Archive for December, 2010

Paragraph of the year

Thursday, December 30, 2010

An  acquaintance of mine, T, works for The Times. His job is to vet articles before they go into the paper and weed out howlers. His favourite paragraph of 2010 was this, which speaks for itself:

“He was unique. There will never be another Kenneth McKellar,” said the late singer’s son, Kenneth.

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Running out of ideas

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Running is, frankly, a bit of a bore. It takes resolve to get started, it’s tedious while it’s happening, and you have to have a shower afterwards. Why do we do it? The traditional response is that it gives a sense of well-being, but that’s not quite the full story. It also gives a sense of superiority.

That’s why runners are so odious. I mean, I get it. I’ve done it. I have felt good about myself, self-satisfied, superior to my usually lazy self and, by extension, anyone who has not been puffing and panting while I have. But if that is the sensation I’m trying to replicate, there must be ways of achieving it without all the faff.

Rather than induce a sense of superiority through exercise, you could develop an innate sense of superiority by becoming good at something and convincing yourself it’s important. It doesn’t really matter what that thing is. The person I heard scat-singing on Woman’s Hour this morning sounded terribly smug even though her talent was merely warbling “do-do-do-dun-bap-bap-bap-showaddy-waddy” to modern jazz. It could be writing a blog about your dislike of jazz singers.

Or, I suppose, it could be something that adds to the sum of human happiness. That’s something best dealt with off-blog, I think.

Of Thee I Vomit

Friday, December 17, 2010

Is Barack Obama’s latest book, Of Thee I Sing, an inspirational story that will appeal to the hope of every child, or a jingoistic schmaltz-bath that will leave non-Americans heaving into their hats? It’s somewhere between the two, I’d say, but sufficiently close to the second for me not to want to give my free copy to any of my nieces or nephews. Anyhow, I don’t imagine anyone comes here for reviews of presidential children’s books. (My visitor stats suggest that almost everyone comes here looking for Love Is… cartoons, in fact.)

What struck me is that one of the role models Obama lionises is Georgia O’Keeffe, who “moved to the desert and painted petals, bone, bark. She helped us see big beauty in what is small: the hardness of stone and the softness of feather”. And, he could have added, vaginas in flowers. Maybe in his next book.

Unending progress

Friday, December 10, 2010

Progress bars should show progress. They should fill up in proportion to the task being done. If they just reset to zero when they reach the end and start again then they are misleading and pointless. You may as well have an animation of an Ancient Greek king pushing a boulder up a hill. Bad Vodafone. Bad.

Slacktivism

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

I don’t like new words like “glamping” and “staycation”. They are portmanteau neologisms invented by marketeers and adopted by insipid lifestyle journalists to lend weight to insubstantial trends.

But I have to admit that “slacktivism” – actions ostensibly in a good cause but too lazy to have a useful effect – has some allure. Several of my friends changed their profile pictures on Facebook recently in the name of protesting against violence to children. The more pious ones posted a message at the same time:

“Change your Facebook profile picture to a cartoon character from your childhood & invite your friends to do the same, for the NSPCC. Until Monday (6 Dec), there should be no human faces on Facebook, but an invasion of memories. This is a campaign to stop violence against children.”

This may seem like a Good Thing to do, but actually it has more in common with a chain letter than a charitable exercise. There is a small possibility that the people who changed their picture donated money to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (although there was no helpful link to the charity’s giving page) but I suspect that almost everyone who did it gave nothing. It may even be a Bad Thing: some people may feel that their supposedly good actions are a substitute for actual charitable activity.

It is a particularly stupid idea because not only will it fail to prevent the tiniest bit of violence, but it does not even raise awareness of a live issue. No one is in favour of violence against children, except perhaps recruiters of child soldiers and sadists. Even if Joseph Kony and Baby P’s mother were your friends on Facebook, it seems unlikely that this would change their minds.

This campaign wasn’t even supported by the NSPCC, although a spokeswoman did say they were “monitoring the results with interest”. Not that the NSPCC is a faultless charity anyway. More than a quarter of its charitable spending goes on income generation and governance – 28 per cent, in fact. This is way more than the RNLI (20 per cent), Save the Children (13 per cent), Comic Relief (10 per cent) or any other charity I could think of when searching the Charities Commission website. When the NSPCC says that £4 answers a child’s call for help on its telephone helpline Childline, it means that £2.88 answers the child’s call and £1.12 pays a bloke in a brightly coloured bib to hassle people in shopping precincts.

My friend D responded to the Facebook campaign yesterday by changing his profile picture to one of Lionel Richie and suggesting that by doing so he was helping to bring about peace in the Middle East. I followed his lead. I don’t wish to sound presumptious, but does anyone know whether I have to wear white tie at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, or can I just turn up in a suit?

Top 5 unexploited fashion trends

Thursday, December 2, 2010

If fashion is anything*, it is the triumph of novelty over aesthetics. The newer an idea, the better, which is why the fashion conscious frequently find themselves gulled into wearing things like snoods and mid-calf boots.

Neither of these items are new, of course. They are merely old enough to ensure that no one who remembers their last appearance is young enough for their opinion to matter.

I can do better. Here are five items that are so new that I expect them to be foisted upon the credulous imminently.

Wishnets: any fashion designer could come up with tights attached to boots (although I’m not sure anyone has) but to date no one has had the wit to combine fishnets with waders. These could also be known as faders.

Pit stops: shirts once had detachable collars so that they could be washed separately. A capital idea, but half-baked. They should also have detachable armpits. Not only would they be novel, but economical. It’s only really the collar and armpits that need washing on a shirt. The environment thanks you.

Shocks: combined shoes and socks, with detachable lining to facilitate washing.

Scoves: everyone has fond memories of mittens connected, through the sleeves of one’s coat, with a piece of string. But string? Am I a conker? (No.) Join the gloves with a woollen scarf. It would be warm, and only carry a slight risk of strangulation in the event of sudden arm movements, such as might happen during a snowball fight. (There will have to be a warning label.)

Sock-bra (working title): the halterneck bra is a commendable deviation from the shoulder-strap tyranny, but it needs an ally. My friend B suggested a bra with straps that go over the shoulders and connect to a pair of socks at the back. This would have the added function of lifting the wearer’s breasts while seated and indeed exercising them when walking.

*I’m willing to listen to arguments that fashion is actually nothing.