Monday, February 18, 2008

Viral defined

I've no doubt that anyone who sees this will click and want to make their own candy hearts.

The picture and the real product comes from a site called which is, itself, pretty funny as it consistently parodies all the management/motivation claptrap business people still seem to revere.

Except that they don't, really.

Perhaps it's since The Office (in the UK and US) or maybe that series was, in part, a riposte to the rise of managerialism. But it seems to me that no-one really took the motivational business seriously and in any attempt to inspire a workforce there is always an undercurrent of muffled mickey-taking eminating from towards the back of the room. And there is now, always the possibility of a David Brent/Michael Scott cringeworthy moment.

The postmodern rears its pastiched head. is a business that sells the undermining of the corporate world - including the personalised candy hearts. Clips of The Office I am sure have been used for training purposes.

Meanwhile people in business still aspire to working in an organisation that genuinely cares about what it's doing... someone once said, if you can fake sincerity, you've got it made.

LOL, LOL, LOL :-| :-/ :-) :-D

I defy any parent not to smile at this clip from metacafe...

Laughing Babies -

...sometimes that's all the web is about - sharing a good feeling.
(BTW, I bet the child on the left of frame is going to be the comedian or writer; the others are a great audience but s/he's just watching.)
I've often said that children are 'learning machines' and I think learning to laugh is one of the greatest lessons but not a great as learning to accept being laughed at, occasionally.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Food glorious food... sausage and custard! [Shurely shome mishtake. Ed.]

I like food. If I was more confident I'd show you a photo to prove it. I haven't got the guts...well, I have actually.

Anyway, Lee Kennedy's latest post reminded me of the issues around food I often discuss with Nick, my co-author. I was telling Nick about Michael Pollan's book In Defence of Food [it's in our book store] which sets out a few simple rules about eating. Rules like; eat only foods your mother would recognise; never eat things if you don't know what the ingredients are; shop mainly from the outside edges of the supermarket floor. They make some intuitive sense.

My point has always been that some of the ingredients in food are there for the benefit of the manufacturers and retailers and not the consumer. Ingredients that make the product last long enough to be transported hundred (thousands) of miles and to sit on a shelf and in a cupboard enable the supply chain to be standardised. It's, perhaps, an example of McDonaldization.

Andrew Wadge from the Food Standards Agency debated the issues from the book with Pollan on Newsnight a few days ago and wrote about it on his blog. His was, I suppose, the voice of moderation. The other discussant was Julian Hunt from the Food and Drink Federation, the manufacturers. I'll be honest, I hate it when marketers say things like "It's about giving the customer a choice". Mmmm; discuss (as indeed some of my students have been over the last few week and months).
I'm not sure Lee would agree with the book in its entirety. The post I just mentioned points out that testing on food additives is pretty rough and ready (the anti-animal testing lobby will be pleased to know, especially as Lee is a food scientist); additives aren't necessarily bad for you.

But two thoughts occurred to me.

One. All foodstuffs are composed of chemicals. As Lee says, just look at what's in coffee. Remember what WC Fields said about fish? I also noted when I visited the Eden Project this summer that coconut shell is used in the manufacture of some pretty weird industrial stuff like brake pads - I think its essentially fireproof.

Two. Food is not just fuel or nutrition. It's more (yes, more) importantly a cultural artefact. Mary Douglas and Claude Levi Strauss both pointed out some time ago that food classification are culturally determined. Foodstuffs aren't simply good to eat, they're good to think.

Whether we call food 'wholefood' or 'additive-free' or 'convenience' says more about our relationship with (and our cultural use of) food than it does about any objective food standards. But I'm sure that a greater understanding of how food is produced and what goes into it would benefit us all. maybe there's something in the government's domestic science for all agenda. As long as it's a genuine understanding of food, not just how to make a shepherd's pie.

Not so much healthy eating as healthy thinking.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Recession? Oh goody!

Economics is wierd isn't it?
If we talk about recession and try and guard against it, we precipitate it. If everybody dismissed the idea of recession and spent well then...
Will Hutton, who I respect, often talks about the need for government to intervene in the market economy. His comments often attract vitriol for, it seems, daring to suggest that the market may not always work.
Well, I'm pretty clear that the Market works. But the capital letter is there to denote a particular market which dominates out thinking - it even dominates the thinking of politicians on the left.
I've just been reading Bourdieu on politics (chapter 8 of his book Distinction) and what struck me most of all was the emphasis he puts on being able to talk of politics.
Bourdieu points out, in brief, that many people are excluded from having an opinion, or from expressing anything other than the dominant 'logic' of politics, because of their position. Those who are least equipped (largely through education) who are in a dominated position often feel unable to give a response to even an apparently simple question.
Moreover, political questions use the language of politics expressly to exclude; they are expressed in abtract, technical language in expectation of understanding only by those 'qualified'.
The kinds of questions people feel able to respond to vary, often correlating with their 'distance' from the domestic, personal experience.
Questions of economics, which are essentially political, are often disguised as apolitical (appeals to 'common sense' are a dead giveaway!) but also have significant personal ramifications.
One might want the economy to slow down, but you certainly don't want it to result in your house being worth less than you owe on your mortgage.
That we can entertain this possibility, without being struck by the peculiar logic of this 'market' says much about its pervasiveness. How can a company (a mortgage lender) assume no risk (that is to say, a predictale and predicted, therefore accounted-for risk turned into an overhead) whilst individuals (borrowers) assume complete responsibility for the loss (they cannot spread their risk)? The simple answer is; those are the rules of the game.
Occasionally, however, it is interesting to step outside of the game and consider what is just.
I might suggest that it is unjust that landlords can keep properties empty whilst people cannot afford to rent or buy a home. For that matter, it would seem unjust that people must impoverish themselves to have a basic necessity - a permanent dwelling.
The nature of the Market is that it will always arbitrate between competing sources of profit pursued by those with stocks of economic capital. But is is also in the nature of markets that they do not run smoothly and that generating (big) winners inevitably generates (a lot of small) losers.
Even those who see recession as inevitable must agree that for people to lose their homes as a result can, and perhaps should, be ameliorated. That requires intervention on the side of justice, not just to support the myth of the market. And that demands that we acknowledge the voices of those who are unable to speak because they are not shareholders - they are only bit players in the market game.