Sunday, February 25, 2018


This is the story of how I come across something, and the thought process that came from it.
Opening up the latest issue of a magazine I received in the post, I am used to there being a number of sachets or cards glued to pages to advertise new perfumes, shampoos and conditioners. I am also used to getting perfume on my fingers each month when I try to pick them off, which is a sure-fire way to make me not want to buy them later.
I then came across a large see-through sachet marked “Garner SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water.” Garnier paid a magazine publisher to affix a bag of water to the inside of a product made of paper, and it was posted to me without leaking? I also liked the clarification that this was “cleansing” water, as if this was an extra quality that Garnier have been able to bring to the water. Perhaps this is me being a bit facetious, as the “micellar” bit must mean that some molecular engineering must have taken place, but if you are essentially claiming to have reinvented water, then I will look at you with both eyebrows raised.
The water came with instructions: to apply it to a cotton wool pad, and to wipe my face, eyes and lips with it. Because it was water, I did not need to rinse afterwards. I put the sachet to one side, and waited to use it until a point when I would come home from a particularly strenuous walk. It was time: I used a pair of scissors to cut open the sachet, as my fingers proved not to be strong enough. Bubbles formed at the exit point, as the water was soaked into a cotton wool pad. As water should do, it felt fresh on my face as I worked the pad over it. I looked at the results: it had picked up quite a bit of dirt. In short, it had acted as both a skin cleanser and as a make-up remover.
Here’s the science bit: micellar water is so called because it contains “micelles,” found here as cleansing oil molecules. In the same way that washing-up liquid or detergent works, the micelles reduce the surface tension of the water, making it easier for the water to pick up dirt, attaching to the micelles. Micellar water was first popularised in France, after its introduction by Bioderma in 1991, because it uses soft water, so the skin should not be dried out the same way that France’s naturally hard tap water would. It appears that micellar water was known only to the French for many years, as the first “what the hell is this about?” articles start appearing in English from about 2015.
Would I buy a bottle of the stuff? Once I finish up all the other stuff I bought that is said to work for my skin, I may consider it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018


It may have been the use of “chaos,” “crisis,” and even “famine” in headlines, but it was definitely when Tower Hamlets Police, which patrols the traditional East End of London, used Twitter to tell people to stop calling them, while using the hashtag #KFCCrisis.
The short version of this story is that KFC, which hasn’t called itself Kentucky Fried Chicken since 1991, has moved the distribution of product to its restaurants from Bidvest to DHL, and to say it has been far from seamless may still be downplaying things: there have been pictures of crying children and angry mothers by locked doors to closed stores, with as many as three quarters of the near nine hundred branches being forced to close until stock came back, while another person was quoted to say, nonchalantly, “I guess I’ll have to go somewhere else.” Apparently, the GMB union warned KFC about this, as Burger King had the same problem in 2012, when they moved their distribution to DHL, but it looks like flame-grilled burgers did not capture the British imagination quite so much.
I confess to being bemused by this story, as I rarely eat at KFC, despite two branches being located in my home town – I prefer McDonalds or Subway, and we have one each of them too. I have walked past a different branch of Subway that remained open despite having no bread, and this was before they began pushing their salad bowls. Perhaps the sudden inability of prospective customers to act upon their impulse as they expected, which is the foundation of the business model for a fast food restaurant, is what led to the inordinate amount of attention this situation has received. However, when you factor in how the current diet of news stories consist of Brexit, things that Donald Trump said on Twitter, and accusations of sexual assault, you begin to see how important fried chicken can be as a momentary diversion.

In the absence of my own opinion, I did wonder what Colonel Sanders would think of this. Unlike Ronald McDonald, KFC had a real, breathing, salaried brand ambassador, who created the “secret blend of herbs and spices,” cooked by pressure frying instead of pan frying, in 1940, before selling the franchise, except for the Canadian division, in 1963 for $2 million. He also had cameo appearances in films with titles like “Hell’s Blooody Devils” and “Blast-Off Girls,” while remaining close to a bucket or a grill.  I make this point because when the face above the door, and on the buckets, starts telling you that the gravy tastes like wallpaper paste, in addition to pushing food he thought unpalatable onto the floor when visiting some restaurants, you may have a situation where a restaurant sues its mascot. The libel suit brought by KFC was ultimately unsuccessful but, then again, Harland Sanders had practiced law in Little Rock, Arkansas, as one of its many jobs before entering the restaurant business – a part of me still hopes he sought legal advice from Mayor McCheese.

Once all branches of KFC have reopened, it may be worth pushing their other menu options, as they appear to have rice dishes too. This year has already seen branches of the Wetherspoon pub chain have no steak on Steak Night, an incident that ultimately collapsed the distributor involved. Have something else instead, for there will always be a next time.

Sunday, February 18, 2018


As one of the most popular and ubiquitous products on Earth, Coca-Cola only needs to advertise its brand either to keep itself in the front of people’s minds, or when they need to tell us how many of their drinks have no sugar in them. The Coke brand is solid: its logo has barely changed since the drink was introduced in 1886, the bold colour red is used across all variations, and the silhouette of the “hobbleskirt” bottle is immediately synonymous. To that end, Coca-Cola advertising can be brilliantly straightforward: apart from American taglines like, “Coke Is It!” and “Red, White and You,” I remember a British poster ad, from a few years ago, of a Coke bottle against a red background, with the line, “And what would you like to eat?”
Haddon Sundblom

Then there is the “Yes” girl – the Coca-Cola Company’s website points out it would never say “girl” these days. The most famous “Yes” girl ad was from 1946, in a billboard ad painted by Haddon Sundblom, who had also been painting the Coca-Cola Santa Claus, the character’s face inspired by his own, since 1931. The ad features a woman in a bikini, sat on a beach, perhaps propping herself up after sunbathing, being handed a bottle of Coke by someone outside of the frame. Other than the Coca-Cola logo displayed on a red disc like an enormous button, the only other element is the word “Yes” - the woman is sitting on sand, but the background is white, as in blank.

I first came across this ad in the definitive history of the drink and the company, Mark Pendergrast’s “For God, Country and Coca-Cola” – this book also happens to print, towards the back, what is believed to be the secret recipe for Coke which, apparently, includes coriander, cinnamon and nutmeg. It just didn’t make sense to me: who is saying “yes” to what? Is it from the woman to the drink, or from the hand to the woman? Am I, looking at the tableau, supposed to be saying “yes” to the drink, or the woman, or both?

It should be noted that the Freudian, psychological approaches to advertising and consumer behaviour would only become commonplace in the next ten years, and Coca-Cola had its own rules on how people would be used in advertising, seeing as it is drunk by everyone: both women would be seen in roles as varied as men in Coke ads, especially in uniform during the Second World War, and even after a switch in advertising agency in 1950 meant painted ads were swapped for photo shoots. Perhaps, at that point just after the end of the war, a focus on being seen to enjoy life was paramount.

With 2018 eyes, the 1946 “Yes” ad does not look innocent, but it is only because we are wiser to practices used in advertising since then, surrounding the use of women as a glamourous garnish, that would be interpreted as sexist. Along with Sundblom’s other painted ads for Coke, the “Yes” girl occupies the same area of popular art as John Gilroy’s work for Guinness, including the famous toucan, but we know straplines like, “Lovely day for a Guinness,” and “Guinness is good for you,” are not claims Guinness would, or could, make nowadays. Having the single word “yes” is too oblique for an ad, and too open to interpretation one way or the other – perhaps Coca-Cola should have put the “yes” in quotation marks, like they did elsewhere.

Sunday, February 11, 2018


Is there a rational reason for believing the Earth is flat?
It’s quite a question to pose, challenging universally held truths about how we see the world, and how we live our lives, but questioning them sometimes reminds us of the concrete truths upon which we base everything else.
But is there a rational reason? Any reason? No. Absolutely not. No way. In fact, I should tell myself to fuck off for even thinking of the question. It is not really even a question, because it is not in question – we all know the Earth is round. There was already enough evidence produced in the last couple of thousand years before anyone could take a picture from space. A bit of me did think of this as being too easy a target to discuss, but when the target - the Flat Earth Society, and there still being a theory about the Earth being flat, takes itself too seriously, it makes itself fair game.
Why would such a stupid question come to mind? It was a simple case of an engineer entrepreneur launching a car into space, and the usual suspects having a go at him using a spurious premise they themselves had set.
Last week, Musk launched the SpaceX Falcon Heavy, a partially-reusable rocket for launching payloads into space. Instead of simulating the weight of a satellite, or other payload, by using concrete or metal, Musk installed one of his Tesla cabriolets, and the unveiling of the car in front of the Earth, with a dummy driver named “Starman” in the driving seat, playing David Bowie songs, could well be cooler than playing golf on the moon.

However, an inevitable statement on the Flat Earth Society’s Twitter feed said, “Why would we believe any privately-held company to report the truth?” Meanwhile, their Facebook page sought to debunk what everyone saw: “we have already witnessed the shortfalls of this blind belief in online materials,” reminding us that “corporations are driven by profit, not the pursuit of knowledge or truth.” For the record, Elon Musk previously questioned on Twitter why there is no Flat Mars Society – the Flat Earth Society replied that Mars has been observed to be round.

The Flat Earth Society’s wiki [link] is aimed at “unravelling the true mysteries of the universe,” while demonstrating that the “Round Earth doctrine” is an “elaborate hoax.” It does this by having an answer for everything: Earth is a disc, with the Arctic in the middle, and the Antarctic as a ring around the edge; magnetic fields are created by ring magnets in the Earth, rather than unipolar ones; weather is created by the landscape; you cannot see the curvature of the earth, even when in a passenger plane flying at 36,000 feet.

I had looked to see how the word “satellite” related to the theory of a flat Earth, since global communications, including Facebook and Twitter, rely on communications satellites, geostationary orbits and atomic clocks to work, all things that require the Earth to be round, and what I found were reports of a campaign led by B.o.B, a rapper, to put a satellite above the earth to gather independent evidence to examine – this is “independent” as in independent of NASA, the perennial target for conspiracy theories. For a theory that distrust the evidence that science brings to the conversation, using science to prove the opposite seems a bit suspect.

The only legacy of flat Earth theory is that “Flat earther” is a term for someone that believes in an outlandish or discredited theory, or refuses to believe something despite overwhelming evidence, and I really have nothing to say further than that. We all know what to think about this, as we have all the evidence for it already.

Sunday, February 4, 2018


One major takeaway from the 2018 State of the Union speech by you-know-who was its length – at one hour and twenty minutes, it was the longest such speech since Bill Clinton’s turn in 1998. In comparison, average length is between forty-five minutes and an hour, while Richard Nixon polished off his 1972 speech within half an hour. What I want to know about 2018’s speech, after checking transcriptions, was how it look longer than last year to deliver a shorter speech.
The nearest political showcase we have in the UK is the Budget speech, right down to how often the Chancellor of the Exchequer says “prudent,” or the number of sips taken from their glass of gin. The longest Budget speech, given on 12th May 1853 by William Gladstone of the Liberal Party, clocks in at a staggering four hours and forty-five minutes, the equivalent of standing up to read, out loud, the entirety of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” then reading first ten pages again. Towards the end, Gladstone apologised for “how long, how shamelessly” he had spoken, while attempting to keep on topic, before quoting Virgil, in the original Latin: “immensum spatiis confecimus aequor, Et jam tempus equum fumantia solvere colla.” [“But now I have travelled a very long way, and now the time has come to unyoke my steaming horses.”] The only horses left steaming were presumably the MPs still awake to listen.

Gladstone’s speech only lasted so long because he wanted to attempt something unthinkable today – get rid of income tax. Even worse to hear now, it had already been ended twice by then: introduced by Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger in 1799, to pay for the preparation for the Napoleonic Wars, but they were abolished in 1802, after the Treaty of Amiens, but had to be reintroduced the following year, when that treaty broke down. Income tax was finally abolished in 1816, one year after the Battle of Waterloo, and taxes on land remained the major source of Government income.

However, in 1842, brought back Income Tax as a way of plugging a budget deficit. It was only meant to last for three years, so Gladstone’s 1853 Budget, which also gave a history of the tax he intended to abolish, needed to be surgical in the detail required to remove Income Tax over a period of seven years… until the Crimean War threw those plans into an enormous metaphorical bin. Even then, the standard rate of Income Tax was only levied at about 3 percent in the pound, reaching the twenty-plus percent level during the First World War, and 35% by 1976 – this has subsided to 20% today, but the more indirect Value Added Tax, also at 20%, is also in place.

The inevitability of paying your taxes means we can only decide whether the larger proportion of it is collected directly or indirectly, let alone how much you think the Government needs to bring in, and on how much you think the Government should be doing – that is not going to be an argument I am going to have here, as it results in fist-fights. Perhaps this might be way Income Tax has remained temporary – it has to be renewed each year, although I don’t see it disappearing any century soon.