Archive for February 2014


Do mayoral candidates dream of electric sheep?

16.02.2014

The original link is long gone, but I sure wish the media here did its job during the 2013 mayoral election and administered the Voigt-Kampff (I know it was spelt differently in the movie) test from Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. This was from The Wave, 11 years ago, during San Francisco’s mayoral election. I believe the magazine may now be defunct. The text below is as formatted in the original, with the American spellings, capitalization after a colon, the full stop inside quotation marks even when it does not form part of the original quote, and the misspelling of the author’s name.
   The political media can redress the balance this year by administering the Voigt-Kampff test to the party leaders for the General Election. I already suspect that both the PM and the Leader of the Opposition are replicants.

More Human than Human
A field guide for testing if the San Francisco mayoral candidates are human or not.
John Holden

replicant (rep’-li-kant) n.
1. A genetically engineered creature composed entirely of organic substance designed to look and act human.
2. An android.

With Willie Brown finally leaving his gold (plated), diamond-encrusted throne, there has been no shortage of hats thrown into the mayoral ring. San Francisco politics are now a microcosm of California’s own, greater gubernatorial “challenges.” Rather than confuse you with endorsements, position papers and other outmoded means of political influence, we’ve decided to get to the bottom of the only question that matters: Is a particular candidate human or an insidious replicant, possessed of physical strength and computational abilities far exceeding our own, but lacking empathy and possibly even bent on our destruction as a species?

The only reliable method that we know of for sniffing out replicants is the Voight-Kampff Test, created by Phillip K. Dick in his book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and later used by Harrison Ford’s character, Deckard, in the film Blade Runner. The test uses a series of questions to evoke an emotional response which androids are incapable of having. By the candidates’ responses to this line of questioning, we feel we can say with some certainty whether or not they’re replicants. However, we’re stopping short of recommending that you vote for them or not. After all, though a replicant mayor may be more likely to gouge a supervisor’s eyes out with their thumbs, they have another quality that could be great in an elected official: a four year life span.

Subject 1: Angela Alioto

The Wave: Reaction time is a factor in this, so please pay attention. Now, answer as quickly as you can.

It’s your birthday. Someone gives you a calfskin wallet. How do you react?
Angela Alioto: I’d accept it.

TW: You’ve got a little boy. He shows you his butterfly collection plus the killing jar. What do you do?
AA: I’d look at it. What do you mean what would I do? As opposed to saying “how horrible?” I would tell him how beautiful it is.

TW: You’re watching television. Suddenly you realize there’s a wasp crawling on your arm.
AA: I’d knock it off. It’s something I’m used to doing in politics [Laughs].

TW: You’re in a desert walking along in the sand when all of the sudden you look down, and you see a tortoise, Angela, it’s crawling toward you. You reach down, you flip the tortoise over on its back, Angela. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can’t, not without your help. But you’re not helping. Why is that, Angela?
AA: That would never happen. I wouldn’t turn it over in the first place, and the thing with it being in pain is out of the question. Let me ask you, John, how does this fit in to the bigger picture when you ask me about the dying tortoise and the dead butterflies?

TW: They’re just questions, Angela. In answer to your query, they’re written down for me. It’s a test, designed to provoke an emotional response. Shall we continue? Describe in single words, only the good things that come into your mind. About your mother.
AA: My mother? She’s beautiful. She’s an artist. She’s a renaissance artist.

Conclusion: Her defensiveness over her lack of empathy for the butterfly is telling, as is the comparison of a political rival to a wasp that should be knocked off. I think we can safely say that Angela Alioto is indeed a replicant, albeit one that “loves” the implanted memory of her mother. Keep an eye on her.

Subject 2: Susan Leal

The Wave: It’s your birthday. Someone gives you a calfskin wallet. How do you react?
Susan Leal: Disappointed.

TW: You’ve got a little boy. He shows you his butterfly collection plus the killing jar. What do you do?
SL: I’d be fascinated.

TW: You’re watching television. Suddenly you realize there’s a wasp crawling on your arm.
SL: I’d kill it.

TW: You’re in a desert walking along in the sand when all of the sudden you look down, and you see a tortoise, Susan, it’s crawling toward you. You reach down, you flip the tortoise over on its back, Susan. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can’t, not without your help. But you’re not helping. Why is that, Susan?
SL: I don’t know, I must’ve lost my mind.

TW: Describe in single words, only the good things that come into your mind. About your mother.
SL: Honest. Supportive. Liberal. Interesting.

Conclusion: The dissociation Susan expressed in response to the tortoise question confirms what we already knew: Susan Leal is a replicant. However, by evaluating her response to the wasp question (word for word as Rachel – totally a replicant – answered it in Blade Runner), we can tell that she’s at least a Nexus 7. If you vote for Susan, you will be electing a replicant, but one of the most highly advanced models available.

Subject 3: Matt Gonzalez

The Wave: Reaction time is a factor in this, so please pay attention. Now, answer as quickly as you can.

It’s your birthday. Someone gives you a calfskin wallet. How do you react?
Matt Gonzalez: I’m sorry, what kind of wallet?

TW: Calfskin.
MG: Calfskin, I don’t even know what that is.

TW: Do you know what a cow is, Matt?
MG: Yeah.

TW: Baby cow.
MG: Um, I have no idea how I would react.

TW: You’ve got a little boy. He shows you his butterfly collection plus the killing jar. What do you do?
MG: These are great questions. I’m not sure if they’re ideal for 9:00. We were up pretty late at the office. I can only associate to things that I’ve seen or done in my own life….

TW: You’re watching television. Suddenly you realize there’s a wasp crawling on your arm.
MG: I guess I would probably just knock it off.

TW: You’re in a desert walking along in the sand when all of the sudden you look down, and you see a tortoise, Matt, it’s crawling toward you. You reach down, you flip the tortoise over on its back, Matt. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can’t, not without your help. But you’re not helping. Why is that, Matt?
MG: Well I don’t think I would have knocked it over in the first place and I don’t get any amusement out of making tortoises suffer, so I don’t think that would be me. You must have confused me for one of my opponents.

TW: Shall we continue? Describe in single words, only the good things that come into your mind. About your mother.
MG: Just a positive person, no negative energy at all. Next time could we do this later in the day?

Conclusion: Androids do not dream of electric sheep because they don’t sleep, unlike Matt Gonzalez who was up late “working” at the office. His obvious grogginess leads us to the conclusion that he is indeed a human, but one with an ill-formed sleep schedule. Were he a replicant he would have already gouged out six eyeballs, broken in to the genetic design lab and made a trip to the juice bar by this time of the day.

Subject 4: Tom Ammiano

The Wave: Reaction time is a factor in this, so please pay attention. Now, answer as quickly as you can.

It’s your birthday. Someone gives you a calfskin wallet. How do you react?
Tom Ammiano: I’d look for money.

TW: You’ve got a little boy. He shows you his butterfly collection plus the killing jar. What do you do?
TA: I’d think this was Blade Runner. That’s my reaction.

TW: You’re watching television. Suddenly you realize there’s a wasp crawling on your arm.
TA: Call 911.

TW: You’re in a desert walking along in the sand when all of the sudden you look down, and you see a tortoise, Tom, it’s crawling toward you. You reach down, you flip the tortoise over on its back, Tom. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can’t, not without your help. But you’re not helping. Why is that, Tom?
TA: That’s interesting. I don’t know. I’m a republican?

TW: Describe in single words, only the good things that come into your mind. About your mother.
TA: Tenderness. Yelling.

Conclusion: The self-awareness required to recognize that you’re being administered a Voight-Kampff Test automatically eliminates the possibility of you being a replicant. Good work, Tom! You’re human! Now watch your back.

Subject 5: Tony Ribera

The Wave: Reaction time is a factor in this, so please pay attention. Now, answer as quickly as you can.

It’s your birthday. Someone gives you a calfskin wallet. How do you react?
Tony Ribera: Good. I’d be happy.

TW: You’ve got a little boy. He shows you his butterfly collection plus the killing jar. What do you do?
TR: I’d ask him to explain it to me.

TW: You’re watching television. Suddenly you realize there’s a wasp crawling on your arm.
TR: Slap it.

TW: You’re in a desert walking along in the sand when all of the sudden you look down, and you see a tortoise, Tony, it’s crawling toward you. You reach down, you flip the tortoise over on its back, Tony. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can’t, not without your help. But you’re not helping. Why is that, Tony?
TR: Well, I think I would help. I like tortoises. As a former athlete I’ve always been very slow, and I feel I can relate to them.

TW: Describe in single words, only the good things that come into your mind. About your mother.
TR: Happy. Cheerful. Optimistic. Pretty. Fun.

Conclusion: Inconclusive. While generally empathetic, there is a homey quality to Tony’s answers that are almost too good to be true. As if they were… programmed. Fifty-fifty he’s a skin job.

Subject 6: Gavin Newsom

The Wave: Reaction time is a factor in this, so please pay attention. Now, answer as quickly as you can.

It’s your birthday. Someone gives you a calfskin wallet. How do you react?
Gavin Newsom: I don’t have anything to put in it. I would thank them and move on.

TW: You’ve got a little boy. He shows you his butterfly collection plus the killing jar. What do you do?
GN: I would tell him to… You know what? I wouldn’t know how to respond. How’s that for an answer? Is this a psychological test? I’m worried…

TW: They’re just questions, Gavin. In answer to your query, they’re written down for me. It’s a test, designed to provoke an emotional response.
GN: Oh, I got you.

TW: Shall we continue?
GN: Sure.

TW: You’re watching television. Suddenly you realize there’s a wasp crawling on your arm. How would you react?
GN: I would quietly sit and wait for the wasp to move to the next victim.

TW: You’re in a desert walking along in the sand when all of the sudden you look down, and you see a tortoise, Gavin, it’s crawling toward you. You reach down, you flip the tortoise over on its back, Gavin. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can’t, not without your help. But you’re not helping. Why is that, Gavin?
GN: [Immediately] Not a chance. I would never flip the tortoise over in the first place.

TW: Describe in single words, only the good things that come into your mind. About your mother.
GN: Ethics. Commitment. Sacrifice.

Conclusion: Almost too close to call. Almost. Newsom displays a defensiveness when his empathy is questioned. He’s aware that he’s being probed for emotional responses, and even expresses concern about this. However, this concern is alleviated a little too easily by our crafty V-K interviewer. Newsom is definitely a replicant. Probably a Nexus 5.

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The religiosity of the superbrands

10.02.2014


Another friend asked the Windows laptop v. Macbook question on her Facebook today.
   You can predict what happens next. The cult came by. As with the last time a friend asked the same question.
   The cult always comes and proclaims the superiority of the Apple Macintosh. And it is a blinding proclamation, of messianic proportions, where one must behold the perfection and divinity of said technology. There is always one person who posts multiple times in an effort to convert you—bit like how one religion’s missionaries do those ten visits in an effort to get you to join. I think they might operate on a similar counting system.
   As someone who uses Mac, Windows and Linux regularly (Mac and Windows daily, Ubuntu twice weekly) and usually enters into the conversation with ‘At the end of the day, it’s just a computer,’ I find it unsettling.
   How unsettling?
   Basically, as unsettling as my atheist friends would find someone imposing religion on them. Their stance usually is: hey, good on you if it works for you. If it makes you a better person, great. But I’d rather you not preach about it to me.
   The proclamations are usually so one-sided that they leave holes for attack. ‘They are better’ is not really good evidence, and ‘a six-year-old machine can still run the latest OS’ is only dependent on the RAM. The existence of Windows crapware and a clogged-up registry are more the function of the user rather than the platform. I also level a lot of the blame on Windows’ clunkiness on Microsoft Office: I don’t use it, and I am happier for it. (In fact, Office may be the worst thing to happen to the more Windows OSs, as they let down what I regard as a pretty stable platform.)
   I don’t dislike the Mac ecosystem. I use it daily, though the hard grunt I’ll do on my Windows 7 machine. I love the way the Mac handles graphics and sound. Without speccing up my Windows machine, I wouldn’t have the same quality. Apple’s handling of type is better than Microsoft’s Cleartype, in my opinion.
   I like how the platforms now communicate readily with each other.
   But I have problems with the wifi dropping out on a Mac, though this happens less often after Mavericks came out. However, it’s on the Mac forums as one of those unsolved issues that’s been going on for four years without a resolution. InDesign, at least for us, crashes more often on Mac than on Windows. (Your mileage may vary.) Some programs update more easily on Windows—take my 79-year-old Dad, who would prefer clicking ‘Update’ when a new Flash arrives more than downloading a DMG file, opening it, and dragging an icon to the Applications. It’s harder to learn this stuff when you are nearly 80. And don’t get me started on the IBM PC Jr-style children’s keyboards. They sucked in the 1980s and there’s not much reason they don’t suck today. (I replace the Imac chiclet keyboards with after-market ones, though of course that’s not a realistic option if you are getting a Macbook.)
   Sure, these are minor issues. For each one of these I can name you Windows drawbacks, too, not least how the tech can date if you don’t buy expensively enough to begin with, and how you can still find innovations on an older Mac that Microsoft simply hasn’t caught up with. And even with some of the newer monitor-and-computer desktop units out there, none of them are as neatly designed and beautifully modernist as an Imac.
   The biggest problem I have with the Mac world is this. As I told my friend: ‘Any time I post about Windows going wrong, the Mac cult always surfaces and cries, “You should buy a Mac!” as though they were stalking my social networks. Any time I post about Macs going wrong … the cult hides away. You see, you are shattering the illusion that the machines are perfect.’ It’s been like this for years.
   It is and it isn’t a problem. It doesn’t sway me when I use the technology. But it’s hard for me, or anyone who sees through the fact that these are just computers, to want to be associated with that behaviour.
   The more level-headed Mac users—a few have helped me on social networks when I raise an issue, though they are far fewer than the ‘Buy a Mac!’ crowd—probably don’t want to be seen to be part of some élite, either.
   I should be more tolerant of this given my qualifications in branding. Good on Apple for creating such fervour. This is held up to us as something we should achieve with our own brands, with the traditional agencies usually naming Apple at number one. Kevin Roberts and Saatchi used to go on about ‘lovemarks’. It’s great that people see a bunch of bits as something so personal, so emotionally involved. Google is in the same boat—go to the forums and tell the senior support people there that their by-the-book, Google-is-right, you-must-be-doing-something-wrong answer is incorrect. You will simply be ignored, because it doesn’t fit into their world and their belief system.
   In both cases, I wonder if there is such a thing as overbranding: where consumers love something so much that it goes beyond comprehension, into the creepy stage. Some might call these ‘superbrands’, but there is an uncomfortable element of religiosity to it. I’m not so sure whether this is the function of branding—and we thus come back to what we wrote at the Medinge Group in 2003, where we proposed in Beyond Branding that brands really centred around humanism, integrity and transparency.
   I don’t recall anything about fervour.

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This week it’s the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit models; what’s next for our destination marketing?

09.02.2014

In Lucire’s publication history, more Americans than New Zealanders have read from the title. Online, that was always the case, as we started off in 1997 with a 70 per cent US readership, which has dropped to around 42 per cent with other countries catching up with web browsing over the last 16 years.
   Who knew, then, that Kiwis would come en masse over the last day and a bit to have a gander at our behind-the-scenes story on Air New Zealand’s next safety video?
   And all it took were five swimwear models from the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. None of whom are actually New Zealanders (four American, one Australian), though former Miss South Pacific Joyana Meyer, who is based locally, does make an appearance.
   I can see the irony: Kiwis browsing a Kiwi site reading about a Kiwi airline. Yes, it is strange, considering we are quite happy reading Australian newspapers and German magazines. We are proud, however, of our national carrier.
   I can also see the second irony, in that the video itself has foreigners in the main roles.
   However, 70 million SI readers now alerted to the Cook Islands, New Zealand and Air New Zealand without reliance on ‘Who Shot J. R. R.?’ marks a new change, and that might not be a bad thing for the maturing of tourist marketing.
   I know, we are falling back on babes and beaches, but I’ve never been convinced about the 100 Per Cent Pure campaign. While Sir Peter Jackson put us on the map thanks to his own love of our nation, I wonder if there may be fatigue in the association. What is the life cycle of such campaigns, typically?
   I could be completely wrong on both but it was a dozen years since I was in Scandinavia talking to excited Swedes about our country in the wake of the first Lord of the Rings film.
   Post-Conchords maybe it is time to show another side of us. You know I will keep championing Kiwi creativity and intellectual capital because I still believe these set us apart. Sports Illustrated doesn’t express that, but the fact that our national carrier is happy to co-brand with an iconic US title at least puts us on an internationally recognizable level. And it shows some decent, globally minded lateral thinking on behalf of the brand managers at Air New Zealand. I’m also encouraged that Air New Zealand’s new CEO, Christopher Luxon, is a brand guy with MNC experience because he’ll understand the need for differentiation on a global stage. It’s a stepping stone that we can take advantage of.
   The question to engage our brains next are: how else can we get our best brands out there? Are there more collaborations that are possible? Or are there ways we can find leverage to go it alone?

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In education, everyone deserves a chance

09.02.2014

I am a huge fan of Sir Ken Robinson, the educational expert. This video has been around for a few years, but it’s well worth another watch.

   Everyone has the potential within them—so we need ways of encouraging this for every life, rather than suppress them in favour of just the three Rs.
   I was blessed to have done well at primary and secondary school, and in my business degree at university, though for the first couple of years at law school, you might say I was a middling student, getting between B-pluses and C-pluses. It was only at 300 level that things began to click.
   I think back to the kids at the so-called bottom of the class at primary. I won’t name my fellow student but there was one who buried his head in his Mission: Impossible annual who I say had a better imagination than most of us. Unfortunately, he wasn’t as strong on the academic stuff. And you think: if only.
   Or, for that matter, Karl Urban, the actor, who really was that talented as a kid, but not in the top three to which our school awarded prizes.
   A small proportion of those who don’t get recognized academically might wind up as internationally fêted actors, with a lot of sheer hard work. But a whole lot get let down at the beginning, even at a really good school, and told they needed to shape up.
   I visit my primary and secondary schools regularly and keep up with their progress, and I am happy to say things are much, much better than in the 1970s and 1980s. There is more recognition of the different styles of learning, and the different strengths of each student. I see more group work and collaboration between students, as well as more extracurricular activities than we ever had. I hope that we don’t have the trend of medicating students as Sir Ken mentions in his talk, and it is very interesting to note that the prescriptions for ADD increase as one moves eastward across the United States (see 3′38″).

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Water trumps fire

09.02.2014

Since I used to post updates of the web browsers I used: I have switched to Waterfox, replacing Firefox.
   Since the latest Flash updates a few weeks back, Firefox has been crashing twice a day. Other weird things have happened, too, like the save file dialogue box failing to appear after several hours’ use, or the mouse pointer flickering like crazy.
   I also haven’t had Waterfox change pages on me automatically, a bug that has been with Firefox for years but remains unsolved.
   Firefox for Windows is not designed for 64-bit machines, but Waterfox is. Since changing browsers, I have had a crash-free existence.
   It’s not the first time I downloaded Waterfox but abandoned it last time. I can’t remember the exact reasons but it would have been either losing some of my settings, finding that its speed was worse than the 32-bit version, or its high memory usage.
   The last of those three still holds true—Waterfox will eat through over a gig of RAM—but everything from Firefox comes across perfectly and it is slightly faster.
   Sadly, I have had to remain on Firefox for my 32-bit laptop running Windows Vista, where it has been crashing regularly since the last Flash update.
   I’m still on Firefox on Ubuntu and Mac OS X, but it looks like there is some major issue with Firefox and Flash when it comes to Windows. This is not the first time, either, but it is enough to have me stay on Waterfox for the foreseeable future.

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Flashback to 2002: Australia’s first Winter Olympic gold

09.02.2014

This is the sort of thing I would throw on my Tumblr but the Olympic Committee won’t allow embedding there. Ergo:

   It’s from the 2002 Games, where Steven Bradbury takes home Australia’s first gold in the Winter Olympics. The last lap is at around the 1′30″ mark.
   Fast forward to 2014 and remember (with apologies to Yakov Smirnoff): in Russia, Olympics watch you!

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Posted in humour, TV, USA | 2 Comments »


MG SUV soon a reality: good

06.02.2014

I have to admit I get a bit bored of those crying foul now that MG will launch an SUV, one which seems to have some parallels with the Ssangyong Korando C (left).
   They say that MG should have made sports cars as part of its revival, and that the brand should not adorn a bunch of Chinese-made saloons and an upcoming SUV.
   Let’s look at a few hard facts.
   MG did make a sports car when NAC, and later SAIC, took over. It was the British TF design. And they sold fewer than 100 cars per year in the 2007–11 period, despite it being the cheapest roadster on the market in China. It wasn’t just Chinese buyers who ignored them: the TF was the first model revived at Longbridge, with very keen pricing, and hardly any Britons touched them, either.
   So if you were a business and you were confronted with decent sales of your saloon cars and dismal sales of your sports car (after building a whole new factory for them), where do you place your efforts?
   You give the people what they want.
   What’s surprising is that this is hardly unprecedented in MG history. There have been MG saloons for a good part of its existence, but right now, there are parallels with the 1980s. Then, the MGB had died in 1980, and Austin Rover decided it would launch a range of sporting saloons based on the humble Metro, Maestro and Montego. That’s no different to today’s MG range of the 3, 5 and 6—there’s even a 7, based on the old MG ZT.
   And globally, but more importantly, in MG’s domestic and key export markets, SUVs are selling strongly.
   Again: you give the people what they want.
   I was one of the very few people who wrote that I believed the Porsche Cayenne would be a huge hit at the turn of the century, and that the Porsche brand could survive such an extension. I was right.
   MG’s brand can easily be extended, given that it has had a less focused history than Porsche. At two points during its British ownership, it sold estates, for goodness’ sake—once in New Zealand, with the Montego-based MG 2·0 SL, and toward the end of the Phoenix Four era, with the MG ZT-T.
   A good deal of estate buyers now eye up SUVs, and that is simply a trend that SAIC is following.
   A sports car may follow in time. There will be a fastback based on the Auris-like MG 5, and not a moment too soon. A “proper” sports car could come if the rest of the range does well. SAIC isn’t run by mugs, and they know the heritage of the MG brand.
   MG sister brand Roewe has been voted the best in service and customer satisfaction among car dealerships, beating even the foreign-branded competition in China, while the Roewe 350 topped its class for customer satisfaction, according to the China Quality Association. The MG 3 came second in its segment.
   We’re talking about the most competitive car market on earth, and the Chinese equivalent (as far as I can make out) of the J. D. Power survey.
   Those accolades are things that BMC, BL, Austin Rover, Rover Group and MG Rover could only dream about, especially through the 1970s.
   I’d rather people give SAIC the acclaim it deserves for giving MG a decent go where the British and the Germans had failed—and for putting money where its mouth is.

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Frack away, IGas Energy: the Metropolitan Police has your back

06.02.2014

The spirit of Gene Hunt is alive and well in the Greater Manchester Police, in the form of Sgt David Kehoe.

   Arresting someone over drink driving when he has neither drunk nor driven reminds me of The Professionals episode, ‘In the Public Interest’, about a corrupt police force in an unnamed English city outside London.
   The only thing is: that was fiction. This was fact.
   So, IGas Energy plc, you may frack away. The British Government and the Met have your back.
   Dr Steven Peers was the cameraman and citizen journalist who was arrested. CPS did not have sufficient evidence to proceed with a prosecution. I wonder why.
   He is now planning to bring a civil claim against the GMP for ‘wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and assault,’ according to the Manchester Evening News, which appears to be the only mainstream media outlet I could find that covered this incident.
   Another report claimed that the GMP never received a complaint from Dr Peers, though how are we supposed to believe any statement from this force? The video has gone viral, and global—and if Operation Weeting and the inquiry into police standards were insufficient to give the Met a bad name, then this surely will.
   What next? Legislation to make protests against oil companies illegal?
   No, that would be daft. It would totally be against the ideas of free speech, human rights and international law. No democracy would be that stupid.

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The Rongotai years

05.02.2014

This came up today at Victoria University where an old client of ours asked about my 2013 campaign. I remembered there was something about education that I wanted to address at the time.
   One of the stranger emails during 2013 came from a former classmate of mine at Rongotai College. A brilliant guy at his sporting code, and from memory, a fair dinkum bloke. Unfortunately, he gave a fake return address, so I was unable to get my email to him (even though I wrote one of those ‘Hey, great to hear from you after all these years’ replies). He’s not on Facebook, either.
   His message went along the lines of why I never mention Rongotai College in my biographies, and criticized me of snobbery and being ashamed of the place.
   Those who know me know that I have little time for snobbery.
   It was odd since in my publicity during both elections, Rongotai College is mentioned—no more and no less than the two private schools I attended. You only had to go as far as the third line in the bullet points in my bio to find Rongotai there. That was the case with all my 2010 brochures and in my 2013 Vote.co.nz profile. (My 2013 fliers had less room and my schooling—anywhere—was omitted.) And it regularly came up in speeches, especially at my fund-raisers, which were held at Soi, co-owned by an old boy.
   I admit that sometimes I say, in conversation, that I was ‘Dux at St Mark’s and Proxime Accessit at Scots,’ simply because ‘School Certificate at Rongotai’ doesn’t say a heck of a lot about me. It’s normal just to talk about where you finished each stage of your education.
   For the same reason, I skip my Bachelor of Commerce degree since I did honours and then a Master of Commerce and Administration. I also skip Man Kee Kindergarten in Kowloon, Hong Kong, where I won the tidiness award at age three.
   I’m sure I wouldn’t find his fifth form sporting achievements on his CV.
   I assume he didn’t check the footer to this website, under ‘Connected organizations’, since he didn’t make it to the third line in my bio. There, I only mention St Mark’s and Scots—for the simple reason that these are schools I still work with: I serve on the alumni associations of both. My hands are full now with two upcoming centenaries, but: Rongotai College has simply never asked me.
   I’m wondering whether the writer himself has a bit of a chip on his shoulder about the place. Might he have reason to believe it was inferior if the other two were “élite”?
   Rongotai College did, let’s face it, have some issues in those days.
   On the plus side, the sporting record is decent. The fact that opera singer Ben Makisi came out of there during that time is another proud moment.
   Rongotai College showed me the importance of being my own man, and understanding peer pressure, to which it is unnecessary to succumb. I never did.
   The first guys to help me out in business were my mates at Rongotai, such as Matthew Breen and Andrew Bridge—and Andrew and I have stayed in touch.
   Rongotai College also showed that for every racist dickwad there was a rugby-playing Samoan or Tongan student capable of metering out justice.
   However, and I hate to say this, it also demonstrated leadership dysfunction in those days. There were serious senior management problems that filtered down to the rest of the place, which I witnessed, though some teachers thankfully remained steadfast.
   During that era, Rongotai was less than nurturing despite the best efforts of some of its teachers, such as Will Meehan (who helped shape my writing style in my fifth form when I began thinking about working in media, and endured my extra practice in my exercise books) and Dave Reynolds.
   So when I was offered a half-scholarship on the strength of my School Certificate marks, I took it.
   However, the élitist tag, for either St Mark’s or Scots, is inaccurate.
   While I enjoyed St Mark’s and Scots more than my time at Rongotai, it’s daft to call either élite. There were many parents, who did not come from money, who worked hard to send us there. At any of the private schools I attended, none of my contemporaries felt they were above the others. I did, interestingly, encounter this behaviour at Rongotai, where being in the A-stream went to a few lads’ heads.
   My time at Scots was better for me, since there was a culture where each student should seek out his own path and excel at the things they loved the most. That’s not a function of money, it’s a function of leadership and education. There was also greater camaraderie,.
   Headmaster Keith Laws may have his critics—he hinted as much at the leavers’ assembly to me—but these aspects of Scots remained firm. Perhaps it was cultural, or perhaps he engendered them. Regardless, I thank him for his decision—the buck stopped at the head’s office—for granting me that scholarship.
   Finally, if I was trying to bury my Rongotai connection, I certainly wouldn’t have been seeking out a lot of the lads on social networks over the years. Or attended the funeral of the father of one of the old boys in 2013.
   So, for the record, no, I’m not ashamed of my past.

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