Meaningless Slogans

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There seems to be a new kid on the block: meaningless slogans. At first sight they may be thought to constitute a subset of meaningless twaddle, but they differ in one crucial respect. Meaningless twaddle has its origins in ignorance, sloppy thinking, or simply a disregard for truth or meaning.  Meaningless slogans, on the other hand, are carefully thought-out arrangements of words designed to bypass the reader’s cognition and evoke emotional responses.

Here are two examples that I came across and had the presence of mind to photograph. I saw one at my local shopping centre and the other on my TV screen. I have the feeling that I have seen many more, but without recording them or consciously noticing the goods or ideas that they were sneakily promoting.

By way of contrast, to shine an even brighter light on the deficiencies of meaningless slogans, I offer a quotation from the boxer Mike Tyson – an example of direct, unambiguous language conveying a simple truth.

Stroppy 2022

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Sometimes I suspect that a piece has been written with the sole aim of winning the Stroppy Git Award for Meaningless Twaddle, which would be cheating of course.  But I have no reason to believe that this year’s winner has even heard of the Stroppy.

The opposition was blown out of the water by 11 words of such elegant twaddle, devoid of all meaning, that it could have been crafted by Spike Milligan himself with satirical intent:

“Joint client-focused growth teams drive revenue synergies in key sectors.”

Hard to beat, eh?  It’s even more impressive because it was produced by an engineering company – Jacobs, based in Dallas Texas.  Congratulations, Jacobs!

Selfish Giant?

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Another feathery raider!
An avian invader!
     Leave our nect’rines alone,
     Or you’ll promptly be shown
I’m as nasty as Darth bloody Vader!

Protected!

I love to share the road with fellow-cyclists, but not if they overtake me while I’m struggling uphill in first gear. Likewise, I love to share our garden with the colourful, tuneful birds that abound in South Australia – but not if they eat of the fruit of the nectarine tree! As soon as Mrs SG and I noticed beak-marks in some of the ripest-looking nectarines we flung a net over the tree and secured it at the bottom. But the tree had grown since last harvest season and the net wasn’t quite big enough, so there were some gaps. Too small to worry about; or so we thought.

Later the very same day as I passed the tree I saw three very small birds, smaller than sparrows, inside the net! What to do? I grabbed the hose, turned on the water and directed a fine spray over the top of the tree, hoping to drive the little sods down and out the way they must have come in. The water rattled them, but they just kept flying from side to side, hanging on to the netting.

Not to be beaten, I brought out the stepladder and sprayed downward with greater force. No result. Then I remembered making cardboard cut-outs in the shape of a hawk’s silhouette many years ago, and mounting them above the driveway where we parked the car, to deter aerial faecal attack. I brought out the bright red lawn-rake, resumed my position on the stepladder, and waved the rake over the tree in what I hoped was a hawk-like motion.

Two of the birds cottoned on quickly, flew to a low branch and eventually swooped out and away. The third was either thicker of much smarter, but as my rake-waving arm was beginning to ache he left as well. Then I put away the ladder and rake and crisscrossed string across the opening that had afforded access and egress. I took one of the nibbled nectarines, trimmed it and ate it. Good!

This morning I was admiring the tree and saw something fluttering… Aaagh! Another one! Or quite possibly a recidivist, because after a couple of bursts with the hose he took the hint and went home. Now the hole is crisscrossed with Christmassy silver tinsel that glitters in the sun and moves in the wind.

But I can’t help feeling guilty. The birds are just trying to make a living and have no idea that our garden is our territory, where only we have rights to hunt, forage, mate and nest. We, on the other hand, can expect to harvest 5 or 6 kilogrammes of fruit at best, and at exactly the time when the supermarkets are flogging them off at A$2.99/kg.

Am I behaving like the Selfish Giant? The thought disturbs me. Please, someone out there, reassure me that I’m a decent human being!

#$&% !

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I’ve blogged before about the coy use of asterisks and other non-letters to write a rude word without actually write a rude word. This habit gave birth to “the F-word” and “the C-word” and “the N-word”. I decry this. If you want to write “fuck” just do it. If you want to use less coarse language, write “copulate” or a more precise and acceptable word to substitute for one of the ocean of other meanings that “fuck” has acquired.

Judge Judy in Judgement

I came across a new alphabetical euphemism in a recent Guardian Weekly: “the P-word”. It was in an article about racism in English cricket, specifically in Yorkshire. There was no glossary or footnote to explain this neologism. Can you, dear reader, explain it to me?

On the other hand there are some highly objectionable words that seem to pass muster. I am a fan of Judge Judy (deep down I think we all are) and I just finished watching an episode in which a plaintiff referred to the defendant as “white trash”. This manages to be doubly objectionable:

  • It reduces an individual and a whole social class to the status of rubbish.
  • It implies that all non-whites are trash, so a modifier has to be applied only if the person being insulted happens to be white. “Black trash” would be a tautology.

It takes flair to insult so many people with only two words; or stratospheric stupidity; or mega-misanthropy.

Another such word in “bogan”, which exists only in Australia I think. It is defined as “an uncultured and unsophisticated person; a boorish and uncouth person.” No-one’s sure of the origin of the word, but there’s a Bogan River in New South Wales. Anyway, there’s no way of using the word in a non-derogatory way. Thus it is different from “larrikin”, “rascal” or “Pommy bastard”.

While we’re on the subject of the injuries sustained by the English language, don’t forget to submit your entry for the 2022 Stroppy Git Award for Meaningless Twaddle (aka The Stroppy). Closing date: Saturday 15 January (noon GMT). Announcement of the winner: 17 January.

Storing Green Energy

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Mrs SG and I are big fans of green energy. We have as many PV panels as we could cram on our roof, and they generate an average of 18kWh/day. That varies a lot through the year, of course. At the moment they are managing 10kWh/day, but the midsummer record is 31. As it happens today is the 9th anniversary of the panels’ installation and their total output has been 60,831kWh. I estimate the financial return on our investment to have been 8.8%pa – not taking into account depreciation (the system will probably outlive Mrs SG and me), the public subsidy or the value of carbon credits that we had to sign over to the installer.

We don’t have a battery though. When we have surplus production we sell it to our French-owned supplier (on average 6kWh/day) and when we’re running our centralised heating/cooling system we buy to make up our deficit at more than three times the price at which they buy from us.

Tesla Battery – the biggest in the world when it was built in South Australia

Some people talk glibly about large-scale battery storage to solve the problem of intermittent output from solar panels and wind turbines, but the cost of this strategy is not sidely understood. AGL (an Australian company that generates and distributes electricity, and has been characterised by Greenpeace as the country’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases) has commissioned a huge Li-ion battery to be built on Torrens Island, South Australia. It will have capacity for 250MWh and cost A$180M (US$130M at the present rate of exchange). The capital cost is therefore A$720/kWh (US$520/kWh). Feel free to check the maths in case I’ve made a mistake.

Our car – an average-sized petrol-driven sedan – has a fuel tank that holds 51 litres. 1 litre of petrol contains 8.8kWh of energy. Therefore the cost of a Li-ion battery with the energy capacity of our fuel tank would be 51 × 8.8 × US$520 = US$233,000. This is an order of magnitude more than we paid for the car.

So how does AGL think it can make money from this huge battery? The answer lies in the magic of the free market, which now prevails in Australia thanks to the fragmentation and privatisation of what used to be a publicly-owned monopoly. According to the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) the average wholesale price of electricity in 2020-21 ranged from A$0.045/kWh in Tasmania to A$0.072/kWh in NSW. At these prices AGL would have to fully charge and discharge its battery at least 4 times a day to turn a profit.

Nuclear: the clean, green political no-no

But, due to wildly mismatched supply and demand profiles, on 22 occasions last year the market price of electricity spiked about A$5/kWh. That’s not a misprint: five dollars per kWh!  So AGL will keep its powder dry until there is a sudden extreme shortage and then sell the contents of its battery to the highest bidder.  If the whole battery is emptied at A$5/kWh (which is nowhere near the maximum price, mind) AGL will receive a windfall of A$1.25M. At its maximum discharge rate the battery will empty in an hour.  Great for price spikes and short-term outages, but it’s not like having a hydro-electric dam full of water.  Hence the need for:

  • Snowy Hydro 2.0 – pumped storage for 350GWh (1,400 times more than AGL’s battery) that’s expected to take 8 years to build and cost at least A$5bn. That’s equivalent to US$10/kWh, about midway between our petrol tank and AGL’s battery on a logarithmic scale.
  • Back-up dispatchable power (available at the push of a button) from some other source. The Government favours natural gas, of which Australia has an abundance; green voices propose biomass; some contrarians suggest nuclear power, which is a political no-no at the moment.

That’s all. There’s no punchline.

Wimbledon

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A street in Wimbledon

There are place whose names conjure up emotions that are out of all proportion to geographical reality.  One thinks immediately of Paris, Samarkand, Xanadu… and Wimbledon.

I have a 326-year-old map of Midlesex [sic] hanging on my office wall. There are a few place names south of the Thames. Roehampton is there, spelt ‘Rowhampton’, but that suburb’s neighbour Wimbledon is absent. Now it rates inclusion in the London A-Z, but this random streetscape (courtesy of Google Maps) hints at nothing extraordinary. And yet…

Last night Mrs SG and I watched spellbound as Ashleigh Barty, carrier of Australia’s sporting hopes, battled with Karolina Plišková to win the Women’s Singles championship. Her victory was followed by royal pomp and graciousness, an interview, a quantity of photographs that in the pre-digital age would have dented the world’s supply of silver, and holding aloft the trophy plate until her arms must have ached.

Ashleigh Barty

And all the time one was aware of the dark green colour scheme of the stands, the worn grass, the military efficiency of the ballboys/girls… it could have been nowhere else but on the hallowed sod that mortals call Wimbledon.

POSTSCRIPT

Mrs SG and I had our second Covid-19 vaccinations this week: AstaZeneca both times, no side-effects.  We were told that our chances of dying from a consequential blood clot are, respectively, 1.9 and 1.8 per million. As a mental exercise I estimated the lifetime odds of dying in a road accident:

Road accident deaths in Australia = 1,580 in 2020
Equivalent to 61.5 per million inhabitants per year
Average life expectancy = 83.5 years
So lifetime odds = 61.5 x 83.5 = 5,135 per million, or 0.5%

I know… lies, damn lies and statistics.  But for me it puts things in perspective.  And of course the chance of dying if you catch the Covid-19 virus is around 2% and the chance of dying of something is 100%. But not for Ashleigh. She has joined the Sporting Immortals. For such as she cremation is but a hiccup.

Vaccination Passports

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Remember when you had to carry a ‘Certificate of Vaccination’ when you travelled overseas?  These certificates were issued by the WHO as little yellow booklets that had to be stamped and signed by doctors who gave vaccinations against smallpox, yellow fever, cholera, typhoid, polio, hepatitis and perhaps other diseases that I’ve forgotten about.

And every vaccination had to be up-to-date. In the certificate that I was using in the 1970s and 80s I found a post-it note reminding me to have another typhoid jab before 25/06/87. Here’s a photo of that certificate, together with its replacement, open at the page showing the lastest entry:
29/07/93 … Gammaglobulin for Hep A … 2ml

Nobody kicked up a fuss. Everybody recognised that these potentially fatal diseases had to be controlled and that meant ensuring that people travelling across inter­national borders were not carrying them in their bodies. So I really don’t understand why some people are up-in-arms at the suggestion of a SARS-Cov-2 vaccination certificate as a necessary travel document.

Mind you, I do remember a doctor saying, in a country that I will not name, “Do you want the shot, or just the stamp saying you’ve had the shot? The fee is the same.”

Ugly Houses

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Is it just me or are houses getting uglier?  Today we got promotional material for an estate agent, with this picture of a house that’s for sale in our neighbourhood.  Presumably it was designed by an architect.  Presumably that architect’s course had touched on the perfect proportions of the Parthenon, the distinctive grace of the Duomo di Firenze, the simple elegance of the Eiffel Tower, the soaring splendour of Barcelona’s unfinished Sagrada Familia (pictured).  Was he/she away sick for all those lectures?

I blame Grand Designs, that TV series that glorifies rusty iron sheeting, half-burnt timber, floor-to-ceiling windows, concrete floors and exposed girders. At the start of the Industrial Revolution factory-owners were proud to build cotton mills that looked like houses, with well proportioned windows and decorative flourishes.  Now people are building houses that look like carelessly stacked shipping containers and architects point proudly to “industrial” interiors.

Am I alone in thinking that this period of residential architecture will be looked back on with bemused revulsion?  I’m sure Prince Charles agrees with me – but what about you?

The Trak Closes

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Adam and The Trak

Yesterday was a sad day: 2 January 2021. Our local cinema closed.  We moved into the area in 1985, when The Trak and its associated video store (remember those?) had been open for 10 years. I won’t say we moved here because of The Trak, but it was one of the factors.

Its three screens occupied the upper floor of a modest commercial building. Nothing fancy, no art deco styling, no sweeping staircase. It’s close to the mighty Burnside Village shopping centre, which is about to be expanded – with a cinema complex to be added.  Although The Trak specialised in non-mainstream films it could probably not have survived competition from across the road. But it was Covid-19 that delivered the killing blow.

A misleading poster

We went to the last show of all, of course, and bought chocolate coated ice-cream cones at the candy bar.  We’d become used to being the only two people, perhaps with one or two others scattered around the auditorium, but last night most of the seats were filled.  The show was a 1957 film called ‘The Smallest Show on Earth’ whose cast list is a Who’s Who of British comedy in the 1950s.  Appropriately it was about a young couple who inherit a small, dilapidated cinema and try to make a go of it.

There was not a dry eye in the house when the final credits played, even though it was a comedy.  Adam (pictured above), the owner, gave a final speech and explained why he had not closed the curtain that covers the screen.  This is a cinema tradition, signifying that resurrection is not impossible.

And indeed The Trak will live on, in name at least.  Adam and his partner are looking for a new venue to lease; and if that fails they will try to run it on a ‘pop-up’ basis.  Wherever, whenever, Mrs SG and I will there for the next show.

Cinema 1, the biggest, equipped with cup-holders

Christmas Past

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Like everyone, I suppose, I have very happy memories of Christmas as it was when I was a child.  There are things I miss.  Let me list a few…

  • Unpacking the Christmas tree lights, plugging them in, and finding by trial and error which one had gone lame since last Christmas – because if one bulb went, none would come on.
  • Receiving dozens and dozens of Christmas cards, delivered twice a day by children hired in their school holidays to cope with the tidal wave of greetings.
  • Hanging those cards over strings suspended between lintels and light fittings, not putting two with the same dominant colour side-by-side, mixing up the big and the small, the sacred and the profane.
  • Opening up the big cardboard box (that one of my father’s tailored suits had come in) and choosing which of the familiar sheets of wrapping paper I would use for this year’s gifts to my family. Parcels were secured with string in those days, so wrapping paper could be recycled forever.
  • Emancipating nuts with heavy steel nutcrackers. Hazel nuts were easy; walnuts needed precise application of pressure; brazil nuts needed brute strength, but only up to the moment of fracture or you’d be left with a handful of mash.

Merry Christmas to you and yours – and a reminder to make your nomination for next year’s Stroppy Git Award for Meaningless Twaddle (known in the popular press as “The Stroppy”).  Closing date: 15 January (midday GMT).