Posts Tagged 'World peace'

Don’t give me problems, rename them

It’s too tempting to complain about people using the word solution as a lazy way to describe their product. I’m sure I will get to it soon, but today it just makes my head ache.

Instead I bring you better news: an audacious and delightful innovation in the use of the S-word from the Talk Normal archives. The email is a few years old but I treasure it, as you can see. Hewlett-Packard’s support team sent it to me when I had a problem with a printer and I was getting a little testy in emails to them because they weren’t fixing it for me.

It shows a technical support operation that so wants to bring me good news, and so can’t, that it has adopted plan B: simply redefining the word “problem” as “solution” and emailing my problem back to me to see if I’d notice. Here’s what it said:

Why stop at printer drivers? Innovation like this could, overnight, solve much bigger problems simply by redefining them in a more glass-half-full way. Let us be bold and agitate for Hewlett-Packard’s technical support department to be given control of the biggest problem (soon to be solution) of all: the struggle for world peace. It would take but a few minutes to draft an email declaring that world peace has been achieved, with a proviso that the actual absence of “war” might take some time.

Of course, in the field of world peace, this would be ridiculous. It’s about as likely as someone being given the Nobel Peace Prize not because he had directly caused any peace so far, but because he’d identified and confirmed the current lack of peace, and promised to let us all know when a fix is available.

On the plus side: I remember that HP did eventually email me a printer driver that worked. So it stands to reason we should be optimistic about the other thing.


The Win-Win scenario

You might recall I promised to buy an Oxfam pig to help a family in Cambodia if 285 of you signed up to receive Talk Normal by email before Christmas. The excellent news was that at least 100,000 times that number of people assured me that they were just about to sign up right now just as soon as they had finished doing this thing that they were doing just this minute, but of course many of them (translation: “you”) were lying. As long as you keep coming to visit we’ll overlook it; but if you stop reading Talk Normal don’t come crying to me when your conference calls last three hours or you can’t understand your own press releases.

Thanks in part to you but mostly to me, Win-Win the Talk Normal charity pig has now been purchased. He’s happily snuffling around his sty in Cambodia, as you can see from this official photo:

Subscriber or not, thanks to everyone for reading, commenting and suggesting in 2009. The long yet rewarding process of Talknormalisation continues in 2010.

Giving your all (plus 0.8 per cent)

Hero of the USSR Alexey Stakhanov, by my criteria, gave around 3,000 per cent.

As we’re getting close to the time of year when people like to make resolutions to try harder, I thought I’d do a quick bit of research to work out how much harder we ought to try, and who should be trying harder to try harder.

I searched for stories where people claimed to give certain percentages (or % or per cent) of effort to find how hard we have been trying in the last few years. I examined a spread from “give 120 per cent” down to “give 80 per cent” on the assumption that anyone claiming to give higher or lower percentages is either a fantasist or lazy enough to ignore.

Ideally any society will have a cadre of capable people who tell you they are giving 110 and 120 per cent. The most noticeable tend to work in professional sports, though as they also tend to assure us they are taking each game as it comes, we can’t assume this is a long term trend. If it is, I’ll be over the moon.

Imagine if we let the 100 percenters carry on as before, then we pair each person who claims to give 120 per cent with someone who wants to give 80 per cent, each person giving 110 with a 90-percenter, and so on. By finding the average I’m effectively measuring who is left over after we do this.

Note that I assume that someone claiming to give 110 per cent is as likely to fulfil that promise as someone who claims to give 90 per cent. This is obviously problematic from a strictly statistical point of view, because it’s what statisticians call “impossible”. So that’s problematic in the sense of “not true”. But I don’t make up the numbers, I just report them.

We need our hyperbolic elites to balance out those who shamelessly give 90 or 80 per cent and aren’t scared to tell the press about it. In normal times a society can celebrate both over- and underachievers, and so will score a solid 100 per cent. Yet, in times of crisis, perhaps more than 100 per cent effort is required – which is why I looked at the statistics for 2009. We’re averaging 100.8 globally, so that’s all right:

I conclude:

1. We’re doing better than we used to. At least, we’re saying that we’re doing better. The global effort mean for the noughties was about 96 per cent.

2. The BRIC countries say they’re trying harder than we are. Anyone who has ever spent a couple of hours in the presence of an Indian company manager, watched all those drummers at the opening cermony of the Beijing Olympics, or looked to see where all your spam comes from will believe this.

3. The UK and the US are above average. Our economies are dead in the water and we’re basically owned by China, but the index shows that we keep telling people that we’re trying; which is endearing.

4. Journalists claim to work harder than politicians. But I’m sure politicians are also claiming another couple of percent in their expenses – not least because they score less than 100 per cent.

5. Surprisingly, sportspeople are below-average hyperbolists. An odd result considering the number of high-profile bullshitters who work in the business. The low score is maybe because, even if they insist they’re giving 120 per cent, they’re giving it twice a week for an hour and a half (though I’m not sure how this would be reflected in the data). Or it might just be that cricket, a game where it’s not polite to try too hard and which is the only sport deliberately scheduled around sit-down meals, drags the average down.

Good news: if you’re worried that your New Year’s resolution might be too testing, you don’t need to try as hard as you think. If your peer group wants to top the charts next year all you need to do is let the press know that you consistently give 101.7 per cent. You’ll be top of my pile for hyperbolic ambition, if not for quotability.

My Katie Price boob job shame

You're meant to be looking at the books

Though Radio 4’s Thought for the Day is still out of bounds to those of us who don’t have a religion, the god-botherers at the BBC can’t censor Talknormalism’s Christmas Message to you:

As this is a time of year when we buy things we don’t need, it is the perfect time to tell the story of Katie Price’s decision to acquire larger breasts, my influence on her decision, and how those iconic breasts inspired Talk Normal.

Many years ago, Jordan (as she was then) was an up-and-coming young topless model, and I was asked to appear on the same TV programme as her. It was an after-the-pub Friday night show put out by Meridian TV, and my job was to explain how to log in to the internet to watch amateur webcams, empowering a generation of drunk men to scour chatrooms for an internet friend who might take her shirt off after hours of pleading. For some reason the researchers had called the editor of Guardian Online for advice on this noble pastime, and the Guardian (understandably not wanting to soil itself, but correctly assuming I’d do it for £60 cash plus train fare) suggested me.

Jordan had been booked to do some flirty links for the show while wearing tiny clothes. It’s a good job they didn’t get our scripts mixed up, though she could probably have done a decent job with mine.

Anyway, someone had broken something on the set, so we all sat in the green room for a few hours while men with hammers fixed it. There was a glum American stand up comedian and a guy who rode muddy motorbikes for a living. Jordan’s Gladiator boyfriend Ace was there to keep her company while we tucked in to the free booze and crisps backstage. Comedy, motorbikes, muscles, partial nudity, chardonnay and modems. That was the 1990s for you. Crazy, crazy days.

And so it came to pass that, after a few glasses, Jordan asked us all her opinion on whether she ought to have a boob job. At that time her breasts were what a certain type of web site calls natural, though it wasn’t the first adjective that popped into your head when you met her. She was thinking about it, she said, because a newspaper had offered to pay for her breast enhancement on the condition that they got an exclusive right to photograph the results. It seemed like a good offer to her. Ace stared furiously at the Doritos and said “I always tell Katie she’s got quite enough already”.

When it was my turn to speak, I planned to say, “What are you thinking? You’re hardly out of school! The tabloid press will turn you into a human freakshow! You already look like a pencil with two tennis balls sellotaped to it! Are you mad?”

Instead, when she pointed herself at me and said “what do you fink? Should I have them done?”, I looked at my feet and said, bravely:

Oh I dunno.

I don’t know who paid for her boobs in the end, but the next time I saw her in the newspapers she was a much bigger woman. Maybe, in reflective moments, when she contemplates the sadness of being made to eat bugs in the jungle by vengeful reality TV viewers, she thinks, “why didn’t that bald nerd I met all those years ago in Southampton warn me it would come to this?” I’m sorry, Katie.

It is this failure of nerve that resolved me to do what a blogger should do at all times: to speak truth to power, no matter how many product marketing managers, marketing communications consultants or brand ambassadors I upset. That is why without Katie Price, we wouldn’t have this fragile and precious thing we call Talk Normal.

We all have times when we talk crap to avoid saying what we know to be true. My Christmas wish for you is that, the next time you are faced with what philosophers call the Jordan Boob Dilemma (JBD) in your work, don’t mumble about challenges and facilitation and win-win scenarios while thinking “that is a truly terrible idea”. Honour Talknormalism by saying what you think, as I should have done all those years ago.

Happy Gifting Season.

An epidemic of word obesity

I was doing some media training recently and one of the people in the session was told to stop speaking like she was trying to sound clever. This is good advice, if only more people would take it.

Instead we’re busy piling on the syllables like there’s no tomorrow, because why use a short word when there’s a long one that’s half as good?

Even the simplest words get bloated when we’re busy trying to sound clever. Here’s an example: you don’t get much simpler or more effective than the verb to use. We all know what it means, it’s perfectly clear, say it in a meeting and no one will misunderstand you or point at you and giggle and shout “durr!” because you’re simple.

But when we leave for work we take easy-to-understand “use” and stick an extra two syllables in it, and it becomes conference-room-hell-word “utilise”.

And it’s getting much worse, very quickly. Look at the Phillips Weasel Index (PWI) of the relative frequency of use and utilise (I included utilize, for our international readers) from 2002 to the end of 2009: the higher the graph goes, the more we are substituting “use” out of the language for “utilise” – a word that takes us longer to say and type, but we think it makes us sound like we’ve done an MBA:

As you can see, that’s a rise of more than 60 per cent in seven years. This PWI increase is consistent across technology, business, software, telecoms and media. The exception is for press releases, where there has been no rise in the PWI since 2002. Way to go, press release writers!

Actually, it just shows that you started writing badly earlier than the rest of us, and you continue to outperform. In 2002 you were about three-and-half-times as likely as a journalist to stick “utilise” instead of “use” in your paragraph in a misguided attempt to make your client sound clever, and now it’s down to a factor of about 2.3 as we catch up (or maybe put less effort into rewriting your releases). At this rate I worked out that the rest of us will be as bad as you by July 2022, which is something for our kids to look forward to.

I promised myself that I wouldn’t start obsessing over individual words like a crazy person who complains that the world isn’t what it used to be. Do too much of that and I’ll be the sort of person who listens to John Gaunt.

But it makes me cranky that we talk one way at home and a different way in the office to sound smart. It’s a word obesity epidemic , and 1 January 2010 might be a good time to go on a diet.

Happy Gifting Season!

Don't let small children see this picture

It’s that time of year again: the time when the press runs stories about how loony councils are stealing Christmas. Evidently, it’s political correctness gone mad. Every year you have to start your Christmas rant earlier to beat the rush, and so I discover that the Bishop of Lichfield kicked off the annual they’re stealing our Christmas season more than a month ago.

Religion looks like it is on the way out here, but tell it to the Pagans: they will tell you that no one gets to keep the Winter holiday for ever, you just get to mind it for a while until someone takes it by rebranding it as their own celebration.

The classic scare story is that Birmingham tried to rebrand Christmas as Winterval so that non-Christians wouldn’t get upset. Then there’s Luminos in Luton, for example, which regularly gets remembered as the council’s attempt to take the Christ out of Christmas.

Let’s get this straight: the stories are dangerous rubbish.

Winterval’s a pretty silly name, but you try and find something catchy to call the Winter Solstice, Christmas, Hannukah, Diwali, Eid, and all the other festivals at this time of year. Not to mention, for example, the Pagan holiday called Yule.

Our quaint British War on Christmas worries is small beer compared to what’s going on in the weird mind of Bill O’Reilly at Fox News in the US, where such happenings are part of secular progressive agenda that includes legalization of narcotics, euthanasia, abortion at will, gay marriage.

That’s one hell of an office party.

If you want to find out who is doing the rebranding, loony councils and crazy teachers are an easy target. But I’ve noticed a charming phrase that’s popping up in news stories and even more in press releases: it appears December is becoming Gifting Season. I can’t find a mention of the phrase before the mid-1980s, and around two thirds of all the mentions of Gifting Season I could find in the press have occurred since 2006. It’s really the only phrase that conveys the profound and committed consumerism of:

The Container Store™ Thinks Outside the Box with the Selection of CashStar’s Online Gift Cards, or

Carphone Warehouse’s 21 new mobile phones.

The Gifting Season may be shallow and cynical, but it is also a profound and spiritual phrase for the marketing communications enthusiasts among us, because you get to have it both ways: on the surface it promotes the spirit of giving, but it has never been used without some mention of how you should spend your money.

But you won’t find irate Gifting Season articles in the press this year. In this economy newspapers and networks know better than to turn their fake outrage on the greatest Seasonal Gift of all: the gift of advertising.

The end of days

Too many dates can be confusing

I’m not sure if you noticed that last week (19 November, to be exact) we celebrated International Men’s Day. I was surprised: what with being paid more to do the same job, possession of the TV remote and no requirement to wear high heels, every day is essentially Men’s Day. Except for 8 March, of course, which is International Women’s Day – which, despite being a holiday on half the planet, British men ignore every year. Maybe we’re just doing the pretend-to-forget thing, like with anniversaries, birthdays and Valentine’s Day.

Unaware of the correct way to celebrate International Men’s Day, I checked on every ignorant journalist’s go-to resource: Wikipedia. The entry from 2008 tells us only that “University of Kent students celebrated International Men’s Day at Mungo’s Bistro on the university campus”. I can’t imagine how I missed that item on the news.

Thanks to the vacant minds of some people in marketing departments globally, every day is basically International Something Day (ISD). Competition for ISDs is so intense that some are Trade Marked. Imagine if a rival band of angels decided to steal International Angel Day (TM) for example. On the other hand, you’d have thought that the angels among us would have been able to sort this out amicably.

The food business is a great creator of ISDs, because it encourages us to buy things to eat when we’re fat and not hungry. If you like bacon, chefs, sushi, beer, pickles, waffles, picnics, cachaca, fruit or goats, there’s an ISD for you. I’m not sure if you are meant to eat the goats or save them on International Goat Day, but take it from me: they’re really tasty in a curry.

Causes love an ISD, and have grabbed special days for ozone, the Poles (just one for both North and South), democracy, mountains, nurses, blondes, lighthouses, bogs, the dawn chorus and ponchos. Even jugglers have an ISD, which makes me want to slap them even more.

Like the nude charity calendar ISDs have also become a joyless way to commercialise sex, so there are ISDs for whores, fetishes, kissing, orgasms… and firefighters.

And of course there’s the niceness industry, equally divided between making us better people and the need to sell us things that exploit our self-loathing and consequent desperate desire to improve. For this try International Hug Day, or the ISDs for understanding and jokes or, for those who like to celebrate the truly meaningless, International Awareness Day.

Then if you are one of the few people on the world for whom a PR company has not created an ISD, why not simply piggy-back on someone else’s:

In celebration of International Waffle Day, Radical Breeze is offering discounted packs of their software for MacOS X… “Every year on March 25th, people around the world eat waffles. Lots and lots of waffles. Stacks of waffles,” stated Bryan Lund, president of Radical Breeze. “This beautiful day must be commemorated. And what better way to do so than to offer stacks of great MacOS X software for a low price?”

Then there’s the merely baffling. I’m hoping that the first International Accreditation Day (9 June 2009) will not be the last. Who could possibly miss the opportunity to take part in

a global initiative jointly established by the International Accreditation Forum (IAF) and International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) to raise awareness of the importance of accreditation-related activities.

Instead of this piecemeal approach, let’s get organised and sell off the calendar properly, day by day. It would give the people who organised International Organizations Day something useful to do, and it might show us how important accreditation really is. We’d have to ring-fence important stuff like  Christmas and International Weblogger Day (oh yes, we have one too), but the others should just go to the highest bidder, no more than one day per group. Then we could stop messing around with greetings cards and parades and make some serious money out of celebrating the anniversary of nothing in particular by marketing 365 separate franchises and suing the hell out of each other. In this case every day would be International Lawyer’s Day (currently limited to 5 April), but that’s a small price to pay.

If you work in some brass instrument public relations capacity and you were the person who scheduled International Tuba Day for the first Friday in May because you were flat out of ideas and nobody cares about tubas, this might seem like bad news. In PR, one of the few reasons to create an ISD is that nobody owns the days of the year: your ISD may be pointless but it is very cheap, so clients like it.

Global capitalism solves this problem. A clever entrepreneur could pick up one of the cheaper days and resell it at an affordable price moment by tedious moment, so 3am to 4am on May 18 can be international Kilt hour, rather than the entire day it is given currently. Nobody want to celebrate the kilt for an entire day, not even kilt manufacturers. And for pointless imagination-free PR-driven celebrations of nothing (whoever came up with International Crochet Day, I’m talking to you), two minutes a year ought to be more than enough.

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