How do you solve a problem like Crimea?

2 Mar

With Russian troops rolling into Crimea and the new Government in Ukraine calling up forces, the temperature in Eastern Europe is rising fast.

Western Governments will be keen to avoid conflict, so below are some possible alternatives to settling the Cossack Crisis:

1980’s Style

When two tribes went to war back in the 80’s, the obvious place to settle things was in the ring…mono e mono, Queensbury Rules chewed up and spat out in a no holds barred grapple.

Differences...80's style

Differences…80’s style

Vladimir Putin is ex-KGB, a black belt in judo & teakwood and wrestles bears. By contrast Barack Obama is pretty nifty on the skateboard.

Verdict: No contest – Putin win.

Wii Sports

The modern day, non-contact way of settling differences over 5 sporting contests.

Whether points or straight KO, Putin is a given for the boxing, but Obama will smash the baseball out of the park and the 9-holes of golf ought to be a formality.

Tennis looks like a contest of US finesse over Russian power and if Putin can get his aces in then every chance of levelling the contest here.

Bowling for Victory

Bowling for Victory

With bowling the decider, home-sport advantage will see Obama through.

Verdict: At worst, a 3-2 win to Obama.

Chess

Since 1972, Chess has been a proxy for East / West conflict, but don’t expect Putin v Obama to match the great games of Spassky v Fischer!

The Crimea Gambit

The Crimea Gambit

Whilst Western leaders appear more concerned about tweets and selfies, Putin has remembered that battles are won with strategy. Whatever your views on his approach to Syria, Greenpeace or Ukrain, Putin has been bold, decisive and constantly ahead of the curve.

Verdict: Checkmate to Putin

Dance-off

BO’s moves have been reported as ‘Dad Dancing’ but the Prez has swagger and his Missus does a mean Salsa too.

Conversely, it’s difficult to imagine Vlad hitting the dance floor with anything more than a vodka fueled Ra Ra Rasputin.

When it comes to the disco, always bet on black.

Verdict: Strictly Obama

The Public Vote

So with honours even, it comes down to which World Leader has the X-Factor.

Barack Obama will probably look to Kenya for the obligatory ‘sob story’ before repeating his rendition of Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Together’.

For Vladimir Putin, it’s a high-risk play of white man singing the blues, hitting up ’Blueberry Hill’.

Verdict: Too close to call…could go to deadlock.

Something is happening outside…

19 Apr

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The words that opened CNN’s report from inside Iraq when the coalition bombing started during the first Gulf War.

 
It was a watershed moment for the young cable channel, the only network able to report live and from the ground. The world watched and CNN shot past  the “big 3” American networks to become a household name. 24 hour rolling news became an expectation, not a luxury influencing both public opinion and Government response…the ‘CNN effect’ was born.
 
 
Today in Boston, Massachusetts Twitter is having it’s Gulf War…
 
 
The USA and a good chunk of the world are glued to their Twitter feeds, watching eye-witness accounts of the Police manhunt for two (one at large at time of posting) terrorist suspects responsible for the bombing of the Boston Marathon four days ago.
 
 
This is not just the usual opinion and speculation one usually associates with Twitter, but first hand accounts. Powerful camera-phone photographs of a suspect shooting from behind a car, bullet holes in a Tweeters wall, shot-up Police cars  and the deserted streets of Boston as a city of 1 million is ‘locked down’.
 
 
Residents caught in their homes listening to Police radio and updating the world well before any news station. In the UK, BBC 5 Live was essentially deferring toTwitter in it’s breakfast program for news.
 
 
The authorities were also living in this new medium, whether the FBI releasing suspect photos, the Police alerting citizens or politicians releasing soundbites all were happening first in a constant stream of 140 characters.
 
 
As we wish the people of Boston well and doff our caps to the brave Police and emergency services, remember 19 April 2013. It is the day that news media changed forever.

(Page) 3 is the Magic Number

14 Feb

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“There are no new ideas. Only new ways of making them felt.” [Audre Lorde – US Poet].

A rule, that it seems, also applies to campaigns as ‘Say No To Page 3’ revives an old quest for the social media age.

It’s a movement that I can remember from the 1980’s. At the time, a totem of ‘the Left’ who didn’t really have anything sensible to say having run the Country into the ground during the 1970s…something else that hasn’t changed much then.

Back then, Page 3 models were household names. Samantha Fox, Maria Whitaker and Linda Lusardi achieved celebrity status and to the joy of many a young gamer, several also made the cross-over to become 8-bit legends. Like many a teenage lad, I spent hours learning to play poker in order to see Sam Fox in her monochrome pixelled glory (and yes it was worth it in the end), I managed to blag a Barbarian poster from Palace Software showing Ms Whitaker at her finest and although I was a ‘Crash’ man, I certainly made an exception for the ‘Your Sinclair’ Corrine Russell issue! All of which deviant behaviour occurred without a copy of The Sun ever crossing my path. There were a few murmurs of disapproval from the readership of magazines that advertised these games, but generally it was considered acceptable. In fact the only time there was any real controversy was when Luis Royo’s excellent ‘Heavy Metal Magazine’ cover was used to advertise ‘Game Over’ and showed the tiniest glimpse of nipple (leading to Oliver Frey famously adding some extra armour to the advert in ‘Crash’).

Before going any further, I ought to say that I have only ever purchased one copy of The Sun (it was a Saturday, so no breasts on show, and they were giving away a World Cup vuvuzela…so rests the defence), so I have no particular axe to grind there. However, I am vehemently anti-censorship; history has shown that when we start banning things because certain groups don’t like them it rarely ends well.

So onto the ‘Say No To Page 3’ campaign. It’s actually pretty difficult to find out what their objections are. Whilst they are effective in generating noise on Social Media, the campaign is noticeable by the lack of any actual argument. As best I can tell, there is an objection to a photo of Jessica Ennis, after her Olympic success, being smaller than the photo of the Page 3 model. Now I think Jess Ennis is fantastic – a great sports woman, fantastic role model and an outstanding ambassador for our Country; I am struggling to accept the size of her photograph as a reason for censorship though.

Whilst the campaign itself fails to articulate it’s objections, we can learn something from the links and comments within it’s petition so, let’s have a look at some of the arguments:

Page 3 leads to the sexual abuse and rape of women

Violence against women (or indeed any individual) is unacceptable and inexcusable…end off.

Only an idiot would draw the conclusion that looking at Page 3 leads to rape, yet the ‘Say No To Page 3’ campaign seeks to do exactly that by linking it to crime figures.

It’s an argument quickly knocked down, so let’s do so:

  • The anecdote – I don’t know any sex offenders, but I do know men that read The Sun. They are normal people and in the workplace manage to flick through the paper at lunchtime without feeling the need to rape or abuse their female colleagues in the afternoon.
  • The numbers – the campaign quotes 60,000 rapes a year (1 is too many). The Sun has an average daily circulation of 2,656,271 (ABC Sept 2012). I‘m not aware of any research into the reading choices of rapists, but it clear to see that the numbers simply do not stack up there.
  • The logic – the campaign’s argument is that sexual abuse of women occurs because men see them as sex objects. The more clothing a woman takes off then the more they are objectified. The natural conclusion is that if women were to fully cover up then sexual abuse and rape wouldn’t exist. Well you won’t find statistics on sexual abuse and rape in (say) Saudi Arabia but most western women wouldn’t swap places!

Boobs aren’t news

No, generally speaking they are not. But then neither is most of the rest of the content in The Sun and other tabloids. There are papers that have excellent news content if that is what one seeks.

Pick up a copy of the Daily Mail and you will read editorial infinitely more damaging than a picture of a lady displaying her breasts.

Page 3 is degrading to women

A difficult argument to swallow when those that push it are strangely quiet when it comes to semi-naked men.

This week, H&M showed their new advert featuring David Beckham in just his boxer shorts (roughly the same amount of clothing as a Page 3 picture). Twitter went wild – not in protest but with, mainly, women expressing their appreciation of Mr Beckham. For the record, it wasn’t his charm, footballing skills or the good work he does for charity that they were appreciating.

Seems a pretty equal relationship to me. But, of course, the PC lobby behind ‘Say No To Page 3’ are not interested in equality, are they?

The argument is also deeply insulting to men in that it assumes we see women only for their physical appearance. I don’t speak for the whole of mankind, but personally I have the intelligence to appreciate an attractive lady, without seeing her as some form of everyday object. Take, for example, Lucy Pinder…Lucy is a stunningly beautiful lady and not to beat around the bush, has a fantastic pair of breasts. However I can also acknowledge that she is a highly articulate and intelligent individual and a successful business woman in her own right – qualities I admire every bit as much as her appearance (anyone with preconceptions about models should follow Lucy @LPinderOfficial)

Page 3 turns women into sex objects

Nope, that will be evolution (or God, depending where you stand on that issue).

Quite simply, Men and Women have evolved to be attracted to each other and to seek procreation. Men are programmed to seek a mate that has the greatest chance of bearing a healthy continuation to their line and provide for their offspring. In exactly the same way that women are programmed to seek a mate that is physically strong and demonstrates an ability to provide (back to Beckham…curse him).

Evolution did not build in the time to have a full assessment, interview and matching process…the sabre tooth would have eaten you before you had got halfway down the ‘equality & diversity questionnaire’…putting it bluntly boobs = milk = food for offspring. Millions of years of ‘survival of the fittest’ have convinced men that they should look.

*

I said at the start that I’m not a Sun buyer (hands up, I enjoy a flick if it’s laying around the staff room), so why let this bother me at all?

On a practical level, there are the economic benefits (models, photographers, printers, etc) and the rights of the models to be employed. I’m struggling to see why people should loose their jobs just because someone, that can make a choice whether to buy The Sun or not, wishes to impose their prejudice on others. It can also be a great career platform – the aforementioned Ms Fox & Ms Lusardi continue to have active careers outside of modelling and also do some fantastic campaigning and charity work.

But the big reason for me is that this is a the thin end of a PC censorship wedge. The campaign succeed in censoring The Sun, so what next? Presumably “lads mags” such as Nuts & Zoo are just as offensive so they would have to go. Then, of course, their evil cousins the Men’s monthlies…that’s GQ, FHM, et al taken care of. No more of those billboards advertising underwear – real women don’t look like that and clearly Rhianna and other purveyors of filth would need to be barred from the country and their videos blocked on YouTube…along with anything else on there that showed a female engaged in an unapproved activity. If we accept that, then there is plenty more to block on the web….the thought police will be very busy.

Campaign’s like ‘Say No To Page 3’ are quick to gather momentum…the dangers of the ‘re-tweet’ and ‘like’ buttons. They are also highly dangerous and a natural home for those that hate personal freedom and responsibility. If you are tempted to say ‘yes’ to censorship just take a moment to think about the final stop on that particular train.

Links:

* Sam Fox Strip Poker [Martech] – http://www.mobygames.com/game/zx-spectrum/samantha-fox-strip-poker

* Barbarian [Palace Software] – ftp://ftp.worldofspectrum.org/pub/sinclair/games-inlays/b/Barbarian-TheUltimateWarrior.jpg

* Your Sinclair issue 29 (Vixen): http://www.ysrnry.co.uk/ys29.htm

* Game Over – art by Luis Royo – http://pinterest.com/pin/242279654924989109/

Every dog has it’s day…

17 Jan

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HMV – Where it went wrong and where it could go right

Like many, I was saddened to see HMV collapse into administration this week. Like many, I enjoyed a browse through the store. Like many, I can’t remember the last time I purchased anything from HMV.

For me, HMV used to be a place to discover something new; perhaps a band/artist, an unusual import, a piece of back catalogue. I can remember flicking through CD’s at the old HMV store in Southampton (now a furniture shop) and coming across ‘Chill Out’ by the KLF (https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/chill-out/id592489344). I didn’t even know the album existed, so made an impulse purchase (and in those days you didn’t get much change out of £15 for a CD, so an impulse buy was significant  and to this day it remains my favourite album…a work of genius which I wouldn’t dream of parting with.

The world has changed a lot since then. There was no internet, no iTunes, Tesco only sold food and illegal downloading meant listening to the Top 40 and stopping the tape before Bruno Brookes started talking.

The theory of evolution says that you evolve or die and HMV failed to evolve – Apple, Amazon and Tesco held a party and HMV didn’t bother to turn up. They were slow to respond to music going digital, to online ordering of physical media and to supermarkets selling new releases for a few pounds and capturing the impulse market. The meek may inherit the Earth, but the geeks have inherited retail; whilst Apple and Amazon not only predict the future but create it, HMV put faith in the ex-head of Comet followed by the ex-head of Jessops, in hindsight perhaps not a management team at the cutting edge of new media.

Trying to move away from media to high-tech devices and accessories was probably the right move, but it was too late. Straddled with debt, HMV has been a dead man walking for years.

HMV remains a great brand and I have no doubt that there is a future for it. Who ever buys it from the Administrators will need a new business model, so here are some ideas that might give Nipper back his bark…

HMV Online

It’s a no brainer that HMV need a market leading website, which begs the question ‘why didn’t it have one?’

Consider the Amazon shopping experience – easy to browse and easy to buy. A real ability to drill down into different categories to allow a buyer to see the wood for the trees. Recommendations as to other items you may wish to buy. Follow-up emails with more items you may wish to buy. It is everything the current HMV website isn’t (wasn’t).

A decent website will only level the playing field, but HMV has one massive advantage over Amazon and iTunes…it’s British!

There has, quite rightly, been a backlash against large multi-nationals not paying their fair share of tax. HMV have the opportunity to brand themselves as the tax-paying, British alternative (I’ve adapted the logo appropriately at the top of this blog). Paying VAT in the UK would add around 3p to a single track download and I reckon a lot of people would be happy to pay that.

It should also have a referral program so that media bloggers / tweeters can drive traffic to the site and seek to partner with other music sites (maybe local radio stations) to provide their sales channel via ‘powered by HMV’.

HMV High Street

There is no doubt that the new HMV will have a smaller high street presence.

To me this should be a small number of large City Centre / premium ‘out of town’ stores. Forget about selling lots of CD’s and DVD’s – continue the re-focus on technology hardware  such as tablets, consoles and accessories. Adopt the Tesco model of having 3 levels for every product – premium (iPad), mid-range (Android) and value (Kindle) so there is something for everyone. 

They need nice, clean, bright stores al la Apple store and staff with expert knowledge of the products. 

By all means have a limited range of current games, DVD’s and CD’s but combine this with in-store terminals that link to the HMV website for accessing the full catalogue.

It may be worth considering a trade in option with credit given for old games, CDs or DVDs. There could be a separate brand for re-selling these online (Fopp perhaps) or they could just sell on in bulk to third parties – Poundland, etc. The important point is that this would drive traffic to the stores and differentiate from online & supermarket competitors.

Smaller Stores

HMV remains an incredibly strong brand, so leverage it.

Create a franchise operation for small & specialist record stores. Many of the stores are booming as people seek to ‘shop local’, vinyl makes a comeback and many still like to browse.

By franchising the HMV name remains in smaller towns and secondary locations that are not viable as part of a national chain. Store owners get to use the brand and enjoy franchisee support; the franchisor receives an income without the overhead of running a store.

It’s a potential win / win.

 

So there we have it…comments welcome below.

 

P.S. I’ll take the P please Bob…

The biggest surprise about Blockbuster going to the wall was that it was still around anyway.

Many of the criticisms of HMV also apply to Blockbuster. It’s another strong brand that should have been the leading name in digital video download, but instead Netflix / Love Film created a market from nothing…evolve or die.