Groupon tries to spin away from its Super Bowl ad

grouponAfter offending pretty much everyone – including the Chinese government – with its horrible ad which said, “You can’t save Tibet but we can save you money at a Tibetan restaurant, Groupon is hoping spin will save it from having to say it’s sorry.

Groupon founder Andrew Mason wrote in his blog:

"We would never have run these ads if we thought they trivialized the causes — even if we didn’t take them as seriously as we do, what type of company would go out of their way to be so antagonistic?

A really, really stupid one. That’s what type.

Kudos to Groupon for so quickly going from a neutral brand to one with significant negatives. Not easy to do when your sole public purpose is to help people save money. The ad also pulled off the unique trick of being the first thing that both the Tibetan exiles and Chinese government have ever agreed on.

Here’s my favorite piece of fallout: Even the owner of the Himalayan restaurant mentioned in the ad, is pissed at them. 


Hen thinks it is a penguin or, when life imitates Wallace & Gromit

It’s almost August and that means the papers are filled with stories of animals as media silly season descends upon us. Nowhere is this more true than Metro UK which this week has already run stories on the bear who broke into a house and “stole” a teddy bear and another of a bear who put a safety cone on its head. This last story ran only because someone came up with the headline Cone and the barbearian. In today’s edition we have the breaking news of a Chinese hen who walks like a penguin.


While some may think of this as cute, in reality it is just another case of outrageous copyright infringement by the Chinese. Clearly they have trained this fowl to play the Feathers McGraw role in a horrible live-action rip-off of the classic Wallace & Gromit short “The Wrong Trousers.”

I shall recap the salient plot points for those of you poor pathetic souls who have not yet seen it (but I’m not speaking to you until you correct this error): Wallace rents a room out to a penguin. After displacing Gromit, the penguin is then revealed to be the nefarious bank robber Feathers McGraw. McGraw is a brilliant master of disguise who uses a red rubber glove to transform himself into a chicken (nudge, nudge) when he pulls off his heists. I won’t tell you anymore but I will say that the closing chase scene – involving a toy train set – is (really) one of the best and funniest things I’ve ever seen.

images wgfeath-1 feathers

Extra kudos to the W&G site for having the best competition I’ve seen in a while. “TOP BUN The best Wallace & Gromit-themed baked good uploaded to the site each month will win a set of Wallace & Gromit baking kits.” I believe they mean best picture, either that or they’ve figured out some super cool new technology.

Sergey Brin sort of has your back but maybe not right now

“I think at some point it is appropriate to stand up for your principles, and if more companies, governments, organizations, individuals did that, I do think the world would be a better place.” — Google co-founder Sergey Brin on the company’s decision to stop censoring Chinese search results.

It’s that kind of moral determination that helped Chamberlin get Hitler to sign the Munich Accords.

GM is so inept it can’t even sell a Hummer

It took some time but Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machines Co. finally realized what a bad idea buying Hummer would be. Yesterday the Chinese company announced it was pulling its offer to purchase the brand. From the start, the attempt to dump Hummer has been another testament to the company’s ineptitude. GM began trying to sucker someone into paying for the brand in June of 2008 – when gas was averaging $4.10 a gallon.

The Hummer’s greatest success may be as a metaphor for the past decade. It was a bloated, self-indulgent vehicle with no purpose other than to say, “Look how much debt I can take on just to show off how much debt I can take on.”* It proclaimed a belief that markets never go bad, in this case that gas will always be cheap. However it isn’t much of a stretch to say a similar belief permeated the minds who thought real estate could only gain in value.

The Atlantic is floating the scary idea that Hummer may not yet be dead and that someone may yet come along and revive the monster. Get the pitchforks and torches! Let us storm the castle and cut off the beast’s head and drive a stake through its transmission! For capitalism’s sake, follow me!


See also Hummer, slang meaning of.

*I know there are farmers and others who actually used the damn thing for work purposes, they are exempt from this metaphor.

Google learns how to say alligator tears in Chinese

Google has “threatened” to pull out of China because – SURPRISE – the government was using Goog to get info on dissidents.

NAHHH? Really? Next you’ll tell me that Mark McGwire was using steroids.

Google … said that the company had discovered massive cyber attacks against itself and numerous other foreign companies that it said emanated from China. It prompted quick response from human rights advocates, who praised Google’s statement, and from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said Google’s allegations "raise very serious concerns and questions." "We look to the Chinese government for an explanation," Mrs. Clinton said on a visit to Hawaii. "The ability to operate with confidence in cyberspace is critical in a modern society and economy."*

Apparently The Googsters draw some sort of distinction between oppression via hacking and oppression via cooperating with government censorship. (See Google continues to be on cutting edge of hypocrisy theory for more on this. “At this point, it would take a mashup of Wittgenstein, Quantum mechanics and LSD to make sense of Google’s various explanations for what it will and won’t censor and why.”)

Not only is Google threatening to take its business and go home but the company took the “too little, too late” step of ending censorship on its Chinese search site. Previously the company 404’d searches on topics like Taiwan or the Tiananmen Square massacre. Were I a more cynical person (it could happen) I’d find it mightily convenient that Google is threatening to leave a nation where it is running a very distant second. I’d also call this threat a great PR move that generated a lot of attention in China. Fortunately I am not that cynical. (Thankfully others are: see this brilliant analysis from TechCrunch “Does anyone really think Google would be doing this if it had top market share in the country?”)

*While La Clinton is a diplomat and has to say things like this raises “very serious concerns and questions,” it is difficult to see my government get so worked about this when it has remained silent on little things like state-sponsored murder and torture. What seems to be different this time is that money is involved.

See related links:

Guess what arrived in the mail today! A CHINESE TYPEWRITER!!!

A loyal reader clued me in to the fact that one of these was up for auction and I got it! My good friend Mr. Dale packed the damn thing up and shipped from CA to here.


It weighs about as much as my Underwood #5 and Oliver #9 combined. Now to try and get it working. Even by the dead-end technology standards of typewriters, this is an impressively odd device. Reports say that people using it could type as fast 20 wpm.

Below is a print from a set of type as is in that big tray in the bottom of the picture.

Chinese type

To vaguely understand why I have longed for one of these see this post here. To read about the far superior electric Chinese language typewriter, see here.

Covering O’Biden or McCan’t conventions a giant waste of media money

The political conventions are perfectly timed this year, serving as a perfect antidote to the just finished Munich Beijing Potemkin Olympics. Whatever their many moral faults, the Olympics weren’t boring.

This year I became entranced with field hockey. That was fun to watch. Not as much fun as Usian Bolt, but nothing is as much fun as watching Bolt. The fun couldn’t even be spoiled by the commentator kvelling about how if Bolt had just really focused when he won the first two gold medals he really could have done something. A) He won the damn races going away, so shut up. B) He showed plain old fashioned joy while doing it, so shut up.

The only thing that could have made these games better would have been if NBC had dedicated one channel to a constant live feed of the complete lack of activity in the officially sanctioned protest sites. Oh wait. One other thing could have made this better… any sign of moral cojones on the part of the athletes. Dudes & Dudettes this is the 40th anniversary of Tommie Smith & John Carlos simply raising their fists in salute during the Mexico City games. Yeah, they had to put up with a feces storm the likes of which I can’t imagine. But they never had to wonder about their own integrity. I wish one medal winner had had the courage to receive his or her award with a piece of tape over his or her mouth. That’s all it would have taken. It’s not like you were being asked to stand unnarmed in front of a tank. My self-righteousness is unjustifiable. I participated too. I watched the damn things.  I wasn’t even willing to sacrifice changing the channel, who the hell am I to ask others to do anything?

But I digress …

Now our dusk to dawn interlude of strange and interesting sports and moral peregrinations is about to give away to O’Biden vs. McCan’t. At a time when the press is bleeding money it is impossible for me to understand the amount of money that is spent covering two events with practically no news value whatsoever. I have been told there will be some 4,000 15,000 (thanks Tim!) members of the media covering each convention. 4K people spend a week hoping one person — any person — makes a mistake by straying from the script.

It would be tougher — and more interesting — to cover a house fire. (Actually I’ve never covered a pre-scripted event, so maybe they are tougher than they look. I have covered fires. I know those are tough.)

And just a note to the O’Biden team — WHO THE HELL DOES A MAJOR NEWS RELEASE ON A SATURDAY IN AUGUST? Any bump from the announcement is dead by the time Monday rolls around and people start paying attention again. It almost looks like you didn’t want the pick of The Human Wind Tunnell to get much play.

Suffice to say, we will all be well and fully informed watching whatever snippets The Daily Show and Colbert Report decide to run.

Just as idiotic as the resources spent on covering the conventions is the importance given to them. It will be banner headlines everywhere when Obama gets the official nod but I have no idea why. I always thought news was supposed to contain … well … news. It would be amazing if anything that happens at either confab rises to a level that justifies putting them above the fold on the front page. (Note: This is jargon from back in the time when dead trees were kings of the media world. Above the fold means the news is important enough to be on that prime piece of real estate first seen by the consumer. Below the fold means it is important but still on the bottom of page one and therefore on the side of a folded paper away from the consumer. Anyone wishing to learn more useless newspeak from back when mastodons roamed the media should email me. -30-)

Let the Munich, er, moral, er, Beijing Games begin!

Today is the start of the most odiferous Olympics since the widely boycotted Moscow games of 1980. It is difficult to catalog the extent of the Chinese government’s horrors — even just since Tienanmen Square — so allow me to quote someone else:

China’s well-documented and continuing abuses of human rights in violation of internationally recognized norms, stemming both from the authorities’ intolerance of dissent and the inadequacy of legal safeguards for basic freedoms. Reported abuses have included arbitrary and lengthy incommunicado detention, forced confessions, torture, and mistreatment of prisoners as well as severe restrictions on freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association, religion, privacy, worker rights, and coercive birth limitation.

And this wording is the cleaned up and diplomatic version put forth by the US State Department, an organization not generally known for its willingness to call major trading partners to task on these issues. Thankfully Mr. Bush has undercut even these slight words of criticism (as well as his own tepid comments on the subject) by attending the games.

The most fascinating thing to watch will unfortunately not be in the athletic sphere but the contortions performed by the sponsors and the media to play up allegedly idealistic goals of the games while minimizing the facts on the ground.

You can get an idea of the depth and seriousness of the journalism I am expecting by this selection of headlines from today’s USAToday:

It’s a fascinating moment when sites like OhGizmo are doing better coverage than the MSM: Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee Bans “Professional Camera Equipment” For Non-Press Visitors. It’s not a big story, but it is an indicative one and one which is based on that oh so difficult task of actually examining the record.
Also there was this one which mostly got covered by the MSM as a crackdown on prostitutes:
I should temper this rant slightly, a few MSM stories of note:

Huzzah to our dear, dear irony-free friends at Google for this inspiring post on their official blog:

I’m happy to present the 2008 Summer Games on Google, a site that features a number of our products to help you stay updated on Summer Games happenings. And it’s available in 66 countries and 31 languages, from Australia to Uruguay, and from Arabic to Vietnamese. We collaborated with a data provider to make it easy …

Given the circumstances “collaborated” is definitely not the word you want to use. How about “worked with”?

Well, since these are supposed to be a particularly environmentally friendly games (don’t breathe the air), I will reuse and recycle something written earlier under the headline Spielberg declines to help the Munich, er, Beijing Olympics

Coverage of the games is going to be fascinating to watch. Sports journalists are generally not the hardest hitting reporters and I suspect their employers won’t have much interest in covering what is actually happening in the world’s largest economy.

It would be nice to think that marketers have any concern about ill-will coming from supporting the games this year. It would be nice and it would be wrong. There will be no ill-will because consumers won’t care. Certainly here in the US these will just be another Olympics in an exotic locale. There will be no news to rival Hitler declining to shake Jesse Owens’ hand. Instead their will be pomp and circumstance and more of our collective denial. Thanks to Mr. Spielberg’s decision, though, Beijing will have to look elsewhere for an overly sentimental ending.

Graphic via

Beijing takes fun out of ordering Chinese food during the Olympics

As it readies for an influx of visitors for the August Games, the Chinese capital has offered restaurants an official English translation of local dishes whose exotic names and alarming translations can leave foreign visitors frustrated and famished.

  • “Husband and wife’s lung slice” is now “beef and ox tripe in chili sauce”
  • “Bean curd made by a pock-marked woman” = “Mapo tofu.”
  • “Chicken without sexual life” = “steamed pullet”

Oh the humor! Will no one think of the humor???

Is there a version of for China?

China approves official chant for fans at Olympics

Beijing organisers are promoting an officially sanctioned chanting routine for Chinese spectators at August’s Olympics, state media said on Thursday. Incorporating the ubiquitous Chinese sporting chant, “Jiayou” or “add oil”, the four-step routine is designed to help spectators cheer in a “smooth and civilised manner” at the August 8-24 Games. … The routine begins with “Olympics — add oil” accompanied by two claps and a double thumbs up, before continuing with “China — add oil” with two more claps and raised fists.

  1. I still prefer “Yankees SUCK!”
  2. How much did Beijing have to pay for being named “Official Chant of the 2008 Summer Olympics”?
  3. Can’t find an explanation of why “add oil” is the chant of choice in China.

What language do Chinese cellphones text in?

Listening (mostly) to the coverage of the earthquake disaster in China I learned that text messages are the most popular form of communication in China. Now I dislike using my little cellphone keyboard to send text messages in English, I can’t even fathom how it works in Mandarin. (I’m assuming they are all texting in Mandarin — China has at least six different regional/ethnic language groups most of which have about as much in common as Latin and Hungarian but Mandarin is the official default.) Now clearly they’ve got this figured out but it’s such a basic thing that no one has explained it to us outsiders.

As a typewriter collector myself I have long dreamed of adding a Japanese or Chinese typewriter to my collection. The Chinese typewriter pictured below is explained by this Wikipedia entry.

That multi-lingual typewriter was the size of conventional office typewriters of the 1940s. It measured 14” x 18” x 9”. The typefaces fit on a drum. A “magic eye” was mounted in the center of the keyboard. When the typist pressed several keys, according to a system Lin devised for his dictionary of the Chinese language, a Chinese character appeared (in the magic eye?). To select a particular character, the typist then pressed a “master” key, similar to today’s computer function key. The typewriter could create 7000 distinct characters. It could type additional “words” using combinations of characters, attaining a theoretical total of 90,000 words. The inspired aspect of the typewriter was the system Lin devised for a Chinese alphabet. It had thirty geometric shapes or strokes. These became “letters” by which to alphabetize Chinese characters. He broke tradition with the long-standing system of radicals and stroke order writing and categorizing of Chinese characters, inventing a new way of seeing and categorizing.

The StraightDope has an explanation here of how a Chinese computer keyboard works but it doesn’t do much to clear up my confusion about the whole texting thing.

Anybody clear this one up for me? Bueller?

UPDATE: NPR has come to my rescue. Apparently the Chinese use an English keyboard to type in the phonetic equivalent of a character and then that character appears in the text. Sounds clumsy to me but 1.6 billion people seem to think it works, so who am I to argue?

Microsoft worse at irony than it is at operating systems

In a recruitment effort, Microsoft is giving out decks of cards with the phrase “Hey Genius” emblazoned on their backs. The fronts are a standard deck of cards but each describes different MS products or initiative the putative genius could work on. Now where I come from you only say “Hey genius” when someone has truly, truly proved they are anything but. My favorite card, from an irony standpoint, are the jokers both of which tell people that they might be forced to work on Zune, the company’s not-yet-closed attempt to compete with the iPod.

Further proof of Redmond’s tin ear for irony can be found in the following:

MSN China has invited users of its messaging service to put a red love heart followed by ‘China’ in front of their names to support the Olympic Games.

I mean, they’ve got to be kidding, right? I certainly hope MSN users in the rest of world have the option of using that symbol of the red circle with the line through it.

How much do the official sponsors of the Munich Beijing Olympic games wish they could remove their names from being used on any ads outside of The Middle Kingdom. For once I am going to tune in to watch the coverage of the games, not the games themselves. It will be a fascinating moment to watch all these sports reporters have to cover the ongoing political insanity.

Speaking of which, here’s one story that hasn’t hit the press here in the West yet. Seems the China is doing a major effort to remove gays and lesbians from Beijing.

AIDS activists and gay rights supporters in China have sounded an alarm following one of the largest crackdowns on gays and lesbians in Beijing, evidently as part of a “clean-up” ahead of the Olympics.

The idea that Beijing is removing gays and lesbians and then having thousands of Olympic athletes come to town shows that the Chinese have a very … um … closeted view of what goes on in the Olympic village. It has also been reported that prostitutes are being “cleaned out” of Beijing, showing that the Chinese really don’t understand how to get on the media’s good side.

Spielberg declines to help the Munich, er, Beijing Olympics

olympiaI am glad to hear that Steven Spielberg will not be playing the role of Leni Riefenstahl for this summer’s Olympics. How odd though that he “withdrew on Tuesday as an artistic adviser to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing over China‘s policy on the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region. Why worry about China’s foreign policy, given its great record on domestic repression?

Still, Spielberg is showing considerably more backbone than the UK. The British Olympic Committee voluntarily threatened to pull any of its athletes who had the temerity to speak out on “politically sensitive issues” while in China.

The controversy erupted in Britain after the Mail on Sunday newspaper reported that the BOA had threatened that any athlete who refused to sign the gag order would not be allowed to travel to China. Any British participant who signed the order and then spoke out during the Games would be sent home, according to the initial plan.

What makes this even more horrible is that it is quite clear that this ban did not come at the behest of Beijing.

According to a number of national Olympic committees in Asia contacted by AFP, China has put no pressure on countries to silence their Olympians and Sun insisted Beijing wanted to welcome all competitors.

Huzzah for the Brits and their pre-emptive strike against human rights!

Which is not to say that China doesn’t approve of the idea after the fact. The Chinese Olympic committee said, not surprisingly, that they thought this was a fine idea. Unsaid was the fact that they weren’t stupid enough to actually suggest it.

Fortunately the British Olympic Association is showing no more spine in the face of criticism of this issue than it did in issuing the ban in the first place. They are apparently caving faster than a watercress sandwich dipped in very hot tea.

Coverage of the games is going to be fascinating to watch. Sports journalists are generally not the hardest hitting reporters and I suspect their employers won’t have much interest in covering what is actually happening in the world’s largest economy.

It would be nice to think that marketers have any concern about ill-will coming from supporting the games this year. It would be nice and it would be wrong. There will be no ill-will because consumers won’t care. Certainly here in the US these will just be another Olympics in an exotic locale. There will be no news to rival Hitler declining to shake Jesse Owens’ hand. Instead their will be pomp and circumstance and more of our collective denial. Thanks to Mr. Spielberg’s decision, though, Beijing will have to look elsewhere for an overly sentimental ending.

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Citroen learns genocidal dictators aren’t good advertising

The French car company issued an apology to China because of an ad that ran in Spain featuring Chairman Mao making a face at a hatch-back.

MeowUnder the Biblical quotation “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s,” the text talked up Citroen’s position as a car sales leader in a bombastic tone. “It’s true, we are leaders, but at Citroen the revolution never stops,” the advertisement said.

The ad drew the ire of people at several Chinese web sites.

Oddly they didn’t object to using Mao’s image because it glorified the person directly responsible for murdering and starving tens of millions of their countrymen — (which is what Citroen should really be apologizing for). No, the quotes ran more to … “Chairman Mao is the symbol of China, and what Citroen did lacks basic respect to China.” Apparently they are just as bad at teaching history in China as they are here in the US.

In case the situation wasn’t ripe with enough irony, the image used in the ad closely resembled the ginormous Mao poster that waves in Tiananmen Square.

Jack Yan has a copy of the original ad at his blog here.

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Google continues to be on cutting edge of hypocrisy theory

“At Google, we have a bias in favor of people’s right to free expression. Google is not and should not become the central arbiter of what does and does not appear on the Web. That’s for elected governments and courts to decide.” — Google Director for Israel Meir Brand on why the company they would not censor anti-Semitism from their search results for Israeli searchers.

At this point, it would take a mashup of Wittgenstein, Quantum mechanics and LSD to make sense of Google’s various explanations for what it will and won’t censor and why. The fact that the first sentence is entirely contradicted by the third sentence does not appear to have bothered the speaker one bit.

Google in China, for instance, has censored itself to satisfy authorities in Beijing, restricting searcher access to “sensitive topics” like Taiwan and 1989’s Tiananmen Square massacre. In Germany and Austria, Google removes Nazi content in order to comply with national censorship laws.

Meanwhile, Yahoo — no slouch itself when it comes to splitting linguistic atoms — has decided they’d rather pay than fight. The company settled out of court yesterday with the families of two journalists jailed by after Yahoo gave the Chinese government information about the two men. In Yahoo’s defense — and this ain’t saying much — the company never claimed either that A) You can make money without doing evil or B) Democracy on the web works.

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