Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

Exclusive: Obama campaign links to South Ribble’s secret Marxists

Some Marxists eat food like this

I used to moan that there was too little debate about politics in the UK. Policy discussion prominently involved making up slogans and white male politicians boasted about the black people they met. I wanted more robust debate.

Be careful what you wish for. In the US, a country that I admire for its logical approach to spelling, bizarre yet entertaining sports and excellent comedy and drama that often make British equivalents seem like a school play, political hell now regularly breaks loose, and often it’s a bit barmy. Lately the press has decided to debate the meaning of the word Forward, because that’s the Obama campaign slogan.

It’s definitely a more useful arrangement of seven letters than the unspoofable Australian political slogan We are Us, which just makes no sense at all. The question that the hard-of-thinking political class has been asking: does using the word prove that he’s secretly a communist?

I don’t want to prejudge the issue, other than saying that the Marxism claim is the sort of thing that a smelly drunk guy at a bus stop starts telling you about while people give you furtive sympathetic looks. But read the papers, and they’re sounding more like the smelly guy. The Washington Times is just one of the newspapers which pointed out that the radical left often calls its publications “Forward” too. The journalists who wrote the story even went as far as looking these newspapers up on Wikipedia.

(Note to my American journalist peers: we all occasionally fill up 300 words by cutting and pasting from Wikipedia – but if you admit that you’re doing it, you ruin things for the rest of us. Still, it saved me a job finding the links for you.)

Even a stopped clock is correct twice a day, and so the lazy political hacks of the Washington Times have a small point. Historically, a lot of socialist papers have been called Forward. As a name it certainly has the edge over Sideways, Backwards and The Kingston Whig-Standard.

To help my North American readers decide on Forwardgate, I checked out some of the newspapers called Forward that attempt to brainwash Brits.

In Gateshead, Moving Forward newspaper suspiciously offers “free courses” organised by the Gateshead Housing Company.  It promises you will learn “new” skills and meet “new” people.

Communistic American attendees will be pleased to know that there are interpreters available on these courses, as the Geordie accent can be challenging:

If anyone is innocently thinking of sending their children from the US to Gateshead to take one of these courses, I need only remind you of Obama’s compulsory re-education camps that you were warned about in 2009. Could it be that these imaginary camps have simply relocated to the North-East of England? Well, no, but I’ve never started a conspiracy theory before, so you might want to run with this one for me.

The US has a long tradition of political radicals who prefer to live outside the narrow confines of civilisation in places where the norms of polite society and rule of law don’t apply. The UK equivalent of these places is Preston. It is no surprise to find that local South Ribble Borough Council calls its newspaper Forward as well.

You won’t be surprised to hear that the commies have made this publication carbon neutral, when they could just as easily have published one that used non-socialist carbon stuff instead. Provocative.

“Who will win South Ribble’s Search for a Star Contest?” it asks, innocently. I suggest it wants one of its fellow travellers to inform on that person so that the South Ribble Politburo can authorise its secret police to intern him or her without charge as a warning to those who seek to exercise the cherished capitalist freedom to win talent competitions. Is it a coincidence that previous South Ribble Search for a Star Winners are almost always never heard of again? I think not.

Finally, the latest edition of Forward from Birmingham City Council hides its crypto-communist credentials inside articles titled: State-of-the-art new public pool makes a splash and Fun for all at Big Jubilee Weekend, but it doesn’t fool me.

My warning is especially relevant for America’s easily-fooled liberal East coast metropolitans: this disgraceful radical propaganda sheet boasts that:

Influential critics at the New York Times newspaper have placed Birmingham at number 19 in its ‘Places To Go In 2012’ shortlist thanks to the city’s growing reputation for world-class cuisine.

Don’t fall for it, New Yorkers! If you visit one of the area’s interesting, inexpensive and welcoming Indian restaurants there will probably some mind altering Marxist drug in your chicken Balti. How do I know? Well, if the critics from the NYT think there are only 18 better places to visit than Birmingham, someone’s definitely been taking something.

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The buck does not stop here

No one likes a blame culture. Especially when you’re the one taking the blame.

While News International flip-flops its way through the phone hacking palaver – offering various explanations of exactly what it was doing, who did it, and whether the evidence has been successfully deleted – one of the few things that most people agreed was adroit was Rupert’s personal apology (see right). We remember it because it has the word sorry at the top. You can argue that he is only sorry that they got caught, but you can’t dismiss the power of the apology.

Of course, it’s one thing to ask your advertising agency to write “sorry” on a piece of paper, it’s quite another to say it out loud. That’s why James Murdoch used a beautiful weasel phrase to describe the closure of the News of the World and any illegal phone hacking. Having got his sorrys out of the way at 3:30, phone hacking and its consequences quickly became a matter of great regret, so that he can get into the technical stuff instead:

Elsewhere in the scandal, Yates of the Yard went further. His impersonal regret was extreme:

Antitalknormalists use the Matter of Regret (MoR) when they are nominally in charge and bad things happen. They want to look concerned, just like ordinary people, while subtly emphasising their lack of individual responsibility. They want to stay on the outside, sadly shaking their regretful heads and tutting ritualistically, going along with the crowd.  This is especially the case when the crowd wants that head on a plate.

Transforming your apology or blame into a generic MoR means you keep a career-maintaining distance from the problem. It skips over who’s to blame and why it happened.

In the UK the MoR is also such a dull phrase as to be handily unreportable in most cases, because it provides no insight beyond the obvious: it’s like saying that something made you unhappy because it is sad. It has been quoted in stories in the UK papers more than 10 times in a month only twice – probably because if that’s the best quote in a story, it’s probably not much of a story. It was most popular in September 2010, when it was a matter of regret for the boss of Waterstones that demonstrators stopped Tony Blair doing a business-boosting book signing tour in his shops. That’s until July 2011 when, as we have seen, many of the people involved in phone hacking news stories were fond of using the phrase. Go figure.

MoRs imply a devolved responsibility that everyone can share but no one takes, and so they transform apology into a generic blanket of mild sadness. MoRs sit in the News International tactical toolbox alongside matters of profit and matters of political influence, ready to be used when they really want to say “don’t blame us”.

Role players

On the evidence of this headline, my job is half way to being a soap opera

I was scanning the comments to this excellent blog post about how our jobs are getting worse. One of the commenters asked: “When did a job become a ‘role’?”

My guess is, about the time that we started to think of ourselves as the romantic leads in a heroic work-based melodrama, which is about when we started to treat CEOs as philosophers and action heroes rather than businesspeople. Graduating from a job to a role implies we are acting the part rather than just doing something. We’re important enough to have an image.

As in any soap opera, in business not all roles are equal. Some hams overact to get attention. For example, a dedicated Talknormalist passed me details of Steve Lundin at BIGFrontier (“Our event archives provide a walk through the wild west days of Chicago’s burgeoning technology scene”), who is apparently the company’s Chief Hunter and Gatherer.

He’s certainly playing a role. You might have an opinion as to what that role is; I’ll let you come up with your own description.

Research on Factiva shows that, in UK work-related press articles, the roles-to-jobs ratio changed dramatically between 2001 and 2007. In 2001 there were about 10 jobs for every role. In 2007, the number of roles peaked: there were only four jobs per role in the press. Then, when the recession hit, the ratio declined to seven jobs per role. The higher this graph went, the more we were writing about roles:

Compare the shape of the graph with the Office of National Statistics estimates of UK employment and UK vacancies during the same period:

Best to be cautious when drawing a conclusion from this, because more or less every economic graph goes up between 2001 and 2007 and then goes off a cliff. But I’d guess that, when everything seemed exciting and full of promise, we fantasised (and were told) we had an important role. When we were fired, it was from our meaningless jobs.

Conference call etiquette

Still don't have an answer to the penguin question

I’m doing more conference calls these days, but so is everyone else. It’s the perfect activity if you are working from home: your boss knows you are apparently doing something, but it’s the sort of activity that needn’t interrupt other home-office tasks – such as watching Homes Under The Hammer, or playing internet poker.

Another reason that I’m doing more calls is that, for decision makers who don’t like to make decisions, it’s the answer to every question:

Me: If penguins wore trousers, would they be better off with a belt or braces? They’ve got no hips, but no shoulders either.

Decision maker: I’ll set up a call

There are informal rules of etiquette for these calls. If you are new to conference calling, the most important thing is to have another activity – such as deleting spam, indulging in ritualised self-harm, or squeezing out quiet tears of rage – that you can perform comfortably at your desk during the call.

I almost finished that paragraph off with “…to avoid disappointment”, which is ridiculous. Conference calls are institutionalised disappointment. We tolerate them only because we don’t have to look each other in the eyes while we waste each other’s lives.

So, for newbies, this is what to expect:

Day minus 2: Marketing Person 1 decides we need a call to discuss the Penguin Pants Project Crisis that you have created. A flurry of emails results, during which we establish that there are no mutually acceptable times for the next three months. Eventually Alpha Male 1 sends an irritated email saying that his PA could possibly try to move some things around for him because he’s about to get on a flight to Singapore. PA instantly offers six available slots in the next 48 hours. The call is set up for the day after tomorrow.

D -1: Marketing Person 1 sends calendar notification to all announcing that The Bridge Has Been Set Up. It includes dial-in details for a list of 25 countries, not including the one you are in – but including Slovakia and Norway, where your company doesn’t have offices.

Day zero: Emails from three people asking if our call is still going ahead, because if not they have another call that’s quite important, but don’t worry they’ll cancel the other call, even though it’s quite important, if our call is still going ahead.

Time -55 minutes: Email from someone who is confused by daylight saving time, asking where everyone is.

T -15 minutes: Email from Marketing Person 1 to remind us that the call is in 15 minutes. Response email from Alpha Male 2 warning that his previous call with Important Customer might not finish on time to join our call. Try to get the ball rolling without me, he says, difficult though it might be.

T +2 minutes: After frantic and unsuccessful attempts to dial in, you call from your mobile using the Slovakian access number. It’s just you and a marketing intern on the call. The intern has been instructed by Marketing Person 1 not to say anything during the call. Small talk is difficult.

T +5 minutes: Someone who speaks no English dials in using the Norwegian access number. This may, or may not, be a mistake. Small talk not improving.

T +5 to T +15 minutes: A new person joins each time you get three words into a sentence. Fragments of speech about difficulty of using access codes, and weather in New York/Singapore/Slovakia, occur. Alpha Male 1 and Alpha Male 2 have not joined yet, but seven middle managers you’ve never heard of are present on the call. They seem to know each other, despite being based in different continents, and exchange opinions about previous relevant conference calls to which you were not invited.

(I hear the opinion that these call-hangers don’t contribute. If we look at the conference call as an attempt to make a decision, this is certainly true. On the other hand their real job is to send emails afterwards to a Senior Person which

1. Questions the wisdom of any decision, hinting that it might undermine Senior Person’s authority

2. Suggest Alpha Males 1 and 2 might be unhappy with the outcome agreed on call

3. Subtly implicate you as the cause of both

This makes sure that any decisions will swiftly be reversed, giving them the opportunity to build a career based on lurking destructively in the background.)

T +15 minutes: Alpha Male 1 joins from airport lounge, and asks us to recap summary of Penguin Pants Project Crisis. Marketing Person 1 attempts to do this, but airport announcements picked up by Alpha Male 1’s phone keep cutting in.

T +20 minutes: Alpha Male 2 joins, and tells us to carry on as if he wasn’t there.

T +21 minutes: After 10 seconds, Alpha Male 2 announces he hasn’t received the agenda for the call from Marketing Person 2. Intern is silently surprised when he is blamed by Marketing Person 2 for this. He is sent to email the document (which he doesn’t possess) so that Alpha Male 2 will have the opportunity to learn why he was on the call after we hang up. Alpha Male 2 asks that, in the absence of an agenda, Alpha Male 1 clarifies Marketing Person 1’s recap of the summary.

T +25 minutes: Silence.

T +26 minutes: Alpha Male 1 remembers he muted his phone because of airport noise, and starts clarification again, which is twice as long as the recap, which was twice as long as the summary.

T +33 minutes: Alpha Male 2 remembers you are on the call, and asks you for the Penguin Pant Crisis action item options. You list the action item options as quickly as possible. You recommend that we decide, while we are on this call, which action item option to take.

T +35 minutes: Long silence.

T +38 minutes: Alpha Male 1 breaks silence by announcing they are calling his flight, so let’s pick this up next week. Call-hangers burst into life to say sycophantic goodbyes to Alpha Male 1, including jokes about performance of local sports teams. Marketing Persons 1 and 2 compete to thank Alpha Male 1 for sparing this time because they know how busy he is, but discover he has already hung up.

T +43 minutes: Marketing Person 1 proudly announces that she has been given access to Alpha Male 1’s diary to schedule follow-up call, and suggests a time. Alpha Male 2 says he knows that Alpha Male 1 is not available at that time, because Alpha Male 1 has offered to meet Alpha Male 2’s Important Customer. Marketing Person 1 says she has Alpha Male 1’s diary in front of her, and Important Customer is not in diary.

T +46 minutes: Alpha Male 2 says he knows that Alpha Male 1 is not available at that time, because Alpha Male 1 has offered to meet Alpha Male 2’s Important Customer. Marketing Person 1 says she has Alpha Male 1’s diary in front of her, and Important Customer is not in diary.

T +49 minutes: Alpha Male 2 says he knows that Alpha Male 1 is not available at that time, because Alpha Male 1 has offered to meet Alpha Male 2’s Important Customer. Marketing Person 1 says she has Alpha Male 1’s diary in front of her, and Important Customer is not in diary.

T+52 minutes: Alpha Male 2 politely points out that his agenda hasn’t come through yet.

T +54 minutes: Everyone agrees to pencil the meeting depending on Alpha Male 1’s availability. Alpha Male 2 points out that Alpha Male 1 is meeting his Important Customer during that hour, so we might be wasting our time.

T +57 minutes: Exaggeratedly polite goodbyes. Marketing Person 2 says we made some great progress today.

T +60 minutes: You are accidentally CCed on an email from call-hanger suggesting that you placed Alpha Male 1 in an awkward position, and that they should revisit any decisions offline before the follow-up call.

The War On Hyberbole

Forget the death, maiming, destruction and ruinous expense: war can also be an opportunity to photograph your dog

We’re at war. I’m sure you noticed.

There are the usual military wars but, for people who like to call talk radio stations at 4am or visit their golf club bar to complain, the real wars are closer to home.

For example, if you’re the type of person who, before forming an opinion, wonders “What would Jeremy Clarkson think?”, you will have noticed that there is a War on Motorists going on. Don’t worry, car fans. I live two minutes from the A12, and I can tell you that you’ve already won this one. My advice to militant motorists: rather than whining about speed cameras and fuel tax and congestion charges and cycle lanes and car parking charges in the letters pages of local newspapers, open up a second front. Tarmac over the Eurostar line and invade France. Just as long as you promise not to come back.

The Mail tells us that the government is busy recruiting ex-ministers for a War on Dole Cheats. I approve of less thieving, but Labour ex-ministers of all people should know that it’s easier to start a war than to win one. Note also that Dole Cheats have been abusing the well-intentioned Tanks for the Homeless scheme for so long that they’re armed and ready to fight for what isn’t actually theirs. Well, they would be, but The Jeremy Kyle Show is on in half an hour, and after that the chippy’s open.

A quick scan through today’s news also shows that there are wars of varying believability being waged on our behalf on antibioticscybercrime, gold, de-legitimization, and media center software. It’s not an exaggeration, because they are exactly like real wars! If someone has to die so that media center software can be defeated, one day our kids will thank us.

Also in the news: Lance Armstrong has declared war on the French hotel industry. Either that or he complained about some French hotels; but that doesn’t sound quite as exciting when you’re writing a headline.

Among blogger armchair generals you’re never more than a couple of posts away from a fictitious War on Something. For example, over at loopy United Liberty, the dastardly US Government is waging a war on dogs, in which we must take sides:

A world where drugs are widely available legally would be supremely preferable to a world in which I have to fear that a SWAT team will break down my door and kill my pets

it concludes. I’m curious to see half a dozen sausage dogs in camouflage jackets trying to load a mortar, but I can’t say I’m rooting for either side, based on this article.

You could say – wait for it – that I don’t have a dog in this fight.

With everyone – and now their pets – currently conscripted in some media-invented war or other, our armed forces are going to be overstretched. I have a way to cut the workload: we can beat the internet’s lazy writers at their own game by declaring a War On Hyberbole.

There may be a million-strong Blogger Army against us, doubtlessly even now claiming they would die typing for the right to exaggerate, but I’ve got a plan to win that can’t fail.

1. We wait for one of the Blogger Army to announce that he or she is the General.

2. Ten comments later the rest of them will be far too busy complaining that this is exactly what Hitler would have done to fight against us*.

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* Ironically, on this occasion they would be correct.

The enemy within

"Firmly grasp large-scale revolutionary criticism"

It’s not fair to blame everybody for the amount of crap that plugs up our inboxes. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a few people ruin it for the rest of us. This table of jargon that I compiled from 2009 press releases demonstrates it:

What’s can it mean? Read across the row. There’s a 3.7 per cent chance that a press release will use robust. But, if it also describes something as next generation, it is three times as likely (10 per cent) it will chuck in robust as well. And if it describes something as next generation and flexible, now there’s a 17 per cent chance you will find robust in there as well.

In short, the more jargon you use, the more you’re likely to use.

We get to the silly situation where, having described the product or service – or, I’m willing to wager, the solution – as next generation, flexible, robust, world class and scalable, more than a quarter of press releases chuck in easy to use as well.

I have three explanations why the press releases might need to call on “easy to use” in this situation:

1. It’s really important for sales: the company thinks that something which is next generation, flexible, robust, world class and scalable might sell badly because we worry that we won’t find the on switch.

2. Ease of use is not an obvious feature: if you can’t even write a press release that ordinary people can understand, it’s unlikely we will believe you can make a product that ordinary people can use.

3. Once I watched a TV report on how they used to typeset Mao-era Chinese communist newspapers. Because the Mandarin alphabet has a basic vocabulary of more than 3,000 characters it was easier for the typesetters to keep entire ready-made Cultural Revolution jargon phrases at hand, like the one at the top of the page, and just assemble the daily paper from the revolutionary brainwashing twaddle kit with a few names thrown in.

When we close our minds we tend to rely on empty, grandiose phrases to please authority. Of course in the West we’d never do anything like that, because here we are free to choose which words we use. Apparently.

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Jargon’s golden age

Low-hanging fruit is a pain in the neck for them, too

Was there a time when we didn’t have to listen to people in meetings telling us what to do with low-hanging fruit? Indeed there was, and it was more recent than you think.

Usually I go back only a few years when I do my research. But if we take a longer view, it is possible to get some perspective on when we really began talking like idiots.

I can’t tell you when jargon was invented. It is thousands of years since someone discovered that by using words that they didn’t really understand he (it was a he, take my word for it) could kid people that he actually knew what he was talking about, and convince them to do his dirty work for him (even if they couldn’t quite understand what it was he was asking for). Like this:

Caveman 1: (pointing at cave painting of buffalo) Ug!

Cavemen 2, 3 and 4: Ug?

Caveman 1: (raising eyebrow significantly) Ug.

Caveman 2, 3, 4: (nodding sagely at each other) Ah, ug.

It should be pointed out that “ug” is cavespeak for “value proposition”.

Fast forward to the sort of jargon that needles us today. For a lot of the buzzword bingo-type words we hate, the real growth occurred in the late 1990s and early 2000s, rather than recently. Look at this graph of how often low-hanging fruit, outside the box and brainstorming turn up in American publishing, adjusted so that their frequency in 1993 was 100 in each case. For these three, as for countless other jargon phrases like world class or cutting edge, a period of slow growth during the early 1990s suddenly accelerates for five or six years. After 2003 or 2004, growth often stops.

The phrase outside the box, used as jargon for thinking creatively, was five times as common in 2003 as it had been in 1998. It’s not like we were unfamiliar with the concept of creative thought until 1998 – of, for that matter, the concept of a box – so it looks like it’s down to people trying to sound hip.

Some of today’s most painful jargon was effectively non-existent in our lifetime. Until the mid-1990s no one wrote about low-hanging fruit (1990-92, seven articles mention it), unless they were writing an article about the location of, well, fruit.

What can this mean? My big theory, based on information that I’m not revealing yet to build up the suspense, is that this was a dot-com phenomenon. With hindsight most of that generation of entrepreneurs were a bit rubbish at changing the world (though few were as loopy as the creators of the iSmell), but they talked a lot about how they were going to do it. For a short time we all wanted to be like the dot-com kids, so we parroted the same crappy MBA jargon that they used. After 2003 the dotcommers mostly disappeared; but now apparently we can’t stop ourselves from talking like them.

The buzzwords the dotcommers left behind are the fag burns in the plush carpet of our language after a bullshit orgy has been held on it. Thanks, guys.


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