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28.3.08

‘So these two hermaphrodites walk into a gym …’ 

I wish that was a joke, but it isn’t.
   I went to preview a New Dowse on , and the community with its communications’ officer Mandy Herrick and coincidentally, was told by a friend last night about a situation at a in .
   They had two intersexual () clients. Other patrons petitioned the owner to remove them, otherwise they would not pay their fees.
   Shame on us as New Zealanders.
   We go around saying how open-minded we are, scoff at other nations, point out how we had the world’s first transsexual MP—but no, when we confront intersexual people in our own neighbourhood, we do exactly what pre-US did when they hung out ‘Whites Only’ signs.
   For crying out loud, these two clients were born this way—and you’ll be even more shocked to learn that the gym opened itself to a violation by cancelling the two people’s memberships.
   Imagine if they were taken to court and how much business they would have lost if word got out.
   Wouldn’t it have been better to have pointed out to the prejudiced clients that if they couldn’t accept the situation, then they could take their business elsewhere?
   Or go so far as to build an extra changing room and encourage more open-minded clients all round?
   But it’s easy money to maintain the binary approach to life, pretending that everyone on the planet is male and female.
   I think it would actually have been better business—and the gym could have marketed itself to the hilt, if it did the right thing. Milk it—why not? If you are providing members of society who are unfairly picked on a safe place, then you might get more business.
   After all, gyms lack . I know there are a couple of women’s gyms here in Wellington, and the rest are all the same.
   How about a gym that creates a humanistic, open-minded and actually got support from other members of society who might never go—just because they are ready to stand by your belief in human rights?
   It was an opportunity missed—and the gym owner plain got lucky. He could have been sued to the hilt, the could have smelled a great story and the public, even those who are intersex-phobic, would have jumped on the bandwagon and tut-tutted the business.
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23.3.08

Rebranding Britney: it can be done 

[Cross-posted] With all the negative attention that gets, is it a good time to be marketing her Believe fragrance? It’s what we’ve alluded to in ’s beauty article online today.

Britney Spears in happier times, as covered in Lucire in 2002.
   We hope Ms Spears will get well—and that the lay off her a little. Unfortunately, the Britney is worth hundreds of millions of dollars per annum, thanks to an appetite out there for negative news on the .
   There’s a valid argument to say she brought a lot of this on to herself: driving without restraining her child properly in her car, or going out on the town with an absence of underwear.
   Her family is wise to rein in some of this behaviour: her father, Jamie, for example, is selling some of her seven cars and trying to bring Britney back down to earth.
   It’s a double-edged sword. The quirky, inexplicable behaviours she has engaged in have helped up her , and that, in some way, drives the Britney economy. The quieter she gets, the less likely that she stays in the .
   The best thing to do is probably to lie low and come out with a comeback single or album, having herself and finding an that ties in more accurately to how the public is feeling. might give hints on where Britney Spears can herself by the turn of the decade. She can out of her troubles—and she might just have enough clout with the record labels to do so.
   But, if she lies too low, what happens to products such as Britney Spears Believe, bearing her name?
   Answer: they might be able to maximize their investment through . Rather than say that a certain product has been inspired by Britney, go inside her home and show that she is actively working on it during her recuperation.
   ‘Britney gets her act together,’ the headlines might read—and she can slowly begin showing that she is not a victimized pop star but someone prepared to take charge and deal with her problems. Get agreement with her family to do this.
   Make it real—and feed the Britney economy, paparazzi, licensees and the public. By the time she’s ready with her new image and new music, she’ll have based it on two years of more positive press. Her core fans, then older, more sensible themselves, will appreciate a more inspirational Britney.
   In fact, her recent downfall is a good catalyst to this new direction: if there’s one thing the public loves more than a feel-bad story, it’s the turn-your-life-around story.
   Ask . You can do exceptionally well with them.
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21.3.08

Is Vogue’s April 2008 cover racist? 

Vogue April 2008 cover

[Cross-posted] ’s April 2008 cover with the Cleveland Cavaliers’ and has been branded by some as being . As noted by the Plain Dealer over in Cleveland, Ohio:

LeBron shares the April cover of Vogue magazine with supermodel . It’s been noted by some that his open-mouthed screaming face and the way he is cradling a blond woman in his left hand has racial overtones in its resemblance to an old movie poster of King Kong and captive Fay Wray. Vogue says it chose the photo because it’s “expressive, fun and upbeat.”

   Once I got over the bad , I had to wonder if this cover furthers . Being a minority, I personally didn’t make the connection that Margaret Bernstein and Sarah Crump reported on above. If I imagined the races switched, I also didn’t get much of a reaction—except to note that it would have been unusual for Vogue to feature a woman of colour on its cover, let alone a man of any colour.
   However, I wondered: would a black man who isn’t a basketball player have made it? Or one who isn’t dressed as such?
   I don’t think it’s necessarily the pose, but whether there is a stereotype at play here. While Mr James has his own line of clothes—which he is in the cover —would a cover showing him in more conservative attire have been chosen?
   One blogger gave other examples, and reacted to the photograph:

A tuxedoed LeBron James out on the town with a stylish Gisele photo shoot would do. A Lebron on a couch with a magazine full of him and Gisele on the same couch with a magazine full of her; signifiers that they are man and woman at the top of their professions photo shoot would do. Or, the two in full nightclub gear with him watching her trying to dribble in the low light of an empty Quicken Arena. The possibilities are endless.
   And yet LeBron James allowed himself to be captured interminably not as the King James of his profession and rising player in the business world, but as a human King Kong, The Great Nigger whose fame is inextricably tied to how proficiently he puts a leather ball through an iron hoop.


   Others rebutted:

Calling it a modern-day interpretation of King Kong and Fay Wray, Feministe website writer Ali Eteraz referred to the image by Annie Leibovitz as “King James Turned Into King Kong.” She also said the cover “fulfills every racist stereotype in the world: primal screaming, white-girl carrying, black beast.”
   Are they seeing something that has escaped the rest of us? It’s the “Shape Issue,” remember? The contrast of the 6-foot-9 James and 5-foot-11 Bundchen seems like nothing more than an innocent pop culture poke at . Do we really need to read more into it?

   As for the comparison to poor Fay Wray, does anyone see Bundchen looking remotely stressed in this shot?


   James is the third man to appear on a cover of Vogue (after Richard Gere and George Clooney), and the publisher has defended its choice because it is an issue devoted to size and shape. From the Associated Press:

“Nobody says more about fashion size and shape than Gisele and LeBron,” Vogue spokesman Patrick O’Connell said. “LeBron is an amazing star and athlete that has crossed over into a cultural phenomena.”

   To me (being neither black nor white), the King Kong connection, isn’t obvious—but the idea of “the black American good only on the basketball court” seems to be cemented here. Sad, in a year where Americans could be voting in their first black president.
   Whatever the case, Vogue seems to have benefited hugely from the , from the blogosphere and sports’ fans who might never have commented on the .
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20.3.08

Vista Group March ’08: welcome Natalie 

The lads of the Vista Group got a much-needed dose of sanity from fellow blogger Natalie Ferguson of Decisive Flow today, but that is only because we have not yet converted her. It was a good lunch this month and we were joined by Mark Di Somma’s son, Harry. Jim Donovan talked about his Ford Anglia and a weasel, Mark wondered if combining a weasel with a horse would result in a worse, and I ate chorizo sausage.
   The substance, other than discussing the Black Swan theory in regards to Bear Stearns and whether Jim knew anything in advance about it, was dissing and poor service. None of us needs to put up with it: banks are under the impression that once they have you, they have you for life. Cobblers: an hour out of your life, and you can be at a new bank.
   I believe we all concluded that ANZ sucked.
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12.3.08

Autocade: a new car wiki, in beta 

Some of the best websites have started as hobbies. One that springs most to mind is Austin Rover Online, formerly the Unofficial Austin Rover Resource.
   It’s now the most comprehensive destination for the history of BMC, BL, Austin Rover and MG , and it continues to cover Jaguar and Land Rover, as well as Tata.
   Another angle to this story: in 1983, the father of a classmate gave me a copy of Classic and Sportscar, which I have kept to this day. Inside was the serialization of Michael C. Sedgwick’s guide to every car sold in Great Britain between 1945 and 1970.
   Sedgwick died that year but there is no doubt that if he lived beyond his 50s, he would have continued authoring articles and books.
   What intrigued me were the pithy summaries of each model and how it was a nice way to present . Wikipedia, Edmunds, The Red Book and even Austin Rover Online are excellent for their purposes in giving comprehensive histories, but what of those of us who want something quick and brief, and to trace the lineage of any particular model? What about cubic centimetre ratings and whether an engine is OHV or OHC?
   I never lost that interest. When Your Classic started in the UK, I bought it largely because it had similar Sedgwick-style guides.
   Michael Sedgwick was blessed with a photographic memory and instant recall, and his papers and work continue to have influence today. There is the Michael Sedgwick Memorial Trust, for instance, which funds automotive and , and some of his papers are with the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust.
   In 2008, what if someone with a similar love of cars could further Sedgwick’s encyclopædia? The best tool is the internet, and has already shown that it is possible to have specialists in each area contribute.
   As some of you have read earlier, I am not a big Wikipedia fan. (My fellow directors at the Medinge Group may know my feelings on that, too!) The few times I have been on it, I found it to be amateur night. But the car pages have merit thanks to those specialists who have contributed to it: what they really need is some professional editing to be a useful research tool. Presently it is not there.
   I am not perfect nor am I even consistent in the pages I have put up on Autocade so far, but I think I can do slightly better than Wikipedia—simply because there is less to go wrong with the short summaries I envisage for Autocade.
   I don’t think it is inaccurate to say that the only way we can match Mr Sedgwick’s memory is to use technology and the help of volunteer editors. Together we might be able to assemble something like his fascinating guides.
   I’ve wanted to do this for a long time and finally I bit the bullet on Saturday and started a website called (www.autocade.net). It’s the name of one of my magazine columns, and I have been using it since mid-2006.
   The site is in beta, built around Mediawiki. I do need it to pay its own way, hence the advertising, as I envisage it could up our hosting costs. And there is only a small handful of cars on it, but perhaps other car nuts will see fit to contribute?
   Autocade is a global guide, but aimed at and hobbyists. It is not Wikipedia, Global Auto Index or any of the others that are established. I’ll be interested to see how it develops and whether my dislike of Wikipedia will change!
   I welcome fellow enthusiasts and their opinions to autocade.net.
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7.3.08

Imagine if ‘Dear John’ didn’t have a Dear John 

I didn’t do as much witness work for my legal clients during 2005–6 and I was interested to see from a former client a letter from a large ’s partner. I won’t reveal any specific information, of course, but let’s say it’s from a firm I did have some dealings against in the 1990s and I considered their statement of defence pretty amateur. I have considered their to be very amateur, too—all style and no substance.
   Or perhaps their or marketing consultant actually did a perfect job—they expressed the firm honestly and accurately.
   The , with all the Our refs and jargon, lacks a salutation. There is no Dear or even an Attention: it launches straight in to the .
   This may be very nice for text messaging but it has no place in what is considered acceptable .
   Perhaps once texting, or some evolution of it, becomes the dominant form of —which places us roughly between grunting and Morse code—then business correspondence may evolve toward the demise of the salutation.
   Until then, this merely illustrates the arrogance of the and how it has fallen even further out of step with its clientèle.
    need to remember they represent certain parties and that those parties—the ones that pay their bills—have brands that need to be protected, not destroyed through callousness.
   The effects on culture are wide-reaching. Imagine singing the song ‘Dear John’ without the words Dear John. It kind of sucks with the lyric-free bits in the verses.
   How about answering a phone without a ‘Hello’?
   When I relayed this to one regular client, a practising who is around my age, he was surprised. He has received such letters, too, but he agrees with me on this topic.
   There is what some people call a simplified letter, where there may be no salutation and the words Attention: Dispatch Department (for instance) may take its place. These are acceptable—just—when the recipient is unlikely to be known by the writer, but I have always adopted a Ladies and Gentlemen in such cases.
   I realize that the niceties of I remain or even Your loyal and humble servant have disappeared in New Zealand but this development of the missing salutation is worrisome.
   At best it is disrespectful to the recipient, which may be what the law firm wanted to convey—but disrespecting others is merely a sign of an absence of self-respect, showing that the firm itself is without merit.
   Yet the of this letter has not forgotten his valediction—I imagine he has retained it because that way he can put his own name down the bottom and see it in print.
   After all, with no salutation, surely there is no need for a valediction? My most casual emails, where I am firing off an internal memo or a quick response to some people, do lack both. I simply end the text with an em dash and my initials and I encourage some members of my team to do the same.
   Commerce does not function with people acting selfishly. It only works with mutual —and that includes people who may disagree with one another.
   So, for all those who have forgotten the components of an acceptable letter in modern business practice, here is a link. It is not geared to a general audience, nor do I agree with all of it, but following its components will certainly present a letter which hides how years of law school and have failed various members of the profession.
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4.3.08

Motoring writer Jeff Daniels passes away 

[Cross-posted] Sad news for nuts: and technical writer has passed away, according to Keith Adams’ Austin Rover Online website. There’s a longer piece at Just-auto.com.
   There probably isn’t anyone of my generation who doesn’t recall the greats like L. J. K. Setright, Jeff Daniels, George Bishop, Phil Hill and Paul Frère.
   Jeff wrote a column called ‘Danspeak’ in Autocar for many years, and it is probably his , more than anyone else’s, that informed me when I started my columns.
   I found him one of the more knowledgeable car writers out there and it is sad that much of this old style of has given way to the of this world. Just as in television presenting, where the William Woollards gave way to the Jeremy Clarksons on .
   While I love Clarkson’s style (since he could never get away with it without some actual research) and can be said to adopt elements myself, there is still room for the more technical, educated approach of Daniels et al.
   Jeff Daniels was 68 and continued working up to his death. He will be sorely missed.
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Angelina Jolie writes eyewitness account from Iraq 

[Cross-posted] Late last week, Angelina Jolie, UNHCR ambassadrice and actress, wrote an open letter published in The Washington Post, reporting her observations in .
   I am always keen to hear first-hand reports rather than things filtered through some editorial agenda. This publication is no exception: I make it no secret that we support environmental causes—and have done so long before they were . (We probably made them trendy, or played a part in that, which was my stated aim when UN Radio asked me why Lucire would help them promote the environmental movement in the early 2000s.)
   I also make it no secret that we support animal welfare and business practices.
   When Michael Yon telephoned me a while back I wanted to hear directly from him about his experiences being embedded with US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
   Too many , sadly, function on and sales first, the personal aggrandizement of the journalist second, and the truth somewhere further down the line. On that we differ. We see reporting as a cherished duty and it is Job No. 1.
   Over the weekend I told three of my cousins, who are in their late teens to early 20s, the same thing and they agreed. They are obviously very perceptive but it is worrying we have already given our young people that cynicism.
   Thus when I read ’s letter, I thought we finally read something fair with the only agenda being pushed those of the UNHCR. There are no in there, or the taking of an anti-war or pro-war position. It certainly made better reading than some of the rants over the last (almost) five years.
   Some highlights include:

Here is what we do know: More than 2 million people are inside their own country—without homes, jobs and, to a terrible degree, without medicine, food or clean water. and other acts of unspeakable violence have driven them into a vast and very dangerous no-man’s land. …
    An additional 2.5 million have sought refuge outside Iraq, mainly in Syria and Jordan. …
   I’m not a security expert, but it doesn’t take one to see that and are carrying an unsustainable burden.


   Ms Jolie met with Gen David Petraeus, the commander who is leading the against and other terrorist groups within Iraq. She also met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
   She continues:

My visit left me even more deeply convinced that we not only have a moral obligation to help displaced Iraqi families, but also a serious, long-term, national security interest in ending this crisis.
   Today’s crisis in Iraq—and the potential consequences for our national security—are great. Can the afford to gamble that 4 million or more poor and displaced people, in the heart of Middle East, won’t explode in violent desperation, sending the whole region into further disorder? …
   As for the question of whether the surge is working, I can only state what I witnessed: U.N. staff and those of non-governmental organizations seem to feel they have the right set of circumstances to attempt to scale up their programs. …
   It seems to me that now is the moment to address the humanitarian side of this situation. Without the right support, we could miss an opportunity to do some of the good we always stated we intended to do.


   Ms Jolie believes that spending on humanitarian crises makes sense, and the expenditure to help the people of Iraq is a lot less than on the war itself.
   Through their return and the rebuilding of their lives, they will be able to stand up against the terrorists.
   What would be fatal is leaving the Iraqi people to fend for themselves, and it is up to the international community to show its goodwill in helping another nation.
   Pro-war or anti-war, I believe most of us share the view that we humans are capable of helping one another and should when the occasion arises. The appeal amount is US$261 million for this year, which Ms Jolie is set to help bring in.
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Note

Entries from 2006 to the end of 2009 were done on the Blogger service. As of January 1, 2010, this blog has shifted to a Wordpress installation, with the latest posts here.
   With Blogger ceasing to support FTP publishing on May 1, I have decided to turn these older pages in to an archive, so you will no longer be able to enter comments. However, you can comment on entries posted after January 1, 2010.


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