29 February 2008

Tonier than thou

I saw an ad for a new savings account today. Or else it was for a new electricity company, promising a golden tomorrow, with silhouettes of people cast out of pure sky. They'd even tapped into a nostalgic song from the 60s - Jimmy Cliff's You can get it if you really want it.

Turns out it was actually advertising the Conservative Party. Sorry, The Conservatives, whose latest strategy seems to try to outflank the government by out-trendying them. Gone are the deep blue hues and traditional "concerned voter" shots of yesterday - gone even is Michael Howard's demented shopping list manifesto. Instead the new party recruitment drive was launched on Facebook, natch, a mere 12 months after everyone else discovered it.

And of course that song. Who can forget the effect of "Things can only get better" that propelled New Labour to power. Certainly not David Cameron who is determined to follow the Tony Blair blueprint to the letter, right down to the uplifting, toe-tapping, galvanising anthem. Out goes stuffy old orchestrations by Andrew Lloyd Webber, and in comes a tune from the decade that Mr Cameron's predecessors had decried as the start of our national decline. The Daily Mail, ever uncomfortable with change, hoped to find Mr Cliff to be an unsuitable role model for the new Conservative party. Imagine their disappointment when the best they could do was make the cheaper-than-Primark cheap shot that he had once played a gangster in a film.

Perhaps we can examine the song for a deeper meaning about the Conservatives' future - and the chorus that goes:

"You can get it if you really want it.
But you must try, try, try, try, try
and you'll succeed at last"

Three tries since 1997 with three leaders. Only two more to go until achieving government, then. Maybe they should have gone for another 60s song - the Rolling Stones' You can't always get what you want.

Banged up, up, up

A report in the news today revealed that the American prison population had risen to an all time high, passing a figure of 1% of the total US population, according to a report issued by the Pew Center. Never mind that no-one really knows what the actual US population is, it seems a few people were having difficulties with some basic maths.

According to the BBC, "more than 1% of the [U.S.] adult population [is] behind bars. With 750 inmates per 100,000 people, imprisonment cost the 50 states more than $49bn last year, up from less than $11bn 20 years earlier."

750 per 100,000? Err, surely that's 0.75% of the population, then? Which I think is less than 1%. But, between the different calculations, that does leave about 460,000 prisoners unaccounted for. Unless they've been counting the extras in Prison break.

21 February 2008

the devil in the detail

Those with keen eyesight may be able to read the wording on the photo to the right - a 6-sheet backlit poster on the platform at Colchester station where I catch my train every morning. I was stopped in my tracks (much like the train most mornings) by this unintentionally ironic poster for Turners of Colchester.

For those less eagle-eyed, I can tell you that the Armani Collezioni at Turners was one of only 5 "independant" stores to offer this service. That'll be the Italian spelling of independent, presumably.

But no matter - after all, they can offer the "correct image that the Armani customer deserves". Maybe the Armani brand itself deserves a better image than splitting the word "customer" across two lines.

Not sure how reassured I would be that "Turners.....Attention to detail" was an appropriate strapline. I think I'd get them to measure me twice, should I ever be in a position to buy an Armani suit.

15 February 2008

travelling first class?

February 14 saw one of the periodic but unexceptional evenings of mayhem at Liverpool Street Station, London's rail gateway to the east. An apparent suicide at Romford Station had caused entire system meltdown, with cancelled trains and a station packed with commuters unable to move, and becoming uncomfortably familiar with each other. Or, as the train company's information system would later describe it, "a fatality at Romford with associated reactionary effects", implying to my mind some sort of right-wing coup.

Today I noticed the train operating company's latest poster campaign against attacks on its employees. Clearly physical abuse is unacceptable, and should be condemned in the strongest possible terms. But it did make me think: if you are running a service that is so poor, you have to dissuade people from attacking your staff, maybe you need to rethink the nature of that service provision.

A Pope to restore faith

If Saturday Night TV is the first prize on British television, in the audience ratings tombola, then Friday night at least used to be somewhere between the fondue set and bottle of scotch. With each channel drawing on its strength, the BBC would wheel out its comedy big guns against Inspector Morse. But with the BBC now spreading its comedy across the various "platforms" and days of the week, and ITV desperate for anything to shore up its ad revenues, it leaves precious little worth even owning a TV for, never mind switching it on.

So three cheers for ITV's Moving Wallpaper, whose existence surely owes more to Commissioning Editors' cynicism than creative intent. The conceit seems like Executives taking an each way bet - a half hour show about making a soap, followed by the soap itself, with ironic cross-references and a star cast to knit both halves together. It means even if the plebs didn't get it, they'd tune in to see Jason Donovan and Martine McCutcheon, and the chattering classes would snigger up their sleeves at the media in-jokes.

Amazingly it works - or at least the behind-the-scenes half does. In Jonathan Pope we have a great management incompetent with the visionary capacity of a headless chicken, with Ben Miller as the cringingly inept Soap Exec leaping from one appalling idea to the next. Maybe there is a way back for ITV from the abyss of multi-channel programming.

10 February 2008

The booty-full game

The English football Premier League has announced plans for an extra game per season for each club to be played overseas, not as an exhibition match, but as part of the regular season. This is part of the Premier League's plans to cement their global brand identity, not to mention the logical extension of the now ubiquitous pre-season overseas tours indulged in by even the humblest of top-flight clubs.

One might question whether subjecting the people of Shanghai to the delights of watching Wigan Athletic and Derby County scratch out a nil-nil draw is, in fact, counter-productive in this quest. But in an age when Liverpool can be crowned champions of Europe despite finishing fifth in the Premier League, questions of logic and geography are really not relevant.

Of course there has been much huffing and puffing about such plans from the usual illiterati of the English football scene. Number one gripe seems to be the accusation it is a cynical money-grabbing exercise - the authorities once again take financial advantage of fans' commitment to their clubs. Which begs the question: where have these "experts" been the last 20 years? For so long as clubs have sold replica shirts it has been about revenue generation and marketing - the fact they now do it better is neither here nor there.

And as for taking advantage of the fans, this is apparently a one-way street. It is perfectly acceptable for overseas fans to subsidise their English counterparts through shirt sales and satellite TV subscriptions. But to actually demand a bigger part of the action is apparently exploiting the long-suffering English aficionados. For English supporters to enjoy watching the talents of £100,000-a-week footballers without wondering how it is paid for is redolent of the natural romanticism every football fan must believe in.

Or else symptomatic of a culture that believes it can keep on spending on its credit cards without having the debt called in.

Wisdom and knowledge

In the obituraries and musing over the legacy of Jeremy Beadle, another British comic treasure passed away this week with barely a mention. Miles Kington was a broadcaster, columnist, presenter and musician, with a gift for one liners and effortlessly funny riffs on the absurdity of the British way of life.

I thought of him as the Archbishop of Canterbury was discovering the difference between giving an academic lecture as Dr Rowan Williams and doing the same as the head of the Anglican church. That just because you think something to be the case, it is not always wise to say it publicly to Radio 4, where people might be listening.

Or as Miles Kington put it: "Knowledge is knowing that tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad".

...as the Imam said to the Archbishop.

The bizarre row involving the Archbishop of Canterbury and Sharia law really caught me off guard for three reasons, and I am not sure which is the most surprising:

1) Journalists from The Sun apparently waded through several pages of a theological lecture because they thought it would interest their readers.

2) What Dr Williams actually said was:

"I have been arguing that a defence of an unqualified secular legal monopoly in terms of the need for a universalist doctrine of human right or dignity is to misunderstand the circumstances in which that doctrine emerged, and that the essential liberating (and religiously informed) vision it represents is not imperilled by a loosening of the monopolistic framework."

And from this, The Sun has visions of beheadings taking place on Oxford Street.

3) If we are to believe the amount of space dedicated to the story in the media, the majority of the British population actually gives a toss what the Archbishop of Canterbury thinks.

Far from being "shocked" and "overwhelmed", Rowan Williams should be delighted people are not only listening to him but apparently taking him seriously.

08 February 2008

Obama Bin Laden?

In the USA this week, Mitt Romney has "suspended" his campaign to become Republican nominee for President. Not quite "quit" - no doubt to give himself a chance to make one of his famous u-turns (or 'flip-flops' as the Americans would have it). In doing so he made an extraordinary statement:

"If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and make it more likely that Senator Clinton or Obama would win.
And in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign be a part of aiding a surrender to terror."

In other words if you vote Democrat, you are effectively aiding and abetting terrorism. Heck, you may as well be signing up to the Taleban. Looks like Guantanamo is going to get pretty full if Mitt's on the winning ticket in November.