Archive for the ‘culture’ category


The 1970s: when TV shows were New

12.11.2019

As a child of the 1970s, I was exposed to this English word: new. Now, before you say that that isn’t anything special, for some reason, in the ’70s, there was an obsession with newness. It wasn’t like the news (by this I mean the plural of new) of Amsterdam or Zealand, but an adjective that was adapted to really emphasize that you should pay attention and consume, consume, consume.
   Perhaps the earliest exposure was a Tomica model I had: the Blue Whale Crown. The base plate and box read ‘Toyota New Crown’. Even as a child, I wondered: what happens to the old Crown models? And what happens to this Crown model when a new new Crown comes out? It didn’t matter: Toyota wanted us to live in the present and bask in the newness, and back in the early 1970s, this Crown certainly looked like nothing that had come from Toyota prior, or since. It was almost saying, ‘Yes, we know it looks weird, but hey, it’s “new”, so that means it’s good!’
   The real car flopped (relatively speaking; they still shifted plenty given top Japanese managers still needed transportation), and it was the last generation of Crown to be sold in the US, but to me it remains iconic, even if it is garish. After a mere three years on sale, very short even by Japanese standards, its ‘New’ successor emerged in 1974 with all the idiosyncrasies gone. Conservatism ruled in this segment, at least till fairly recently. The old toys hung round, still ‘new’, so even if your parents bought you one in 1975 or 1976, you could still relish the adjective.
   It wasn’t a case of Japlish. It was all over television as well. When we emigrated here, the Anglophone television introduced me to The New Dick Van Dyke Show. Never mind that I had never seen the old Dick van Dyke show at this point. This was the white-haired man doing the New Zealand Fire Service PSAs. Everyone knew him. And why was it The New? Because we needed to be told that despite the same network in its home country (CBS), Dick van Dyke wasn’t playing Rob Petrie, but a new character altogether. Please don’t take this as a continuation of the previous one.




Here are the News: The New Dick Van Dyke Show; The New Perry Mason; and The New Avengers.

   Van Dyke, in his autobiography, recounts a fan coming up to him berating him for leaving Laura (Mary Tyler Moore’s character from the earlier The Dick Van Dyke Show), so it’s not as though the qualifier worked; goodness knows how the same fan would have computed The Mary Tyler Moore Show, on the same night as The New Dick Van Dyke Show. Maybe that was proof that Rob had left Laura or vice versa and they were forging ahead with their separate lives.
   The New Dick Van Dyke Show wasn’t alone. A couple of years later, there was The New Perry Mason (1973), starring Monte Markham in the title role (though no one ever called him ‘New’). The Fred Steiner theme was nowhere to be heard. I’ve seen a few of these, and they are pretty good in a 1970s sort of way—which is to say more exterior filming and more flash cars (product placement was growing) on the back lot and on location. To make it more confusing, when Perry Mason returned in a bunch of TV movies in the 1980s, starting with Perry Mason Returns, it wasn’t Markham, but original actor Raymond Burr once more. You see, it wasn’t The New Perry Mason Returns.
   The New Perry Mason starred a different actor, so I can comprehend its Newness, and at least the presence of another actor underscored this. It didn’t do that well, which is probably why hardly anyone remembers it. Probably more people remember Markham as the Seven Million Dollar Man. I’m not kidding.
   One that I do remember extremely well was The New Avengers, in 1976. Again, given when I was born, I had no exposure to The Avengers, but The New Avengers was a favourite of mine then, and I bought the DVDs when I saw them decades later. Unlike the other two series, this was a direct continuation, though it wasn’t explained just how John Steed returned to Earth after Tara King blasted them both into space when they had their Endgame in 1969; but we do know they enjoyed Laurent Perrier champagne when they got back. It’s a third definition of new as far as the TV shows were concerned, with the same motive: if you want to be seen as in, hip and groovy, come watch the new.
   Perhaps more obscure were one-off TV movies: Halloween with the New Addams Family (1977), which had the same cast (grandmother aside, as actress Blossom Rock was ill), and where the new serves no useful purpose other than attempting to sell us on newness where there is none; and The New Maverick (1978), which sees the return of James Garner as Bret and Jack Kelly as Bart, though there’s no sign of Roger Moore as Beau (presumably too busy being James Bond) and Robert Colbert as Brent, but it did introduce a first cousin once removed called Ben Maverick (Charles Frank). I imagine Ben is the new Maverick, and a short-lived TV series, Young Maverick, did appear afterwards.
   No one really did much more New shows after this—it seemed to be a 1970s phenomenon. With one exception: CI5: the New Professionals in the 1990s, an attempt to recapture the glory days of The Professionals but winding up more like episodes of Bugs. There, new sort of meant old, reminding us that some of the writing and directing was out of step with late 1990s’ audience expectations; and, with the greatest of respect, showed that certain parties were past their prime. By then, we had had seven episodes of Bodyguards, which perhaps showed how a modern-day Professionals might be. All that needed was to be “laddified” for the FHM audience, at least in theory, and certainly, after 9-11, there may have been some scope for an élite, globally coordinated, anti-terrorist squad (which is what The New Professionals suggests the fictional CI5 unit morphed into, probably to accommodate its backers and the South African location filming in some episodes). But in 1998, there was less of an appetite for revival shows, especially when the top-rated series were ER and Friends, and the Americans were a year away from The Sopranos. Britain, meanwhile, was gripped with the tension of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and the FHM lads were more that catered for by Babes in the Wood.

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The latest round of Facebook lies

26.10.2019

I believe one of the Democrat-leaning newspapers in the US compiles a list of lies by Donald Trump. I really think we should be doing one for Facebook, as it would make for impressive reading, though it would also take some time to compile.
   Founder Mark Zuckerberg claimed he talked to media from ‘across the spectrum’, but as The Intercept’s Jon Schwarz and Sam Biddle discovered, this is another lie: Zuckerberg cultivates relationships with US conservatives, not their liberals, based on the duo’s checks.

   This adds fuel to the fire that Zuckerberg dreads US senator Elizabeth Warren getting into the White House, and has said so, and we know the buck really stops with him when it comes to Facebook’s activities. Facebook even pulled Sen. Warren’s ads from their platform briefly: so much for impersonal algorithms, ‘We’re just a platform,’ and free speech. We also know from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s questioning of the Facebook founder that he claims he passes the buck on what media are considered legit to a conservative group, something he’ll have sanctioned, so be prepared to see Facebook reflect his (and Trump-supporting, Facebook board member Peter Thiel’s) right-wing political views.
   As Schwarz and Biddle also note, Facebook’s VP for US public policy is a George W. Bush aide and a board member for the former president’s museum.
   Jack Morse at Mashable, meanwhile, reported that Zuckerberg is attempting historical revisionism on why he started Facebook. Retconning might work with comic books but less so in real life. Apparently, instead of the truth—a website which scraped photos of students and asked people to rate who was hotter—Facebook is now something created to give people a voice after the Iraq war in 2003.
   Sorry, Mark, we know you didn’t have such noble intentions, regardless of what they eventually became.
   It’s an insult to all those entrepreneurs who actually did start businesses or ventures with noble intent or socially responsible purposes.
   Frankly, sticking to the truth, and saying you discovered the power of connecting people, is a far more compelling story.
   Except, of course, Facebook no longer connects people. It divides people by validating their own biases, including less savoury viewpoints. It stokes outrage because that’s worth more clicks and time spent on its site. At worst, it’s a tool used for genocide. It’s a shame Facebook refuses to acknowledge the Pandora’s box it has opened, because its top management has no desire to do a thing about it. And as such it loses my respect even further. Don’t want the likes of Warren calling for breaking your company up? The solution is actually quite simple, but you all have become too rich and too establishment to want to break things.
   I actually had to write this in my op–ed for Lucire’s 22nd anniversary last week: ‘In this respect, we see our mission as the opposite of social media: we want to bring people together, not usher them into silos and echo chambers.’ The narrative Facebook wishes to spin, like so many in its past, is an easily seen-through joke.

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Facebook: no change, business as usual

24.10.2019

I would have loved to have seen this go to trial, but Facebook and the plaintiffs—a group of advertising agencies alleging they had been swindled by the social network—settled.
   Excerpted from The Hollywood Reporter, ‘The suit accused Facebook of acknowledging miscalculations in metrics upon press reports, but still not taking responsibility for the breadth of the problem. “The average viewership metrics were not inflated by only 60%-80%; they were inflated by some 150 to 900%,” stated an amended complaint.’
   Facebook denies this and settled for US$40 million, which is really pocket change for the multi-milliard-dollar company. Just the price of doing business.
   Remember, Facebook has been shown to have lied about the number of people it can reach (it now admits that its population estimates have no basis in, well, the population), so I’m not surprised it lies about the number of people who watch their videos. And remember their platform has a lot of bots—I still have several thousand reported on Instagram that have yet to be touched—and Facebook itself isn’t exactly clean.
   Every time they get called out, there are a few noises, but nothing ever really happens.
   This exchange between Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Mark Zuckerberg is a further indication that nothing will ever happen at Facebook to make things right—there’s no will from top management for that to happen. There’s too much to be lost with monetization opportunities for questionable services to be shut down, while Facebook is all too happy to close ones that don’t make money (e.g. the old ‘View as’ feature). The divisions and “fake news” will continue, the tools used by all the wrong people.
   It’s your choice whether you want to be part of this.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, politics, TV, USA | 1 Comment »


What’s all this Johnny Foreigner type?

23.10.2019

After all that bollocks from the Hon J. Rees-Mogg, MP about banning the metric system from the Commons, I thought the Brexit-loving Tories would at least get this right.

   Strictly speaking, I realize it was Book Antiqua, though as we all know, that’s a Palatino clone.
   Since even English types like Baskerville were influenced by what was happening on the Continent, for official use, the UK really needs to go back to Old English. And yes, I realize that suggestion has unpleasant parallels to what was going on in Germany in the 1930s …
   There was a great follow-up to my Tweet, incidentally:

   And for some reason, this keeps coming to mind:

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Wikipedia acts swiftly when criticized, bans an editor for life

05.10.2019

When I wrote this post in May 2018, ‘People are waking up to Wikipedia’s abuses’, even I didn’t expect that Wikipedia would act so harshly when it gets criticized on its own platform.
   One editor decided to create a page on Philip Cross, who (or which) received a great deal of attention that month, and was probably deserving of a page detailing his notoriety. Cross, as I detailed in May 2018, is a person or entity that is anti-Jeremy Corbyn and favourable toward right-wing figures. He ‘has not had a single day off from editing Wikipedia between August 29, 2013 and May 14, 2018, including Christmas Days.’
   Wikipedia’s reaction? Delete the page, and subject its creator to a lifetime ban. Then, any record of the Philip Cross page was scrubbed clean—forget page histories. The story is detailed at Off-Guardian here.
   In other words, Wikipedia was complicit in biased editing. I’ve been saying Wikipedia was questionable for over a decade, but to actually protect someone who engages in what some might call libel?
   It’s entirely consistent with Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales’s attitude to the whole thing, as Craig Murray detailed at the time.
   After five years of Cross’s inputs to Wikipedia, he was finally discussed by Wikipedia by a principled editor, KalHolmann, though not without opposition (KalHolmann was initially “punished” for even bringing it up). Like all big sites, Wikipedia decided to show people that it has some form of governance only after it had been outed (including a BBC World Service radio story that went out during the arbitration process) for allowing abuse.
   And by means of a postscript to these events of mid-2018 that I missed till now, George Galloway, a regular target of Philip Cross’s Wikipedia activity, claims he has identified the man, and knows the background behind him.

Additional links: wikipedia.fivefilters.org/agenda.html, wikipedia.fivefilters.org/evidence/, www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w3csws6q, www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/05/emma-barnett-a-classic-philip-cross-wikipedia-operation/, and everipedia.org/wiki/lang_en/philip-cross-wikipedian/.

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First night

16.09.2019

Forty-three years ago (September 16, 1976), we arrived in this country.
   As we flew from Sydney and into Wellington, my Dad pointed out the houses below to me. ‘See, those are the sorts of houses New Zealanders live in,’ he said. I thought it was odd they lived in two-storey homes and not apartment blocks. I was three at the time, so I had no clue about the population density of Aotearoa.
   I frequently point out just how cloudy and grey that day was. I don’t remember a summer of ’76–’77, just as no one here remembers a summer of ’16–’17. Only one other car, a Holden station wagon, went along Calabar Road in the opposite direction as we left Wellington Airport.
   Before we departed Hong Kong days earlier, my maternal grandmother—the person closest to me at that point and whom I would desperately miss for the next 18 months—gave me two very special Corgi models at the airport, large 1:36 scale Mercedes-Benz 240Ds. I said goodbye to her expecting to see her in weeks.
   As I was put to bed that night by my father—it wasn’t usually his role—he asked if I wanted to see the cars, since I had been so good on the flights. He got them out and showed me, and I was allowed to have a quick look before they were put back into his carry-on bag.
   None of us knew this was the trip where we’d wind up in Aotearoa. Mum had applied—I went with her to the New Zealand High Commission in Connaught Tower in Hong Kong to get the forms—but we had green cards to head to Tennessee. But, my mother, ever careful, didn’t want to put all her eggs into one basket. And like a lot of Hong Kongers at the time, they had no desire to hang around till 1997 and find themselves under communist rule.
   It was a decision that would change our lives.
   Whilst here, word got back home—and then out to us—that New Zealand immigration had approved our application. In the days when air travel cost a fortune, my parents considered our presence here serendipitous and decided to stay. What point was there to fly back if one’s only task was to pack?
   It’s hard not to reminisce on this anniversary, and consider this family with their lives ahead of them.
   I’ve had it good. Mum never wanted me to suffer as she had during the famine behind the Bamboo Curtain, and to many in the mid-1970s, getting to the Anglosphere was a dead cert to having a better life.
   I had a great education, built a career and a reputation, and met my partner here, so I can’t complain. And I couldn’t have asked for more love and support than I had from my immediate family.
   My grandmother eventually joined us under the family reunion policy in 1978. My mother and I were her only living descendants.
   Despite the happiness, you don’t think, on that night in 1976, that in 18 years my mother would die from cancer and that my widowed father, at 80, would develop Alzheimer’s disease, something of which there is no record in the family.
   Despite both parents having to make the decision to send a parent to a rest home, when it came time for me to do the same thing—and it was the right decision given the care Dad needed—it was very tough.
   A friend asked me how I felt, and I said I felt like ‘the meanest c*** on earth,’ even though I knew I would have made the same decision regardless of other factors as his disease progressed.
   Immigrant families stick together because we often have the sense of “us versus the world”. When Racist ’80s Man tells you to go back to where you came from, it’s not an experience you can easily share with others who aren’t immigrants and people of colour. So as our numbers diminished—my grandmother in 1990 and my mother in 1994—it was Dad and me versus the world, and that was how we saw things for the decades that followed.
   That first night he went to live in a home was the same night I flashed back to the evening of September 16, 1976—and how impossibly hard it would have been to foresee how things would turn out.
   He’s since changed homes twice and found himself in excellent care at Te Hopai, though he now needs to be fed and doesn’t detect as much to his right. The lights are going out.
   It’s a far cry from being the strong one looking after your three-year-old son and making sure he could fall asleep in this new country, where things were in such a state of flux.

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Posted in China, culture, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Wellington | 1 Comment »


Where the internet tends to be wrong on The Love Boat

07.09.2019

There are a few TV shows I get anorak about. Alarm für Cobra 11 is probably the one most people have seen me post about. I probably have some claim over The Persuaders, The Professionals, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Pointman. But there was one that was a staple for us as a family, that I don’t have any anorak status over, yet I seem to know more than a lot of people who write about such things professionally.
   It’s The Love Boat, where there are a few claims that go round the ’net.
   There are many pages and videos about the ‘original cast’ of The Love Boat, and the names are familiar enough: Gavin MacLeod, Bernie Kopell, Fred Grandy, Ted Lange and Lauren Tewes. Even documentaries on the history of the programme make this claim. But, as many know, this particular combination was the third cast, although Kopell, Grandy and Lange showed up in the second pilot in 1977, with Quinn Redeker as Capt Tom Madison and Diane Stilwell as Sandy, the cruise director.
   The original cast actually saw Division 4’s Ted Hamilton as Capt Thomas Ford, Dick van Patten as Dr O’Neill, Sandy Helberg as Gopher, Theodore Wilson as Isaac, Terri O’Mara as Gerry, the cruise director. Joseph Sicari, as a steward, also appears in the opening title.

   There’s also an internet fiction on a lot of websites that The Love Boat II, the second pilot, had Bernie Kopell play Dr O’Neill, and not Adam Bricker. I’ve no idea where this surfaced, and it also appears on IMDB. Sorry, internet, Bernie Kopell is introduced as ‘Lt Dr Adam Bricker’, the military title with its origins in the back story that Capt Madison, Dr Bricker, Gopher (YN1 Burl Smith) and CPO Isaac Washington all served together on the USS Chadway in the US Navy in Vietnam. In peacetime, they wanted to sail together. Here’s the scene in a Dutch video cassette release, though Bricker is misspelled:

   Hopefully, one of these days, these errors get corrected online. Though based on what I see on Wikipedia, I’m not holding my breath.
   The second cast wasn’t too bad, but most of the stories left something to be desired. The producers (and, for that matter, MacLeod and Tewes) were lucky that ABC commissioned a third pilot, The New Love Boat, and the rest is history.

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On Boris Johnson’s strategy, Ken Clarke nails it

03.09.2019

Ken Clarke has been around long enough (indeed, as the Father of the House, he has been in Parliament for longer than my lifetime) to see through political shenanigans, and Bojo and Brexit are no exception. (Yes, Minister is also instructive.)

   Subsequently, Jacob Rees-Mogg, who lives in a dream world detached from understanding others, inspired even more rebellion, and with the PM’s speech, it played out exactly as Clarke predicted. Not predicted: Iain Duncan-Smith picking his nose.
   Johnson is acting like the schoolboy who hasn’t done his homework and is trying to hide it in a myriad of excuses. The UK doesn’t even have a negotiating team, according to former Chancellor Philip Hammond, and the PM’s claims of ‘progress’ are a mystery to those in Brussels. There is only so much nationalistic bluster will get you if you don’t actually do the work—even if you voted leave, you would expect this government to have advanced your interests even slightly. It appears that that was never its aim. It feels a bit like the last days of Mao: keep it messy in a hope to hold on a little longer.

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An expat’s thoughts about Hong Kong

01.09.2019


Studio Incendo/Creative Commons 2·0

As an expat, I’ve been asked a few times about what I think of the Hong Kong protests. There’s no straight answer to this. Here are a few thoughts, in no particular order.

  • The British never gave us universal suffrage, so the notion that it was all roses before 1997 is BS. The best the Brits managed was half of LegCo toward the end, but before that it was pitiful. And the express reasons they didn’t give it to us, certainly in the mid-20th century, were racist.
  • Having said that, I’d love to see half of LegCo up for grabs, if not more.
  • The extradition bill is, in the grand scheme, pretty minor. If the PRC really wants to grab you, they will.
  • However, I totally get that codifying it into law gives them greater authority, or is perceived to give them that.
  • It wouldn’t be the first time the US State Department and others meddled in our affairs, and I don’t believe this is an exception.
  • Expecting the British to help out is a hiding to nothing. The Shadow Cabinet was critical of John Major’s Conservatives in the 1990s over Hong Kong, and when in office, months before the handover, was arguably even less effective. There’ll be the occasional op-ed from Chris Patten. Not much else. The UK is too mired in its own issues anyway, looking more and more like the sort of failed state that it professes to “help” right now.
  • It hasn’t helped that HK Chinese feel that our culture is under threat, including our language, and there hasn’t been any indication from the PRC of alleviating this (the old playbook again). Observers inside China may see HKers’ embrace of its internationalist culture as colonial and subservient to foreigners; HKers see it as a direct contrast to the lack of openness within the PRC between 1949 and the early 1980s and as a “freer” expression of Chineseness. Arguments could be made either way on the merits of both positions. That resentment has been stoked for some time, and HKers will only need to point to the Uighurs as an indication of their fears.
  • Withdrawal of the bill, even temporarily, would have been wiser, as it’s not a time for the PRC to get hard-line over this. This shouldn’t be a case of us v. them. This is, however, a perfect opportunity to have dialogue over reinterpreting “one country, two systems”, and persuade the ROC of its merit—the Chinese commonwealth idea that has been in my thoughts for a long time. However, Xi is one of the old-school tough guys, and this mightn’t be on his agenda. China hasn’t exactly gone to young people to ask them what they think—we never have, whether you’re talking about the imperial times, the period between 1911 and 1949, or afterwards.
  • This might be my romantic notions of Hong Kong coloured by childhood memories, but the place thrived when the young could express themselves freely through music and other arts. They felt they had a voice and an identity.
  • Right now there’s a huge uncertainty about who we are. I think we’re proudly Chinese in terms of our ethnicity and heritage, and we might even think our ideas of what this means are superior to others’. Rose-coloured glasses are dangerous to don because they don’t tell us the truth. But we might be nostalgic for pre-1997 because the expression of our identity was so much clearer when the ruling power was nothing like us. Who cares if they thought we were a bunch of piccaninnies if they just let us get on with our shit? Now there’s a battle between “our Chineseness” versus “their Chineseness” in the eyes of some HKers. Thanks to certain forces stoking the tensions, and probably using the resentment HK Chinese feel, there isn’t a comfortable, foreseeable way out any time soon.

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When you let amateurs like Rees-Mogg write style guides

27.07.2019

I thought I could be archaic on a few things—I still use diphthongs in text in our publications (æsthetic, Cæsar), the trio of inst., ult. and prox. in written correspondence, and even fuel economy occasionally in mpg (Imperial) because I am useless at ℓ/100 km and too few countries use km/ℓ. However, even I had to cringe at Jacob Rees-Mogg’s style guide as revealed by ITV. This has now been circulated to his House of Commons staff. It is not satire.


   His first rule is ‘Organisations are SINGULAR’. (No, this isn’t licence to write ‘Organisations is singular.’) I don’t mind this as it’s one I adopt myself (admittedly inconsistently), but note the spelling of the first word. It’s French. The correct spelling is organizations, and the switch to the French in the Anglosphere appears to have happened postwar. Go to English books that are old enough, and you’ll find the z to be more commonplace. (Please don’t comment that z is ‘American’ before doing some research.)
   His sixth rule is ‘Double space after fullstops’. Now, the last word should be two words, but the rule itself has even been abandoned by the newspaper that Rees-Mogg’s father edited for so many years. Most compositors in Britain abandoned large spaces at the start of the 20th century, by my reckoning—my interpretation of the reading studies by Tinker et al is that the single space is sufficient, and web convention agrees. If we are to follow The Times in, say, 1969, we also need to insert spaces around certain other punctuation marks. If you find a copy from around that time, I can promise you it won’t be easy to read.
   What is apparent to me is that the rules have been typed up, at least, by an amateur, which accounts for the poor spacing and inconsistent capitalization, and generally it shows a disregard for professional style guides (again, we return to The Times). Sometimes, the acorn does fall far from the tree.
   I note that Imperial measurements are to be used again: none of this newfangled metric system nonsense. As I do some transactions in pounds sterling, I am going to refresh my memory on shillings, half-crowns and thruppenny bits in case currency decimalization is reversed. You never know, Johnson’s Britain may find the decimal system too Johnny Foreigner for its liking. ‘They cannot, and will not, change our sausage!’

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Posted in culture, politics, publishing, typography, UK | 2 Comments »