Friday, 31 October 2008

The Article I've Been Looking Forward To Reading All Week

Paragraph two of the article I've been looking forward to reading all week:
"For all the shortcomings of the campaign, both John McCain and Barack Obama offer hope of national redemption [in the eyes of the world]. Now America has to choose between them. The Economist does not have a vote, but if it did, it would cast it for Mr Obama. We do so wholeheartedly ..."
A few more choice excerpts:
"McCain has bravely taken unpopular positions – for free trade, immigration reform, the surge in Iraq, tackling climate change and campaign-finance reform. A western Republican in the Reagan mould, he has a long record of working with both Democrats and America's allies.

If only the real John McCain had been running."

"Most of the hoopla about [Obama] has been about what he is, rather than what he would do."

"There is no getting around the fact that Mr Obama's resume is thin ... [but] a man who started with no money and few supporters has out-thought, out-organised and out-fought the two mightiest machines in American politics – the Clintons and the conservative right."
And the concluding paragraph:
"[In some ways] Mr Obama is a gamble. But the same goes for Mr McCain on at least as many counts, not least the possibility of President Palin. And this cannot be another election where the choice is based merely on fear. In terms of painting a brighter future for America and the world, Mr Obama has produced the more compelling and detailed portrait. He has campaigned with more style, intelligence and discipline than his opponent. Whether he can fulfil his immense potential remains to be seen. But Mr Obama deserves the presidency."
Now, some people probably misconceive The Economist, taking it to be a dry, overly intellectual, stats-heavy sort of publication for CEOs and MBAs.

(Er, okay, so I guess it probably is for CEOs and MBAs, to quite some degree. Oh well.)

... But, actually, it's an extremely readable, highly intelligent newspaper. In the opinion of the Intellectual Hooligan. And its writers have a pretty good grasp of (a) humour, (b) drama and (c) iconography. (On that last, just take a look at the front cover:)

And, somehow, reading its editorial pieces reminds me of being in a tutorial. The tone of the writing is authoritative and direct, yet 'human' and unclouded by pompous phraseology or obscure jargon. Proof – once again – that the people most worth listening to/reading are the ones who aren't afraid to make the effort to express themselves simply, concisely and clearly, rather than relying upon a 'scholarly' vocabulary and otiose writing style to create an aura of false intelligence.

To anybody who is interested in the craft of writing, or whose job involves the same, I heartily recommend The Economist's style guide. Spot on. And funny, too.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Oh those CRAZY pharmacists ...

I can think of three potential explanations for the 'quirky' way in which the artwork is rendered in this sign.
  1. Instead of in regular cash, the artworker was paid in his/her choice of certain prescription-only over-the-counter "medicines"
  2. The sign is actually a cunning ninja marketing (2, 3) tool: it's designed to give you the headache which prompts you to go in and buy paracetamol.
  3. The shop owners nostalgically (and who can blame 'em?) decided to hire the same design team that brightened the lives of our 486s with the fine Day of the Tentacle (screenshot below. Boy, that was a good game.)

Any possibilities I've missed?

Monday, 27 October 2008

The Mobile Phone Grim Reaper (or: Patronising Idiot Coins Ridiculous Anthropomorposis.)

Okay. So the Intellectual Hooligan recently acquired a new mobile phone.

Just as surely as night follows day, so followed – this evening – a pleasant phonecall from the warmhearted and considerate purveyors of mobile phone insurance.

"Great news, Mr Hooligan! We can halve the amount you're paying for insurance on your new phone!"

And, you know, he wasn't lying. Half of zero ... ?

Without allowing me the opportunity to explain exactly how easy it would be for him to halve my insurance costs and piss off, he launched straight into a lovingly-crafted spiel, the conclusion of which was something like:

"... So if I can just take down a few details, we'll get the stuff to you in the post and have you changed over and saving money in a few days."

At this point, I had my first opportunity to interject:

"Would you mind telling me what this is going to cost?"

"Well, you're currently paying £140 pounds a year, and this plan will halve that."

"I don't have mobile phone insurance."

To his credit, our man did not even pause:

"Yes, £140 is too expensive, isn't it? We can offer you cover for only £70!"

"Sorry, I'm still not interested."

"Are you sure?"


Here's where the guy deviated from the usual script. And from reality:

"You are dicing with death."

I am what?

Now, the Intellectual Hooligan is normally polite (some would say excessively so) to those who assail him with unsollicited sales calls. But his benevolence began to crumble at this juncture.

"Um ... Thanks for that."

"I'm serious. The Mobile Phone Grim Reaper is looking over your shoulder!"

Christ alive and breakdancing! What is this guy talking about?

"... Mate, you are dicing with death. Accidents happen ... And this cover basically allows you to safeguard your nice new phone against that!"

"Yes, I understand the principle of insurance. And have made a rational decision that I do not want to purchase it."

"Well ..." said our friend, in tones heavy with gentle can't-say-I-didn't-warn-you recrimination. "I'll do my best to call off the Mobile Phone Grim Reaper. But I'm afraid I just can't promise ..."

Monday, 20 October 2008

Patronising Idiots Hit Marketing Jackpot

Residents of the United Kingdom: hands up everyone who admires the state of the national rail network.


Now, bearing the hypothetical result of such a vote, take a look at the following couple of ads that I've recently noticed appearing around the web:

Sorry, excuse me while I cough up chunks of lung in maniacal, uncontrollable laughter.

... Right. Yes. So. Am I alone in considering these pretty poorly judged? Borderline insulting to those consumers (such as myself) who always buy train tickets at the station?

Implying that the behaviour of such consumers is idiotic?

Consumers who, perhaps, have better things to do with their life than plan their sodding train journeys weeks in advance in order to avoid train companies' exorbitant markups for failing to do so.

Consumers who don't actually know the exact time they plan to travel and are therefore unable to book in advance for a specific journey time, the only way it is possible to book.

So – it's us – the aforementioned consumers, that are the stupid ones?

I'm sorry, thetrainline, but you can just sod off with your 'quirky' sheep-featuring ads and your cunning, ninja marketing technique of taking the piss out of your customers for failing to jump through the hoops you've set up for them.

Yeh, sod off.

And get back to what you do best: fleecing.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

A Sickening Notion

I'm looking at Saturday night's 'treat'. And I am thinking: my dear sweet Jesus ... What in the name of all that is sacred and profane is a 'Meat Raffle'?

Actually, wait. I don't want to know.


Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Brilliant Inside-out art from Tara Donovan

I recently e-stumbled upon photos from what looks like rather a splendid art exhibition.

The Artist is Tara Donovan, at the Institute of Contemporary Art.

I very very much like the playing off between artificial/organic: very clever. The above sculpture is made from styrofoam cups, yet its undulating shape belies the regularity of its constituent parts.

When you look at another of Donovan's pieces – Moire – the pattern becomes clearer.

Here, rolls of adding machine paper are wound and piled in such a way as to create complex, amorphous shapes. Have a closer look:

There is a heavy suggestion of wood grain, as well as – in common with Untitled (Styrofoam Cups) – of cellular structures.

To me, there's a lovely inside-outness to the whole thing. A kind of moebius effect (as illustrated here), whereby inside seamlessly becomes outside. Paper made from wood is compressed and manipulated to become wood again. Wood-like forms piled together become cells, from which wood is formed.

In other words, the artifacts Donovan has constructed from these manmade objects remind us of organic cellular structures. Which in turn remind us that all things – manmade or naturally occurring – are in fact irregular and organic at a molecular or cellular level. If you zoom in close enough, in other words.

So the straight lines and 'perfect' forms of the manmade objects are somehow thrown into deep relief. The work very cleverly challenges the misconception that there is a distinction between the geometric/regular and the organic/irregular. Both contain and are contained by one another. A straight line is a series of curves; a curve is a series of straight lines.

It's all a question of scale.

Fantastically inventive and intelligent. The work also passes the (more important test): just imagine how fascinating it would be to a child. It is hugely striking. Engaging on a visceral level. These are powerful, mesmerising forms.


Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Photos on the internet for drugs

The JobCentre. Where the happy people go.

One of the Intellectual Hooligan's roving correspondents found herself, yesterday, in this fine national establishment. She was waiting to speak to one of the advisers.

Having waited some time, she decided to send a swift text message. However, no sooner was her phone whisked from her pocket than did the figure of a security guard loom above her.

"Excuse me, miss. You can't use your phone here."

"Oh ... right ..." she replied, a little discombobulated, allowing a faintly quizzical note to enter her voice.

"It's not allowed, see," elaborated the guard. "People have been taking photographs of staff on their mobile phone. And putting them on the internet ..."

He paused.

"... For drugs."

Of course – following so grave an injunction – our correspondent hastily sheathed her mobile and whispered her chastened apologies.

Only – on reflection – what was that he said?
  1. Taking photographs of staff
  2. Putting them on the internet
  3. ... For drugs?
How does that work, exactly? Just how valuable are these photos? What's the going rate? Two lines of coke for a slightly blurred shot of the guy on reception?

And – what's more – how have these shady dealings escaped the notice of the national press?

The Intellectual Hooligan notches up one more scoop.

(Honestly, though: does anyone have an idea what the guy might possibly have meant?)

Sunday, 12 October 2008

The Internet Is Funny

An engaging find, courtesy of Found Magazine. It loses its poise in the final sentence (overreaching), though.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Naked, tender hummocks

The Intellectual Hooligan, courtesy of a kind and tasteful benefactor, has just started reading Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road. From the first 50 pages alone, I feel it is rather brilliant – but will save any vaguely summative words until I've finished the thing.

Meanwhile, though, I'd like to serve up two very short extracts of great writing – the first descriptive; the second empathetic.
'At first their rehearsals had been held on Saturdays – always, it seemed, on the kind of windless February or March afternoon when the sky is white, the trees are black, and the brown fields and hummocks of the earth lie naked and tender between curds of shriveled snow.'
This is brilliant. Strong and simple prelude (sky is white, trees are black) gives way to a metaphor that – at first glance – might seem overblown or sentimental, then reveals itself in fact to be perfectly-judged. The obvious sexuality of 'naked and tender' seems glib and perhaps obvious – until Yates adds that masterstroke: the 'curds of shriveled snow'.

Curds. Genius.

Debasing the image of the (feminine) buttocks with those measly semen-like squirts. And, crucially, the metaphor passes the test: it's also real.

Then, 20 pages or so later, a fantastic piece of psychological observation. (One of many, I might add: I've chosen this particular example fairly arbitrarily). Two characters, wife and husband, have just had a taut emotional exchange (to call it an argument is perhaps to simplify). They've pulled over their car, and the woman has dashed thirty yards away along the roadside, pursued shortly by her husband. She '[isn't] crying; ... only standing there, with her back to him.':
"What the hell," he said. "What the hell's this all about? Come on back to the car."

"No. I will in a minute. Just let me stand here a minute, all right?"

His arms flapped and fell; then, as the sound and the lights of an approaching car came up behind them, he put one hand in his pocket and assumed a conversational slouch for the sake of appearances.
That's the difference between okay writing and great writing. The great writer remembers that even amidst anger and emotional turmoil, we can still be painfully self-conscious; laughably prim.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Belfast snaps

Herebelow, the Intellectual Hooligan's holiday snaps ...

First up, a fine piece of art on show at the RUA exhibition. Brilliant:

... And here's the view outside the RUA exhibition.

Bashful barrel:

And Pier House No. 3:

Excuse the rather mediocre image quality ... Skypephone does not good photographs take.

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