Thursday, 31 January 2013

Bullshit News Story of the Week: Nobel Peace Prize "Nominee" Takes On Obama

"I've seen the future, brother - it is murder." (Source:

Ever thought you deserved a Nobel Peace Prize? Turns out being nominated for one is not that hard. All you need apparently is convince a university rector or a professor of social sciences, history, philosophy, law or theology, or a director of a peace research or foreign policy institute, to submit a nomination on your behalf. Don't believe me? See for yourself.

Not that this actually means anything, of course. While nobody outside the Nobel Society knows exactly how many submissions for the Peace Prize it receives every year, as this information is officially embargoed for a 50-year period, but one can safely assume that it runs into the thousands. And with many of the world's leading peace advocates from Malala Yousefzai to Bono still waiting for their kick at the can, it's safe to assume that you don't have the remotest shot at the big prize. (Unless of course Bono or Malala is reading this post, in which case I wish you all the best!)

Having said that, once your application is in the bag you are fully entitled to refer to yourself as a Nobel Peace Prize nominee. And while this is an essentially meaningless designation, this hasn't stopped some nominees from bandying about this designation. Moreover, in some benighted corners of our media landscape, namely the US Tea Party movement, being a Peace Prize nominee is considered an impressive credential - or at least deemed sufficient to fool the ignorant souls that constitute the movement's rank-and-file followers.

On January 22, the big-government-conspiracy-obsessed "news" portal Prison Planet run by barking-mad media wingnut Alex Jones produced a story with the title "Nobel Peace Prize Nominee: Obama Asks Military Leaders If They Will 'Fire On US Citizens'." Naturally, the Tea Party movement's official web portal latched onto this story like a falcon on a three-legged hamster and made it headline news. The story alleges that an unnamed individual described only as "one of America’s foremost military heroes" leaked this information to a "Nobel Peace Prize nominee." The Peace Prize candidate in question further elaborated on this exchange on his personal Facebook page with the following:

"I have just been informed by a former senior military leader that Obama is using a new "litmus test" in determining who will stay and who must go in his military leaders. The new litmus test of leadership in the military is if they will fire on US citizens or not. Those who will not are being removed."
So who is this great advocate of peace, who the article further emphasizes is "a public figure, not an anonymous voice on the Internet"? The man in question is Guelph, Ontario native Dr. Jim Garrow. According to the Guelph Mercury, he's a former principal, school board trustee and special needs teacher who once created his own "Internet business" and ran a flight school. However, Garrow is best known for being the director of an organization known as Pink Pagoda, which works to rescue unwanted baby girls from China and put them up for adoption in North American homes. Dr. Garrow claims his organization has saved 34,000 baby girls since 2000.

On the other hand, he does look like a convincing Tolkien wizard.
Peace Prize worthy, you say? Not so much. The Guelph Mercury article goes on to explain that many of Garrow's claims have been disputed by individuals familiar with China's adoption networks. It also turns out Pink Pagoda isn't even a registered charity and that Garrow's activities have prompted an investigation by the RCMP for alleged child trafficking. China adoption expert Brian Stuy produced a damning expose on Garrow and his organization on his blog in which he asserts that the number of children he claims to have rescued "represents approximately half of all the children adopted internationally from China since 2000," while speculating that Garrow may have unwittingly become ensnared in illegal 'child-buying' rackets involving corrupt local officials. He further notes that reporters from the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Dateline have investigated his activities and found no substantiation to his claims.

As for Garrow's much-vaunted "Peace Prize nominee" status, it turns out he was nominated for the prize in 2009 by an unnamed president of a Chinese university whose granddaughter was allegedly rescued by Pink Pagoda agents. He also goes by the honorific "Dr.," a designation he received as an honourary degree from the non-accredited North Carolina College of Theology, which apparently declined to respond to the newspaper's phone inquiries into Garrow's educational background. As for his teaching background, his record is checkered to say the least. His teaching licence in Athens, Ontario was suspended for a time following allegations of professional misconduct. His short-lived flight school was shut down after it was discovered the plane it was using was not insured or registered.

This, in a nutshell, is the great "public figure" used by the Tea Party to support its assertion that President Obama is priming members of the US army to fire on its own citizenry, presumably in an attempt to forcibly remove privately owned firearms from the "cold dead hands" of the American people. Of course there is no explanation as to how Garrow chanced to hear this remark from the unnamed "American hero" in question, or even why a Canadian leader of an international adoption agency based out of China (even a competant one) would be an authoritative source of information on a US president gone rogue. Of course the only information we're given about Garrow in the Prison Planet article picked up by the Tea Partiers is that he's a "Nobel Peace Prize nominee" and that he has saved children's lives, presumably in the hope that the reader will take this at face value and not explore it any further.

In the meantime, I am officially not soliciting nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize. Puh-lease! I want no part in an award that's been bestowed on war criminals like Henry Kissinger and Yasser Arafat. And had the likes of "Dr" Jim Garrow as nominees. Nope, not goin' there!

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Writing Tips for Musicians - 11 Bio-Writing Sins To Avoid
Rule 1: Don't follow this guy's example.

I wear many hats as a writer and communications professional. One of those hats is as the unofficial 'manager' of my wife Allison's band, The Last Calls. The Last Calls are an up-and-coming six-piece cover pop-rock band from Edmonton who made a fabulous debut last summer by way of a six-stop tour of southern Alberta - taking in Coleman, Medicine Hat, Nanton, Pincher Creek, Twin Butte and Waterton Park. (Yes, all the great capitals of southern Wild Rose country!) I've also done a great deal of promo material for Allison in her capacity as a solo artist and occasionally sat down at the piano stool myself as accompanist, although far less often than I would like!

As such, I've written a hell of a lot of band and soloist bios. And not just for my better half's work. The trouble with being a professional writer is that, once people find out you're a professional writer (or that your spouse is), you tend to get innundated with requests for bios, social media posts, proofreading etc. Being a writer and editor is rather like being a massage therapist. Show up at a party and tell people what you do for a living and before long you have people asking if you'd "just check this for spelling and punctuation" and "could you just write me a 100-word bio for my program?"

Not that I mind. I'm more often than not very happy to indulge my musician friends with wordsmithing. It's what I do and it comes easy to me. Moreover, many musicians - and I say this with the deepest respect - write terrible bios! Anyone who's ever been to a classical music recital or a jazz festival has had the experience of opening a program and confronting overwrought, cliché-riddled disasters of bios that inadvertently make the performer sound like the biggest prick that ever enrolled in music school. How many of us have read dreadful musician bios that read something like this?

"Violet Wienerbunker was born into a musical family of esteemed, supremely talented and musical musicians and was singing Verdi arias while still in her mother's uterus. Violet literally lives and breaths music, catching the attention of musicians and human beings alike with her dulcet tones and 13-octave collaratura range that some have compared to Maria Callas, Michael Bolton, Freddie Mercury and an ascending 737. Violet studied at the esteemed Kenny Loggins School of Music at the Unversity of Eastern West Virginia, where she was told that she had a "glowing future" but then artist-in-residence Kid Rock - a phrase he claims he only ever used once in his life, whereupon she set off for the Berklee School of Music in Boston, Massachussetts, the alma mater of such famous musicians as Keith Jarrett, Joe Lovano, John Mayer, Esperanza Spalding and Judas Priest alumnus Tim "Ripper" Owens, among many, many other great musicians. While at Berklee she also studied under the tutelage of legendary almost-Grammy-nominated Tuvan throat-singing virtuoso Sainkho Namtchylak and was shortlisted for a UNESCO tour of the Tuvan Autonomous Republic, although she was unable to participate due to a competing recording project with Boston-based early music-inspired heavy metal group Flagellatorium, which launched her career on the world stage and beyond. Today she is an early-to-advanced childhood musical educator for the Mercedes Woodcock-Nimrod School of Performing Arts in Lansing, Wyoming, where she imparts her lifelong love of music from Tallis to Tool and beyond to young children of all races, genders and nationality all across the fine state of Wyoming while continuing to excel in all facets as a professional performing musician, and today brings you a wide array of works by 19th century Paraguayan composers......"

If you actually read through to the end of that bio, you're a freak. Even I stopped paying attention to what I was typing about half way through. But this is not to be harsh on musicians. Musicians, after all, are trained to sing, play instruments and write music at a high level - not crank out accessible, reader-friendly prose for audience members. That's what people like me are trained to do. However, many musicians are indeed fantastic writers who do amazing things with words as song lyrics - but still manage to write terrible bios.

Writing a good bio is a tricky undertaking, requiring exactly the right balance between self-deprecation and self-confidence. However, by avoiding the following common bio-writing pratfalls and clichés, you can at least assure that your bio won't make your audience hate you before you even start to perform.

1) Don't tell us that you "could sing before you could crawl" or any other such nonsense.

Unless you're Groucho Marx, who famously began his autobiography with the words "I was born at a very young age," intros like this just sound silly. Nobody comes out of the womb wielding a Stradivarius or knowing all the words to 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. You may have a natural inclination towards music, but you still got to where you are today by studying and practicing. And that's just fine.

2) Nobody cares if you were "born into a musical family."

We're here to hear you, not your family. Unless your great-uncle is Mick Jagger or your brothers' names are Jackie, Jermaine, Marlon and Tito, you're better off leaving your family out of it.

3) Don't make vague claims with no substance.

Specifically, don't refer to yourself as a "gifted artist" or a "musician destined for stardom." Tell as who you are and what you do and let your music speak for itself.

4) Don't boast about your youth - and how young you were when you accomplished X, Y and Z.

There's no more surefire way of alienating your reader than rubbing it in their face that you had a record contract at 16 or that you were the youngest person ever accepted to the Eastman School of Music in the woodwinds department. All of us worry, on one level or another, that we haven't achieved as much as we should have achieved by whatever age we're at. And we don't fork out for concert tickets for the purpose of being reminded of that fact. And don't describe yourself as a "young, up-and-coming talent." If being young were a musical achievement in and of itself, we would all have Grammys sitting on our Ikea bookshelves.

5) Self-deprecation is good - but only to a point.

Just as nobody wants to hear you boast about how much better than everyone else you are, nobody wants to read a bio that will leave them questioning what they're doing listening to you. If your bio reads something like "We started a band 'cause we were stoned on Tyler's couch and listening to Radiohead one night and figured 'Well, we could never be as good as these guys but we don't completely suck, so why not?'" Because nobody wants to see a band that fits that description - unless they're giving out free weed at the intermission.

6) Don't make unsourced comparisons between yourself and other artists.

If a reviewer in a newspaper or magazine likened your voice to Amy Winehouse or your piano technique to Oscar Peterson, then you can include it in your bio. (In fact you'd be an idiot if you didn't.) If some drunk guy at a bar once said you reminded him of Rihanna, don't think that gives you licence to claim you've been "likened to artists such as Rihanna, among others." Furthermore, don't use the words "among others." That's just a cheap aggrandizing bio trick that won't fool anyone who's actually reading your words.

7) Keep the list of performance credits, diplomas and awards to a minimum.

It's a bio, not a CV. Provide perhaps three career highlights and leave it at that. Nobody wants to wade through a Tolstoy-esque biography covering every single place you've played. Your audience is there to hear music, not read a novel. Moreover, if they're sitting in the audience, having already paid the ticket price, you've already sold them on the idea of coming to hear your perform; you don't need to further impart them with the merits of coming to see your gig. Any excess information is just going to get on people's nerves and lessen their likelihood of coming to see you again.

8) If you're performing alongside other musicians, don't write a bio that's way longer than those of your fellow performers.

In an ideal situation, a bio that's three times as long as all the others in a program will get nipped and tucked into line with the others. But realistically most music festivals are strapped for money and people and the person putting the program together doesn't have time to edit the bios because they're too busy filling in grants and learning the viola part to the Benjamin Britten ensemble piece that follows your solo number. Ask whoever is putting together the program what an appropriate word limit it. Otherwise you might just look like a pompous jerk - or an insecure person.

9) Don't include complicated URLs in a print bio.

This rule is only applicable to print bios. If you have a band website with a simple, easily typed URL like or a Facebook page like, you can include it. However, if your sound clips are buried someplace and accessible only by way of a long URL like!2, you're wasting time and space by including this because nobody is ever going to manually type it out. If you do have a page like this, provide the root URL together with instructions on how to access the specific page.

10) For the love of God, proofread!

This should go without saying, but I've seen enough bios with glaring errors in them that it seems to bear mentioning. Check your work before you submit it. And if possible, reread the program in hardcopy form before it gets printed and distributed. Keep in mind that, as in Rule 5, the person doing the programs probably doesn't have enough time to proofread everything. Nor are they likely to be trained copy editor. Proofing is your job.

11) If you're writing a bio for a website or social media page, don't forget to include contact information.

The old Field of Dreams adage of "If you build it, they will come" notably does not apply to digital media. Particularly if you omit the crucial part where you let visitors to your site know how to reach you. You could be the most amazing band on the face of the earth, with a beautiful web presence and a superbly crafted band bio, but unless you provide people with easy-to-find phone and email contact info, you're not going to get any work. Trust me, I've seen numerous band websites and Facebook pages with no contact information.

In sum, keep it short and pleasant, injecting some humour wherever possible, and remember the purpose of what you're doing. For more on how to write a great musical bio, here is an excellent article on the site by musician and Bitch magazine contributor Julia Rogers. It covers some of the same tips outlined here along with some more in-depth advice on marketing yourself as a musician.

In the meantime, to my musician friends, I hope you find this post entertaining and helpful. And if you do have any questions on bio-writing matters, feel free to give me a shout.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

21 Arcane Words Worth Reviving As Modern Business Lingo

Every time the new year rolls around, just about every PR, communications and business management-related blog or forum comes out with its own list of annoying corporate neologisms and political buzzwords that deserve to bite the proverbial dust as expeditiously as possible.

I too have found myself writing light-heartedly acerbic posts about words and expressions that ought to be banned. Not surprisingly, this year's worst offenders' list includes 'fiscal cliff', 'job creators' and 'yolo' as well as stubborn hangers-on like 'guru', 'double down', 'the new normal' and 'a-ha factor'. As for me, the sooner that irritating expressions like 'lots of moving parts', 'synergy' and anything with the word 'robust' in it disappears from our business speak, the happier our workplaces will be.

But rather than focus on the words and expressions we love to hate, I would instead like to propose an infusion of new words into our daily parlance. Or, more to be more precise, I propose we revive some wonderful old words that have long fallen into disuse and breathe new life into them. Many of our extinct words are in fact delightfully punchy and compact words that strike me as very well-suited to our modern-day places of business.

What would we have to gain from reviving long-dead words and expressions? Firstly, a richer vocabulary means richer communication. What bothers me about much of our modern-day corporate lexicon is that it's frankly lazy English. Why can't we use real words instead of cheap constructs like 'core competency' or cartoon words like 'incentivize'? Secondly, the 140-character confines of the Tweet have made greater virtues than ever out of terseness. And thirdly - and this is the most important reason - it would be fun. And we all want to have fun in our work, don't we?

In selecting my top 20 candidates for vocab revival, I did my best to select words that a) would actually be useful, b) are short and concise enough for today's social media world, and c) sound cool. Some of these are fairly recent (i.e. 19th century) losses from the language, whereas others haven't been in popular parlance for over 500 years. Most of them are either verbs or nouns, although I've included a few choice adjectives as well. And as always, I'm open to other suggestions. Here we go.

1. Acrasial

 Meaning: Ill-mannered or ill-tempered.

Example: Jill may be acrasial but she gets the job done.

2. Bajulate 

Meaning: To carry a burden.

Example: Geez, I didn't realize you wanted me to bajulate this event as well as plan it!

3. Buncombe

Meaning: Unacceptable behaviour, rubbish, bullshit.

Example: I don't care if it's in your holy book! This misogynistic buncombe stops now!

4. Darkle

Meaning: To obscure something, to make dark or indistinct.

Example: As Fukushima Daiichi was in full meltdown, TEPCO darkled the issue by making vague statements and shuffling officials from post to post.

5. Dragoon

Meaning: To compel or coerce, usually by force.

Example: If you think you can dragoon me into this joke of a settlement, you're very much mistaken!

6. Drollic

Meaning: Pertaining to puppet shows (seriously).

Example: Danielle Smith assembled a drollic assortment of big oil advocates and formed the Wildrose Party.

7. Fantods

Meaning: A state of nervous irritability.

Example: John Turner's fantods got the better of him as he lashed out at Brian Mulroney over patronage appointments and lost the debate.

8. Icasm 

Meaning: A figurative expression.

Example: Just tell it to me straight; don't hide behind icasms and innuendo.

9. Jobler

Meaning: Someone who does various odd jobs.

Example: She built a reputation as a jobler within the company and eventually rose to CEO.

10. Krioboly

Meaning: A ritual involving the sacrifice of many rams (or possibly any complicated and messy ordeal).

Example: If I had known this task would turn out to be such a krioboly I would have contracted it out.

11. Mochlic

Meaning: A drastic purgative medicine.

Example: Paul Ryan's proposed economic mochlic will plunge half the country into poverty.

12. Naumachia

Meaning: A type of gladiatorial combat in Ancient Rome involving staged naval battles (or possibly any over-the-top and ghastly spectacle with an invariably messy outcome).

Example: I think we should all be patient with Obama, especially considering the naumachia that preceded him under the Bush administration.

13. Obrumpent

Meaning: The state of breaking or bursting things.

Example: Larry's obrumpent performance as CEO left the company with a tattered reputation.

14. Omniregency

Meaning: Maintaining total control over every facet of something.

Example: Seriously, your omniregency over these proceedings is starting to piss us all off!

15. Persiflage

Meaning: Lighthearted banter, friendly chitchat.

Example: A bit of persiflage with employees can help soothe nerves during performance reviews.

16. Scaevity

Meaning: Unluckiness.

Example: Hard work and good planning are no substitute for a competitor's scaevity.

17. Speustic

Meaning: Half-baked, hastily slapped together.

Example: John's speustic communications plan was full of typos and poorly articulated key messages.

18. Supererogation

Meaning: The performance of more work than duty requires.

Example: Jenny, it's great that you have such a strong work ethic, but you should know that supererogation will just make everyone else resent you. Just nod, smile and do the minimum - that's how we roll.

19. Tantuple 

Meaning: Multiplied by the same number; so many times a given quantity .

Example: China's tantuple economic growth began to peter out in the late 2000s.

20. Venialia

Meaning: An assortment of minor sins or indiscretions.

Example: Look Fred, an early departure here and there and the occasional use of company property for personal use is one thing, but your venialia is starting to attract negative attention. 

21. Wittol

Meaning: A man who is aware and tolerant of his wife's infidelity; an acquiescent cuckold (or possibly someone who is aware and tolerant of corporate misdeeds).

Example: The Watergate scandal exposed Nixon for the political wittol he was.

For those interested in these and other arcane expressions, The Phrontistery's Compendium of Lost Words is a great online resource.

Monday, 14 January 2013

5 Reasons Why Dogs Are Natural PR Professionals

If your messaging is unclear or inconsistent, this is
exactly how your PR publics will hear it.
I'm a dog person. Anyone who knows me personally knows this, as does anyone who read my post from last August about dogs and social media. I love my two dogs and over the years have developed a complex relationship with them that sometimes spills over into my professional life. On occasion when writing key messages or speaking notes, I've actually read sections out loud to them, figuring that any messaging short and concise enough to hold a dog's attention is guaranteed to work on human beings. And no, I don't cheat by putting treats in my pocket.

I first became a dog person round about the same time I became a PR person. And the further I've entrenched myself as both a PR pro and a dog parent, the more similarities between the two I've uncovered. Dogs as a species are remarkably well suited to the domain of public relations. Were it not for the fact that they are unable to read, write and speak in human language, they would probably replace us - if only for the fact that they'd happily work for food, walk breaks and raw affection.

I've never owned a cat (I'm allergic) and never purported to understand them as a species, but I've long suspected them, by contrast, of being natural lawyers. Their inscrutability, agility and uncanny ability to find all of life's loopholes (as well as their penchant for appearing out of nowhere and demanding payment) all strike me as lawyerly characteristics. Dogs, by contrast, would make terrible lawyers (Ever see a dog try to obfuscate obvious truths like missing treats or a capsized garbage can?) but fantastic PR practitioners. Here is my rationale.

1) They're natural networkers.

Ever been to PR schmooze and booze event? How about an off-leash dog park? Apart from the requisite butt-sniffing (at the dog park that is) it's sometimes hard to tell the difference. Let a bunch of PR people in a room together with appetizers and alcohol and you're guaranteed to have a party full of lively discussions, a bit of playful one-upmanship, discussions on new digital 'toys' and brand new connections.

2) They respond well to new challenges.

I've never met a PR person who didn't get fired up by a new communications tool, a new problem to solve, a new approach to communications etc. Likewise, a happy dog is a mentally and physically busy dog who's taken to agility courses, taken on new trails and given interesting puzzles to solve.

3) They grasp the importance of key messages.

Give a dog a complex set of instructions or mixed messages and you'll have yourself a confused and frustrated animal. Give a dog clear, preferably monosyllabic instructions and they learn fast. Likewise, dogs are adept at crafting key messages of their own. Anyone who gets to know a dog comes to understand the different arfs, woofs and yelps and what they mean. Sometimes key messages are non-verbal. A pee stain on the welcome mat is clearly a dog who couldn't hold it in. A strategically placed turd in the middle of the living room rug or in your shoe is something else entirely - a canine middle finger.

4) They keep you in the loop.

A good public relations consultant will keep you regularly updated on a project's progress. This is precisely why you would never want a cat in charge of a major PR initiative, as your consultant would be liable to disappear for weeks on end with no explanation. Suffice it to say this would be a non-issue with a dog at the helm. You can pretty much always count on a dog to remind you of feeding time, walk time, going outside to pee time, play time and the very fact of its existence on a regular basis. And when a dog achieves a new breakthrough in life, it will waste no time enthusiastically demonstrating it to you.

5) Two words: reputation management.

A well-trained PR person is very much like a well-trained dog when it comes to taking responsibility for screw-ups. The well-trained dog will acknowledge the fact that it was indeed them who got into the kitchen garbage can, cue guilty dog expression, slink out of the kitchen in shame...and then nudge at your hand with their wet nose once they sense that your rage has subsided somewhat. That's the canine equivalent of reputation management, namely acknowledge the situation, assume responsibility for it and then continuously work towards making amends with your publics.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Boeing For The Win - 787 Setbacks Reveal Industry Lessons Learned

A Japan Airlines Boeing 787 'Dreamliner' at Tokyo's Narita Airport (Source: Bloomberg)
On January 7, 2013 a battery overheated and started a fire in an empty Japan Airlines Boeing 787 'Dreamliner' jet on the tarmac at Boston Logan International Airport. which took emergency crews 40 minutes to extinguish. The following day a second JAL 787 experienced a fuel leak, also at Boston, leading to the cancellation of its schedule flight to Tokyo-Narita. Then the day after that, United Airlines reported a problem in one of its six 787s with the wiring in the same area as the battery fire on the JAL plane, leading the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to open a safety probe on the newly introduced jet.

Not surprisingly, global news media leaped onto the story like a rottweiler on a rabbit, fuelling rumours that Boeing's highly touted new long-range mid-capacity jet airliner was unsafe to fly. This recent bad news about the jet dubbed the 'Dreamliner' by its manufacturers is the latest in a long procession of negative PR fallout surrounding the plane, whose development production were plagued by delays, leading customers such as United and Air India to demand compensation from Boeing. In light the over two-year delay in the plane's maiden flight, which led some to dub it the 'Seven-Late-Seven', the fact that problems clearly remain with the jet could scarcely be worse for its manufacturers.

New design, new potential problems (Source:
Except of course that it could easily be worse. Far worse. While it was without doubt a bad week for Boeing, the problems were relatively minor ones that resulted in exactly zero deaths or injuries or hull loses. Moreover, the battery and fuel system problems, while they have yet to be resolved, are not atypical of a brand new airplane with kinks still to be ironed out, especially in one as chock-full of new design features as this one. "There’s a lot of new technology on this plane," asserted Richard Aboulafia, Vice President of Analysis at the aerospace market analysis firm Teal Group and a renowned aviation expert. “It’s a very innovative aircraft and the potential for big and small glitches has been magnified hugely as a result of this innovation.”

More importantly, however, Boeing's transparent communication surrounding the issues - and its rapid deferral to the independent NTSB clearly illustrates that the company, which together with Europe's Airbus SAS dominates the world market for large commercial airlines, has learned from the short-term oversights that have had tragic consequences in the past - and in certain cases led to the downfall of previously high-flying aircraft manufacturers.

Tragic Precedents

The Dreamliner is nothing short of a quantum leap in commercial airliner development. While superficially similar to Boeing's previous wide-body twinjets the 767 and 777,  the 787 is an entirely new creature. Unlike previous jets, whose fuselages are made entirely out of metal, the 787 is made largely out of carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic, made with 23 tons of carbon fiber. This makes the jet considerably lighter than its competitors, burning 20 percent less fuel than the similar-sized 767. So groundbreaking is the new jet's materials that existing safety inspections are entirely inadequate, as composite materials don't show cracks and fatigue like metal does. This has meant that in addition to developing an entirely new place, Boeing has also had to develop entirely new testing methods and equipment for ensuring the jet's safety.

The last time commercial aviation took such a dramatic leap forward was a full generation ago, at the dawn of the widebody jet age. And the last such leap before that was in the early 1950s, at the dawn of the jet age. And in both instances, it took massive loss of life and collapse of once-industry-leading aircraft manufacturers for the industry to learn its lessons on proper product testing.

The first jet in the biz (Source:
In 1949 the British aircraft manufacturer de Havilland unveiled the world's first mass-produced passenger jet aircraft, the Comet 1. Based on World War II-era military engineering breakthroughs, the Comet first entered airline service with British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) on its multi-stop revenue flights between London and Johannesburg in May 1952. Subsequent orders were placed by Air India, Japan Airlines, Canadian Pacific and others. The Comet craze lasted less than two years before coming to a tragic end off the coast of Italy in January 1954 when BOAC Flight 781 tore itself apart in midair, killing all 35 people on board. Three months later, another Comet, operated by South African Airways, disintegrated in midair after takeoff from Rome, killing 21 people.

Following the second tragedy, all Comet operators grounded the planes and the British government ordered an inquiry into the plane. After extensive torture-testing of existing Comet airframes, it was discovered that metal fatigue cracks around the square windows of the planes had caused both accidents - and would invariably strike again if the problem wasn't corrected. The remaining early Comet models were either scrapped or modified, and subsequent Comet variants were constructed with thicker metal skin. But while the subsequent models performed well, the de Havilland corporation never recovered from the fallout, and was folded into Hawker Siddeley in 1960. The disasters also saw the UK eclipsed by the United States in commercial aircraft manufacturing.

The next quantum leap in civil aviation took place in the late 1960s at the dawn of the 'Jumbo Jet' age, when America's three largest aircraft manufacturers were racing for the upper hand in the development of high-capacity mid-to-long-range jets. In the end it was Boeing who defined the era with the 747, a plane that would define intercontinental air travel for nearly four decades before its eclipsing by the modern-day Airbus A380 and Boeing 777. The 747 was first flown in 1969 and entered commercial service in 1970. Having being beaten by Boeing, rivals Lockheed and McDonnell Douglas were clambering for the second-place spot with their nearly identical trijet models, the L-1011 Tristar and the DC-10.

The ill-fated Turkish Airlines jet (Source:
The DC-10 story is a graphic cautionary tale of the dangers of insufficient product testing and lack of transparency regarding such issues upon introducing new technology. The plane entered revenue service in mid-1971, less than a year after its maiden flight, and in less than a year after that its fatal design flaws were already apparent to investigators. In 1972 a near-tragic explosive decompression incident on board an American Airlines DC-10 exposed a dangerous design flaw in the plane's cargo bay doors. The problem was never corrected and less than two years later it surfaced again, this time with tragic consequences, on board Turkish Airlines Flight 981, when an explosive decompression resulted in the deaths of 346 people.

Following the Turkish Airlines disaster, an airworthiness directive was issued by the US' Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and all DC-10s underwent mandatory door modifications. The aircraft continued to fly with major carriers for decades thereafter, but the plane's tainted reputation coupled with its direct competition with Lockheed's L-1011 resulted in far fewer sales than the company had originally projected. The company made a last-ditch attempt to inject new life into the model with a stretched and upgraded version, designated the MD-11, but its limited range relative to equivalent models by Boeing and Airbus saw it sell poorly. In 1996 McDonell Douglas was acquired by Boeing, sealing the latter's domination of America's civil aerospace business.

Fast forward to the present, the Boeing 787 was a full six years in the making before its maiden flight in 2009. Following its first flight, six test prototypes ran up some 4,645 flight hours in the jet. About a quarter of these hours were flown by FAA flight test crews, the agency. And while the investigation into recent problems with the jet are still underway, Boeing spokespersons have noted that the hugely popular 777 model experienced similar 'teething pains' in its first few years of operation. And this Friday the FAA formally announced its opinion that the Dreamliner jet is indeed safe to operate. And in its communication surrounding the disaster, Boeing has emphasized the rigourousness of the testing that went into the 787's development. It seems as though the 'lateness' of its introduction is now being used as a selling point by the company.

In its corporate values, Boeing states that "We will strive for continuous quality improvement in all that we do, so that we will rank among the world's premier industrial firms in customer, employee and community satisfaction." Judging by the company's swift actions this week and its communication of the issues surrounding its newest and most prized product, the company certainly looks like it's upholding this pledge.

Addendum (January 15)

Since the writing of this post, the problems with the Boeing 787 appear to have worsened. Today an All Nippon Airways 787 was forced to make an emergency landing after smoke was seen in the cockpit. Both ANA and Japan Airlines announced today that they are grounding their 787 fleets until further notice. A spokesperson for Boeing asserted that the company is fully aware of the situation and that it "will be working with our customer and the appropriate regulatory agencies."

Thursday, 10 January 2013

10 Sexiest World Leaders of 2013 (File Under Shameless Fluff)

Hottie meets hottie at Government House in Bangkok in November 2012 (Source:
Happy New Year! Just about every blogger out there has at least one new year's resolution. Mine is to have more fun here on Brush Talk and to write more 'fun' posts. Yes, there are still a myriad 'serious' issues pertaining to writing and communications that I intend to dig into in the coming months, but when it comes down to it I get the best responses from posts that are lightweight, funny, irreverent and fun to read. December's 'How To Drive Like An Edmontonian' was easily my most popular post of all time. And here I was expecting a barrage of angry rebuttals from Edmonton motorists convinced that they and their fellow citizens don't drive like complete lunatics. How wrong I was!

In keeping with the spirit of fun, my first post of 2013 is dedicated to all the world leaders out there who have raised the bar for politicos everywhere in the sex appeal department. Back in November 2011 I wrote a post entitled 'Gross National Sexy' in which I outlined ten ways in which Canada could boost its international sex appeal. One of the steps I suggested was simply "Do something about Stephen Harper," in which I insinuated that our current prime minister, while he has his admirable qualities, is sadly among the last world leaders any of us would like to see sprawled out on a tiger rug in our living room with champagne and strawberries at the ready and an Isaac Hayes album throbbing away on the stereo. Sorry.

It's not that Stephen Harper is a physically unattractive man. Sex appeal is more than this. The late Québec premier René Lévesque was hardly an Adonis, but he had more sex appeal in his perpetually cigarette-clutching middle and index fingers than Harpo has in his entire body. By contrast, recent US presidential contestant Mitt Romney, while a superficially decent looking man, makes Harper look like a suave Casanova. Sometimes politicos get sexier in their autumn years, as Hillary Clinton's smoky foreign policy-cured mezzo voice and new-found party girl persona clearly show. Other leaders lose their sex appeal over time. Vladimir Putin's Slavic Chuck Norris schtick has grown ever more tiresome as his Stalinist tendencies have become harder to overlook. Similarly, Binyamin Netanyahu's once appealing Zionist boy scout image has taken a hit by his new-found friendship with Israel's far-right.

Sex appeal is like good writing: it's undefinable and subjective, but you know it when you see it. So who are the dreamiest among today's world leaders? Here are my top ten candidates, in no particular order.

1) Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck

Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Jetsun Pema (AP)During his 34-year reign as King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck oversaw the transition of his remote Himalayan kingdom from a medieval backwater to a fast developing South Asian economy with an increasingly democratic political culture. In 2006 he abdicated in favour of his then 26-year-old son, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the fifth and current Dragon King (Druk Gyalpo) of Bhutan. The young king has continued in his father's footsteps, strengthening the country's democratic institutions, promoting public works projects and forging tighter trade relations with neighbouring India. And with his teen idol looks and charming demeanour, the 'People's King' has been a PR godsend to the Bhutanese people, with his 2011 marriage to his radiant commoner bride Jetsun Pema breaking hearts from Bangkok to Tokyo.

2) Yingluck Shinawatra

Between 2008 and 2010, Thailand was rocked by political and social upheval driven by a West Side Story-like rift between rival Red Shirt and Yellow Shirt factions, which threatened to roll back the country's previously impressive economic gains. Then in 2011, the Thai people elected Yingluck Shinawatra, the younger sister of controversial exiled former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, unseating the dashing but ineffectual Abhisit Vejjajiva and ushering in a new era of uneasy reconciliation and renewed economic growth. While Yingluck's first two years at the helm of Thai politics have hardly been faultless, the US-educated former telecommunications executive has thus far proven an adept economic steward and a canny reconciliator in spite of her divisive family ties. And at the very least the Reds and Yellows can agree that their current prime minister, with her Catherine Zeta-Jones-meets-Michelle Yeoh looks, is easy on the eyes.

3) Jens Stoltenberg

Prior to the horrific shooting spree on Utøya Island in Norway in July 2011 and the concurrent bomb blast in Oslo, few people outside Scandinavia had heard of Jens Stoltenberg. The Norwegian Prime Minister's tearful address to the nation following the massacre and his inspiring exhaltation to his people to respond with 'more openness' and 'more democracy' put his chiselled profile and charismatic demeanour firmly in the public eye and solidified his country's international reputation as a place that, while disgustingly successful, is definitely too nice to inspire hatred. It certainly helps when you have a leader like Stoltenberg, a former left-wing radical turned pragmatic socialist father figure with dreamy eyes and Nordic Hugh Jackman looks. It's hard to hate a country with a leader this handsome!

4) Helle Thorning-Schmidt

In the same year that Jens Stoltenberg rose to public prominence with his plea to his fellow countrymen not to abandon their social democratic principles, another left-leaning Scandinavian hottie made waves of her own. Elected in October 2011, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt got straight to work reversing the conservative course set by her neoliberal predecessor Anders Fogh Rasmussen, relaxing restrictions on immigrants and asylum seekers and increasing welfare funding while pledging to increase Denmark's level of renewable energy to 45 percent of the nation's total by 2025. The former Danish representative to the European Parliament has also positioned herself as a staunch supporter of European integration and stronger economic ties with now-autonomous Greenland. One could do far worse than this feisty blonde Marcia Cross lookalike at the helm.

5) Enrique Peña Nieto

While the jury is still out on Mexico's newly elected president, it can at least be said that Enrique Peña Nieto has the option of becoming a telenovela star should his political career bite the dust. Inaugurated in 2012, the boyishly handsome leader of the centre-left PRI played an instrumental role in reviving the fortunes of Mexico's longstanding 'government party' and ridding it of its reputation as being corrupt, authoritarian and out of touch. Peña Nieto has made big promises to the Mexican people, which include government-sponsored life insurance for single mothers, a universal pension program for seniors over 70 and the creation of a national paramilitary police force aimed at combatting the country's vicious drug cartels. How well he does at fulfilling any of these promises remains to be seen, but at the very least he'll look guapo trying. 

6) Julia Gillard

There's something about those Aussie chicks - an intoxicating combination of convict-blooded sunburnt sex appeal and zero bullshit tolerance forged over centuries of putting up with their insufferably macho male counterparts. And after two years of a 'Sheila' in power in Canberra, Julia Gillard's fellow Aussie womenfolk have had much to celebrate. After usurping former ally Kevin Rudd in a palace coup, she has since galvanized her reputation as a man-slayer by publicly upbraiding her opponents for sexism and injecting a heavy dose of feminismo into Australia's frat-boy parliamentary culture. Her record has been uneven, receiving criticism from LGBT groups criticizing her for her unresponsiveness on same-sex marriage while being applauded by environmentalists for her Green Energy Bill. Love her or hate her, the flaming redhead with the acid tongue has certainly kept life interesting Down Under.

7) Goodluck Jonathan

When Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in as President of Nigeria following the death of his predecessor Umaru Yar'Adua in early 2010, his given name sounded more foreboding than fortuitous. He was after all taking the helm of one of the world's most chaotic countries - an oil-rich but strife-torn poster child for the term 'resource curse'. Three years later he's still there, having won a contentious but internationally recognized election in 2011, and with the national economy growing at a steady clip he looks like he might be around a while. What does it take to be the successful leader of a hard-boiled West African petrostate with difficult ethno-religious relations and endemic corruption? This mild-mannered former marine biologist does it with a winsome smile, a seductive Niger Delta accent and a wardrobe reminiscent of Miles Davis circa 1979. In this land of '419' scammers and Afrobeat bad boys, being able to rock the fedora is definitely a plus!

8) Andry Rajoelina 

Madagascar's Andry Rajoelina caused regional consternation by reappointing the prime minister. Reuters. (All rights 2009, a confusing sequence of events in Madagascar saw Andry Rajoelina, a babyfaced former DJ, event organizer, mayor of the capital city of Antananarivo and Ralph Macchio impersonator, oust the unpopular conservative president Marc Ravalomanana with a crane kick to the head in a coup d'état, thus becoming the world's youngest president the age of 34. At the outset few in the international community took him seriously, and his early move to ratify the country's constitution so as to lower the minimum age for presidential candidates from 40 to 35 did little to inspire international confidence. Nevertheless, the teen heartthrob president enjoys widespread support, particularly among the urban poor in the capital city who helped vault him to power, and the past few years have seen the international community warm up to him. Still, one can only assume he still gets asked for ID at NYC nightspots when he visits the UN.

9) Laura Chinchilla

PhotobucketWith its stunning beaches, lush rainforests, pacifistic tree-hugging people and sensuous lilting dialect, Costa Rica was already one of the world's sexiest countries when it elected the glamourous Laura Chinchilla as its first female president in 2010. Blessed with a style that's half Condi Rice, half Eva Longoria, the socially conservative but fiercely environmentalist Chinchilla has had a rough ride since becoming president, facing a crisis on the Nicaraguan border and drafting an unpopular fiscal reform plan that aims to reduce the country's $997 million deficit while faced with growing economic disparity and rising crime. Environmentalists love her for her government's moratorium on oil exploration and emphasis on ecotourism while social progressives and many women hate her staunch opposition to abortion and the Morning After Pill. But all agree she looks great as head of state.

10) Barack Obama

Sigh. America's current commander-in-chief has received brickbats from conservatives on a multitude of fronts since assuming the presidency in 2008, but nobody has ever faulted him for lack of sex appeal. He's even managed (as far as is known) to be a poster boy for marital fidelity, something which the sexy presidents of yesteryear have had some difficulty with. It's little wonder that a commanding 55 percent of American women voted for Obama in the 2012 election, with unmarried women backing the president by a remarkable 38 percentage-point margin over Mitt Romney. Granted, the fact that the GOP's leading Neanderthals could barely last a week without making some boneheaded remark about rape and women's anatomy was an important factor in this outcome. But the contest between the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz and the sinewy, hoop-shootin', honey-and-Bourbon-voiced hunk with the beautiful family was, in the end, no contest. Sexy won. Hands down.