31 October 2006

Time for a change?

Climate change is very hot right now. And getting hotter, after economist Sir Nicholas Stern announced that, by 2050, global warming will have been directly responsible for a 20% loss of GDP. After all the scientific warnings these last 20 years, it seems curious to hear global warming expressed in terms of cold cash: "We'd love to take a holiday to Mars next year" my grandsons will be saying in 2054, "but what with the surface temperature increasing by 3 degrees we just can't afford it". Can anyone actually visualise a 20% reduction in GDP in a meaningful, tangible way, in comparison with, say, your garden being flooded, or London becoming a desert? But coming from an economist, we're all suddenly supposed to REALLY take notice this time, and not just switch over the telly to watch X-Factor.

Leaving aside the tired arguments about whether increasing mean temperatures are man-made or, indeed, real, it's a subject that is clearly of the moment. Coming on the back of a "leaked" government memo outling a package of green taxes, and David Cameron's newly discovered floraphilia, it seems that no matter who one votes for, Carbon Tax is to replace Income Tax as the moral source of Inland Revenue. But why now?

I went to work today, October 31, without an overcoat, and in my garden roses still bloom. My August-flowering Clematis is just starting to bud. Finally politicians have the freak weather conditions to background the story of climate change; 20% of GDP in 50 years is a bit obtuse but spring flowers in autumn is apocalyptic in a way ordinary people can grasp. I don't think it's cynical to suggest that had 2006 been the usual dismal British summer, we might not be hearing quite so much about green politics.

26 October 2006


Newsnight yesterday broadcast an interview with the Taleban. Dr Liam Fox, Conservative spokesman for Defence was said to be "disgusted", remarking that it was a part of the "non-stop anti-war agenda from the BBC". Apparently it's the sort of thing that might have turned the entire country into a slavish theoracy, floored by the merciless logic of a stone age regime that doesn't believe in education. If anyone had been watching of course.

I was intrigued that Dr Fox could find time in his busy X-Factor schedule to get so worked up. Inevitably, it had the counterproductive effect of keeping a small story alive in the news, so I thought I'd look at his web page (www.drliamfox.com) for balance, from the non-stop, pro-war agenda. I was greeted with an HTTP Error 403 - Forbidden Internet Explorer message, telling me "You are not authorized to view this page. You might not have permission to view this directory or page using the credentials you supplied." Clearly there is a sinister conspiracy at work to influence the hearts and minds of the British people.

22 October 2006

Nominative determinism

You only get one chance to make a first impression. So goes the Motivational Speaker's maxim, and it's true that the history of marketing is littered with the corpses of stillborn products whose failure seemed doomed by their names. Ideas cast into the waters of the free market with only a brick to keep them afloat. If you can remember Kashmir perfume or Enigma lager, the chances are there's a marketing man somewhere who'd rather you couldn't.

It's also true that the best products will endure despite names that would not now get into, let alone passed by, an agency's focus group. Whether Cilit Bang joins the Kit kats, Marmites and WD40s of this world will largely depend on its performance. And judging by the state of my shower doors, I'm banking on it going the same way as Svit home dry cleaning.

But sometimes the union of name and product seems so right, there's no way it could fail. Today I saw just such a coming-together in the title of a small business in Stratford. I don't anticipate a need for pre-mixed concrete from someone called James from east London. But I think it's almost worth the phone call just to congratulate him for giving his business a name that is marketing-as-poetry: Jim'll Mix It.

17 October 2006

From Madonna to The Madonna

Apparently Madonna's decision to adopt a Malawian baby was to "help one child escape an extreme life of hardship, poverty and in many cases death".

Just how many cases of death one baby would expect to face in Malawi remains unclear. Obviously, muliple deaths in a single lifetime is not a happy prospect, even if the alternative is having Guy Ritchie as your dad.

Does this mean that, having done just about everything else, Madonna is now trying to actually become the mother of God, taking on a child that can achieve The Resurrection? That really would be the ultimate image makeover.

But quite a good look for the new album.

14 October 2006

An unhealthy debate

We are having a national debate, apparently, about the use of the veil by Muslim women. Initiated by Jack Straw, this is supposedly a healthy way for us to resolve this issue, where everyone can take part. Here we should understand the word 'everyone' to mean 'the Daily Mail' and 'take part' to mean 'persecute'.

To paraphrase Dr Johnson, "starting a debate" is the last refuge of the scoundrel. About ten years ago Noel Gallagher got into a lot of trouble by admitting to journalists what everyone knew: that he took a fantastic amount of hard drugs. But before Plod could rattle his handcuffs, Gallagher claimed that he was merely "starting a debate" about drugs. Some took him at his word and tried to have such a debate, but these tended to be somewhat reductive yes/no: "Should we legalise drugs?"; "Should young people's role models admit to breaking the law?"; and "When will Oasis produce another decent record?" Ten years on, and we're no further along, except Noel Gallagher is richer and the answer to the last question is: "not yet"

When I was fourteen I stole some sweets from the school tuck shop. So I am starting a debate about theft. I also look forward to engaging with Ian Huntley about the pros and cons of murder.

About face

Our sagacious former Home Secretary is a great fan of openness. Fearing that a covered face hides a treacherous heart, Muslim women from his constituency are asked to remove their veils before he will talk to them in his surgeries. He claims they are free to refuse this request, presumably in the same way they are free to visit another MP that represents them. So far he has yet to confirm whether he requires any other religious folk to remove random items of clothing to aid his understanding.

Apparently it is difficult for Jack to talk to someone if he can't see their face, so I guess he doesn't take any telephone calls - I'd send him an email to check, but I reckon he might feel threatened by my not asking face-to-face.