All posts by John B

Tesco Academy

I went to a state primary school; admittedly, one in a fairly posh part of the world (Christchurch School in Ware, Hertfordshire, for the morbidly curious). It was the 1980s; education was OKish; there were about 30 people in my class, and the ones who properly dribbled on themselves were removed for maths and English lessons.

I discovered Sue Townsend when I was about 10 and therefore managed to get the entire class of Year 6es singing anti-Thatcher songs loudly in assembly, until the deputy head told me that if I didn’t stop doing that they’d tell my nan on me.

I was in the choir. I know that’s a remarkable concept for those who know me these days, but I somehow lost my ability to sing whenever my voice broke. Oh well, it probably saved me some abuse or other. We were a good choir. We went to Cambridge to enter the Best Year 6 Primary School Choir Competition. We lost. It was probably because I couldn’t sing. Also, our song was bloody lame.

But the other thing we did as a choir – and I’m still in awe this happened in 1989 – was to sponsor Tesco’s. There was a walking-running challenge from Newcastle to London sponsored by Tesco, and alongside their computers (or, possibly in those days, typewriters) for schools vouchers, some of my classmates’ mums, aunties and sisters were participating in this challenge. So we were nominated, as a Leading Choir, to record the theme for the Tesco North To South Run Song. What we sang was, to the tune of ‘When The Saints Go Marching In”:

Tesco is here!
Tesco is here!
So can we have a great big cheer!
(YAY)

…the rest of that verse is sadly lost, apart from the soul of Tesco’s then ad agency and then marketing director, where it’s permanently etched in the blood of innocent children.

They’re setting forth right in the North
Collecting money all the way
[repeat first bit]

We were eventually rejected, presumably because one of the choirs on the route from Newcastle to London kicked our arses. Which is probably, again, my fault. Or, reflecting on the scenario 21 years later, the fault of the satanic bastards who set the challenge up in the first place.

This weird occurrence is something I’ve been meaning to blog for ages, mostly in the sense of “marketing to kids is more insidious than when I were a lad? Fuck off”, and also just in the sense of “that happened. No, that actually happened. A choir of kids sang ‘Tesco is here, so can we have a great big cheer’. That happened.”

So yeah. Now that my mates are parents, and angry about marketing, I still can’t think of anything more insanely blatant than that one. If Tesco did it today, they’d be keelhauled, and possibly hanged at the yard-arm.

Minor observations and questions

As a 30ish male, if you walk around the place with a black eye, you will get a combination of contemptuous looks, studied avoidance, and slightly unnerving deference. I’m assuming the latter comes from people who assume that the owner of a black eye has managed to acquire it through being an ultraviolent Begbie figure, rather than through falling off a chair.

I’m guessing that most women trying the same public-black eye-experiment would instead get a combination of pitying looks and studied avoidance, for fairly obvious ‘different stereotype’ reasons, even if said black eye were in fact acquired in a bullfight or crocodile-wrestling accident – any of my female readers shiner-ed themselves up and care to confirm?

Also, it being a public holiday, families were out in force at the supermarket. Two-parent-one-toddler family combinations were noticeably less efficient at shopping, and much more likely to feature at least one screaming angry family member, than one-parent-one-toddler combinations. And that this held whether the one-parent was female or male (I didn’t see any two-same-sex-parent-one-toddler combinations, sadly).

Does the “higher adult/child ratio actually makes shopping more miserable” hold true in readers’ experience? Or are there other factors at play (e.g. “the more unsufferable the toddler, the less willing either parent is to take them out solo if avoidable”)?

Baffling or flattering?

As if to add ammo to the fervent Marxists who’ve been criticising me for my slavish adherence to neoliberal economics lately [*], I’m going to admit that I’m a fan of The Economist on Facebook.

Not because it’s my favourite paper – I subscribe to the New Yorker, Private Eye and Crikey, and would subscribe to the Grauniad if it went PPV – but because it’s interesting, shapes debate, has a good Facebook presence, and the Facebook comments mechanism gives a better view of “what people think” than the “solely for ubergeeks and psychopaths” den of web comments.

One of the things that I’m looking at right now, both academically and professionally, is the challenge presented by dealing with things that have historically been marketed and customised territory-by-territory in a social media environment that’s global. The Economist provides an excellent example, since every week, it lists its covers on the Web.

Now, if you don’t commute far too often between the US and Other Places, you’re probably not aware that the Economist has covers in the plural: both in the US and outside the US, it purports to be a global newspaper (and, compared to US newspapers, it has a fair point). But it isn’t: there’s a US edition with specifically US-focused content, ads and cover, whereas the global edition only has a US cover if the most exciting thing occurring is actually in the US.

If the Economist admitted to its US readers “yes, actually, we do realise you’re a bunch of insular tits just as much as the rest of your countrymen; stop pretending you’re some kind of cosmopolitan international relations knowall just because you read a paper written by slightly-right-wing people in London instead of raging-right-wing fanatics at home; and we all know we only bother printing international news at all in the US version because otherwise we’d lose our USP; we know perfectly well – and it’s clear from our ad placings – that none of you lot read it”, then it might just about risk losing some of its mystique as an international oracle. Which would kill its whole point

So for the Economist’s Facebook presence, where discriminating between visitors from different countries is hard, it definitely wouldn’t want to show a separate “US Edition” and “World Edition”. That would break the spell.

The way it has dealt with this is ABSOLUTELY FUCKING BRILLIANT. Every week, it adds a “Worldwide Excluding the UK, Europe & Asia Edition” and a “UK, Europe & Asia Edition“. That way, Americans – who are sufficiently geographically disendowed to realise that the world, in any meaningful sense, consists of North America, Europe and Asia – can keep the illusion that they’re reading the World Edition, unlike those silly Europeans and Asians who’ve got a customised edition to suit their own parochial concerns. And we (Asia edition is sold in Aus and NZ, obviously) can work out the conceit and laugh at the Americans.

Overall, this is a great win. Except for the poor sods in Canada, South America and Africa, who presumably have to make do with the lobotomised edition containing news that’s irrelevant. Although I suppose for the South Americans it might help them understand when they’ll next be invaded by CIA-backed guerrillas.

[*] my slavish adherence consisted of making the claim that “pretending that basic economics and tax are hard, if you’re someone who purports to understand postmodernist literacy criticism, is embarrassing”. This isn’t because I rate one over the other, but simply because both neoclassical and Keynesian economics are Very Easy To Follow, whilst Derrida and Deleuze are The Opposite.

A defence of royalty

My lack of interest in the forthcoming Royal nuptials is about as total as it gets. However, people will keep writing about it, and I don’t always look away from their articles in time…

So Johann Hari has written a fairly boilerplate piece about the monarchy, and why the UK shouldn’t have one. He sensibly and rapidly deals with the fatuous points that monarchists make about tourism and ‘defenders of democracy’.

But there’s also this:

In most countries, parents can tell their kids that if they work hard and do everything right, they could grow up to be the head of state and symbol of their nation. Not us. Our head of state is decided by one factor, and one factor alone: did he pass through the womb of one aristocratic Windsor woman living in a golden palace? The US head of state grew up with a mother on food stamps. The British head of state grew up with a mother on postage stamps. Is that a contrast that fills you with pride?

Not pride exactly, no: but I prefer the honesty of the UK’s system. In order to be President of the USA, you have to be immensely wealthy, successful and lucky. In order to be immensely wealthy and successful in the USA, you pretty much have to be born to a wealthy and successful family. President Obama is no exception: his parents both had postgraduate degrees, and his maternal grandmother was Vice President of a bank. Obama’s mum did technically live on food stamps while finishing her PhD, but he was living with his banker grandma at the time. His is not a rags-to-riches American Dream story.

The pretence of meritocracy in the US, based on the belief that anyone can become President, breeds a society in which people who end up poor are treated incredibly badly, because they are perceived as having failed. I’d far rather a system that’s honest, under which we accept that someone who’s born in a slum will never have the same chances in life as someone born with a silver spoon, but try and narrow the inequalities in outcome that this creates as much as we possibly can.

Despite the Thatcherites’ and post-Thatcherites’ best efforts, the UK is far better than the US at doing this. I suspect it’s not a coincidence that the countries which are best at equality overall (e.g. Sweden, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands) also tend to be monarchies. The monarch is a permanent symbol that life is unfair, and that if you take credit for your own success – rather than accepting that it’s primarily down to luck and that you owe a duty of care to the less fortunate in society – then you’re an arrogant prick.

Facebook discussions with an old socialist

My dad’s friend Martin is an old-school Labour man. I’m his friend on Facebook. It’s nice being in touch with such people. Whilst they’re not always right, sometimes they are.

[Martin R]: The poor are dangerous.

Some people: “this is patronising”. Me:

The poor *are* dangerous. This is clear from Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Western liberal-ish states were built on understanding that, understanding that Marx wasn’t wrong, and transferring enough of the money to the working class to stop the poor being actively dangerous. Note the extent to which governments started serious wealth-transfer schemes after WWI, once the USSR had emerged as a serious threat.

Enough Republicanism/Conservatism, and the poor will become dangerous again. There’s only so far things can go before revolutions start happening.

Other chap, who’s not wrong:

The poor can also be wrong. They are most dangerous when they resort to fascist ideologies

Me:

…and they’re most likely to resort to fascist ideologies when living in deeply unequal and unfair societies, where fascists lie that they’re poor because of [Jews/Blacks/Muslims] and that’s the reason why they’re poor. And most likely to be engaged with society when the benefits of economic growth are shared with everyone across the income scale.

Martin:

Arguments about fairness are different. And I don’t suggest that people are right because they are poor. But poor people have little to lose. They can rise up if pushed hard enough. They may not vote, or participate in the political process, but guarding against the possibility of revolt is and undercurrent in every political system. This government seems to have forgotten it.

Sometimes, I think that those of us on the liberal/libertarian side of things forget this. Liberal politics is fundamentally borne out of the desire of both the upper class and the wealthier classes to not have our heads cut off. Yes, if you’re a computer programmer, or an accountant, or any kind of middle-class private sector job that’s going, you pay some tax, and people who are poorer than you don’t, and many people who are poorer than you even get paid benefits from the tax that you pay – but do bear in mind that as a result, they aren’t marching through the town with your head on a spike.

Which, if you take the sheer “fittest will survive, others will fail” creed of right-libertarianism at its word, is what will happen.

I’m quite happy to have a well-paid job and pay a sizeable amount of tax. Not only for the sheer, base point that in Somalia, I’d be unlikely to have an internet connection and sell anyone business advice [*] but also for the extra “non-scary” points that living in a Western country buys you.

I respect the US position of taxing you on your global income (minus taxes already levied in non-hostile countries) on the grounds that it’s the difference between “fair tax” and “danger money cos we’re gonna get you out when you’re in trouble”. The way I’d modify that, were I in charge of taxation for anywhere, is “tax is on your global income ignoring anywhere you’re a citizen of”, given that anywhere you’re a citizen of, you don’t get any help defending you from.

So in Libya – we had a bunch of people with British passports out of there. Awesome; skills. They were being paid US$100k+ tax-free, meanwhile, the average UK taxpayer earns less than GBP25k per year. Should we have left them to die? Hell, no. Is it reasonable that the operation was subsidised by the average UK taxpayer and they paid nothing towards it? Hmm.

This piece is a giant ramble; I’m aware of that. But I have a blog and that’s what Having A Blog is for. And whatever the state may be for, I’m pretty convinced it’s not about ensuring that people who mostly don’t believe in The State can go to foreign places, dodge tax, and then be rescued by gunships at The State’s expense.

[*] I live in Australia, but the taxation regime is very similar to the UK’s and I spent the previous 10 years paying a fair amount of UK tax, and will happily defend any points based on difference to the death.

Cruel and unusual pun-ishment

Bad puns, old Internet memes, very out-of-date ‘cute animal news’ stories, and aviation references, all in one photograph. I’m spoiling you all, just like being left in the sun for a week spoils cream.

Emily the Lolcat

Yes, she really is at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle. Incidentally, this post was based on a tweet by @anattendantlord, which was itself inspired by my link to this gag. But I take full responsibility for the horror.

Dull Friday quiz

Since I’ve been blethering on about aviation, that’s the quiz topic:

1) Which single airport (domestic or international) is the most popular passenger destination for people flying out of Boston Logan Airport?

2) Where was Air Berlin headquartered for the first 12 years of its existence?

3) Out of the top 40 international destination airports flown from the US, which five have the highest percentage of passengers flying there on US airlines? (ie as close as possible to “100% of people who fly there use Delta, United, AA, Southwest, etc”)?

4) Out of the top 40 international destination airports flown from the US, which five have the lowest percentage of passengers flying there on US airlines (ie as close as possible to “100% of people who fly there use Aeroflot / Zimbabwe Airlines”)?

5) From which airport in the EU can you catch a direct, non-stop flight to Australia?