23 November 2006

Crap names for products # 1

As the Season of Goods is upon us like an attack of bird flu, it's a great time for new product launches, with everyone hoping to cash in on man's desperate need to buy a gift for his fellow man (or woman).

Spotted in the Underground today - a new fragrance from Carolina Herrera: "212 sexy".

Rule number one of advertising: "show it, don't say it" - if you want me to think sexy, don't call your product "sexy", especially something as etheral as a perfume.

Not coming soon to a shop near you: Calvin Klein's "Desperate", Chanel's "Something to cover up the B.O.", and "Slightly pissed and up for a snog", by Givenchy.

22 November 2006

To catch a thief

If advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket, then government advertising must represent the ultimate pig’s dinner. Certainly there can be few practitioners who have rattled the bucket louder, thereby embracing another Orwell maxim that “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought”.

From the same people that turned passengers into customers, patients into service users and spending into investment, the persecution of newly-identified pariahs starts with a subtle linguistic shift. Today I noticed that in the new “no ifs, no buts” anti benefit fraud campaign, “benefit cheat” had been turned into “benefit thief”. This may be a handy way of stating the truth about a form of fraud that is often seen as “victimless”, but I wondered whether this marked a new approach to fighting crime? Instead of trying to shame perpetrators into ceasing, they have opted for simply insulting them.

This Christmas watch out for the government’s new anti drink-driving campaign: “Oi, wanker – pack it in”.

19 November 2006

Auf wiederswim, pet

British swimming pools have come a long way in recent times. Nowadays at Leisure World, Colchester, you are treated to 30 degree water temperature and 28 degree air temperature (that's Celcius - about 85 and 82 Fahrenheit respectively for North Americans), not to mention wave machines, slides and water jets. You can take all your clobber to poolside - they even provide chairs to sit next to the pool - and allow the sort of inflatables that would have drawn a sharp blast of the whistle at Andover Swimming Pool in 1978.

But I was happy to see a remnant from those over-chlorinated days survives: the universal list of Things You Cannot Do At A Swimming Pool, c. 1973 in its original setting, with black and white cartoons of a sloe-eyed man misbehaving. This edition was chipped, ripped and battered, but still clung to the wall, entreating us to be ever vigilant of those who would run, swim, push, duck, bomb or even smoke, and Ruin Things For Everyone. Not to mention the most baffling swimcrime of all: petting.

As a child I never really understood its meaning - the illustration suggested that our cartoon chancer was giving unwanted attention to ladies in tight bikinis, sweating lovehearts into the air. I was never clear whether large-breasted women were not allowed to swim, whether leering at such females was the verboten part or if some kind of physical contact was required (or, rather, not required). The fact that it was a word that was never used outside of this context made it more mysterious - I do remember at one point concluding it must have something to do with not bringing your dog to the pool, and I had simply misinterpreted the visual. Probably this was reinforced when I finally found another use of the word, during a visit to a nearby petting zoo, where there didn't seem to be much inappropriate physical contact between the sexes. Or at least not between humans.

But it got me thinking about why the poster had never been updated, and if it were, what would be included in today's version. Given than public fornication seems more or less mandatory for the over 10's, I think the quaintness of "petting" means it would be consigned to the dustbin, along with the records of Alvin Stardust and the three day week. Probably replaced with: No happy-slapping.

16 November 2006

Pop goes the planet

Recently the work to try to find life in outer space has focused increasingly on Panspermia: the idea that human ancestors originated elsewhere in the universe and came to earth as bacteria. So if, one day, aliens from another galaxy do try to annex our little blue rock, we shouldn't look on it as an invasion, but instead a long overdue stay from some distant cousins.

Had they chosen yesterday to begin their infiltration, aliens would have been presented with the spectacle of the World Music Awards, who have arrogated the task of defining the best music on the planet. Apparently, the best that 6,000,000,000 of us can manage is James Blunt, Nickelback and Nelly Furtado. If there were ever a case for a suspected alien takeover, you'd surely have to ask the World Music Awards judges what they planet they had been on.

Blues language

Poor old Ashley Cole. As if it weren't bad enough being married to Cheryl Tweedy and having to play for Chelsea, some embittered Arsenal fans have taken offence at his petulant departure from The Gunners and daubed graffiti on his house. According to The Sun, these hoodlums have scrawled the words c*** and w***** on Mr Cole's property.

While I am endebted to The Sun for protecting me from the disgraceful language, a part of me wants to know whether they meant Mr Cole was a c*** or a c***. I've sometimes thought of him as a bit of t***** (but not a t***), but that was probably because he used to play for Arsenal. What puzzles me most, though, was why The Sun thought c*** would be more morally harmful than the contents of page 3, Deirdre's problem page, or the Bizarre column, all of which give quite graphic sexual content on a regular basis. The silly bunch of w*****s.

14 November 2006

100% dubious

100% English (Channel 4, 13 November), was an elephant trap that even an elephant would have spotted. If I were a British racist and Channel 4 approached me about making TV show to explore the genetic roots of my origins, I might be a bit suspicious. An eclectic collection of English eccentrics were asked to explain their Anglo Saxon purity to camera before taking a DNA test. As I'm sure you have worked out by now, the results of this test produced the desired effect of proving they were all composites of European, Asian, African and even North American peoples.

In principle, I've nothing against a TV show holding up racists to ridicule, turning the vapidity of their arguments into a whoopee cushion and asking them to take a seat. But rather than turning their opinions against them, I worry that the use of DNA simply ducks the issue. Far from landing a knockout punch, it uses one facile and arbitrary stick to break another.

For example, one of the participants, Danny, was "proved" to be 10% Middle Eastern, 11% South Asian, 37% south-eastern European and 43% northern European. To me this begs the question: if the point of this programme was to show the nonsense of strict racial and cultural barriers, then how do terms like "10% middle eastern" help this? If we are all a hotch potch of different people who have covered the planet through breeding, trading and mixing, then the whole idea of "middle eastern" or "European" from a biological point of view is contradictory. The DNA shows we are a mixture, and the reason we are a mixture is because we are a nomadic species, but if we are a nomadic species, then how can we define things like "middle eastern" which are fixed geographic terms?

It's using simplistic versions of highly-complex scientific techniques to counter an argument that is self-evidently devoid of merit. Or to put it another way, for "European" "Middle eastern" and "African" above, try substituting the words "white", "swarthy" and "black" and see where it gets you.

13 November 2006

Mortal syntax

BBC website news story: "Man guilty of missing wife murder".

Maybe he didn't realise attending was compulsory?

10 November 2006

I don't get out of bed for less than £103,000,000

No-one won the Euro Millions lottery today. Despite odds of 76 million to one, millions of otherwise sane Europeans parted with their hard-earned in order to have no chance of winning all or part of £103m. Of course you can see the appeal. After all, every week Britons have the chance to not win around £5m at odds of 14 million to one, so surely the chance to miss out on £103m at five times worse odds is worth a go?

I'd like to know at what point, exactly, people would reason that the odds of not winning something are so high, it doesn't matter how big the prize is. Pick 10 correct numbers for the chance of a billion? Get 20 numbers right and you win the annual GDP of Kuwait? There seems a paradox at work here, whereby people cannot reasonably assess the statistical probablity of 76,000,000:1, yet seem able to absorb the implications of gaining £103,000,000 in personal wealth.

And the occasional players whose ears prick up when the jackpot hits £50m; at what point does it become worth it for them? People who wouldn't normally play for £5m, but would stake something on £103m. After all, you get so little for £5m these days.

08 November 2006

Never mind the width, feel the quality...

I was trying to work out just what makes Tesco finest* range so absurd. Was it the asterisk that hints at a footnote but never leaves one? Or the implication that, for the rest of their products, Tesco doesn't quite try hard enough? - between finest* and VALUE is the Tesco "Good enough for you" range.

I think the answer is when they try to extend the range beyond Spatchcock and Honeycomb Fricasse into products where only the terminally insecure could feel the need for an over-the-odds quality. Does anyone's chicken taste that much better for having been roasted in Tesco finest* kitchen foil?

The latest such foray sees Tesco finest* Broadband - when only the choicest, plumpest packets of data carefully packaged and sent down the ADSL will do. If I were to go online with Tesco finest* Broadband, I'd expect to be able to notice an improvement in the quality of all online content. Porn sites would be transformed into pages of medieval love ballads written in Pertrachian verse, sci-fi chatrooms would become philosophy forums and this site would seem to have been written by Tolstoy. So if you are viewing this courtesy of Tesco finest* Broadband, I'd ask for my money back.

02 November 2006

Lock up your daughters (and sons)...

British teenagers are officially the worst in Europe. Too much drinking and sex, not enough sitting around the table eating with mum and dad means our kids have an "increasing disconnect" with the adult population. They're too busy hanging out on the streets, trying to earn ASBOs, to have time to join the scouts, the local opera society or even the Young Conservatives.

The idea of gangs of feral children threatening the fabric of society is at least as old as the idea of the teenager. And there's nothing like demonsing children to give the Daily Mail's readers the thrill of fearing that we really are witnessing the end of society, after all those headlines of false dawns. We're told the answer is more formal, structured activities where teenagers can interact with adults, and so learn to to fit into the adult world instead of just getting in its way.

Here's another answer: how about not creating a climate of fear of child rapists lurking in every corner? How about not blowing out of all proportion the risk to children from unknown adults? Then maybe more adults would feel encouraged to participate in youth group activity with kids that aren't their own without the suspicion that they are sex criminals. That might actually encourage the establishment of more places for kids to learn how to grow up.

Probably not the sort of suggestion you'll read much about in the press. But that's the problem with journalists - they stay out late drinking, are obsessed with sex and suffer an "increasing disconnect" with grown up society. I blame the parents.