Being Beta

Exercises in the higher banter with One of 26. Elsewhere called 'poet of adland'. By a whipple-squeezer. Find out why being beta is the new alpha: betarish at googlemail dot com

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Commercial: For the love of culture

Can I commend to you this article by Lawrence Lessig in The New Republic. He moves from a discussion of the recent Google Books settlement into a wider discussion as to why - as good an outcome as could be expected, if not better - is, nevertheless, still potentially damaging to our wider consumption and creation of culture.

Yes, I know it's all about copyright, and while that might be boring to you, if you create anything at all, or work in and around knowledge making and spreading, you owe it to yourself to familiarise yourself with these issues and debates. And no, it's not as simple as 'abolish copyright' or 'lock everything up'.

Start with the article, and then move on to his Code, which you can download for free.


Saturday, January 30, 2010

Death at a distance

My grandmother died in Kolkata on Friday. 
She was 92.

She was the last of my grandparents.
I dashed back to my parents house, after getting the call mid-morning.

We watched TV. Drank tea and ate poppadoms. 

There wasn't as much hysteria as I thought there might be, as there was when the penultimate grandparent died.

Just the dull practical details. Like sorting visas to fly out in case the divvying of the inheritance turns into even more of a bunfight.

The phones were ringing, furthering the discussions as to who the representative might be, from this distance. 

Details filtered back across time zones.

That she stopped eating four days ago.

That her last words were, something like, “I won't be getting back up again." 

That it was enormous luck that my uncle, her eldest son, was visiting her and so able to take the reins of the situation. 

That everyone there agreed that it was a good death, whatever that is.

And anecdotes about her too.

Like how she'd ask for a receipt for any gift she was given. 

What I picked up on most were the incidental details around the religious rituals of death that I barely know anything about.

That my uncle had to hold some fire in his mouth before lighting the funeral pyre (the cremation had to happen within 24 hours of death. So she was ashes even before I was awake.) 

That the mourning period involves the family not eating meat – I haven't obeyed this injunction. (I felt some sort of odd consolation that this period will end with a family repast at Ping Pong next weekend.)

That Parsees hang bodies from a tower, for the vultures to pick at. (My grandmother wasn't a Parsee.)

Our family belies the cliché of extended Asian families – there's only the four of us here.

But outside of us, our clan is literally extended in space and time.

Which makes you feel even more like insignificant when things like this happen.

Death bridges distance, brings you closer, but it still doesn't answer those questions caused by those dislocations, voluntary or otherwise. 

I felt the oddness of my second generation upbringing.

I only knew my grandmother as a name. 

As a some photos in an album.

The object of some stories, occasionally told.

There was never any sense... impulse... pressure to get to know her.

(Or indeed, India, Bengal, Kolkata, my culture, my other language, my heritage.)

Is this is a bad thing?

I've never thought so. But then you re-consider, and ask the question.

And others.

How do you grieve for someone you didn't know? 
And only met once when you were two years old? 

Outside, snow was falling as the sun was shining. It was cold and beautiful. Like the day. 


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Fantastic Mr Director

As Hattie over at Comment Central suggests, this could be the best acceptance speech of all time.

Surely all that remains is for all awards ceremonies to be done in stop-motion.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Shepherd's delight

Shepherd's delight
Originally uploaded by SgtRock333
But where do you find a shepherd when you need one...?

26 recommendations

for January are here.


Commercial: BRIC-a-brac

Sure you've probably all seen this Gillian Tett piece already, detailing the inside story on how the idea of the BRICs came to be. I wanted to draw you attention to it:

a) because it's a salient reminder of the power of naming, and how a phenomena can suddenly be made real by a catchy, handy, memorable moniker

b) because the glimpses of jargon that we see littering the prose. I spotted 'BRIC-dom' and 'domestification' on my re-glance, and I'm sure there's more in there.

And my contention is that it's this reliance on jargon by investment and other banks that in part has lead us to the economic situation that we're in at the moment.

Because jargon suggests woolly thinking, a lack of robustness - and transparency. Bluntly, it suggests people are trying to hide things. I'm not saying that every industry doesn't need its own shorthand. But relying on it as the main means of communication to the outside world suggests nothing more than a scared priesthood hiding from an enraged laity.

And that didn't stop the Reformation either.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

These Mortal Bones

Seeing as The Lovely Bones won't be avoidable in the next few weeks, we should all revel in this again:

Lovely, indeed.


Friday, January 08, 2010

Listorama: Facebook status updates vol 15

BetaRish (is):

has been working on a piece that speaks to something’s he’s not sure of

has just stopped himself thieving

Much to do, much to be done

dreamt last night that IDEO had built a giant fibreglass apple for him to live under

Blood and white emulsion and shallots, the traces of all of which are still on my fingers

So no first day of holiday lie in for me then

is endings The Nothings with something

is off to Paris

The weekend’s over. Time for more DIY

looking for harmony in the warm invention of tinted windows

All change! All stay the same!

Sometimes all the heart wants is a widescreen shimmer, an open road and some power pop on the stereo

is analogue

hits, misses and maybes

Champion of breakfasts

Floor shop, fabric shop, work, Ikea. Spot the odd one out

Do I really have to go out in this?

Waiting for the gas man (not a euphemism)

The future of the past is the future

Last night I dreamt I had lunch with Charles Moore, ex editor of The Daily Telegraph. This is the end of days, isn’t it?


thanks you all for the very kind birthday wishes


Bro. Ken

I am stumbling to try and find a lyrical range

No more couch, please

wants a Big Easy

Forza something or other!

is touting the song ‘Gin Rummy Face’ to any interested wastrel poppettes, preferably with an interesting backstory and naked flames in their stage wear

Whither the male ugg boot?

is still floating in space

House is cold

I have a spare ticket to see The Horrors at HMV Forum, Kentish Town, tonight. Message me if you want to join me

Time. The only commodity you own others use for you without checking that it’s OK
has draughts in his bones

wants a unifrom (sic) of fur coats and radiators

Half a bottle of champagne before 10am? Oh, why not…

Feliz navidad! And other such tidings

is getting used to sleeping in until 9.45am

likes waking up to an England victory

Last day of the year


That back to school feeling

has a new fruit bag for the start of term

[due to the inclement weather conditions, this status update has been delayed]

is slightly concerned the snow might leave him marooned in the office later

Anyone else having the whole ‘cold / brain freezing’ experience?

Saving the planet, one to-do list at a time


Traveller's tales

Picture 191
Originally uploaded by SgtRock333
I wrote this as a competition entry for Observer Escape last year. Needless to say it didn't go anywhere, hence why it's here. Mostly true with *degrees* of embellishment...


“So let me get this straight. You’re going all the way to somewhere near Phoenix. But which isn’t Phoenix. Where it’s a desert. And you’ll be back at work this coming Monday. This is taking the idea of a ‘weekend break’ to ludicrous extremes, isn’t it?”

It was, I’ll freely admit, one of my more hare-brained escapades. Fly over 5,200 miles to sample some architecture, go up a mountain and celebrate a wedding. Then make the return journey. All within 72 hours, over one weekend in April this year.

But when friends ask you to go to a part of the United States that you’ve never been to before, and work and the credit card company don’t prove as obliging as you’d hoped, what else can you do but shove suit, boots and sun-factor into a bag and dash to the airport anyway?

My destination was Scottsdale, which extensive if rushed research told me is a city within the boundaries of Phoenix, with a dusty claim to be ‘The West’s Most Western Town’.

If it was true in 1947 it’s less so now, when judged from the air at least. The suburban sprawl of the greater Phoenix area appeared to be endless, visually proving the fact that it’s been one of the fastest-growing conurbations on the planet over the last 25 years.

On the ground, it was clear what’s been attracting the permanent and temporary snowbirds from elsewhere – the heat. It certainly felt as if the temperature was on some sort of performance bonus – the higher it could go, the more it would be rewarded. And so up it went.

But Scottsdale isn’t all critters and cactuses (although the latter do outnumber humans by a ratio of roughly 30 to one). There’s golf too. Lots of it – over 200 courses, as befits one of the major destinations of the PGA tour and other wintering major league American sports stars. That you accept as natural so many lush, green oases in the otherwise arid, orange environment is a tribute, I suppose, to the perhaps misplaced skills of so many engineers.

Maybe they felt they had to take on the challenge nature has thrown down. The landscape, at once awesome and forbidding, always straining to shake off man’s taming, is inspiring too. You sense that when shuffling round Taliesin West, the desert outpost of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It was a surprise to see his cool, crisp geometry translated into woody tones and earthy hues, the unpolished rough stone surfaces reminding us that this welcoming school was at first a simple shelter, electricity and water a long time coming.

Nature in the southwest of the USA tends to get the final say, as I discovered when trying to hike up Camelback Mountain. I say ‘hike’; what I actually mean is ‘attempt to walk, while actually stumbling, bouncing and bruising myself’. My hands clung on to whatever crumbly grip was offered on the Cholla Trail, the supposedly ‘easy’ route to the top of the mountain. Halfway up, on a strip of rock about as wide as my foot, I decided that the American definition of ‘easy’ was slightly different to ours. More galling, however, was being passed by lots of high-stepping athletes for whom ascending was indeed as straightforward as walking down Main Street.

Still, I had enough pluck to defy gravity’s insistent pleas to take a shortcut, and made it down safely in time to witness a simple, blissful wedding under palm trees and attend the reception, where champagne corks popped at the same time the sun was sinking into the horizon.

Those sights were well worth the heat and sleep deprivation of such a quick, long trip. As was Scottsdale. Sure, by the time I nearly got to Phoenix, it was time to come back. But I saw enough that made me want to return, soon – and, next time, for longer.


Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Commercial: Tories want to divorce country

Without offering any partisan views about the brand itself, this is one of the more egregious examples of election posters I've seen. It was claimed on Newsnight last night that it 'works strategically'. Which is good. As it sure doesn't work as a poster. To whit:

- It's a poster. So why is there 23 words on it?

- That first line. It makes Cameron sound less like a Prime Minister in waiting, and more like a spouse wanting out of a marriage...

- ... and if that's the case, why doesn't he have a single line on his forehead? Retouching, perhaps?

- And where's the logo gone?

Six months of advertising of this quality this does not fill the heart with joy.


Commercial: 'Five Dials' DFW special edition

My regular reader will know of the esteem in which the late David Foster Wallace is held here. So I'd like to draw your attention to the following missive from the exemplary Five Dials magazine, which arrived yesterday:

As we like to overload our friends with gifts for New Year’s, you will also be receiving an email in the next few days to let you know where you can download our special issue on David Foster Wallace, featuring writing by Don DeLillo, Jonathan Franzen, Zadie Smith and others. Don’t worry, you won’t have to sign in, or give us your mobile number, or type in a code word. If you know any David Foster Wallace fans who would like to receive a link to the issue please tell them to subscribe to the magazine. It’s free.

You can do the subscribing thing here.


Monday, January 04, 2010

Commercial: Remember the subtitle

It's probably because I've seen the trailer for the above thrice in the last week, but apart from the fact that it does look rather good, one thing about this new BritGangFlickTM that does stick the craw is its title.

I mean, what does it mean? No doubt it'll be revealed in the film, but working on the basis of the poster it suggests a reference to Ms Whalley's particular charms.

What makes it worse is that there's a perfectly good title available to be used.

The subtitle. 'The Measure of Revenge'.

Roll that around your tongue. It has whispers of precision to the violence, hints of Jacobean tragedy, a dark, pungent precis to the film. It's memorable too.

The moral? Sometimes, much like A-sides and B-sides on old 45 singles, titles and subtitles need to be flipped.


Sunday, January 03, 2010

More confessions

More confessions
Originally uploaded by SgtRock333
I know, I know. New year, same old second-hand book obsession. But then a find like this is worth all the grubbing round, and the mis-spent three quids everywhere. Of course, I already have another, more recent copy, but this is gorgeous - an 1983 edition, which appears to be published by Atheneum, in the form of a journal, no 260. Any further information welcomed.

All of which reminds me; Lol, you still have my Ogilvy on Advertising...