Sunday, 28 February 2010

Earthquake fatigue

Chile has just experienced one of the largest earthquakes in recorded history: 8.8. on the Richter scale. But it will soon fall off the news agenda.

Why? Because Chile planned for the natural disaster in advance. Buildings didn't collapse as they were constructed to be flexible, so the human loss of life -- though tragic -- was not biblical in scale. Lessons were learned from a similar disaster in 1960: and earthquakes seem to be a regular feature of life in Chile.

And the Chile event was the second international earthquake within a month, so the disaster didn't even have the merit of novelty. Unlike Haiti.

The international response? Call us if you need to, but you seem to be doing fine on your own.

Even the tsunamis passed around the Pacific Ocean without much of a murmur.

And the news footage often came with inappropriate, juxtaposed channel advertising. The world has already moved on.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Auntie bites the bullet

What tactics do can corporations use when cornered by prospective asset-strippers? The BBC has gone for leaking pre-emptive strikes regarding self-imposed cuts on its radio, television and web output.

Strategically, this is clever. It creates an atmosphere where unions and audiences will be in rebellion, PR for the services that due for abolition will be generated and a prospective incoming Conservative government will come off looking like the bad guys.

No one can argue that the BBC needs pruning, but 6 Music, the Asian Network, foreign programming and sports all have vociferous supporters. And the corporation provides for a multitude of niches rather than raw, commercial monoculture.

The BBC may be calling the bluff of the politicians and corporate media owners as the alternatives to public-service broadcasting become clearer.

And the proposed cuts are not yet even official.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Alice in Disneyland

A business wrangle had threatened to derail the box-office success of Tim Burton's new 3D take on Alice in Wonderland.

I'm unsure whether the row was good publicity to promote Alice, or whether earlier DVD sales would have made more money for Disney. Or both.

It all seemed an arcane argument that threatened to deny audiences from getting the benefit of Mr Burton's vision in 3D.

But Disney quietly dropped their demand and, lo and behold, Alice's column inches (and web virals) grew and Grew and GREW ...

Search for alice in wonderland

All-woman shortlists?

Cameron's cuties have a long way to go to match Berlusconi's beauties.

Silvio is up to his old tricks, giving his dental nurse a chance to win a seat at the next Italian general election. It helps, of course, that Nicole Minetti is a former exotic dancer.

Whatever the merits of the likes of Joanne Cash (and her recent local difficulty), no one is suggesting Conservative women candidates have to enjoy pole-dancing on their CVs.

To infinity and beyond ... or least across the river

There are limits to human mastery of nature, even for self-confident company directors.

Witness one episode enacted the other day by Anne Kennedy in her Vauxhall Astra, who forgot her car wasn't a canoe when trying to ford the river Loddon in Charvil, Berkshire.

Did she question her own judgement, perhaps? Or own up to impatience tinged with arrogance? No, she blamed her sat-nav: the ultimate get-out clause for poor driving.

High-flying people tend not to allow the possibility that there may make stupid mistakes. Presumably blaming the technology won't wash if she has to make a contribution to the cost of her own rescue.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Kill Willy?

Newsflash to SeaWorld: orcas are wild animals, so are not 100 per cent predictable.

The death of Dawn Brancheau in Orlando, Florida has put killer whale shows on hold. SeaWorld immediate response? To transfer Tilikum, the offending animal, to another theme park.

How about retiring performing animals unless their living conditions are re-assessed? Animals are not really placed on earth simply to entertain humans.

Lucy in Disguise with Allen

Here's what Lily Allen gets to do next: give up being a pop star to become a vintage fashion retailer in partnership with her sister.

This sets up an interesting cultural experiment: the degree to which a networked audience of fans will allow someone famous to fade into the background at the peak of her fame. Miss Allen's fashion ideas may well be successful, but it will be hard to escape her singing career.

The scenario contrasts in interesting ways with Sandie Shaw, the sixties singer who gave up the limelight to became a successful psychoanalyst. Given that the tabloid media is a lot more tenacious than 40-odd years ago, it will be a test of how invisible people allow former performers to become.

Good luck to Lily, though. I hope her change of direction makes her happy. Perhaps it's time to take a breather when politicians start referencing you ... but will she give up tweeting once her life gets a bit less 24/7?

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

How to win a BAFTA

The Hindsight Guide to success at movie awards ceremonies ...

Reader's Digested

Reader's Digest in the UK has bitten the dust.

People waiting to see the dentist or to give blood are presumably locked into using personal media like iPods, iPhones, GameBoys, or reading a book, paper or electronic, rather than flicking through the pages of the venerable weekly magazine.

The business model no longer worked. Promising cash rewards via direct mail promotion, while enticing the public to buy various own-branded titles (including magazine subscriptions), is no competition for the instant no-small-print impact of the National Lottery.

Tom Champagne was the guy in charge of the prize draw campaigns until he retired in 2003, but maybe he could be enticed into another job that makes a virtue out of his surname. Event management for sports venues? Establishing a trendy bar in the City's Square Mile? Product management for an elite retail brand, like Harrods or Fortnum & Mason? Or perhaps emigrating to Northern France and planting a few grapes.

Meanwhile, in the USA, the company limps on, with its jokes, cartoons, obscure facts and quirky vocabulary ...

Death cabs for duties

The BBC has demoted the likes of Prince Harry and Barack Obama to the ranks of not being worthy of the newsflash treatment on their respective demises: continuous biographical footage, endless taking heads, black suits and ties, sombre music, ticker tape news updates.

But just wait until someone off the A-List gets assassinated or dies in unusual circumstances. Love of prurient gossip and morbid curiosity would get the better of the couch-potato tendency to gawp at third-party soaps or inconsequential sport, most of which are repeats anyway.

And who would make it on to the top mortuary table for the other channels?

It's what they would have wanted, once they're gone.

Meanwhile, in Bavaria, they do things differently ...

Monday, 22 February 2010

'Play nicely with David please, Gordon'

Bullying behaviour, not taking calls, treating journalists with contempt, making enemies of employees -- yes, David Cameron had a turbulent time as director of corporate affairs at Carlton TV.

So Gordon Brown throws his toys out of the pram? So what. I bet most prime ministers suffer from the same afflictions under the stress of the job. Anthony Eden, anyone?

The real problem is two-fold.

On the local level, the expenses scandal makes the forthcoming General Election unpredictable. If voters are asked 'Which political party do you support?' they will give one answer; if given a list of the actual candidates in their constituency, they will give another. Their candidate of choice may be a popular MP not of their party of preference, or someone sullied by the expenses scandal.

On the global level, national politicians make very little difference at all. The capitalist markets of the world are in charge, and government figureheads can only fiddle at the edges -- hence the anger and the lashing out.

My prediction on this? Within three days there will be stories in the national press about David Cameron's dark side with respect to employee relations. It's a zero-sum game story.

The media need to focus on policies, stuff that the politicians can actually influence. Bring on the election.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Debunking history

The boy pharoah Tutankhamun died of malaria ... The Battle of Bosworth was in Fen Lane Farm, 2 miles away from where people thought it was ... The Staffordshire Hoard will shed light on life in the Dark Ages ...

Science and technology may signify progress into the future, but it also sheds light on the past at ever-increasing speed. Maybe boffins will soon be able to work out answers to the following questions:
Holy Grails, all ... and there will be hundreds of people out there trying to get to the bottom of these perennial posers.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Mea culpa, darling

Tiger Woods, Ashley Cole, Vernon Kaye, John Terry ....

Apart from the obvious, what have they got in common?

A belief that skill in their chosen field of employment entitled them to ignore norms of social behaviour: a sychophantic entourage encourages such men to think they are powerful gods who can behave how they like with impunity.

Perhaps there is disillusionment that having reached the peak of success in sport, the media, etc., the buzz isn't what they expected it to be. So, they get reflected buzz from increasingly meaningless sexual encounters with women.

And I'm not sure what's in it for the women, except perhaps for star-struck bragging rights and the opportunity to receive the occasional expensive gift. I'm not sure many 'cheerleaders' agree to flings with the express intention to reveal all to the tabloid press.

So, Tiger Woods has now given a press statement of apology. It is step 9 in his therapeutic 12-Step Program for sex addiction. The common view is that his appearance was a necessary first rung on the ladder. Michael Douglas is proof that such treatment can work: he has been happily married to fellow actor Catherine Zeta-Jones since November 2000 and has been largely out of the media spotlight since then.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Six degrees to Cheryl Cole

Everything has consequences ...

Ashley texts Sonia,
Ashley beds Vicki,

Those who live by Hello! die by Popbitch.

You never give me your money ...

You only give me your funny paper. Yes, the Abbey Road studios made famous by the Beatles are being sold off by EMI.

The current rumours doing the rounds include a takeover by English Heritage or the National Trust, a buy-out by a consortium of rock stars, and a rescue by Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber. Everyone agrees the iconic studios (and the famous level crossing outside) need to be saved for the nation and world culture.

Failing all this, Simon Cowell and friends might be relied upon to come up with a suitable charity record to save the venue. Here are some early ideas, all adapted from artists recorded at the studio:
Someone will have to Carry that Weight for a grateful public.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Stalking J K Rowling

High-profile authors must have good lawyers these days.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, literary stalking is the basest form of rapacity. And Joanne Rowling must be swamped by hoards of chancers chasing the harrypotter tailgate.

Search for Harry Potter

Edinbourg rendez-vous? Yes, please

A must-see film for summer 2010 (presumably avoiding World Cup month): Belleville Rendez-Vous hits Auld Reekie with a script by Jacques Tati.

Sylvain Chomet's The Illusionist sounds fabulous.

The Scottish animation industry must be licking their chops.

Dave Cameron, the nation's Dad

Where's Jeremy Hunt when you need him? As Shadow Culture Secretary you might have expected him to be making clear Conservative policy on the likes of Lily Allen.

But no, it's Dave making the running again. He announces policies on marriage, plasters his face on the nation's billboards, and worries about the effects of pop culture on Britain's kids.

It's Daddy-o Dave, wanting to chaperone the country while throwing Nanny out with the bathwater -- along with Michael Gove's 'grumpy grandad' punditry on BBC Two's Newsnight Review arts forum. Mary Whitehouse must be chuckling in her grave.

A nation waits with bated breath ... How does Dave 'I don't know what's going off out there' Cameron rate Lady Gaga?

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Vultures coming home to roost

The credit crunch has finally had a positive effect. HMRC has decided to get tough with British tax exiles.

The so-called 'Monaco millionaires' must be quaking in their boots with the news of a Court of Appeal win for the Government ruling against Rupert Gaines-Cooper, liable for £30 million in back taxes despite 30-odd years of living in the Seychelles.

The rallying cry seems to be 'pay up or move out'. The ruling may affect the likes of:
Other countries have even more punitive tax regimes, so there may not be much option but to contribute what they should be the national pot. Apart from renouncing British citizenship, of course, but they will have to pay tax somewhere.

Tax accountants will now be earning their corn for their rich clients ...

Memories of the jury

Why hasn't anyone noticed this before? Apparently, two-thirds of jurors don't understand what judges say to them, even though no one is saying there are miscarriages of justice as a result.

So, judges may have to have media training. Perhaps there will be an equivalent to Sir Alan Sugar's The Apprentice boardroom:
  • with unsuccessful jurors being told 'You're fired';
  • splitting the jury into teams to consider verdicts with a project manager taking responsibility for getting their team to come up with the most coherent and considered argument;
  • summing up being done in written briefs supplied by barrister sidekicks taking the place of Nick and Margaret/Karren; and
  • successful jurors being invited to luxury accommodation to serve on other cases and being offered expensive treats for coming to correct verdicts.
In reality, I gather judges have been expecting lay people to become instant experts in understanding the law simply by the eloquence of their explanations. Crib sheets are apparently now being considered.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

You've gotta be in it to win it

To say Nigel Page and Justine Laycocks' bank manager is happier this week than last would be an understatement: the couple scooped £56,008,113.20 in the EuroMillions jackpot lottery. And Mr Page thought his luck was in when he won £55.00 in the National Lottery the previous day.

So, apart from getting married (which the couple announced today), how might the money be spent? Here are twenty ideas:

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Dick Francis's sure thing

Fame can be fossilized for ever in an instant, but t'was ever thus. Dick Francis CBE, who has died in the Cayman Islands, is a pre-internet example of this phenomenon.

Mr Francis rode over 350 racehorse winners, held the title of champion jockey and, on retirement from the saddle, wrote 40-odd novels on racing intrigue (creating a new thriller genre in the process). But he will mostly be remembered for posterity for his spectacular failure to win the 1956 Grand National on Devon Loch, the Queen Mother's horse. He could never shake off this moment: riding a sure thing that lost.

The Virtual Revolution's latest episode dealt with issues of online privacy. It seems web users are currently happy that their browsing habits and personal details are collected in return for free access to websites like Google, so that advertising can be honed to individual's search behaviour. And social networking captures every message and photo ever posted -- for ever.

The danger of this is that no one knows whether personal data will always be in benign owners' hands. Dutch surveys of religious groupings in the 1920s fell into the lap of the Nazis during their occupation of the Netherlands during World War II, with disastrous consequences.

Where Devon Loch will always define Dick Francis, web browsing behaviour will come to define us. Facebook indiscretions (e.g. drunkenness and worse) are being given as much weight as CVs when considering candidates for jobs and for sacking staff: they may even give blackmail opportunities to shady future rights holders of embarrassing information.

This is the thought police of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four by the back door: secret files are being kept on everyone.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Supermarket scrooges

What a surprise, not. The supermarkets have been found with their hands in their own tills. In the week before Christmas they all hiked up their prices for festive fare.

Time for some Government monopoly body to rap a few knuckles. What is it with capitalism, huh?

Monopoly money in Mayfair

I followed Jon Ronson's Time Out walk around Mayfair today. The evidence of Davies Street and New Bond Street, not to mention the Food Hall in Selfridges, is that business seems to be thriving.

Perhaps fashion won't blink an eyelid after all? Alexander McQueen's signature items were being snapped up from shops like Liberty like there was no tomorrow. The press seem to think his brand may die with him, though, but what do journalists know about anything to do with the future? Perhaps there's a young British designer itching to step into his Jimmy Choo's.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Lonely wallets column

It's no surprise that lonely hearts ads started with the birth of mass-market pamphlets and newspapers, once the people had started to read in numbers.

It's more of a shock to discover the ads were placed in search of money first, with love second.

Valentine's Day has no chance of avoiding being a commercial exercise: a triumph of hope over experience, of dressing mutton, and of making silk purses out of anything to hand.

Fashion victims

Something's afoot in the world of fashion. Creativity seems to be being squeezed out of the industry in different ways, the monster craving evermore exotic theatricality.

Brilliant designers are quitting the scene, some permanently like Alexander McQueen and some temporarily such as Tom Ford. Supermodels don't have the same buzz as in rosier economic times. And Primark is booming while catwalk culture becomes the preserve of the megarich and famous, no longer an aspiration to buy designer stuff as the cheap knock-offs are so much more affordable and have a kind of reverse glamour.

Everything's retro when there's nothing left to say. We're having revivals of revivals at an ever accelerating pace.

So, whither fashion now? Perhaps it needs to go back to the drawing-board and prepare us for a post-industrial future. What will we be wearing when the climate changes? How will we be clad in the new blazing summers and freezing winters? When will Primark launch their own fashion label ... and be taken seriously by the industry?

The devil may wear Prada, but the new season's clothes look fit for the fairy-tale Emperor: exceeding threadbare.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Separated at birth, the 12" mix

Ever wondered why you never see pianist Artur Pizarro and pop icon George Michael on the same stage?

The Minute Waltz (by Chopin) sampled with Last Christmas gives a Sugar Plum Fairy that melts in seconds in your hands ... Ooh, er missus.

Advertising 'R [Twitter] Us

I'll be back, right after these [Post-It] messages ...

The [Mortgage Express] UK Government has proposed the legalisation of product placement on British [Sony] television, as a means of keeping the [Direct Line] wolf from the [HomeBase] doors of commercial [Coca-Cola] broadcasters in an age where [Cisco] advertising spend is spread across many [BP] satellite channels and the [Tata] internet. Not to mention the feature of [Virgin Atlantic] Sky+ et al. that allows people to skip the ads altogether.

But will it [Audi] work?

Maybe we are so used to seeing [Colgate] celebrities endorsing products that we will not notice the stuff they are seen with during the [Microsoft] programmes. Federal Express [DreamWorks SKG] and Wilson Sporting Goods [Twentieth-Century Fox] famously benefited from exposure in the [Hasbro] Tom Hanks' movie [Fisherman's Friend] Cast Away: profits did grow after the [Kodak] film's launch, but both companies insist they did not [PayPal] pay for their prominent places in the [Penguin] storyline. Oh really?

But meanwhile, here's a toll-free [Google] number to get back to the [Letts] blog.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Ava-heart, Mr Cameron?

James Cameron suddenly has an opportunity to put his money where his mouthpiece is.

Avatar has made oodles of dough (well over $2 billion and counting) from the premise that bad guys want to mine the resources under the habitat of an indigenous species.

Survival International has made a ten-minute film (narrated by ace-campaigner, Joanna Lumley) highlighting the plight of the Dongria Kondh tribe in Orissa, India, whose sacred mountain is rich in bauxite ore that mining company Vedanta Resources wants to get its mitts on. This film is a public response to Mr Cameron's epic, inviting him to join the cause and pledge his money.

This is an interesting dilemma. Does James Cameron risk on the one hand being seen as a hypocrite if he doesn't cough up a contribution, or on the other hand risk inviting every Tom, Dick and Harry charity to show up cap in hand on his next film set.

The solution? He's got to sign a cheque, to make sure his movie is not devalued as a cheapshot way to exploit environmental concerns. Having made the biggest grossing film of all time, he is going to get the begging-bowl letters anyway.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Party pieces

The National Portrait Gallery is running a promotional campaign based on things you never knew about the rich, famous, great and good. See if you can pick the truth roe from the red herrings:
The odds are true, the evens are false (as far as I know) ...

Goodnight and thanks for watching

Now that the BBC Trust has decided not to publish celebrity salaries and to pursue presenter talent by organic growth rather than by the cheque book, does this mean there will soon be a talent show contest to find new faces? An X Factor-style show to find the next Ant and Dec?

Possible titles might include: Hello, Good Evening and Welcome, the old David Frost opener; Getting to Know You, an oblique reference to the Alan Partridge show via The King and I; or even Yo, People, for Generation Y.

Everything would depend on the demographics, but this will happen. You saw it here first.

Never mind the Balka

When Miroslaw Balta conceived his How It Is installation for Tate Modern's Turbine Hall, he would have intended his container to black out all light and for people to be completely disorientated by the experience.

He would not have bargained for visitors' resourcefulness. Everyone used their mobile phones as miniature torches, and the pitch-black effect was reduced. It was not exactly a Blair Witch experience.

The only way to get the full effect of the piece is to visit the place on your own and promise yourself not to cheat.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Separated at birth v2.0

Watching The Virtual Revolution on BBC Two, when not marvelling at Dr Aleks Krotoski's ability to find 7,439 matching Palatinate blue garments in the service of an-hour-an-episode's spatial and chronological continuity, has anyone ever noticed actor Sir Tim Berners-Lee and web pioneer Martin Freeman in the same room together?

Except perhaps when collaborating on The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, otherwise known as the World Wide Web.

Vanwhoville 2010

Where is the host city for the Winter Olympics starting this week, anyone? This almost made it as a late question in the Landor Quiz.

Unless you are a devotee of the likes of Ski Sunday, it's probable that the question would have drawn a blank, even though the Winter Olympics is a protected list sports event that has to be shown on UK terrestrial television.

For the record the answer is Vancouver in Canada, but a supplementary question would be even harder.

Before the event starts on 12 February 2010, can anyone name a British competitor at the forthcoming Games, let alone a conceivable medal prospect? You don't hear much about state money being poured into winter sports to boost Britain's chances of getting on to the podium.

In the past 20 years or so since Calgary 1988, there's been nobody the touch Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Sir John Dankworth RIP, and all that jazz

Sir John Dankworth has died: band leader, jazz performer, composer and educationalist.

Although I have seen him perform live on many occasions with wife, Dame Cleo Laine, and various members of his family, the first time I ever saw Sir John was when he gave a talk at my secondary school.

I remember one story he told his audience that day not picked up by the obituaries I've read.

One tutor of his at the Royal Academy of Music was insistent that he would never make a great clarinet player if he picked up bad habits from playing jazz, little knowing that Sir John was spending his evenings in Soho jazz clubs indulging his passion for that music.

When Sir John was asked to play solo clarinet in some prestigious classical piece at the college for a concert, this same tutor was moved to say it was the best rendition of the work he had ever heard, never suspecting the influence jazz had made on his student.

I even think that Sir John may have won a prize for the performance.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

The origin of football songs

I watched Barnet FC play today: a rare 3-0 victory over an Aldershot Town team handicapped by the enigmatic performance of a lanky forward called Marvin Morgan, who looked like a Giacometti bronze but who lacked the sculpture's £65m price tag.

At the end of the game, the tannoy announcer said the only way to celebrate the performance was by playing the Bees' club song. What could this be? The Flight of the Bumblebee perhaps? Abba's Honey Honey? Anything by the Bee Gees anyone, say (Saturday) Night Fever?

Why, I have no idea.

The origins of the hit song mean something awesomely amazing might have happened in the history of Barnet FC in the swinging sixties, or else someone on the board has a liking for hard-carapaced, amphibious reptiles.

A Google search reveals nothing Turtle-like; no explanation either on the football side's website. The DJ, it seems, just went off on one.

If Liverpool and Celtic fans can have You'll Never Walk Alone, West Ham United followers can sing I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles, Manchester City supporters can croon Blue Moon, and Everton addicts can whistle The Theme from Z-Cars, then Barnet ought to have their own song.

C'mon you Bees: you can think of something appropriate, I'm sure.

Whisky galore on the rocks

Hurrah, explorers have found a whisky stash buried in Antarctica belonging to the ill-fated polar expedition led by Ernest Shackleton.

Boo, hiss. The original manufacturers of the whisky, Whyte & MacKay, intend to get hold of bottle to recreate the long-forgotten blend.

Another example of where an interesting factoid about a genuine hero might be turned into a marketing opportunity to turn Mr Shackleton into a 21st-century celebrity.

I can imagine the label featuring a grizzled Shackleton photo, gurning like Colonel Sanders: less 'Finger lickin' good', more 'Lip-whettin' smooth'.

Capello cojones

How to puncture a media storm with a few chosen words without being ruthless in 12 short minutes.

Fabio Capello has shown that the appointment of an international football manager is still more important than the allocation of a captain's armband, even in a media age where celebrity seems more often than not to trump experience.

Signor Capello has demonstrated who's in charge of Team England to the media, too. In the manner of his cooling with a tricky sexual imbroglio, he has defanged the wilder elements of the tabloid press; and England chances of doing well at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa have significantly improved as a result.

And John Terry is also very fortunate in his choice of mistress: Vanessa Perroncel has apparently come to the view that she will not sell her side of the story to the baying newsmob. Instead, given the range and scale of tabloid accusations (including the claim she has accepted money from Mr Terry for not kissing and telling), she has reportedly hired libel lawyers. The press may soon be receiving a red card send-off for an early bath.

The story has subsided back to a private family saga that John Terry and his wife, Toni, will have to negotiate, and a similar treading on eggshells for Mlle Perroncel and the father of her son, Wayne Bridge.

And Mr Terry's been beaten to the punch in launching a fashion label: one of his potential earning opportunities to be knocked on the head.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Me and my shadow

Celebrity lookalikes have gone viral on Facebook recently.

The next trend might be to post photos of people you don't look anything like, but have been taken for it the past.

I'll start the ball rolling: someone once thought I was Dennis Waterman (no chance); someone else took me for Christopher Walken (no, really); and a passing American tourist was once convinced I was actually Michael Douglas (huh).

But I did have a passing resemblance to Hazell actor, Nicholas Ball, when I was younger.

Gone and soon forgotten

It's not just creatures that become extinct, languages die too. Boa Sr, the last person fluent in the Bo language of the Andaman Islands, has died, taking with her -- believe it or not -- a verbal cultural history spanning 65,000 years of human existence.

Maybe languages need their own version of the IUCN Red List of threatened species to promote the transcribing of endangered mother tongues. Culture is the poorer for the dominance of a few world languages; the internet doesn't make this trend any easier to tackle.

And tourism to beautiful locations helps to shove indigenous language to the edge of the cliff.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

The Clueless generation candidates

Exam cheating is up: various gadgets are being smuggled into exam rooms to give performance-enhancing boosts to test scores.

Mobile phones, Blackberrys and iPods are all being pressed into service in the cause of getting better grades.

But why penalise creative use of technology? Why not provide laptops, mobiles and the like to everyone -- like educators do in Finland -- to assess candidates' abilities to analyse, argue points of view and write coherently, rather than distill the exam experience down to an exercise of memory.

The internet instantly makes available more knowledge than any one person can ever know; we are all relative dunces in the digital age. Only Google can be a polymath. Communication of ideas, not parroting of the facts, is the real transferable skill for the 21st-century marketplace.

I've started, so I'll finish ...

The media reaction to Kajen Thuraaisingham's record low score on Mastermind of 5 points in total in two rounds has been interesting.

Along with Exeter University's 15 points in the 2009 series of University Challenge, Chase Simpson first question failure in the US version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and various Liverpudlian 'unintentional geniuses' on BBC Radio Merseyside's Hold Your Plums, Mr Thuraaisingham represents how Everyman might do on the show.

All are preserved for posterity, on YouTube and elsewhere, and are doomed to be remembered for their disastrous brushes with fame.

We laugh on the one hand at the quiz players' ineptitude; but realise, were we under the same spotlight, we may crumble with stage fright and achieve even lower scores. 'Rather them than me', we say to ourselves, while congratulating ourselves that we are not as stupid as they are.

The rise of the NITBY: Not In Thy Back Yard

Reigate farmer, Robert Fidler, is going to have to knock down his fortress and his mock-tudor house, built without planning permission on his green-belt farm.

But think of the chaos that would result without urban planning laws. There would be no green space left for all the extensions, vanity mansions and second holiday homes. A cross between Los Angeles, Manhattan and Las Vegas, perhaps?

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

When the shui hits the feng

Tony Chan needs a consultation with himself after a devastating court judgment in Hong Kong. He'll need all his Feng Shui schtick to extricate himself from the deep doodoo of making a fraudulent claim on the £2.7 billion estate of his former lover, the property tycoon Mrs Nina Wang.

It's a case of 'the Dragon-King's temple being flooded' and 'a person needing a face as a tree needs bark': roughly translated, 'it's over' and 'his reputation's gone down the tube'.

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