Nonstarters: this week's worst kickstarter video

"Mongolian beef".

San Francisco band "The Khans" made the offending video.

Kickstarter acts as a giant, low-risk dragon's den: a virtual boardroom where anyone can honk their ideas into the dark and see if they come back with money on them. Unlike the Den, however, there are no bollockings from Bannatyne, no garbled flipchart nighmares, and no brutal profitability criteria to satisfy - just the potential investor's sense of whimsy.

Some ideas turn out to be masterpieces that would otherwise have evaporated in a risk-averse economy. Others are creative endeavours that entice swarms of impulsive backers into territory no sane public or private body would consider.

Needless to say, these success stories are the tip of a decidedly iffy iceberg. Every plucky win wafts the smell of freshly baked money further into the internet, prompting a gold rush of would-be superstars, frustrated writers and post-pub entrepreneurs to try their luck. 

To rifle through this bag of offal with me, I invite you to switch on something I call "Failure Vision": activate the site’s "ending soon" filter, and cast your eye down the page looking for the most desperately stunted green progress bars. What emerges is a torrent of hopeless daydreams; mangled barks for charity growing faint and hoarse as they drift off the site with just a few dollars to their name.

Some, such as this man’s dream to publish a quarterly magazine containing only photographs of clouds taken in Southern Idaho, are thoroughly charming in their overestimation of the public appetite for the mundane.

Others, such as this frankly terrifying plea to fund a book detailing one woman’s obsession with the band Green Day (and, it transpires, accusing them of stealing her ideas along the way), are pitched with the sincere and unwavering belief that the world is waiting to share the author’s monomania.

Nevertheless, out of the mire of mediocrity, terrible judgement and marital aids made from human hair, some concepts rise gloriously and soar out of the failuresphere on wings of sheer Chutzpah; pitches so brazenly crap as to endear anyone with a few bucks to spare.

Meet the Khans, a band from San Francisco whose roaring, exclamatory passion for horde-era Mongolia was strong enough to blow away the funding target for their 7-inch vinyl without recourse to such dull tactics as comprehensible prose.

“ORDER UP A SMELLY Preview of THE KHANS Hit MONGOLIAN BEEF Now!!!!” howled their pitch. “Hunt with an Eagle!!! (not included)”, it promised, “Learn how THE KHANS strategize!”

Better yet is the accompanying video, (see above) in which someone who sounds like an out-of-work trailer voiceover artist after two bottles of scotch slurs menacingly over stock photos of Mongol horsemen, ordering the viewer to donate generously so the Khans can “put their musical captured treasures on round plastic discs”.

“A little horse milk money from your yurt won’t hurt…” concludes the voice, and neatly summarises exactly why Kickstarter works so well. Who wouldn’t spare a dollar for these people?

But this look into crowdfunding represents merely a cheap plastic net dipped into the stream of America’s subconscious. The Khans, Cloud Man and even Green Day’s Biggest Fan look like reasonable people with reasonable ideas compared to some of what lurks in the site’s depths.  

Next week, we’ll be going deeper. Bring your wallet.

Each week Fred Crawley will blunder through the underbelly of Kickstarter.com in search of the world’s most tragic, spectacular and incomprehensible online pleas for money. 

A still from San Francisco band "The Khans"'s kickstarter video. Source: kickstarter.com

By day, Fred Crawley is editor of Credit Today and Insolvency Today. By night, he reviews graphic novels for the New Statesman.

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Google’s tax worries, Oxford’s race dilemma and the left-wing case for leaving Europe

The truth is that many black students looking at the white, middle-class Oxford would justifiably conclude that they don’t belong.

As a Gmail user and a Google searcher, am I morally compromised by using the services of a serial tax avoider? Surely not. Google gets roughly 95 per cent of its revenues from advertising and much of that from clicks on the ads that surround its offerings. I have long observed a rule never to click on any of these, even when they advertise something that I need urgently. Instead, I check the seller’s website address and type it directly into my browser.

Taking full advantage of its services without contributing to its profits strikes me as a very good way of damaging the company. More problematic are pharmaceutical companies such as AstraZeneca (zero UK corporation tax in 2014) and GlaxoSmithKline (UK corporation tax undisclosed but it has subsidiaries in tax havens), which makes many prescription drugs and consumer products such as toothpaste – I chew it to stop me smoking. To boycott all such companies, as well as those that underpay their workers or pollute the planet, one would need, more or less, to drop out from the modern world. Consumer boycotts, though they have a certain feel-good factor, aren’t a substitute for electing governments that will make a concerted effort to tax and regulate big corporations.

 

After EU

David Cameron is finding it hard to get changes to EU rules that he can credibly present as concessions. But the talks that would follow a vote for Brexit would be a hundred times more difficult. Ministers would need to negotiate access to the single market, renegotiate trade deals with 60 other countries and make a deal on the status of Britons living in the EU, as well as EU citizens living here. All this would create immense uncertainty for a fragile economy.

With a current-account trade deficit of 4 per cent, the dangers of a run on sterling would be considerable. (This apocalyptic scenario is not mine; I draw on the wisdom of the Financial Times economics editor, Chris Giles.) But here’s the question. If the UK got into the same pickle as Greece – and George Osborne had to do a Norman Lamont, popping out of No 11 periodically to announce interest-rate rises – Jeremy Corbyn would walk the 2020 election. Should we lefties therefore vote Out?

 

University blues

Hardly a Sunday now passes without David Cameron announcing an “initiative”, either on TV or in the newspapers. The latest concerns the under-representation of black Britons at top universities, notably Oxford, which accepted just 27 black students in 2014 out of an intake of more than 2,500. As usual, Cameron’s proposed “action” is risibly inadequate: a requirement that universities publish “transparent” data on admissions and acceptances, much of which is already available, and a call for schools to teach “character”, whatever that means.

The truth is that many black students looking at the white, middle-class Oxford – with its disproportionate numbers from a handful of fee-charging schools, such as Eton – would justifiably conclude that they don’t belong. Cameron rules out quotas as “politically correct, contrived and unfair”. But quotas in some form may be what is needed if young people from poor white, as well as black, homes are ever to feel that they would be more than interlopers.

In the meantime, Cameron could tell elite universities to stop setting ever-higher barriers to entry. As well as demanding two A*s and an A at A-level, Oxford and Cambridge are introducing tests for “thinking skills” and subject-specific “aptitude”. Whatever the developers of such tests claim, it is possible to coach students for them. State schools don’t have the resources to do so or even to research the complex requirements of the various colleges and subjects. Oxbridge admissions tutors must know this but evidently they don’t care.

 

A fine balance

The latest government figures show that, despite the former education secretary Michael Gove introducing £60 fines for parents who take their children on term-time breaks, the days lost to unsanctioned holidays are up by 50 per cent to three million in four years. This was a predictable result. Previously, the sense of an obligation to respect the law and set their children an example of doing so persuaded most parents to confine absences to school holidays. Now a modest price has been placed on term-time holidays. Parents do the sums and note that they save far more than £60 on cheaper flights and hotels.

A similar outcome emerged in Israel when daycare centres introduced fines for parents who arrived late. Previously, most preferred to avoid the embarrassment of apologising to a carer and explaining why they had been delayed. Once it became just a monetary transaction, many more happily arrived late and paid the price.

 

Minority report

Here in Loughton, Essex, where I live quietly and unfashionably, we are dancing in the streets. Well, not quite, but perhaps we ought to be. According to an analysis by the Policy Exchange think tank, Loughton is the third most integrated community in England and Wales, just behind Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands and Amersham, Buckinghamshire, but above 157 others that have significant minorities. We are well ahead of fashionable London boroughs such as Islington and Hackney, where residents obviously keep Muslims and eastern Europeans out of their vibrant dinner parties, whereas we have bearded imams, African chiefs in traditional dress and Romanian gypsies dropping in for tea all the time.

Again, not quite. I’m not sure that I have met that many non-indigenous folk around here, or even seen any, except in the local newsagents. Still, I am grateful to Policy Exchange for brushing up Loughton’s public image, which was in need of a facelift after the BNP won four seats on the council a few years ago and a TOWIE actor opened a shop on the high street.

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war