Archive for the ‘Rants’ Category

Open letter to car manufacturers

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Dear car manufacturers,

We’re not fooled by descriptions of cars as “five-door” when it is really four doors and a boot. All cars have boots. The boot is the vehicular equivalent of general studies A-level. Give it up.

Yours faithfully,

Le Poulet Noir

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.


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?

Adverse mental conditions

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Every few minutes at Tottenham Court Road Tube station this evening came this announcement:

“Due to adverse weather conditions, customers are advised to take care on entering and leaving the station.”

I’ve had enough of this. It isn’t “adverse weather conditions”, it’s rain. Passengers have the wit to guess that they’re listening to advice without having to be told as much in the passive voice.  What is it about train staff that makes them want to talk like a PE teacher trying to read the instructions on a box of shuttlecocks? Does the RMT union hold courses in how to speak in stilted manner in the belief that using words like “beverage” lends authority, rather than the air of  an automated drinks machine at a swimming pool?

When train staff talk about a “range of teas and coffees” they must know that they merely mean tea or coffee, with or without milk and sugar. When they ask passengers to remember “personal belongings” do they think that there are impersonal ones? What would they be? Parking meters?

Do they think the public makes a distinction between a stop, a station and a station-stop? If so, are they surprised that we don’t try to get off when the train comes to a halt in the middle of the countryside or when it whizzes past minor stations?

There are two solutions to this. Either I lighten up, or Parliament passes legislation requiring announcers to obtain a licence, issued only after a course on how to avoid sounding like a policeman appealing for information at a press conference. I’m going with the second one.

Science nil – Faith nil

Friday, October 29, 2010

My friend P pointed me towards this mash-up that turns scientific soundbites into song. It’s strangely poignant, all the more so because pop music and science are conventionally such a terrible match.

It is posted on Youtube, which means of course that there is a ferocious debate in the comments section beneath about the merits of religion vs those of science. Is it obvious why this debate is pointless? No? Really? Here it is.

The existence of God cannot be proven or disproved. It is the impossibility of such a proof that makes religion faith rather than fact. Scientists are not concerned with faith in the spiritual sense, only with probabilities, and so cannot answer questions about the existence of God. Scientists can say that there is no evidence for God, but given that the faithful avowedly don’t need or want evidence, that changes  nothing.

Equally, theologians have no means to try to explain the mechanisms of the universe except by claiming divine insight, which cannot be tested or replicated. It does not make theologians redundant. There is still a human need to answer questions that are unlikely ever to be answered definitively, like “Why are we here?” and “Where do we go when we die?”. Their answers to these questions are not scientific, but they are not intended to be.

Science and theology are wholly independent of one another. To compare them is like comparing scissors with paper (not in the scissors-paper-stone sense, necessarily, although that would be an interesting argument). By arguing, pro-science debaters are distracted from their mission to gather knowledge, and pro-faith debaters betray a lack confidence in their beliefs.

What kind of idiots do you think we are?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

“You wouldn’t clean your teeth without using a brush,” says the narrator on an advertisement during Top Gear on Dave. “So why don’t you do the same for your skin?”

Well, yes, that stands to reas… wait a minute! What kind of idiots do you think we are? I insist that the narrator be found and forced into a regimen that extends this logic. He must be made to spend a year flossing his hair, soaping himself in mouthwash and having tartar scraped off his testicles with that sharp implement used by dentists in toothpaste advertisements.

Doors to manual

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I love weddings. They’re inherently joyful events, full of truly happy people, excitable chatter, free booze, vol-au-vents and people looking their dashing or graceful best.

My friend M invited me to his recently. More than that, he asked me to be an usher. “I’d be delighted,” I said, “as long as we don’t have to wear matching waistcoats.”

I didn’t mean this entirely seriously. It’s not for me to say how he conducts his wedding. If he wants his ushers to wear hot pants and Timmy Mallett glasses then I ought to go along with it. But why do people think that dressing ushers in matching waistcoats is a good idea?

Is it so that aged relatives don’t get confused about who to ask if they get lost? If they really can’t work out where to go (and let’s face it, they’ve probably been to several dozen weddings in their lives and ought to know that the bride stands on the left by now) then a buttonhole is surely enough.

Is it because bridesmaids traditionally wear matching outfits, and so it is assumed that the tradition should extend to the men? This modern idea is probably the brainchild of suit hire companies who offer job lots on wedding attire. Nothing says “We hired these suits for the occasion” quite like a matching waistcoat.

Is it because there is some idea that wedding photographs will look better if everyone’s outfits match? Why do they think this? What is the compulsion to make your wedding photos look like a staff meeting at a Torquay hotel?

Anyhow, M laughed and said that we would not be dressed like easyJet cabin crew. A few months later, he mentioned that actually, he did have a waistcoat for me.

There’s nothing to do here. I’ve just got to wear it, figuratively and literally. Perhaps it will be really beautiful. I had better start practising my patter all the same, though. “In the unlikely event of a water landing, the exits are here, here and through the vestry.”

LOLcats don’t make me laugh out loud

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I hate LOLcats, the practice of augmenting photographs of cats with infantile captions. I hate them so much it is difficult to find enough cognitive space between the hate to articulate why I hate them.

I hate them as much as I hate the Love Is… cartoons and Anne Geddes photographs, and for the same reasons.

I hate their gaudy sentimentality and simpering witlessness.

I hate the way they subvert creativity into mawkishness.

I hate that they’re so popular, because it means that the world is full of people who think that baby-talk is endearing and that cats have complicated personalities. (They don’t. Cats that ignore people are not exhibiting independence. They merely lack understanding of social behaviour.)

Every liberal principle I have that tells me to respect diversity of opinion is immediately quashed by the knowledge that I would, in the event of being among a group of air accident survivors, argue that we eat the people who like LOLcats first. I would do this even if the air accident was at Heathrow.

I wonder whether it is worth trying to compose a reasoned argument against LOLcats. Are they, after all, just a matter of taste? It isn’t hard to argue that they are sentimental (cutesy cats with baby-talk captions, QED) and it’s not much of a stretch to assert that liking them is a sign of emotional infantilism, but people are entitled to their views.

And if you deprived such people of LOLcats would they devote their creative energy to something less trite, or would they just go out and simper at Purple Ronnie cartoons instead?

The bitch is back

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Joan Collins as Alexis Carrington in Dynasty, courtesy of a screengrab by Brian Byrne

Joan Collins’s latest dispatch from her base in St Tropez, where she keeps her finger on the pulse of British society, has appeared in The Spectator magazine, the journal for people who think society is going to the dogs because of indiscipline among the poor. I would attempt a parody of her views, except she seems to have beaten me to it.

“There’s something dreadfully Mugabe-ish about Gordon Brown’s attitude towards the ordinary citizens of Britain,” Joan writes. “He seems to care not one jot that we are all finding day-to-day living more and more horrible, with the rising prices of goods, fuel and transport, unfair taxes and rocketing mortgages. Thousands of pensioners – the same people who got us through the Second World War – are practically starving while the portals are wide open for every foreign immigrant who arrives and immediately collects massive benefits such as housing, health and maternity care.”

She goes on to note that she knows of two Eastern European girls who have become pregnant upon arrival in Britain and are now living a “relatively comfortable life” on housing benefit.

Where to start? Robert Mugabe’s principal political tactic – appealing to nationalist sympathies to justify attacks on people deemed to be outsiders – bears a closer resemblance to Joan Collins’s politics than those of Gordon Brown. Her idea that pensioners (who, contrary to her assertion, are mostly too young to have fought in the Second World War*) are suffering as a consequence of immigration policy is a classic nationalist false correlation. The two are connected only in the sense that both are a burden on the public purse – a link so tenuous that you could use the same argument to blame the plight of chicken farmers on the RAF, or the road death toll on Olympic athletes.

Joan also betrays the source of her information and opinions. Only a Daily Mail reader believes that you can live a comfortable life on housing benefit. Is it too much to hope that she was spoofing herself?

* The vast majority of Britons of pensionable age (about 80 per cent) would have been 16 or younger at the end of the War, so although many lived through it, it is not true to say that they contributed to the War effort.

Head in hands hold ’em

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I have a confession to make. No, I haven’t watched Cliffhanger again. It’s this: I quite like televised poker. I like watching familiar characters testing their nerves against one another, playing the odds and having to cope with high-stakes success and failure. But none of these is a winning argument. You could say the same about watching Formula One racing, a spectator sport so rich in techie knowledge and so sparse in incident that you may as well be watching Stephen Hawking reading The Silmarillion.

I like the deathless commentary and, in particular, Jesse May, a host so out of place in a jacket and tie that he might conceivably have gotten his break in television in an advertisement for PG Tips.

I know that I’m in bad company with TV poker because the advert breaks are so ghastly. There are endless pleas to send text messages to “girls in your area”, for example, but the most nauseating advert is one for pkr, an online poker video game. The voiceover, which accompanies footage of electronic poker players posturing like gang members in West Side Story, is so densely packed with jargon that anyone who said it in real life would be sent home to watch a Formula One qualifying session. “I’ve come in over the top of pot-sized raises with middle pair, bluffed under the gun with four runners behind me, folded pocket kings on a hunch,” the polygonal man says. “I’ve survived bad beats, sick draws and cold decks, and I’ve lived through fields of thousands to make the final table. Here I come.”

I despair. These guys are giving geeks a bad name.