Wednesday, 28 April 2010

When technology fails: a politician's lament

Gordon Brown has had a bad day. Comments he made in the back of a car moments after meeting a voter in Rochdale got spread around the blogosphere almost before he had finished speaking.

Was this a gaffe? It's too early to say. He'll get horrible headlines in the press, but the final television debate tomorrow is on the economy, his strongest hand.

At the very least the saga has used up a whole day's news cycle, which is not good news. But the story drowned out anything David Cameron and Nick Clegg may have said today.

Voters have strong views about immigration, like the lady in Rochdale, but sometimes the public's instinct for a policy is not the real picture. This is one reason why we elect politicians, to investigate problems and make informed decisions.

On the other hand, the public will be making the ultimate decision next Thursday in polling booths around the country.

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Tuesday, 27 April 2010

So what's next, Graham Norton

Graham Norton is following in the footsteps of Jonathan Ross, if reports are to be believed. It's likely that he will take over Wossy's Saturday morning radio slot and, maybe, he'll get the Friday night gig, too.

It's a changing of the guard that won't frighten the horses. Mr Norton is a very talented broadcaster.

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Spinning on the line

The glory of opening the East London line extension from Hackney to New Cross today (and soon to West Croydon) was monopolised by Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, without him having made the decision to build it.

This is why Ken Livingstone, his predecessor in the job, tried to muscle in on the postponed launch a few weeks ago.

This is the easy bit for Mr Johnson. The tricky part will be to deliver Crossrail and the remaining portion of the East London orbital line from Surrey Quays to Clapham Junction without cutting existing services (e.g. the London Bridge to Victoria route).

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Monday, 26 April 2010

It's now or never

Elvis meets Gordon, I kid you not. The King glad-handing Mr Bean.

Classic election serendipity, perhaps. Or maybe pre-arranged.

A good luck charm, or will it be a little less conversation after the election.

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Heather from Hove

Unlikely celebrity pursuits include phoning radio competitions as a punter to win prizes.

Nobody told Heather Mills, who phoned Heart FM to win freebie tickets to see Whitney Houston.

A PR spokesman rapidly intervened to say the tickets were going to a good cause.

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Whitney speared

Do pop icons have a shelf life? The short answer is 'yes' if they don't re-invent themselves.

After her lacklustre performance at the O2, Whitney Houston has some work to do: she can either choose the Andy Williams route of performing in her own theatre; she can go the way of Shirley Bassey and collaborate with younger acolytes; she can hone her own repertoire until it comes back into fashion, like Tony Bennett; or she can try to compete with time with multiple image changes in the style of Madonna,

My guess is that she may not have the inclination or the energy to carry on as a world icon on the same level. But maybe she doesn't have the temperament to sit around at home counting her money.

Perhaps she should go back to her gospel roots, like her cousin Dionne Warwick? Or set up her own record label and spend ages laying down new material, like her godmother Aretha Franklin.

There'll always be a Lady Gaga coming along to be the next big thing, so Whitney Houston may as well accept her limitations, identify her strengths and play to them.

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Sunday, 25 April 2010

A political tipping point?

A first for political journalism today. Gordon Brown and David Cameron were asked who they would support and which policies would be a priority in a hung parliament.

This is an Alice in Wonderland election, where the protagonist's name is Nick, and the Eat Me tag is printed on the voting booth slips. Curiouser and curiouser.

PS: The FT is not even ruling out an outright LibDem victory in the election.

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Late flowering of talent

The defeat of reigning champion John Higgins by Steve Davis at the world snooker is one of the most 'interesting' wins of his career.

After winning six world titles before 1989, Steve Davis has done practically nothing in the sport since, while expanding his horizons into chess, poker and television commentary on snooker.

Some people, like volcanoes, can have their talent lay dormant for years until some unexplained moment when their skill and experience erupt into a new event.

As with Mr Davis, Brian Close played for England at cricket in 1949, the youngest to do so, and was still facing the bowling in 1976 against the then might of the West Indies.

Diana Athill wrote a novel and a collection of short stories in the 1960s, while working as an editor at André Deutsch, but her true flowering as an author of note only came with a autobiography called Stet written well into her 80s. She is still writing, even as she moves into a care home.

Mary Wesley famously churned out unpublished novels up until her 70th year when finally her public career was launched with a bestseller. Thereafter she wrote a novel a year to huge readerships for the next two decades.

Igor Stravinsky met Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky as a youngster, composed The Firebird at 28 in 1910, and carried on creating until completing his Requiem Canticles in 1966, at the age of 85.

Pablo Picasso kept painting through his various periods from the beginning of his career as a young cubist until the end of his long life in 1973.

What keep the critics occupied is comparing talented people against their own skill at various points in their lives. The greatest geniuses may be those people who expertise is equally celebrated at all points of the lives.

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Saturday, 24 April 2010

How to ruin your own reputation in a fortnight

Orlando Figes will now have to work hard not to be remembered as the academic who set fire to his own career. Years of building a reputation can be destroyed in an instant.

Posing as 'Historian' when reviewing works of history on Amazon, he raved about his own books and trashed his rivals' work, including Robert Service's biography of Leon Trotsky.

This may be seen initially as trivial, as playground antics, but when his rivals smelt a rat, Mr Figes instructed his lawyers to sue for libel in an attempt to smother their reaction. This tactic backfired when he was forced after a fortnight of posturing to admit his authorship of the caustic reviews.

Such behaviour goes down like Agent Orange in the academic world. Mr Figes is unfortunate in that the extremes of his behaviour will serve as a warning and a case study to other authors similarly tempted to bash competitors' books.

In an increasingly wired world, online reviews can matter: as Mr Service has said, 'there is such a thing as negative publicity' as sales of his book did not benefit from a 'dead-cat bounce' from curious readers wondering if the criticism was over the top. In other words, during the two-week siege, sales of Mr Service's book tanked.

Hmm. If wonder if the lawyers will now pursue Mr Figes, who is now on compassionate leave of ill-health grounds from his post at Birkbeck University?

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Thursday, 22 April 2010

Seeing and believing: 3D TV realities

As sets go on sale today for the first time in the UK, is 3D television the future? Not apparently if you own a set with a screen size less than 40 inches.

Why? Any smaller than this and the 3D effect simply isn't noticed.

3D television programming may be great for communal sports fandom in pubs and clubs shown on large screens, but it will be a big shift in family life for everyone to wear tinted glasses gathered around smaller sets.

Social behaviour around 3D television may change: as ever, the medium is the message.

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Get Carter, Jason Carter

On to Lumen this evening, for the ACG leg of guitarist Jason Carter's British tour. Awesome. Jason has taken his art further than ever with his harp guitar.

Well-travelled, often to areas described by President George W Bush as an 'axis of evil', Jason described how repressive regimes are often criticised symbolically through music (e.g. Sibelius composed Finlandia in 1899 as a burst of national pride ever though Finland was occupied at the time by Russia).

And this is why the Taliban in Afghanistan were so keen to destroy any cultural activity: they knew where potential opposition might germinate its feelings.

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Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The short arm of the law

Mark Thomas, the comedian and activist, has been awarded £1200 compensation and an apology for being searched unlawfully by the Metropolitan Police. Why?

Because having an 'over-confident attitude' after delivering a speech does not constitute sufficient reason to be manhandled.

Expect this incident to feature strongly in Mr Thomas's next tour; already he is saying the Met have sponsored the shows.

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At the 19th hole

John F Kennedy was a talented golfer who dare not be photographed on a course lest he be thought not be be working at the coal face of the Cold War.

Barack Obama is happy to be snapped over a putter (32 times since his inauguration and counting) to demonstrate his control over his work:life balance.

Attitudes to golfing habits of presidents shows how public attitudes have changed over the last fifty years.

Although Fox News often likes to turn back the clock, and Poles weren't happy to see how the President spent time he would normally have devoted to their State funeral but for the volcano in Iceland.

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Monday, 19 April 2010

Cleggstasy meets Obamania

A Diana moment? The British Obama? Is Nick Clegg as popular than Sir Winston Churchill?

Who knows? But you can now download your own 'Nick is Barack', 'Clegg is Churchill' and 'Nick is Che' posters from the web. The blogosphere news cycle is spinning at warp speed, but the froth of a new-kid-on-the-block story solidify from exuberant pastiche to solid change in the next few days.

The LibDem vote is holding in the polls, but the acid test will be to see how Mr Clegg performs in Thursday's second leadership debate.

There have been false dawns before, even with celebrity backing.

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Goldman Sucks

Rats are leaving a stinking ship: clients, etc.

Goldman Sachs, the US investment bank, is accused of selling sub-prime mortgages to American house-buyers while simultaneously hedging its bets against people being able to keep up with the payments.

A win-win situation for the bank? Not according to the SEC, who have filed a lawsuit against the company.

The creative brain behind the deal, Fabrice Tourre, is now working in London, but perhaps wisely did not show for work this morning.

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Sunday, 18 April 2010

Sarah Palin, rock star

The diva bug is catching.

Sarah Palin is making more appearance demands than an international pop star: designer clothes, de luxe hotel suites, Lear jets, mineral water with bendy straws ,,,

The tea party movement may soon feel she is more of a liability, with all that baggage (not to say luggage), than a sure-thing asset.

Mrs Palin is fast becoming the Imelda Marcos of US politics.

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And another thing about Oprah

One revelation from Kitty Kelley's new biography puts Oprah Winfrey in good diva company ...

Apparently, she doesn't do stairs (see also Mariah Carey).

Unlike the Daleks, who famously didn't do stairs until 1988.

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The wizard of Oprah

Someday in the distant future there will be a bestselling, warts-and-all biography on the life and times of Oprah Winfrey. But 'distant future' is the defining phrase here, even as arch-reputation puncturer Kitty Kelley's book hits the stores.

The big O, it seems, gets everyone she's ever met to sign a confidentiality agreement not to reveal details of her life or business empire. This is celebrity brand meets the Coca-Cola formula, and it can't last in the long run.

When this mortal coil forces Ms Winfrey beyond the reach of her lawyers, publishers will finally have a field day. Protective shields around stars create mystery that the media loves to destroy. The second law of thermodynamics applies to celebrities too: the entropy of the universe of gossip is always increasing.

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Saturday, 17 April 2010

Lost childhoods

We live in a society rapidly receding to the mid-19th century in its attitudes to children, with the added ingredient of child sexuality excused by improved infant mortality figures in 21st-century Britain and the psychological 'emancipation' of the pill.

A belated outcry against retailers endorsement of items like high-heels for 8-year-olds, t-shirts with inappropriate slogans such as Future Wag, and padded bras for primary-school aged girls has succeeded in getting the products withdrawn. But what were we collectively thinking to let this happen in the first place? And why is Playboy Bunny merchandise still seen as being benign?

What it the boot was on the other foot? Padded jockstraps for 8-year-old, t-shirts with slogans like Future Pimp, and home gyms for toddlers to hone their six-packs? I think not.

And thank goodness the stereotypes haven't veered into race relations.

There will always be a market for tacky, insensitive merchandise. Sometimes the public needs to be protected against itself.

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Politics in a parallel universe

The latest poll after the debate, albeit a survey of mobile texters: Conservatives 33 per cent (248 seats); Liberal Democrats 30 per cent (101 seats); Labour 28 per cent (272 seats); Others 9 per cent (29 seats).

Nick Clegg may say, in a future debate [delete as applicable]: 'David/Gordon, I served with Charles Kennedy, I knew Charles Kennedy, Charles Kennedy was a friend of mine. David/Gordon, you're no Charles Kennedy.'

But this is, for the moment, heady froth after a successful Clegg debate performance. The interesting test will be what the polls say in a few days' time, the next official sample being published on Sunday.

Whatever happens next, it's all a far cry from the early days of Nick Clegg's leadership of the LibDems ...

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Thursday, 15 April 2010

Planet Earth beats the world of spin

How do you keep the first televised election debate in the UK between Prime Ministerial candidates off everyone's lips?

Arrange for a volcano to erupt in Iceland, creating a dust cloud sufficiently large and treacherous to down every aeroplane in Britain today and for the foreseeable future. Geology succeeded where UNITE failed.

Joking apart, the travel chaos proves that life doesn't stop for political PR and that planet Earth is ultimately in control.

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Wednesday, 14 April 2010

How to get a Hollywood star in your home movie

If it's Keira Knightley, you've only got to ask at a dinner party; provided, of course, that it's an interesting project.

Miss Knightley said 'yes' to taking part for free in artist Stuart Pearson Wright's £15,000 video installation, playing an Elizabethan getting lost in a Tudor maze.

I don't imagine she'll make a habit of it, but as this was only one day's filming she may feel like she's a trendsetter?

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Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Wake up and smell the coffee

George Clooney's Nespresso ads are only being shown in Europe, apparently.

He doesn't want to trample on his own reputation in the States as a champion of the people and celebrity activist when it come to not endorsing products, especially made by controversial companies like Nestlé.

Hasn't he heard of the internet, though? Hmm.

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We're all in this together: too right we are

Invitation to join the Government of Britain, eh?

Shades of Neil Kinnock's roar at Labour's Sheffield rally in 1992? The Conservative party manifesto sounds at first glance a bit triumphalist -- and 118 pages in a hardback format looks a bit reactionary.

Does anyone actually want the extra responsibility of voting in new police officers, sacking incompetent teachers, running schools, or firing the local MP? One top of doing your own job? The only people with the time or inclination to do this will be rich socialites with right-wing agendas. And who decides the criteria with which standards can be judged?

It's a dog's breakfast or, misquoting Gerald Kaufman, it might just be the longest political suicide note in history. And the best of it is, the Tories don't yet suspect a thing.

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Lucy in the sky with the Doctor

Apparently if you remember the sixties you weren't really there.

The latest example of the cliché is that the regeneration of actors playing Doctor Who was based on the scriptwriter's idea of conveying a bad LSD trip.

Even in the laissez-faire teenies, I'm now sure Steven Moffat could get away with such blatant drug references scot free.

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Sunday, 11 April 2010

What Jonathan did next ...

A conundrum is answered: Jonathan Ross is back in the news with his next project (see also Friday night without Jonathan Ross).

The talkshow/comedy host is writing a comic-book miniseries called Turf, with illustrator Tommy Lee Edwards, perhaps already optioned by director Matthew Vaughn to follow up his cut hit Kick-Ass.

Mr Ross confesses to the Guardian his need to be a creative for once, rather than riffing off guests or documentary subjects. Perhaps he'll follow in his wife's footsteps and be a scriptwriter for a while, using his television schtick to fund his vanity projects?

There are precedents ... Russell Brand, Mr Ross' evil twin, is forging a career as an actor in Hollywood; and Kevin Spacey acts in Hollywood movies in part to support his work as artistic director at the Old Vic.

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For five dollars more ...

I'm offering a new service to people needing ideas for titles or slogans for personal or business projects. I've signed up to providing copywriting solutions for potential clients.

This seems like a great idea for growing new ideas and, perhaps, business ventures. Maybe there is some talent you would like to express that you haven't had the chance to air? For the fee of $5, you can learn on the job to some extent, as clients won't begrudge blowing such a small amount on commissioned work. And some interesting contacts might be made.

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Saturday, 10 April 2010

Real Virtuality on the curriculum

An antidote to people's media sensitisation towards violence is been tried with success in Merseyside schools by the charity Support After Murder and Manslaughter (SAMM).

Young children are being shown stills from videogame franchise Grand Theft Auto and 'Itchy & Scratchy' from The Simpsons in the context of comparing violent images with what is going on in their own lives. Images are marked as 'bad real life', 'good real life' and 'not real'.

And the result? Kids are realising that comic-book violence is not real; in life acts and behaviours have consequences. And they report being disgusted by the stills.

Perhaps there is hope in clawing back civil society from the clutches of glamourised, depersonalised media violence.

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Thursday, 8 April 2010

Whatever lurve is ...

Not exactly an election antidote, but royal wedding rumours are gathering pace.

The odds on William and Kate tying the knot in 2010 have slashed, on the supposition of media stories and the fantasies of a bored nation. But punts like this can sometimes hit the mark.

The bookies must be wondering if the public have taken a liking to their proverbial shirts.

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Wanted: a better class of heckler for an internet age

Day 3 of the general election campaign, and the quality of political heckler has reached a new low.

Ben Butterworth harangued Gordon Brown about the lack of a school place for his 4-year-old daughter. He later wrote on his blog that George Osborne was a 'slimeball'. Although there is no recorded comment about the LibDems, Mr Butterworth seems despairing of all politicians.

The parties need to take care in an internet age of claiming disaffected voters are actually supportive of their policies. We live in a fragmented world of opinion.

The most effective hecklers may turn out to be online poster hackers. Why not go the whole hog and Photoshop original, funny images that can be circulated virally? Or topical Youtube sketches? Or create irresistible Facebook petitions masquerading as humorous rants (see the effect of the Virgin flyer who complained about the airline's food)? This might even negate the effect of expensive election advertising campaigns devised by the likes of the Saatchi brothers.

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Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Celebrity culture: next steps?

What will be the impact of the new CelebAround iPhone application? Created by, a paparazzi agency, for a gossip-hungry crowd at £1.79 a throw, fans will be able to track their heroes footsteps 12 hours after the famous soles have trod London's hallowed sod.
  • It will simply advertise expensive haunts to ever more people. Just because Madonna may eat at the Ivy doesn't mean Jo Bloggs can afford it.
  • Expect a massive increase in mobile video 'journalism'.
  • The paparazzi agency may either be shooting itself in the foot or encouraging a new source of material: I can't decide, and it's probably a close run thing.
  • Celebrity venues will get even more exclusive in an attempt to keep out the 'civilians'.
  • Stars will still be able to wander the street incognito if they dress down sufficiently and don't court publicity.
  • Stalking has just met Google Maps.
  • Agents will try to get the application banned, as business may get more difficult to negotiate without sufficient camflouge.
  • Private members' clubs will thrive.
  • Ordinary people may often get mistaken for celebrities causing many false sightings that clog up the site.
In short, a dangerous, dog's breakfast of an idea that may drown under the volume its own shrill publicity.

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Election launch: a nation reaches for the remote

Gordon Brown posed outside No. 10 Downing Street with his Cabinet. David Cameron stood on crates on his own outside County Hall, to frame the House of Commons in the background. Nick Clegg and Vince Cable launched their campaign from outside the LibDems Cowley Street headquarters.

The symbolism? Brown has a 'team to return him as Prime Minister'; Cameron wants to 'hide his team in his ambition to be Prime Minister'; Nick Clegg wants to 'show off Vince Cable as a potential Chancellor of the Exchequer'.

So it's a month of kissing babies, having cups of tea in semi-detached houses, and being hijacked by hecklers of opposite party hues. And come 6 May 2010, all this effort will boil down to a few dozen key marginals and the need for the Conservatives to gain a national swing of 6.9 per cent.

Fast-forward all the debate, play the odd gaffe in real time (and on YouTube), read the odd policy that relates directly to your material wealth, and moan in the pub over the odd pint, and the real world will soon hove into view once more on 7 May 2010 (or at least once the hung parliament coalition has been negotiated).

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Monday, 5 April 2010

How publicists earn their crust

Picture the scenario. Hot on the heels of a terrorist attack on Togo's national football team at the African Cup of Nations, black farm workers murder their South African boss: the white supremacist, Eugene Terre'Blanche.

Conundrum: how to convince the world's media and football stars that the forthcoming World Cup will run like clockwork without a backcloth of bullets and bombs?

This is where the publicists and the politicians earn their corn. If any other 'event' happens in the next few weeks, the clamour for boycott on the World Cup may get louder, irrespective of the loss of money involved.

On the other hand, a cancellation of the World Cup may bankrupt the sport.

I hope the organisers are well insured.

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David Who?

Prediction time: David Tennant won't be featuring on British television until Matt Smith is firmly established as the new incarnation of Doctor Who. And, when he does, it will be in a radically different role.

Also Christmas telly in 2010 will not be the celebration of the coming of the Scottish one (see previous post, And the Zelig prize for most ubiquitous actor goes to ...), unless of course her name is Karen Gillan: the Doctor's new (nubile) travelling companion.

Television evolutionary jumps can be as swift and ruthless as neo-Darwinism. The Doctor is dead; long live the Doctor.

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The Boat Race: a sporting throwback

The Corinthian spirit lives on in the University Boat Race.

Oxford and Cambridge universities have challenged each other to a rowing race on a set 4.5-mile course on the Thames, usually from Putney Bridge to Chiswick Bridge in London, most years since 1829.

There are always media stories about the competitors. This year's focus included the American twins, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss: strapping 6ft 5in lads doing MBAs at Oxford, who happen to be social networking pioneers. They have successfully sued Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, for ripping off their idea: litigation continues, but they have so far retrieved $65 million for their action.

Similar events in association football (e.g. the early years of the FA Cup), in rugby (e.g. the Barbarians scratch sides playing pseudo-internationals) and cricket (e.g. annually challenges between Eton and Harrow, and the Gentlemen versus Players) have either bitten the dust or lost much of their original national prestige or amateur status). Varsity matches between Oxford and Cambridge continue in various sports, but without international recognition.

The Boat Race is unique in retaining the spirit of a bygone Victorian era well into the 21st century.

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Saturday, 3 April 2010

Olaf Pirlo makes a killing

Hot on the heels of their April Fool story about Labour's campaign making a virtue out of Gordon Brown's pugilism, the Guardian is flogging the T-shirts.

Perhaps this is a sophisticated polling ploy to find out if this approach might actually work? Would this be a poster that wouldn't get defaced on the internet?

Humour might be the best way of making voters take notice of a message. Get the people laughing with you rather than at you.

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Friday, 2 April 2010

Hans Christian Andersen: 205 today

Google follows its own agenda. Most publishing ventures celebrate round numbers when it comes to rites of passage: 50, 100, 250 years after the event.

But not Google.

Today, behold, 205 years after the birth of Hans Christian Andersen, it is a Google tribute to 'Thumbelina'. Last week it was Jan Amos Komensky's 418th birthday hitting the spotlight. Last year the search engine celebrated 143 years of the life of H G Wells and the 2560th anniversary of Confucius. Just because Google can do what it fancies.

It's less a question of 'do no evil' as 'keep your competitors guessing'.

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Hubble Bubble: toil and trouble?

Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, has unveiled the winning design for the iconic public sculpture in Stratford's Olympic Pack: the ArcelorMittal Orbit by Anish Kapoor, which Boris has nicknamed the 'Hubble Bubble' to deflect attention from his wayward hairdo. And, chiefly, because it is being privately funded.

There will now follow a period of vicious ranting and name-calling on blogs and in the press, including speculation about whether the sculpture merits planning permission. A lengthy row about the waste of public funds will morph into resigned indifference.

Then, just before the Olympics starts, we'll get fiercely patriotic and the press will say it's a fantastic structure that knocks the Eiffel Tower into a cocked hat. And we'll forget the expense, saying that £19 million was a small price to pay.

The public, from 2012 onwards and not before, will love it.

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