Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Telling It Like It Isn't

There is no need for satirists today; merely check the daily headlines and the stories just write themselves. Here, in a nutshell, is the short diplomatic career of the National Security Advisor to the President of the USA.

"Did you have contacts with the Russians before your appointment?
"But did you"
"I certainly did not"
"I think you did"
"Didn't, didn't, didn't."
"It seems like you definitely did"
"Well that's where you're so wrong because I didn't"
"We have pretty good information that you did"
"You weren't there and I was; er, not that I was there, but if I had been there then I would have known a lot more about it than you"
"Go on, admit it you did though"
"Absolutely not. I deny that completely. It was another boy somebody else my evil twin brother, look it wasn't me, I was miles away at the time doing my homework at my office." 
"But it was you and we can prove it, can't we?"
"Umm - its not fair, they made me, I didn't mean to."
"That's not good enough. Did you have contacts?"
"Umm. yes"
"I can't hear you"
"Yes, yes I did"
"So why did you tell everyone you didn't"
"I inadvertently gave the wrong information. AND IT WASN'T MY FAULT, OK"
"No need to shout. Now go away, hand in your monitor's badge and don't do it again"

Yup. To inadvertently give the wrong information is totally different from lying, even when you have been asked the same question many times on many different occasions. It's one step closer to admitting culpability than 'being economical with the truth', I suppose.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Khan: Defeat by the Mamelukes "Fake News"

from our special correspondent, still in Karakorum, but getting quite keen to come home

As reports continued to arrive from the front line in the Syrian desert of a massive defeat for the armies of the Golden Horde, inflicted by the Mamelukes of Egypt, newly-elected President Genghis Khan went on the offensive. Speaking to a selected group of shepherds, Khan invoked the wrath of the gods on those who disseminated untrue reports. The main part of his speech, based on the comments of his audience afterwards, appeared to be as follows: "Fake news, bad, not real, we won really, it's not fair, they cheated, they attacked when the sun was in our lads' eyes, we fought fair but they hit us when we weren't looking, everyone knows the Mongols are the greatest fighting force and we're going make them great again, er, greater than they used to be, those Mamelukes haven't heard the last of this, they're gonna regret being Egyptian, just they wait until I can raise another Horde and march them two thousand miles across the deserts and mountains 'cause this time my men are gonna whip ass, not that they didn't whip ass last time, they absolutely did, we won that battle and massacred all them Gyppos, and anyone who says our boys were slaughtered is just asking for it, and I've asked my very good friend Ivan the Terrible to lend a hand, not that our boys need any help, we can beat the whole world with both hands tied behind our backs, which is what I gather most of the survivors have right now, but I didn't say that, that's fake news, this was a glorious victory and we're gonna burn Cairo to the ground. And that'll show them Muslim terrorists. One day. Maybe."

Later the President was observed to have stopped foaming at the mouth and his tribal shaman said that, after he inhaled from the entrails of a freshly slaughtered goat, he looked much more like his old self. [The president or the shaman? Ed]

Presidential spokesman Zarn "the Slicer" Spicer added "This was the biggest victory for any army in the history of the world. Period. We killed at least two million of them, and that doesn't include the ones hiding under plastic sheets, whatever they are, and did not lose a single man, I say again, not one man. The guys with the battle wounds who staggered back into Baghdad screaming about being wiped out, they are all cheats and liars and were not even there and and they have a political agenda to damage the President who is the greatest military strategist in the universe."

Asked where the Horde now was, Spicer claimed "They are on their way to wipe out everyone else in the known world, OK? We'll be hearing from them pretty soon." He declined further questions.

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 Deane in 1972 quoted in Deane'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.