The Last Paper Column

This will read a little strangely. It’s unedited from the version as it appears in the paper.

Alas This is Fake
The Paper Gives Me A Decent Send-Off

This is the last Micro Cosmopolitan in the City Tribune. I’m leaving the paper. After sixteen years – can you believe it? So much has changed over that time. Why back then there was a Fine Gael/Labour government.

I’m going to miss it badly; in particular, being able to say “I write for a paper”. There was something grand about that. But the world is changing, rapidly. Instead of being a columnist, I’ll be a blogger. Instead of it appearing once a week it will be several times a day. Instead of writing on Wednesday for you to read on Friday, it’ll be instant comment on events as they happen. There will be cartoons too, and you’ll be able to have your own say.

I gave you the address before, but now there’s a new and much shorter one – “I doubt it”. Simply type I.doubt.it and you go straight there. Neat, no? Just dots between the words, no W’s or nothin’. And if you don’t like going to websites you can receive it by email for free. Those of you without computers may find that you can read it perfectly well on your phone.

Otherwise though, you’re stuck. This is the sad fact about the way things are going. You won’t have to buy a daily paper, but you’ll need a machine. In the time I’ve been at the Tribune, the publishing industry has changed out of all recognition. I am fortunate perhaps to have started back when we were still something you might recognise as a “classic” newspaper. I actually brought my column in on a piece of paper, held in my fist. Someone had to type it out again. That almost seems crazy now.

1995 wasn’t quite back in the age of typewriters though. The paper had Macs, and I had a primitive sort of word processor you would point and laugh at now. There was just no way these two computers could communicate with each other. Two years later, while doing volunteer work in South Africa, I started e-mailing my stories. I soon had a computer of my own, and though I couldn’t yet afford an Internet connection – and certainly, not a Mac – I was bringing my stories in on floppy disk. And now… Well, we’ve cut out the paper altogether.

I mean, the whole newspaper.

The business is going through a crisis. On one hand it’s being squeezed by new media; I get a large proportion of my news from blogs, from upstart online-only papers, even from Twitter. Now it’s the papers that can’t afford to buy Macs. The oldest mass medium can and will adapt, they have the core skills that are essential for gathering and recounting the news. But they have to find new ways to make it pay, and they need to do that now – right in the middle of the worst recession since the war.

You support those skills when you read the print version of the Tribune, so I hope you will continue to get it – even without me. And do tell all your friends who stopped buying it while I was here.

http://I.doubt.it – Think of me whenever you hear a politician speak.

Love and out,

Richard Chapman

Fine Gael to Tax Freedom


Barring a miracle of the ballot boxes, it looks like Fine Gael are going to be our masters for the next few years. So I guess some people will have to actually drag their eyes through the bloody manifesto and see what may be in store. Friend and fellow cartoonist Allan Cavanagh alerted me to this gem:

TV Licence: We will change the TV Licence into a household-based Public Broadcasting Charge applied to all households and applicable businesses regardless of the device they use to access content.

Do they really mean to charge all households for RTɹ, whether they watch TV or not? That would be a new general tax, just one that’s collected through its own separate – and therefore ridiculously wasteful – system. Further, it forces me to pay for something I don’t want. I do not own a TV, and one of the reasons for this is that I don’t think what RTÉ broadcasts is worth paying for. If you saw it, you wouldn’t too.

RTE ThumbnailBut perhaps they mean you will be charged if you have any device in your home capable of viewing RTÉ ‘content’. (Do you get nervous whenever anyone uses that word?) They’re hardly going to come round and check what sort of phone you have, so unless they go the unthinkable² route of tracking all internet activity to make sure no one secretly watches television, the logical and simple way to do this will be to charge a tax on every broadband connection or data tariff.

So in the guise of a TV licence, they introduce a tax on freedom of information and of expression. No way, Fine Gael.

  1. RTÉ is the publicly owned broadcasting service, funded in part by a television license fee in a similar fashion to the BBC. In a highly dissimilar fashion, it also has commercials.
  2. Please God they do realise this is unthinkable, don’t they?

The List

Commercial CartoonIf you want to loudly use the word Fact! in your advert, you can’t also say that your product kills 99.x% of “all known bacteria including the flu virus”. Bullshit like that brings you awfully close to… The List.

The list? My unshopping list. Like a shopping list, except of the things I don’t want to buy. The saying is that one half of all money spent on advertising is wasted – only nobody knows which half it is. Well, I intend to show them. The wasted half, is the half that annoys me.

Advertisers you see know that if you remember the product, you are more likely to buy the product. It’s true. All other things being equal, we’ll prefer the brand we’ve actually heard of before. Why wouldn’t we?

Advertisers also know that if an advert annoys you, you’ll remember the product. And that is true too, obviously.

So some of them come to the conclusion that if an advert annoys you, you will remember the product, and so be more likely to buy the product. It’s just logical, no?

No. Because what they forget is, I will also remember that it annoyed me.

I reason that the purchase price of the product pays the advertising agency. If I bought it therefore I would actually be paying a team of professionals to irritate me – indeed, to keep coming up with inventive new ways to irritate me, actually do research into finding what really gets right up my nose. What rational person wants to pay for that? Hence the list.

It’s not a real list of course, I don’t write them down. I don’t have to because – hey – I remember them.

And I will boycott products that I actually like. You’ve got to be firm here. They stay on the list not merely until they stop broadcasting the offending commercial, but for as long as I feel they deserve. There’s a brand of low-fat spread I didn’t purchase for ten years because in 1988 they promoted it with a white man rapping badly. Really, that’s at least a decade’s worth. Some – a certain Australian retail shouting chain for example, an online operation that is not fussy about what cars it buys – will be on the list until one of us dies.

What products are on your list?

Sod You, Dick Roche

Roche CartoonDick Roche, the junior minister who claimed €50k in mileage in two years, has reacted to the defacing of his posters by overlaying it with a sticker saying “This Poster Was DEFACED By People Who Oppose Democracy”.

No Mini-ster. Come here, let me explain something to you in the eccentric capitalization you understand.

That Poster Was Defaced By People Who Oppose YOU.

That poster was defaced by people who are outraged at what you and your party have done to their democracy. By people who are going to rid their democracy of you and of the likes of you.

That poster was defaced by voters.

Fifteen Billion What!?

Fifteen billion. Fifteen frigging billion¹. Where the hell are we supposed to find that, between the couch cushions? We’re already putting lives at risk, we’ve mortgaged the next decade, our banks are owed billions they’ll never recover. How can we spare that kind of money?

The blunt answer is we cannot. It’s pious fiction, intended not so much for domestic as international consumption. We’re beholden now to the bond market for the cash we need just to keep things running, so they’re the real audience for everything government says. We need to get that good review in Standard & Poor’s, the Michelin Guide of money. You have to remember here that the bond market is a market – what’s more, a seller’s market right now. There are a hell of a lot of countries desperate for loans and we’re competing with them for the limited cash available. So essentially a declaration like this is advertising, a way to say “Look, we’re a good bet! See how unspeakably ruthless we can be to our own people!” Rival money-buyers like Britain say they’ll make cuts of £81 billion, we double that. It’s competitive cruelty.

Yes; in per capita terms we’re losing twice as much as UK citizens – in this round of cuts alone. So don’t let anyone (in Fianna Fáil) tell you that we’re just like any other country in this world recession.

But will advertising alone be enough to convince the markets? I doubt it. Understandably, political pronouncements have little impact on market sentiment. What’s needed here is real, spectacular evidence – such as actually shutting down institutions of education and of health. That way investors know government is not squandering money on inessential fripperies like people, but is concentrating on the main business: being a cash cow for the money-owners of this world. So the sooner we have bodies on the streets the better frankly. If anyone feels like volunteering – and I think many must these days – that would be very patriotic.

Or we could try out Senator Donie “It’s not easy on €65,000” Cassidy’s idea. What he wants RTÉ to do is talk things up, stop dwelling on the negative side of the fact that greed and mismanagement have cost us another €15 billion. As there clearly is no actual positive side to this, what he obviously means is that we should invent one. Tell the world that tractor production is rising, that the four-year plan is bearing fruits for the people and all is well in the best-run of all possible countries, that sort of thing. Oppression, I think it’s called. God bless him for trying, but somehow I doubt it’ll fool global investors.

I have a third idea. It may sound a little bit crazy, but if you think about it I believe you’ll see that it just might work. If we really want to convince international markets that the economy is being run in a sensible and competent way, shouldn’t we get rid of the incompetent idiots who are running it?

  1. The amount the government says we need to cut from the budget.

Set Your Child to ‘Record’

Ho Ho. Time again for one of my jolly Christmas tirades. About now it is as seasonal as robins roasted on an open fire to advertise toys to kids. Is Wrong. It’s like marketing flight to penguins. Children cannot actually buy toys, no matter how hard they try. These commercials should not be shown until the kids are in bed, like those for other drugs.

Not all toy adverts are aimed at children though. I saw one for a vast Fisher-Price toddler entertainment unit, obviously aimed at parent rather than off-sprog. Its slogan was “Oh the possibilities!” It didn’t really mean “Think of the possibilities of the great big shiny  thing with loads of knobs to push!” It meant “Think of the possibilities for your little baby if you buy them all this crazy stimulating plastic shit they’ll grow up to be something clever and successful like a surgeon or a lawyer!”

Or even an advertising executive. Give the kids enough brightly-coloured stuff that makes noise, the sales pitch goes, and they’ll grow up to be hyper-intelligent Übermenschen. Bollocks. For once I agree wholeheartedly with Steven Pinker, you can’t stimulate kids into brilliance by throwing money at them. The difference between ‘to play with’ and ‘to understand’ may just be a matter of degree, but what is there in a baby-crawler to understand? Nothing. Kids learn not by twirling pointless plastic things but by interacting with others. These so-called ‘educational’ toys though are often put to quite the opposite end – keeping kids out of adult hair. You can’t help but wonder if they have anything to do with the apparent rise in autism.

So toy commercials should perhaps be kept away from the more impressionable parents too. Thankfully the technology now exists. Hard disc video recorders can serve up your evening’s viewing with all the adverts edited out. (No you can’t buy the TiVo here, but you can set up just the same thing using a computer.) At last, commercial-free viewing will be a possibility. All channels will be like the BBC. Except without all the adverts for the BBC.

Unless the advertising industry ban it. They’re trying. The ads, they say, pay for the programs. Therefore if you’re editing out the commercials, you’re watching the programs without paying for them. Not watching adverts, they’re trying to argue, is theft. Hmm. Gives the phrase ‘Pay attention’ a whole new meaning. By the same logic, channel surfing or turning the sound down during the commercial breaks is also stealing from the broadcasters.

So you won’t be able to protect your kids from the toy adverts. In fact unless you want them to be criminals, you’ll have to force them to watch. Don’t look away dear, you’re stealing from Barney.

See you next week. Don’t touch that dial! (Under penalty.)