Monday, February 20, 2006

No accounting for comedy

Having been in my new job for a few weeks, my boss suggested I do a short presentation at our group quarterly meeting. The subject matter was to be myself (an introduction), internal audit and "a couple of funny stories from your previous roles". "Let them see the real Luis" he said later.

I don't think his reference to the "real Luis" was intended as an opportunity for anything too philosophical. "Who am I ?" may have got a bemused response from 70 accounts staff.
Instead I settled for a couple of "jokey" stories from my last job including the question from my historically-challenged former boss when we were given a tour of Frankfurt one evening. Heinrich, a forceful balding German showed us some ruins fenced off in the city centre. Tours of ruins might be considered a risky area in British/German relations. But dear old lady-boss charged ahead foot in mouth, brain in neutral. "Are these Roman?" she asked in her screechy northern accent. "No" boomed Heinrich. "These were left by the American and British bombers". This story was easy humour and got a laugh. I didn't mention to the accounts gathering that she topped off the evening by claiming to be unaware of the existence of Goethe when we were shown Gothestrasse. "You know Goethe (?)" asked Heinrich more in statement than question. Lady boss looked confused for a moment. "No, what's that ?" she said blissfully ignorant to the end. Heinrich smiled to himself certain of German superiority. Not for the first time Lady boss did not lead me to feelings of national or any particular pride.

Anyway I said something "sensible" about the role of internal audit and the couple of stories that barely broke any of the assembled audience out of their comas (i was fifth out of nine in presentors.).

Proceedings were kicked off by my new boss who told us how well "the firm" was doing financially. His own attempt at comedy was to go for the bawdy. He'd recently visited our Asian offices. "I met up with Howard (financial big wig) in Shanghai" he digressed. "We only managed to get propositioned once". There was a weariness to the statement, scratching for humour in a dull meeting rather than accept it was dull. The only real humour was unscripted. Barry, a 30-a day Essex-smoker in his 50's who I work with bellowed "And ?" from the back of the room laughing at his own joke with a wheezy laugh that can only be obtained with 40 years of tobacco smoke.

There was no more and the meeting continued with dull efficiency, the comic attempts barely noticed. Comedy in accountancy is comic only in that it fails and it is probably a lost cause. There's no accounting for that........

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Land of the Free Infidels ?

The Muslim world has a new demon. The mighty US with its military, its control of oil and its dominant culture is still there.

But today there is a new bad nation on the block whose flags are burned from the West Bank to Baghdad. Little Denmark is the culprit.

The "crime" of this nation is for one of its newspapers to have published some satirical cartoons on the Prophet Mohammed last September. Quite why it has become such an issue 5 months later is a bit of a mystery.

However yesterday papers in at least Germany, Spain, Italy and Switzerland republished these cartoons as the story grew. The chief editor of the French tabloid "France Soir" was sacked by its Egyptian owner.

In London there seems little danger that an organisation as politically correct as the BBC would show them- certainly there is no sign on their website. It seems doubtful that the papers will show the cartoons either. Maybe "the Sun" will do so but probably its owner Rupert Murdoch has some contract in Indonesia to consider.

Of course the cartoons are likely to offend muslims. But are we to end all humour, satire and parody for want of offending one group or another? Christians are routinely the subject of jokes and while the Iranian leader calls for the destruction of Israel, all the great powers still negotiate with him. There is no burning of Iranian flags anywhere that I am aware of.
Yet this little Scandinavian country is now demonised and Danish food is thrown off the shelves of Cairo's supermarkets. Will some lunatic soon blow himself up in Copenhagen ?

If the Prophet was really as great as the muslims say he was then I am sure he will be unaffected by the immature jibes of a few Danes. Personally I respect Muslims and have no wish to offend them. However there should still be freedom to speak, to write and this case, to draw. That a French newspaper editor is sacked for publishing a cartoon is a sad day in the land that once gave birth to Voltaire (" I DISSAPROVE OF WHAT YOU SAY, BUT I WILL DEFEND TO THE DEATH YOUR RIGHT TO SAY IT!")

Europe may choose to bow to this tantrum by a few of the muslims of the world and make embarrassing (and insincere) apologies. However I hope it shows that that it stays true to its Enlightenment roots and defends the Danish cartoonists. Offensive they may be, but as non-muslims why should Danes be forced to observe Muslim rules (against depicting the Prophet) in their own country ? To the eyes of Muslims, Danes are "infidels", but they should be left free to act as infidels. If they are wrong in what they do they should only be answerable to God and not some Kalashnikov-waving hothead in the Middle East. Link- Germany still has free speech at least. Click on Die umstrittenen Karikaturen on Die Welt site to see cartoons.