Narcissistic Cosmopolitanism

There’s an interesting blog article on the Economist website. It’s quite long article somewhat self-serving in the Economist world view but it does have a good section at the end on middle-class hypocrisy about globalisation.

I’ve always been sceptical about globalisation and global capital in particular because of exactly what the supposed Brexit backlash was about, although I tend to think that the Brexit backlash is in the imaginations of middle-class handwringers who can’t bring themselves to believe that their compatriots include rather a lot of, not to put too fine a point on it, xenophobes, if not racists.

It’s because, unless the Chinese model is followed, political power is still (no matter what misinformation Brexiters come out with about the EU superstate) vested in national institutions — and until you take the franchise away from the population then they will react when they realise they’ve been shafted. According to the article in The Economist that shafting is likely to happen to what they call the Narcissistic Cosmopolitans pretty soon.

To quote an interesting section from the end of the blog post: “Passing exams gives you an opportunity to enter a world that is protected from the downside of globalisation. You can get a job with a superstar company that has constructed moats and drawbridges to protect itself from global competition. You can get a position with a middle-class guild that has constructed a wall of licenses. You can get a berth in the upper-end of the state bureaucracy or a tenured job in a university. Exam passers combine a common ability to manage the downside of globalisation with a common outlook—narcissistic cosmopolitanism— that they pick up at university and that binds them to other members of their tribe. “


Why Do They Do It?

It’s like the traditional spot the first cuckoo in spring competition but a lot more irritating — coming across the first ‘Book Early for Christmas’ outside a pub or restaurant.

Driving up to the Bucks County Show on Friday I spotted the first offending banner of the season hung outside the Horse and Jockey in Aylesbury. This was 26th August — fully four months before Boxing Day — that’s what I calculate to be a mere 131 days before the event itself.

I thought it was bad enough that I saw Trick or Treat pieces of junk on sale at John Lewis in Oxford Street on Monday — though that may be worse in some ways as those imported American Hallowe’en ‘customs’ are just a consumerist abomination — what’s wrong with Guy Fawkes night.

If I were a pub or restuarant owner I’d calculate that hanging prominent ‘reminders’ (does anyone need reminding about Christmas) outside the establishment before the August Bank Holiday is out would lose more customer by annoying people rather than generating bookings — surely only those organising large work celebrations book so early and they’d either have done it months beforehand, not in the middle of the school holidays.

Even though the likes of B&Q and Homebase seem to start hawking their Christmas decorations in September (to the extent they’ve usually sold out by December) I prefer to try and banish all thoughts of Christmas until after 5th November — despite being an unashamed enthusiast for all things seasonal.

Mind you, the weather last week, particularly the deluges on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, were more fitting for November (the thermometer outside my house read 12C yesterday afternoon). Perhaps someone at the Horse and Jockey woke up, took a look out of the window and hung the banner out in panic that they’d overslept by three months?

Spying on the Spies

Like most web users I’m an almost habitual user of Google search and I remember being one of its earliest adopters around 12 years ago when the likes of Yahoo and Alta Vista were the dominant search engines. I’m also quite an enthusiastic user of some of its derivative services, like Google News and Maps and I’m a tentative user of Google Scholar. However, I’ve thought for a while that its influence is far too dominant on the web to the extent that its famous motto ‘Don’t Be Evil’ is pretty meaningless — it’s almost irrelevant whether the people running this size of organisation are evil or not (and it would be very surprising if they were) as the fact of its very pervasiveness and power is inherently a ‘bad thing’.

I’m particularly suspicious of its plans to ‘digitise the world’s information’ because of its potentially disastrous effect on intellectual property rights — potentially creating much more widespread damage than Google News is currently wreaking on newspapers. Showing that these principles are generally as old as the hills it’s a classic case of killing the goose that laid the golden egg. It’s amazing how many people’s considered judgement is disregarded by puerile ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ arguments because Murdoch’s News International is the biggest critic of Google in this area. If Google undermines intellectual property principles then it will be the viability of the small, niche publishers which vanishes first — not the Digger’s empire.

I also find Google’s arguments that it is a mere directory and conduit for other content to be completely disingenuous. It could make a lot more effort to remove links to illegal material — it’s just a cost that it doesn’t want to pay. After all, when it came to a question of making money or not in China it was happy to side with the censors then. Moreover, Google’s business strategy is primarily now devoted to loading content on to its site — either through user e-mails, videos or blogs or by uploading cheaply sourced material like scanning books (out of copyright ones for the time being). One of these sources of cheap content that I’m not convinced about is Google Street View so I was very interested to see the spy camera car in action today around Princes Risborough. It was happily cruising around taking six photos at once of everyone and everything on the road around it so I followed it for a while in my car with the objective of taking a picture of the spy vehicle itself.

Google Street View Car
Google Street View Car on Station Road, Princes Risborough

When the driver realised I was following him he seemed to get quite agitated — quickly pulling over to let me past but I then stopped in front. After all what’s wrong with trying to take a photograph of someone who’s literally taking thousands of photographs with the sole intention of publishing them so everyone in the world can see them? I got a couple of photos but decided not to follow too long as I didn’t want every photo of Princes Risborough to also feature me. As far as Street View goes, I can see it may have some limited value in very public places like city and town centres but I can see no benefit whatsoever of it taking photographs of residential streets. They just do it because they can — and if an organisation has that sort of ethos then it’s on the slippery slope to becoming what some people may term ‘evil’.

Google Spy Car
Google Street View Camera Car on Poppy Road, Princes Risborough

Google should learn the lessons of other companies who have tried to dominate a platform — Microsoft has arguably inflicted more damage on itself with disasters like Vista which no doubt had root causes in the company becoming too big for mistakes to be spotted and rectified by competent managers — maybe managers whose time was being taken up fighting anti-trust suits. In desktop terms Microsoft really fulfilled what customers wanted with XP and late 90s/early 200os versions of Office. It’s a feature of global capital that it demands ever more growth but the pursuit of this is problematic when your company’s products have met about 95% of what any customer will ever need. Perhaps Google is in the same position now. It should stop expanding its empire — concentrate on what it does well — boring old search and leave the intrusive, customer-alienating expansion alone?

Nothing Says ‘I Love You’ Like A Pink Drill

When I received an e-mail with the title ‘Nothing Says “‘I Love You” Like A Pink Drill’ I thought it was a stray mail that should have gone in the spam folder with the blue pill offers and the mails that promise to stretch parts of the male anatomy. Either that or it was an interesting reference to obscure sexual practices.

But no — it was a genuine marketing attempt from Screwfix. You have to admire their chutzpah in trying to get mail order DIY muscling in on the Valentines market but I’m quite dumbfounded by who they think might be the recipient of the drill. And, yes, it is bright pink. It can be seen online here along with their other Valentine’s offers.

I’m not sure that any sort of handyman, however in touch with his feminine side, is really ever going to want a pink drill so I’m inclined to think this advert is aimed at men buying Valentine’s presents for women. Apart from the fact that a drill is an ultimate utility purchase that has little romantic interest as far as I can see, this sort of present suggests that the recipient is expected to make good use of it. Rather than put up a few shelves or picture frames on Valentine’s day I can imagine most female recipients wanting to use the present to inflict violence on whoever bought it for them. Maybe I’m being old-fashioned and sexist but I’m not going to try it.

See Lindeman’s Tollana Shiraz/Cabernet Being Bottled

Ever wondered how Asda and Tesco can sell their supposed £6 a bottle wine for 3 for £10. One trick is to cut the distance between the manufacture of the glass bottle and the place where it is filled with the unctuous liquid. In the case of Lindeman’s Tollana Shiraz/Cabernet the distance is probably about a few hundred yards.

If you look very carefully at the label you’ll see the wine is bottled at CH2 4LF — doesn’t sound very Australian as it’s not. It’s actually on an industrial estate, not near South Australia’s Barossa Valley, but next door to the picturesque Stanlow Oil Refinery on the plains of the Dee outside Chester (yes, in Cheshire). You can see an aerial view here.

It’s a long way from the old French ‘mise en chateaux’ guarantee of quality as the Aussie wine is transported in bulk to its export markets and bottled close to its eventual consumers. There’s a sound environmental reason for doing this — it prevents carbon being wasted by unnecessarily transporting the weight of glass bottles around the globe (and it also means the recycled bottles don’t need transporting back again.) However, it’s an interesting reminder of how economics and globalisation have made the wine come to the bottler and not vice versa.

The concept is taken to its extreme in Chester as the bottler is also the glass maker — a company called Quinn Glass. They even have a video on their website of the 400 bottles per minute production line where your Aussie plonk is put into bottle — get to it via their filling page.  They also operate a bonded warehouse which means they can hold their customers’ stock so they don’t have to pay duty until the wine leaves the premises just before delivery. It’s a clever and lean operation with the cullet (smashed up recycled glass) arriving at the factory and conceivably being turned into a full wine bottle within hours. There’s no doubt this ingenuity must knock a substantial amount of the cost of a bottle of wine — which makes the con of something like Hardy’s Crest being retailed at an RRP of £9.99 even more ridiculous than most people already realise when they see it perpetually ‘on offer’ for £4.99.

Quinn don’t just do wine. They do beer, spirits, alcopops — the lot. One interesting page on their website exposes the manufacturing process for a lot of drinks: ‘Product can be processed at sales gravity or high gravity product then diluted and carbonated. Flavoured Alcoholic Beverages and soft drinks can be made from concentrate or from a recipe.’  That is to say that a lot of commercial drinks are watered down on bottling. Again, it might be an economic and environmentally smart idea to produce alcopops or even beers in concentrated form although it makes the stomach churn to think of what some concentrated version of WKD or Smirnoff Ice might be like.

Flaked Away

How can the company that made the iconic, delectable Flake adverts have succumbed to a crass American brute?

The classic adverts below (embedded from You Tube) are an integral and much-loved part of my past — I remember watching transfixed when they graced commercial breaks in the 80s and 90s. 

On this one where the short-haired brunette’s watercolour gets ruined by the rain, I particularly love the cornfield stained crimson with poppies — and see that eye-liner and lipstick. (And listen out for Bernard Cribbins doing the Ross voiceover at the start — 25 years on and he’s gone time-travelling.)


This one, from the 90s, is a bit too unsubtle for my liking with a hint of self-parody. The close up of the woman enjoying the flake is a little too obvious and the music is a bit too gothic as well. Yet it’s still compelling viewing — she’s certainly getting satisfaction from the flake but what’s the lizard doing? (Even though it’s a relatively recent advert, the cars in the Sunday Times supplement look very dated — and it’s ironic that there’s an advert for the N&P Building Society — remember them? Another worthy institution trashed in the search for a fast buck.)

Slightly more subtle and more to my taste is the waterfall advert from the 80s. This must set a world record for the most Freudian imagery that can be crammed into 30 seconds. The girl places the flake in her mouth much more seductively, especially with those two big white teeth, and the way her eyes flash open in wonderment after she’s taken a bite is electrifying. The attention to detail is great: it’s gratifying to see how she wastes none of the chocolate, pushing in crumbly bits that’s she’smissed  into her mouth with her fingers as she loses the paddle.  Then she enters a whole, hidden underground world in the flooded cavern which is full of phallic stalactites and stalagmites. She looks fantastic after her drenching under the waterfall — hair stuck across her forehead as she eases herself to lie down on the floor of the vessel, taking another satisfying bite as she reclines. Blimey. I’d like to float her boat.

My favourite is one which is a little more innocent — the gypsy caravan from 1985 (it’s easy to check the clip’s vintage as there’s a glimpse of an advert for the GLC at the very start of the You Tube clip). The field of sunflowers is such a striking image that it’s stayed in my mind for 25 years — and it’s quite clever as the sunflowers are the same colour as the Flake wrapper. This advert is probably the most explicit in terms of showing the flake eating — a lingering, side-on view. The way she unwraps the flake at the beginning is incredible — gently undoing the twist at the top and then getting down to business by pulling the wrapper down the length of the top half of the bar with efficient determination. What interesting symbolism is represented by the empty gypsy caravan that she suddenly comes upon — she perches on the back and the caravan moves off mysteriously and she’s happy to accept the ride.

And speaking of glamorous Cadbury women, what about Fry’s Turkish Delight (itself acquired by Cadbury) – ‘full of eastern promise’. Indeed (although she does look a bit like the dark one from the Human League).

And no collection of nostalgic Cadbury adverts would be complete without…

I’ll Be Popular This Christmas

I’ve just ensured my enduring popularity this Christmas — or perhaps guaranteed myself some exile from others’ jollity — as Amazon have just told me my copy of ‘Christmas from the Heart’ by Bob Dylan is on the way. I look forward to inflicting it on whoever I can.

If Dylan’s croaking, out of tune versions of ‘Winter Wonderland’ or ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’ was used as backing music on the procession of television adverts crossing our screens at the moment then perhaps I’d feel more charitable towards the retailers who try and convince us it’s the season of peace and goodwill to all men already (when will they realise that’s for one day only?).

Bah Humbug. Lock Up The Irritating Hamster.

It’s only 7th November and there have been two consecutive adverts on ITV featuring a Christmas roast turkey. It’s nowhere near Christmas. Global capital is obviously trying to burn a hole in consumers’ pockets and trying to get them out to spend cash they don’t have at the moment on rubbish they don’t need. Maybe there’s a case for buying presents ahead but certainly not turkey. I think advertising those kind of Christmas goods is completely counterproductive and will annoy people intensely.

Chirpy Richard Hammond was doing a Morrison’s advert where he pushed a trolley through a variety of Christmas scenes (ice rink, carol singing, church service). Isn’t this a bit odd. Normally only hooded chavs and students push trolleys down roads away from the supermarket car park and abandoned trolleys are a sure to make middle-class housebuyers run a mile from a neighbourhood. Yet here is the lovable hamster setting a thoroughly bad example (there’s not even any shopping in his trolley). Perhaps he’s taking it to his public school mates on Top Gear to blow up or something? Either way he should be locked up. However, there is something quite authentic in using a shopping trolley as a representation of Christmas present because, as far as most business is concerned, Christmas is just an orgy of consumerism.

Defeating the Nadir of American Trash Culture

Wherever in America that the idea for trick and treating came from must have been a very innocent place. Suggesting
Shame It Doesn't Issue On The Spot ASBOs
Shame It Doesn't Issue On The Spot ASBOs

that children be sent out in the dark to knock on strangers’ doors to ask for sweets would probably get the average British person banged up in jail these days. These days the little children are shaparoned by parents to a few friendly houses early in the evening and then leave the streets to be menaced by gangs of feral teenagers who think this ludicrous ‘custom’ obliges them to commit vandalism, intimidation and all other manner of anti-social behaviour. One step in the right direction is this poster that Thames Valley Police have produced to tell these obnoxious oiks that they’re unwelcome before they even get to the door. It’s a shame there’s no legal sanction that automatically comes with ignoring it. In our current police state it would be unsurprising if these posters came with their own CCTV camera that filmed any idiot who ignored it and issued them with an automatic ASBO as soon as they knocked on a door. I doubt the poster will do much good apart from provide more work for the police poster making department — this seems to be the busiest part of the police force at the moment with all the signs around saying ‘Thieves will take your sat nav’, ‘Don’t leave valuables in your car’, ‘Pickpockets at work’. The next thing might be signs at the end of every street saying ‘Burglars around. Don’t leave anything in your house’ or ‘Muggers have been known in this town. Don’t get out of your car.’

Going back to Hallowe’en, which I think is the most  banal, tasteless, over-commercialised, crass, money-grabbing, cynical marketing exercise that has emerged from the United States — and that’s saying something as there’s plenty of competition. I don’t particularly object to the underlying idea of Hallowe’en itself — a few ghost stories, maybe even a party with a ghoulish theme is ok. However, the shops have been desperate since the end of August to peddle complete over-priced rubbish: Marks and Spencers sell outrageously expensive tiny chocolates themed with some pathetic horror element. Some cake companies are churning out blood-themed sponge bars. It’s all just gimmickry designed to rip people off. The worst thing is that these products are mainly aimed at children — using pester power profiteering out of  parents’ pockets.
And before all this commercial Hallowe’en rubbish we had a perfectly good autumn event with fireworks, bonfires and so on. Fortunately Guy Fawkes night is resolutely holding on to its popularity, although increasingly anal retentive health and safety concerns (often totally unfounded) have meant many communities have dropped the bonfire aspect. The thing global capital doesn’t like about 5th November is that there is limited scope to flog us overpriced tat to go with the fireworks — apart from parkin and black peas (for good northerners) there’s not much else for capital’s profiteering. The bonfire can’t be picked up in a supermarket although it’s  the most appropriate destination for most of their Hallowe’en merchandise.