water. They can drink it but if they put a single Mongol sheepherder out of business, they'll be making water rather than drinking it, if you see what I mean".

Pressed about foreign relations and the future of MATO (Mongols against the others), President Khan said "This organisation has had its day. It's time for the Uzbeks, Turks, Kirghiz and so on to pay for their own defence. And boy, they'll need to because if my horde decide to have a go at them, they'll wish they had.". On the subject of relations with the Holy Roman Empire, Khan observed that "Their leader, Barbarossa, he's a man I can do business with. And that's good because with what I have in mind for the Middle East, there's going to be plenty of slaves to go around.".

Asked about his controversial remarks on knocking down the Great Wall of China and requiring the Chinese to pay for it, Khan rounded on his interlocuter. "I never said that, there's not a shred of evidence for it, this is fake news, you represent a crap organisation and will get what's coming to you". When the questioner pointed out that he was Khan's spokesman for Chinese affairs, the President said "Exactly. You got it. I stand by everything I said, apart from the bits I don't". The spokesman was seen to ask something else but vanished behind a huddle of guards and has not been available for comment since.

President Khan's appointees in the Government have all been approved unanimously by the Great People's Assembly. The membership of the Assembly, G. Khan Jr. and Mrs. G. Khan (no relation) said "We have total confidence in everything the President does. He is a man inspired by God and not a dangerous lunatic who says the first thing that comes into his head."

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The World's Shortest Warranty

I bought a laptop the other day. A standard HP model. Today a message popped up to inform me that "Your HP warranty has expired" and that the "expiry date" was 13/01/17. So this computer came with a manufacturer's warranty that automatically expires the moment you switch it on for the first time. Impressive stuff. Guaranteed to earn a repeat order (he wrote, sarcastically).

To describe what they wish me to renew as a warranty is as close to a scam as you can get (though clearly not in any way illegal, I hasten to add). What they want is for me to sign up to a support scheme whereby I pay them upfront and they guarantee nothing except they might answer the phone in order to read standard scripts back. You know the scene:

Me: I've got a problem, here is the detailed description including error message numbers, all the steps I have so far taken to remedy it and my diagnosis based on reading 50 pages of other users with similar problems writing about them on your official support forum.
Them: Have you downloaded the latest drivers?
Me: Yes.
Them: Have you rebooted it?
Me: Yes.
Them: I need to escalate this to my manager. I'll get back to you. phone disconnnects

I'm not going down this road to frustration. I've got a warranty from the seller and normal consumer law applies. Whatever it was that magically ended its life the day I went down the mall,  I don't care.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Snow Chaos Slams UK as the Big Freeze Strikes...

... or so you might think if you casually glanced at the news this last couple of days. The army on standby in the coastal areas of Lincolnshire. Commuters braving it through the blizzards in Scotland. Dogs frolicking in the snow. And, er, that seems to be about it. Here in beautiful Ruislip we had enough snow to put a light dusting on the lawns and cars on Thursday night and it was gone by Friday mid-morning. The storm surges that threatened flooding on the east coast did not materialise. And all the pretty pictures of the white stuff shrouding the Highlands, Lakes and Peaks could hardly be much of a surprise, we do normally get some this time of the year over the higher parts of the country.

It has been far too warm for snow to have any impact. A few days ago the early morning frost required a fair bit of de-icer on the car windscreen; yesterday pretty well the whole lot slid off as soon as I applied the first touch of the scraper.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Don't Read This Now

Fascinating to see that a BBC story about the problem of procrastination, particularly with respect to students failing to address themselves to their studies, should feature a professor whose YouTube video on the subject has proved very popular. For these days, when you go to YouTube, you are required to waste time watching adverts before the video of your choice is made available. If, like me, you automatically look away when ads are thrust before you, what displacement activity do you select? There's all the other videos that YouTube will suggest, based on things you've watched before. Yes, one or two could be worth following up; oh, there's that very funny one I saw a while ago, why not go to that one first. Blimey, here's a link to an old TV show I used to really like, must check this one out, hold on, wasn't there something I was supposed to be doing, better check my online calendar, ah yes, doctor's appointment in a couple of days, that's not going to clash with that meeting is it? Better check my emails just in case, no it's ok but wow, someone I know slightly has just had a very special sandwich and put up photos on Instagram, let's have a squint, and while I'm here, anything new on Twitter? I see that sandwich has been featured again and three people have liked it, how very cool and interesting, weather seems to be settling in, and wasn't there something I was meant to be doing, oh yeah, how not to put off things, now where was that again? I'll watch it later. If I can be bothered.