Archive for June, 2008

Every Little Hinders

The enraged blister on my big toe is a clear warning that I included far too many spins on my right foot in my repertoire of dance moves on Saturday night. I aggravated the blister grievously by going to do the shopping yesterday afternoon in a large supermarket. Though I had a list that had been made out taking account of the general location of most of the goods I needed to buy, I spent about half my time, half an hour or so, limping back and forth in the search for miscellaneous goods that I couldn’t locate on my first sweep of the place.

As I hobbled the length of the shop to collect the final item on the list (a bag of light brown sugar: beside the cereals), it occurred to me that you could develop what get-rich-quick afficionados might call a ‘killer app’ that allowed you to navigate the supermarket, much as GPS allows you to navigate streets. You make out your list on the supermarket’s portal in advance, where your route around the supermarket is planned step by step, minimising the amount of time covered to-and-froing within and between aisles. Much of the basic information for these purposes is probably already there: the place where each and every product should be stocked is already contained in a database.

As one interlocutor noted, however, the idea runs counter to the raison d’etre of a supermarket: the whole point is to get consumers to traipse back and forth as much as possible so that they are tempted by as many goods as possible. If you know exactly what you want and where to find it, you’re far less likely to pick up things you didn’t know you wanted until you were confronted by it. I’d also guess that the disorientation induced by all the looking around you in search for what it is you think you’re looking for renders you more likely to pick up something, anything (not the Todd Rundgren album) as a means of alleviating said disorientation.

Inconveniences such as these don’t tend to get represented in terms of costs passed on to the consumer. But if you spend 3/4 an hour of your Sunday traipsing about the supermarket unnecessarily because you’ve got no easy way of collecting what you’re looking for, and the reason you’re doing so is because that’s how the supermarket intends it, then you’re engaging in physical activity -labour- so that the supermarket can maintain its profit margins. And you don’t get paid in exchange for your labour: on the contrary, you pay cash for performing it, quantified conservatively as the profit extracted by the supermarket from the purchase of the goods you wouldn’t have lifted otherwise.

So no killer app then, unless it’s for use by warehousing staff.

Of slight relation. I read my first Graham Greene book while at nursery school. It’s about a Little Horse Bus who gets put out of the market by a massive retail outlet. There is one bit in it that still resonates with me. The name of the massive retail outlet is ‘Hygenic Emporium’, which, as the narrator tells us, really means ‘clean shop’. That came to mind yesterday when, making my way briskly through the soap product aisle on the search of the washing powder, I clapped eyes on a Carex handwash. Its tagline was ‘Hygienically clean’. So I resolved to buy a Non-Tautological Non-Biological.


So perhaps Jim Corr is himself a “false flag” operation.

Is Manuel Estímulo. He hits the nail on the hand.

Dear Leader


I remember meeting a mother of a child who was abducted by the North Koreans right here in the Oval Office.

Not a bit of wonder they were on the US list of rogue states for so long if they managed to pull off stunts like that.

Snow Job

Telegraph main story:

Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela ‘supplies half of Britain’s cocaine

Intended message: Hugo Chávez is the biggest drug dealer in Britain.

The information comes from a single source:

“Venezuela is a magnet for drug trafficking right now. It’s a huge problem,” said a senior member of another Latin American government. “Venezuela is a Bermuda Triangle for drugs.”

Who wants to bet a big bag of drugs that I am right to say that the ‘another Latin American government’ is one whose current president was once described by US intelligence as a “close personal friend of Pablo Escobar” who was “dedicated to collaboration with the Medellín [drug] cartel at high government levels”?

I wouldn’t be surprised if this was followed up by revelations from e-mails found on the FARC laptop that Hugo Chávez planned to give Amy Winehouse emphysema.


I had a bit of a blast from the past yesterday at a meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to unveil -or perhaps, given the enthusiasm of the presenter, unleash- a new mantra/mission statement/motto thingy. You know the sort of thing: a phrase that is supposed to provide internal and external clarity of purpose to an organisation. For instance – Nokia: Connecting People. Now I can’t reveal the specific phrase in question, because there are probably web applications set up to monitor the use of the phrase and alert the organisation in question. In short I can’t tell you, because I will get a figurative cap in my ass for it. Unfortunately for you then, the next paragraphs will have the flavour of ‘you had to be there when he told that funny joke which I can’t recall right now’, but bear with me.

What happened was this. The phrase was unleashed, and those of us assembled were asked to free-associate with it, to masticate the words in the jaws of our brains, and to come up with what the phrase signified for us. Much as I would like to make the claim for myself that I was being consciously subversive when I was the first person to put my hand up with an answer, I was not. No: it was a reflex action from schooldays, a habit borne not out of a desire to please the teacher as such, but of the fact that I find dazed silences hard to bear. In the particular case of meetings such as these, it is also because I feel sorry for the individual who has to marshal enthusiasm for the exercise, when everyone -deep down- knows, (or at least this is what I like to think, since I have some faith in human nature) that what is being discussed is arrant nonsense with scarce relation to wider reality.

Hand aloft, I gave my interpretation of the phrase, elaborating a meaning to the phrase that was almost the precise opposite of its intended meaning. Again, I regret the lack of specifics, but imagine a short snappy phrase that says something like ‘we strive to be great at doing great things for people’, but you can interpret it to mean ‘we strive to shaft people in a manner most excellent’.

People laughed. The presenter -who also laughed, but I could sense his discomfort- said, yes, you’re right. And would you believe.. I’ve been going round the world presenting this, and you’re the first person to notice that.

And then he said ‘I guess it must be the Paddy effect’.

The Paddy effect. I realised once he said this that I’d caused the whole point of his trip to unravel. I imagine he felt like a conductor whose symphony had been ruined by a bout of uncontrollable farting from the audience at the beginning. Any further free-association and elaboration on the meaning of the phrase -which I now realised was intended to result in the air being punched with enthusiasm and maybe some sort of collective hug- had been prefigured by the explicit realisation that, in fact, what we were talking about was also a load of crap.

Still. The Paddy effect. That wasn’t very nice, was it? About half the people in the room were Irish, and the meeting was in Ireland, so I didn’t think there was any need to pass any remarks about it other than ‘I doubt a ‘Paddy effect’ comes into it, because it’s written there in plain English and everyone else here understands what I mean’.

Like the catchphrase, though, there are different ways of interpreting the remark. My initial thoughts were that he was slightly humiliated, so he decided to return the humiliation to the source of it: the ‘Paddy’. But then I thought that maybe he thought that there is nothing wrong with referring to Irish people as ‘Paddies’: in Dublin, for instance, there is a tourist bus service called ‘Paddywagon Tours’, and the Irish edition of the Sun (it may have been in the English version as well) produced the headline ‘Paddy Power’ to describe the outcome of the Irish Lisbon Treaty referendum. The common phrase ‘Plastic Paddy’, used to describe someone who makes a show of ersatz Irishness, might be interpreted to mean that there are authentic Paddies out there. Maybe he thought that Irish people like to be called Paddies.

To my ears it sounded pretty anachronistic. I spent a few years in England about a decade ago, and I can only recall being called ‘Paddy’ once. It sounded anachronistic then, too. Perhaps that isn’t saying much, though: I doubt many French people in England get called Frogs to their face, but it appears in the Sun fairly regularly. And if you were to ask your average English Family Fortunes contestant to give a derogatory term for an Irish person, I’m pretty sure ‘Paddy’ would be top of the list (followed by Mick, maybe Leprechaun, and then it’d have to be universal insults prefaced by Irish – Irish bastard, and so on).

Of course, part of the reason some English people feel they can use the word ‘Paddy’ is familiarity. It is the fact of the closeness between Irish and English people -in terms of language as well as physical features- that enables an English person to say ‘the Paddy effect’ where he or she would never say ‘the Paki effect’ or ‘the Dago effect’. But it seems odd, given the history of the term, to think that the act of an English person calling an Irish person ‘Paddy’ could ever be an expression of fraternal affection: it always seems to exist as a means of marking a difference. It says ‘I will represent you as I please (my cuddly subordinate)’.

Isn’t that right, Paddies?

Needless Needles

As a 7 or 8 year old I landed up to my friend’s house, and went into the living room where he was sitting with his mother, learning to knit. I didn’t pass any remarks, but when we went outside to play with nunchucks made from sawn broom handles and sinkplug chains, he gave me a brief speech on how learning to knit was important, because when Rambo found himself out in the middle of the wilderness in the cold, knitting skills would be very important in order to keep warm. I never developed sufficient knowledge of commando skills in order to find out if this was in fact true, though I am pretty sure that it wasn’t, since the easiest way of keeping warm -assuming one could find a suitable furry animal- would be simply to skin the creature and wear its pelt. Maybe -on the establishment of a settlement with drinking water, easily accessible food sources and so on- there would be sufficient time in the day to sit down and knit a fine sweater that did not smell of rotting animal flesh. But then you would have to wonder why a hardened killer like Rambo would find himself in such a situation. In the end, though, he did find himself in a similar situation: at the beginning of the latest Rambo film.

I have been using the Davina McCall workout video lately to supplement my running. Just in case, you know, I ever find myself deep in the jungle and need supple reflexes to avoid angry apes who want to rend me limb from limb.

Just Turn On Your Tub

E-mails from undercover agent David Rupert appear to reveal a dissident republican plot to poison London’s water supply. These plans were abandoned, however, when they heard about jobs available at NI Water.


  • Eating slices of toast without cutting them in half first. Barbarous behaviour for those of us whose mouths are not the size of letterboxes.
  • Putting the cereal-less bowl to your head and drinking the milk. Jesus Christ.
  • Dunking buns -plain buns- into tea or coffee. Revolting. The soggy crumbs floating about remind me of plane crash victims.
  • Dipping a banana into hot chocolate. Highly questionable behaviour.
  • Mashing up a banana. Fine for babies. Not fine for people over 5.
  • Licking a knife with jam.
  • Sticking the licked knife into the butter.
  • Licking a knife with mayonnaise on it. They should bring back flogging, I say.

There are limits to one’s tolerance. I am very intolerant of the eating habits of others.

All About My Self

Amusing stuff in the Guardian today, where Pedro Almodóvar denounces Paul Julian Smith for blaming him for an absence of Spanish films at UK cinemas. Smith, who is a foremost expert on Almodóvar and Spanish popular culture in general, at least in the English-speaking world, does nothing of the sort. He says quite simply that Almodóvar’s brand is far more attractive to distributors out to make a profit than films by relatively unknown directors. The point being that the rest of Spanish cinema doesn’t get sufficient attention: hardly controversial stuff.

Almodóvar pays characteristic attention to detail in his riposte, with a meditation on the nature of interest and monopoly:

You also say I monopolise international interest. Interest cannot be monopolised. It can be “attracted”, or “generated”. But it cannot be monopolised, because it belongs to the person interested. And we must assume that people are free to take an interest in whatever they see fit. How could I possibly monopolise international interest; through some form of mass hypnosis?

Interestingly, Almodóvar confuses himself with his product. Smith says ‘Ironically, it seems, one super-sized name can capsize a national film industry by monopolising international interest.’ There’s no implication here that Pedro Almódovar himself seeks to dominate the habits of film-goers. But that’s how he interprets it. In fairness to him, the B-movie horror headline ‘The Curse of Almódovar’ doesn’t make any distinctions between the director and the product.

To Hell WithTHis

I am unusually negative today, and even the slightest annoyances are exercising an overwhelmingly depressing effect. It must be Seasonal Affective Disorder, now that the days are shorter.

I on Twitter

June 2008