Above: Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web.
Earlier this month, Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote an open letter expressing his concerns about the evolution of his invention, the World Wide Web. (Interestingly, he writes the term all in lowercase.)
It wasnât just about âfake newsâ, which is how the media have reported it. His first concern was, in fact, about our losing control over our personal data, and determining when and with whom we share them. Itâs something Iâve touched on regularly since 2011, when Google breached its own stated policies over user-preference collection for advertising purposes, something that Facebook appears to be following suit with mid-decade. This was long before Edward Snowden blew the lid on his governmentâs monitoring, something thatâs happening to citizens of other occidental nations, too.
Sir Tim writes, âThrough collaboration withâor coercion ofâcompanies, governments are also increasingly watching our every move online, and passing extreme laws that trample on our rights to privacy. In repressive regimes, itâs easy to see the harm that can be causedâbloggers can be arrested or killed, and political opponents can be monitored. But even in countries where we believe governments have citizensâ best interests at heart, watching everyone, all the time is simply going too far. It creates a chilling effect on free speech and stops the web from being used as a space to explore important topics, like sensitive health issues, sexuality or religion.â
But the one that struck me as very pertinent to publishing is Sir Timâs second point. Itâs the one that most news outlets seized on, linking it back to âfake newsâ, a term now corrupted by the executive branch of the US Government when attacking coverage that it doesnât like. However, Sir Timâs points were far broader than that. And itâs evident how his first point links to his second.
Itâs not hard to see that there is biased coverage on both the right and right wings of US politics (interestingly, they call it left and right), although Sir Tim points to how âa handful of social media sites or search enginesâ show us the things that appeal to our own biases through their algorithms. âFake newsâ then spreads through these algorithms because they play to our prejudices. He writes, âthose with bad intentions can game the system to spread misinformation for financial or political gain.â These sites are able to determine what we see based on the data weâve given them, willingly or unwillingly.
Itâs so far from the ideals of the World Wide Web that itâs sad that the medium, which was once so expansive and inspirational as we surfed from one site to the next to read and absorb information, has come to this: a tool for becoming more insular, the first path to the idiocracy.
Google, as I wrote last year, biases itself toward larger sites, no longer rewarding the media outlet that breaks a news item. The incentive to be that maverick medium is, therefore, lessened greatly online, because the web isnât being ranked on merit by the largest player in the search-engine business. Itâs why Duck Duck Go, which doesnât collect user data, gives search results that are generally fairer. We think itâs important to learn alternative viewpoints, especially in politics, otherwise the division that we already see in some countries will only deepenâand at worst this can lead to war. In peacetime countries, a compatriot with opposing political thoughts is not our enemy.
Facebookâs continued data collection of user preferences is also dangerous. Even after users opt out, Facebookâs ad preferencesâ page demonstrates that it will keep collecting. Whether or not Facebook then uses these preferences is unknownâcertainly Facebook itself clams upâbut since the site reports journalists who alert them to kiddie porn, kicks off drag queens after saying they wouldnât, and forces people to download software in the guise of malware detection, who knows if any of Facebookâs positions are real or merely âfake newsâ? Knowing the misdeeds of sites like Facebookâand Google which itself has been found guilty of hackingâdo they actually deserve our ongoing support?
Of course I have an interest in getting people to look beyond the same-again players, because I run one media outlet that isnât among them. But we have an interest to seek information from the independents, and to support a fair and neutral internet. We may learn an angle we hadnât explored before, or we may find news and features others arenât covering. Better yet, we may learn alternative viewpoints that break us out of our prejudices. Surely we canât be that scared of learning about alternatives (maybe one that is better than what we believe), or having a reasoned debate based on fact rather than emotion or hatred? And if you are sharing on social media, do you want to be one of the sheep who uses the same click-bait as everyone else, or show that youâre someone whoâs capable of independent thought?
It shouldnât be that difficult to distinguish fake-news sites from legitimate media (even though the line gets blurred) by looking at how well something is subedited and how many spelling mistakes there are. Perhaps the headlines are less emotive. There is a tier of independent media that deserves your support, whether it is this site or many competing ones that weâve linked ourselves. Going beyond the same-again sources can only benefit us all.
I’m not so sure that GM going into talks to sell Opel and Vauxhall to PSA (PeugeotâCitroĂ«n) is that big a surprise.
We obviously hold a lot of nostalgia for these brands, and itâs only right that we perceive GM as selling its family jewels. Opel has made some great cars over the years, and Buick in China and the US, Vauxhall in the UK, and Holden in Australia rely on this division to provide it with product.
But it wasnât long ago that I said I foresaw the next Holden Commodore being a four-door booted model based on a Chinese Buick Regal thatâs on the same platform. While Iâve been proved wrong with scoop photos and inside information from journalists in the immediate term, longer-term this doesnât look so far-fetched, in a future where Peugeot owns OpelâVauxhall and GM has no choice but to consider Chinese sourcing seriously.
Therefore, GM isnât thinking that itâs selling off the family jewels, at least the GM where Chinese partner SAIC is overwhelmingly calling the shots.
What they are thinking is this: âWe should be able to develop the whole lot in China.â They werenât nostalgic over Holden, and they wonât be thrilled with the losses at Opel. Itâs willing to sacrifice it to make its own position stronger. Weâve already seen that SAIC has called it quits when it comes to British assembly at Longbridgeâthatâs now all done back in China.
Thereâs been such a massive technology transfer from the US to China over the last few years that Europe is seen as surplus by the folks in Shanghai. They have all the platforms on which they can make products globally. They may even, rightly or wrongly, think that the remaining brands can get them into Europe, even if GM had pulled its Korean-made Chevrolets out of there.
Holden can be used to westernize the product and the Australians have shown they can do it well.
Iâm not saying I agree with this, as a long-time Opel fan. I was looking forward to the new Commodores coming out of RĂŒsselsheim. The car looks the business, itâs roughly the size of the recently deleted Ford Falcon (therefore, Iâm not sure why people are so upset about its size), and the majority of buyers donât even know which set of wheels the powerâs going to. Iâve got an Astra K coming in a few months at Lucire.
What youâre going to see is GM basically being a Shanghai-run firm with China supplying global markets and the US operations kept going for their brand cachet.
In the meantime, a hypothetical PSA-run Opel will continue with the existing plans till the end of these modelsâ life cycles, then China will become the manufacturing hub for numerous markets.
SAIC already makes a load of Cadillacs, Buicks and Chevrolets for the domestic market, and theyâll want to pump them out more widely.
Theyâve also shown that they can take new GM platforms and turn them into Roewesâor old GM platforms and turn them into Baojuns.
PSA, meanwhile, with 14 per cent controlled by Chinese firm Dongfeng, will pursue a strategy of streamlining platforms and be focused more on Europe. It could pay off as cross-town rival Renault has done well with Nissan, Mitsubishi, Samsung, Dacia and AvtoVAZ, but it wonât nearly be as secure. The two French groups have been obsessed with one another for as long as I can remember, for years spending more time rivalling each other than actually coming up with what customers wanted.
Dongfeng may have to cough up more lolly and it could become a larger shareholder than the Peugeot family or the French government. But will it have the sort of geographical coverage that Renault has?
Thatâll be what PSA will be asking itself, knowing that itâs reasonably strong in Chinaâbut also realizing that it hasnât been clever at creating models that can be sold globally (the current CitroĂ«n C6, DS 5LS and the DS 6 among them, sold exclusively in China). Nevertheless, there are savings to be had, though the most obvious fear is that Opel and Vauxhall will go the way of Panhard and Talbot, brands that fell into either Peugeot or CitroĂ«nâs hands over the years and become defunct at the expense of the parent companiesâ. Is there a desire to extend the groupâs brand portfolio beyond Peugeot, CitroĂ«n, DS, the various Dongfeng lines, and the ex-Hindustan Ambassador?
The official statement is non-committal enough and gives nothing away: âPSA Group and General Motors confirm they are exploring numerous strategic initiatives aiming at improving profitability and operational efficiency, including a potential acquisition of Opel Vauxhall by PSA.
âThere can be no assurance that an agreement will be reached.â
In any case, we always said that SAIC was playing a long game. MG was a toe in the water. GM is the real deal.
Controlling GM means they can do as they please, and whatâs good for China is good for General Motors.
How right Kalev Leetaru is on Wikipediaâs decision to ban The Daily Mail as a source.
This decision, he concludes, was made by a cabal of 50 editors based on anecdotes. Iâve stated before on this blog how Wikipedia is broken, the abusive attitude of one of its editors, and how even luminaries like the late Aaron Swartz and Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger chose to depart. Itâs just taken three years or more for some of these thoughts to get picked up in a more mainstream fashion.
I made sure I referred to a single editor as my experience with someone high up in Wikipedia, not all of its editors, but you canât ignore accusations of certain people gaming the system in light of the ban.
Leetaru wrote on the Forbes site, âOut of the billions of Internet users who come into contact with Wikipedia content in some way shape or form, just 50 people voted to ban an entire news outlet from the platform. No public poll was taken, no public notice was granted, no communications of any kind were made to the outside world until everything was said and done and action was taken âŠ
âWhat then was the incontrovertible evidence that those 50 Wikipedia editors found so convincing as to apply a “general prohibition” on links to the Daily Mail? Strangely, a review of the comments advocating for a prohibition of the Mail yields not a single data-driven analysis performed in the course of this discussion.â
Iâm not defending the Mail because I see a good deal of the news site as clickbait, but itâs probably no worse than some other news sources out there.
And itâs great that Wikipedia kept its discussion public, unlike some other top sites on the web.
However, you canât escape the irony behind an unreliable website deeming a media outlet unreliable. Hereâs a site that even frowns upon print journalism because its cabal cannot find online references to facts made in its articles. Now, I would like to see it trust print stuff more and the Mail less, but that, too, is based on my impressions rather than any data-driven analysis that Leetaru expects from such a big site with so many volunteers. Iâve made my arguments elsewhere on why Wikipedia will remain unreliable, and why those of us in the know just wonât bother with it for our specialist subjects.
By all means, use it, and it is good for a quick, cursory “pub chat” reference (though science ones tend to be better, according to friends in that world). But remember that there is an élite group of editors there and Wikipedia will reflect their biases, just as my sites reflect mine. To believe it is truly objective or, for that matter, accurate, would be foolhardy.
There are a lot of idealistic ventures out there, but to grow, often founders have to compromise them. It comes back to our thoughts at Medinge over a decade ago about âFinance is broken.â Because of these compromises, we donât really advance as much as we should, and some brilliant ideas from young people arenât given the chance they deserve. This needs to change. We already have branding as a tool to help us, and we know that more authentic, socially responsible brands can cut through the clutter. When these ventures start up, brands are an important part of the equation.
How are governments going to fund this universal basic income if they themselves arenât getting a decent tax take? Itâs the same question thatâs plagued us for decades.
Douglas sees ventures like Ăber to be the same-old: its customer really is its investor, and thatâs not a new concept at all. Itâs why we canât even consider Ăber to be a good brandâand the tense relationships it often has with governments and the public are indications of that. Itâs not, as Douglas suggests, even a driver co-op. Itâs still all about making money the old-fashioned way, albeit with newer tools.
Worrying but true: some of the biggest companies in the world are required to grow because of their shareholders. As a result, theyâre not creating sustainable revenue. âIf youâre one of the top fifty biggest companies in the world and youâre still required to grow, thatâs a real problem.â
Kids these days arenât as into all this technology and social networks as we are. Thank goodness. When Facebook reports another billion have joined, youâll know theyâre BSing you and counting all the bots.
Many people see things as though they were created by God and accept them. Douglas gives the examples of Facebook and religion. I can add the capitalist and socialist models we have. If people believe them to be God-given, or natural, then they feel helpless about changing them. We need to wake people up and remind them these are human-made constructsâand they can be unmade by humans, and replaced with better ideas that actually work for us all.
Iâve had a phone call and a lot of comments on this in the last couple of days: my Dad, who is 81 with early-stage Alzheimerâs, called the US presidential election for Donald Trump months ago. I posted it on my social networks the day he made his definitive call, and friends remembered it. Thank you for all your compliments.
Go back to 2015, he had called the Republican primary for Trump.
I wasnât as confident but I had Tweeted the week before the election that polls were understating Trumpâs actual support by at least 6 per cent.
In 2008, when everyone had dismissed Gov. Sarah Palin, he said that she wasnât going to go away, and that sheâd command an even greater influence in the first Obama term. While he predicted an Obama win, again quite early on, he wasnât optimistic and didnât think there would be great change in the US. You may or may not agree with that.
Going right back to the 1980s, when I was at college, and before China showed any signs of opening up, he made the call about its economic rise, and that I would be assured, by the time I was in my 30s and 40s, that many would want to deal with the country. It would be, I remember him telling me, a career advantage to being Chineseâin contrast to the racism we encountered far more frequently back then.
During the height of the Muldoon era, Dad, who counted himself as part of Robâs Mob, made the call that Sir Robert Muldoon would not be able to hold on to his power or reputation in his old age. When a documentary aired condemning Sir Robert after his death, so that he wouldnât be around to file a defamation suit, he said, âI told you so.â
Even in the elections I contested (and he encouraged me to run), while he refused to be drawn on what he thought my chances were, he was unequivocally clear that my rival, John Morrison, wouldnât win, in 2013. Dad certainly did better than some so-called political experts I can name.
And if you want to get really spooky, during the Martin Bashir interview of Princess Diana, he said that by the time she was 37, sheâd have a âreally bad yearâ. He didnât say sheâd die.
No, heâs not a Mystic Meg of any sort. Heâs a guy whoâs been around for a while and kept his eyes open.
If you want to know his secret, I can tell you that his political projections are based in part around reading. Not mainstream media, but websites that heâs discovered over the years himself. Heâs a keen web surfer and loves his news. He doesnât put that much stock in political âexpertsâ, and after having run myself, I can fully understand why.
Heâd even take in the viewpoints on Russia Today, which gives you an idea of how varied his reading was. Just today I caught him watching an address from Edward Snowden.
With Palin, it was probably the sudden rise of her fan sites set up by US conservatives. He hadnât seen such a rapid rise of sites that soon galvanized their support around the former Alaskan governor before. While mainstream media dismissed her and gave the impression that post-2008, she wouldnât matter, Dad had entirely the opposite reading. Politically centrist, and, like me, a swing voter, he kept following the sites out of interest, and saw how they morphed into the Tea Party movement. He also knew they wouldnât go away any time soon, and observed that there was a Palin effect, as the likes of Ted Cruz soon found out when contesting their Senate seats.
And, despite my own criticisms of this practice, Dad would read the comments. Sometimes he would wade through hundreds of them, to get a sense of what people were thinking.
It was his reading of media from left and right during the latest US presidential election that saw him made his calls very assertively.
Rather than dismiss certain conservatives as ill-educated, as some media might, Dad treated them as human beings. He knew they would galvanize and get behind Trump.
When youâve lived through a world war (including an occupation) and then a civil war, and saw your family start from the bottom again after 1949, you get to be good at knowing what people go through.
Heâs always been politically switched on, and had a keen interest in history and economics, the latter of which he studied at a tertiary level. But heâd always explain to me that it came down to people and their behaviour, and never rational decision-making. I might have only lived just over half his lifetime so far, but I find little fault in that statement. All new movements have plenty of power, till they become the establishment.
His thoughts on China in the 1980s could well have stemmed from that: I never asked him, and aphasia means heâd now find difficulty telling me anyway.
Sadly for the US, he finds appeal in the theory that the nation will break up, though he hasnât quite yet made the call in the same way he made the one for the Trump presidency. But as with his Trump prediction, Iâm publishing this one online.
Heâs never stated it as succinctly but he has, in passing in the 1980s and 1990s, said that the British Empire wouldnât last much longer beyond our current monarchâs reign.
You never know, we might be coming back to this post in a few yearsâ time. These are gloomy scenarios but Iâd rather put Dadâs ideas out there now, as I did with the Trump presidency, rather than tell you ex post facto how clever he was. The lesson: treat people as people, and itâs amazing how much that will reveal.
A photo posted by CARS IN NEW ZEALAND (NZ) (@kiwi_cars) on
It’s an old point, but the prevalence of cellphone cameras means it’s going to be increasingly hard to deny where you were on any given day. In this case, Kiwi_cars asked for permission to feature my number plate, as they usually blank it out. I gave my blessing, since my own rule is: if you can spot something publicly, you don’t need to censor. If you photograph something where the subject expects a level of privacy (e.g. through their home windows, even if you can see them from a public vantage-point; or when something is on private land), then you do.
And don’t we often buy a car for it to be admired? Since prewar days we’ve been conditioned into thinking how a car is not a durable good, but a fashion item that expresses who we are. It would seem hypocritical if someone does admire yours and you don’t permit it. If we weren’t interested in that, we’d all be driving Nissan Tiidas in a monochrome shade. And even some of those Tiida owners are very, very proud of their motors.
An edited version of this post originally appeared at Blogcozy.
Above: Facebook kept deleting Nick Ut’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph each time it was posted, even when Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten did so, preventing its editor-in-chief from responding.
Thereâs a significant difference between the internet of the 1990s and that of today. As Facebook comes under fire for deleting the ânapalm girlâ photograph from the Vietnam War shared by Norwegian writer Tom Egeland, then by prime minister Erna Solberg and Aftenposten newspaper, it has highlighted to me how the big Silicon Valley players have become exclusionary. In this latest case, it is about how one firm determines what is acceptable and unacceptable without regard to cultural significance or free speech; it even punished people who dared criticize it, and has failed to apologize. Earlier this year, in one of my numerous battles with Facebook, I noted how a major German company falsely claimed videos that did not belong to them, yet there was no penalty. An individual or a small firm would not have been so lucky: when we file copyright claims, we do so âunder penalty of perjuryâ on the form.
Google, never far from my critical eye, is the same. Iâve watched Google News, for instance, become exclusionary, too, or, rather, a service that prefers big players rather than the independents. When deciding to send traffic for a particular news item, Google News now ranks big media outlets more highly, and to heck with journalistic quality or any regard on who broke the story first. Itâs damaging to the independent voice, as Google concentrates power in favour of larger firms today, and itâs rather disturbing when you consider the implications.
Mainstream media can be homogeneous, and, in some cases, damaging, when bias and prejudice get in to the system. When it comes to politics, this can be detrimental to democracy itself. And why should a search engine prefer a larger name anyway? Many newsrooms have been stripped of resources, ever more reliant on press releases. Many now engage in click-bait. Some have agenda driven by big business and their technocratic view of the world, especially those that have their corporate headquarters outside the country in which they operate. Those who desire to wake people up from their slumber get short shrift. Google is aiding this world, because since it became publicly listed, it has had to adopt its trappings, and one might argue that it is in direct conflict with its ‘Don’t be evil’ mantra (one which never held much sway with me).
This is the world which Google and Facebook, and no doubt others, wish to serve up to users. They may well argue that theyâre only delivering what people want: if a lot of people get their news from the Daily Mail or The Huffington Post, then thatâs what theyâll show in their results. Thereâs little freshness online as a result, which is why people arenât as inclined to share in 2016 as they were in 2010.
Yet it was not always this way. The hope in the late 1990s and early 2000s was that Google et al would be tools in distributing power equally among all netizens. Started an independent online publication? If the quality is there, if youâre the first to break a story, then Google News will lavish attention upon you. If you have specialized news outside what mainstream media deliver, then youâll pop up regularly in the search resultsâ pages. The blogosphere rose because of this, with people seeking opinions and research outside of what the mainstream could deliver. The reason people blog less isnât just because of social networks making one-sentence opinions de rigueur; it is because people have found it harder to reach new audience members, and their own tribe is the next best thing.
It makes the ânet a far less interesting place to be. Without fresh, new views, we run the risk of groupthink, or we become particularly influenced by the biases of certain media outlets. We donât really want to surf casually as we once did because we donât learn anything new: itâs harder to find novel things that pique our interests.
There are potential solutions, of course. I tend not to Google, but use Duck Duck Go, so at least I donât get a filter bubble when I search for particular subjects. However, Duck Duck Go does not have a comprehensive news search, and Googleâs index size remains unbeatable. What we really need next is something that brings back that sense of equality online. I believe that if you put in the hours into good content and design, you should excel and get your site ranked above the same old sources. Google claims that it does that when it tweaks its algorithms but Iâm not seeing this. Facebook merely builds on what people have foundâso if you can’t find it, it won’t wind up being shared. Twitter, at least, still has some interesting items, but if you donât catch it in your feed at a given time, then too bad. Itâs not geared to search.
Duck Duck Go is a start, at least when it comes to general searches. It becomes easier to find views that you might not agree withâand thatâs a good thing when it comes to understanding others. Googleâs approach lulls you into a sense of security, that your views are sacrosanctâand all that does is give you the notion that the other half is wrong.
So what of news? Duck Duck Go could well be a starting-point for that, too, ranking news based on who breaks an item first and the quality of the site, rather than how much money is behind it. Or perhaps this is the space for another entrepreneur. Ironically, it might even come out of China; though right now itâs equally likely to emerge from India. What it then needs is a bit of virality for it to be adopted, spread by the very people it is designed to aid.
We need something that rewards the independent entrepreneur again, the people who drove so many innovations in the 1990s and 2000s. This isnât nostalgia kicking in, seeing the world through rose-coloured glasses while happily ignoring all those businesses that failed. I completely acknowledge there were sites that vanished at the time of the dot-com bust, triggered in no small part by 9-11, the anniversary of which we celebrate today.
Society needs those distinctive voices, those independent entrepreneurs, those people who are willing to put themselves forward and be judged fairly. What they donât need are reactionary media who want to silence them out of fear that the world will change too much for them to bear; and big Silicon Valley firms all too happy to join in these days.
Itâs high time the most influential websites served the many rather than the few again.
The trouble with the graphic is that the only thing it got right was that two women were killed. Sweden wasnât having a referendum on whether to leave the EU, it was about whether it should adopt the euro. The closest British parallel would have been when then-PM John Major negotiated the Maastricht opt-out in 1991. It also claimed that the polls were for leaving; notwithstanding that that wasnât what the Swedes were voting for, the polls for and against adopting the euro were roughly neck in neck, though the wisdom was that the pro-euro camp would win. By the weekend, the result was that Sweden would keep the krona.
When I argued with some pro-Brexiters about this, they, like most pecksniffians, demanded I check my facts. I didnât have to: I have a memory that goes back further than one month, and unlike them, I know what went on in their own backyard because, in 2003, I kept my eyes open.
I should point out that I am not summarizing all Brexiters as dimwitted Britons who wanted Johnny Foreigner to go home. I count among my closest friends someone who voted leave, and for very substantial, well thought-out reasons. He felt that the European Union had become an unwieldy bureaucracy which benefited Britain little, and while I felt the benefits outweighed the detriments, I respect his opinion and his vote. At least it was considered, and at least it wasnât one that was based on the ramblings and rants of Farage, Johnson, Gove et al.
Appealing to nationalism, as the likes of Farage did, is a cheap trick in politics: it stirs a wave of nostalgia, and people might love chanting at how great their nation is, but it doesnât address the core issues that put them into the poo to begin with. Of course the UK has a great deal to be proud of; but like many countries (including ours) the globalist technocratic agenda are what have made things untenable for a growing part of the population. Itâs why real wages havenât risen yet certain corporations profit aplenty; itâs why we work more hours today than we ever did, despite futurists of a generation ago predicting all this leisure time that we would all have thanks to automation.
But is retreat the right thing to do? The remain camp believes that it wasnât: to influence Europe you must be in Europe. It wasnât that long ago that not being in Europe was fatal to British exportsâthe failure of the British motor industry, for instance, was in part due to its late recognition that the UK needed to be part of the EEC or, at least, produce vehicles there. Globalizationâs positives should be the free movement of people and of capital; and economic union to permit that greater freedom seems a sensible thing to pursue, not to run away from. The trick is how to make this work for everyday people, the growing number who are impacted by globalist forces; once there were few, now few escape them. It is, then, the role of government to either protect those who are most vulnerable, to champion (either through private enterprise or on its own accord) real innovation and industry that can create jobs, and to cut through the BS where both public and private enterprise simply reinvent the wheel from time to time, putting lipstick on the bulldog.
I am ambivalent about it because Iâve seen our own governments, National and Labour, be particularly weak when it comes to dealing with globalization, succumbing to foreign takeovers and allowing the little guy to be run over. The deals havenât been good for New Zealand in many respects, a small country that believes in its place in the first world but which can be deluded about this very fact. Our economy just isnât that solid to take it on the chin. Look at our banks, mostly foreign-owned and more unreliable than ever: remember how 40 years ago cheques would take 24 hours to clear? Yet now our computerized systems take three to five working days? Insiders tell me this is the consequence of less reliable Australian systems being foisted upon us; so much so that we have a wire transfer that has been taking weeks, and no one knows where the money has gone. Just how do you misplace tens of thousands of dollars? Why do we assume Australian bankers are smart enough to answer? And those who question such agenda donât get much truck in a media landscape also dominated by foreigners: Iâm looking at one newspaper publishing group at the least. The ways of the big countries are not always the bestâyet somehow the powers-that-be in this country have been hoodwinked by this consistently since 1984. I can’t understand it, and my initial reaction when there is such a lack of logic is to follow the money.
Brexit has made me refine my thinking: I might not like a system where New Zealandâs the little player that doesnât benefit from a level playing field, but at the same time I believe we need to find ways to influence the globalist game for the better. We love looking at Scandinavian countries because of their comparable size. They may have higher taxes but at the same time they donât seem to balk at innovation for the greater good; they believe in the freedom of movement of capital and of people, and, despite their general humility, they actually arenât afraid of creating global companies that take on the rest of the world. Look at Vattenfall or Statoil. We might not like Statoil for what it wants to do to our own environment, but we do have to ask what our equivalent is. We lost our lead in hybrid cars, which we held for most of the 1980s, but itâs an example of what we can do when government and private enterprise cooperate on something that is future-oriented. Whatâs the next big thing? Is it renewable energy tech that we can export? There are companies here already doing frictionless exports, and more need to be encouraged. Government shouldnât try to create groups of them or force mergers upon them; that can be left to the market. But there needs to be a vision or a direction that we take to create a new brand for our country where people naturally think: innovation for the greater good = New Zealand. And, maybe, to go with that, a fairer version of globalization can emerge, certainly one that is not coloured by the next quarterly result demanded by Wall Street.
Yes, there is some national fervour involved here, too, but applied correctly, it wonât be false flag-waving thatâs dependent on the past. Iâm all for being proud of your country when the victories are real and measurableâlike on the sporting field. There itâs real, and itâs often about the next game or the next season: itâs future-oriented, too. With Brexit, I canât see the vision; and the most visible foreigner among this, the Turkish-American politician, Boris Johnson, hasnât communicated one that I can discern.
And maybe this confusion is the opportunity we need for New Zealand.
After the UK abandoned the Commonwealth markets in favour of one right next door, our country found new export markets, so much so that the UK accounts for 3 per cent today. Even in 1973, when it was 40 per cent, it had been falling consistently for half a decade, if I recall correctly, and the notion that Britain would reach back out toward the Empah for trade is fanciful at best.
Being someone who has enjoyed looking at world history play out through maps, ever since I discovered a book on the subject as a third former at Rongotai College, it hasnât escaped my thoughts that this is a further retreat for the UK in terms of its global influence.
So whoâs on the rise? It might be us. The centre of the global economy has been shifting eastward in recent times and weâre well placed to take advantage of it. Weâre part of the Anglosphere so we bridge the past, where it was the dominant global culture, with those trading partners who might be on the horizon. But it has to be real. Weâre nimble enough, and I canât see why weâve been so fascinated with apeing the US and the UK for so long. Once again we need to set our own direction: we have a culture thatâs ready for it with a greater sense of identity than weâve ever had. I just wonder if we have a government, local or national, courageous enough to embark on this.
Above: Chris Evans and Rory Reid talk about the McLaren F1 in Extra Gear.
Now that the new new Top Gear has aired in New Zealand, I have to say that it isn’t really there yet. But unlike much of the UK, I’m not going to dis Chris Evans, who is a consummate gearhead. The reason: I have a memory that goes back beyond February 2016.
When Jeremy Clarkson and Andy Wilman brought Top Gear back in its current form in 2002, it was actually disappointing. People seem to forget James May, who originally replaced Clarkson in the original Top Gear, wasn’t even on the show. My memory of the studio audience was that there were about four people hanging around Clarkson as he introduced âŠ wait for it âŠ the CitroĂ«n Berlingo. Which he took to France (insert Clarkson pause) to buy cheese.
The idea of a show with a perfect complement of three hosts who got on well with each other, each playing a caricature of himself, did not exist for the first year, and even after May replaced Jason Dawe, it took a while for those personalities to emerge. It’s rare to get three hosts to play those roles as well from the get-goâTop Gear France (which is actually made by the BBC) is an exception, and every other foreign edition of Top Gear that I’ve seen doesn’t quite have it.
But Clarkson was a ratings’ winner. When he first quit Top Gear (or ‘old Top Gearâ), the series which started with Angela Rippon as its host in the 1970s, ratings fell from six million to three million. The TV environment was different a decade and a half ago. And the BBC persevered because at that time he hadn’t offended Mexicans or Argentinians, or assaulted an Irishman, or Piers Morgan.
However, importantly, the public was quite happy letting things develop. They could have gone and watched Fifth Gear with its familiar line-up of ex-Top Gear presenters, but they stuck with Clarkson, Hammond, and whomever the third man was.
Twenty sixteen. Enter Chris Evans and Matt Le Blanc (somewhere between the ending of Friends and today, the space seems to have disappeared in his surname), both personalities who love cars. They are disadvantaged by not having been motoring journalists, but they are entertaining. The show doesn’t flow well with the studio segments, the stars introducing each other doesn’t work, and I’m nostalgic for the reasonably priced carâalthough at least the French have continued la tradition. However, because everyone expects the show to remain on a high, the internet jury has been nasty. No one demanded an overnight success before, but they’re out for blood now. It’s an unfair position to put Evans in.
The absence of motoring journalism experience could have been filled quite easily. We were originally told of a huge line-up of Top Gear presenters, to which I thought: great, the BBC is going to give a big roster a go again, something that we hadn’t seen since the 1990s. In there we saw names such as Chris Harris. Yet Chris Harris and Rory Reid have been relegated to an internet-only show called Extra Gear, which is meant to serve Top Gear in the way Doctor Who Confidential served Doctor Who, with a bit of behind-the-scenes stuff, deleted footage, and some sensible road testing around the test track of models not covered in the main show.
Here’s the thing, and this has been said in the British press: these two guys have great rapport, and come across better than Evans and Le Blanc. I vote for them to be on the main Top Gear. They are more personable, humorous, and relatable. I wouldnât be surprised if they found a way to work them both in next season, and why not four hosts?
One thing Harris and Reid have is that they know their stuff after serving in motoring journalism. They arenât rich guys who happen to love cars, but guys who have worked that passion into careers. Harris, in particular, put integrity ahead of kissing up to Ferrari and Lamborghini. I have tremendous respect for these two guys, and thereâs simply more heart in Extra Gear than Top Gear, which at present feels a bit empty and by-the-numbers.
I donât blame Evans at allâthe man had a herculean task. The producers probably tried to reduce Top Gear into formulaic chunks and believed that by cooking with those ingredients, they’d have a winner. This is a reminder that you cannot create heart from a formula: you canât predict where it surfaces. Now that we know itâs there with Reid and Harris, the BBC would be wise to capture it. Let Top Gear evolveâafter all, it did between 2002 and 2015âbut also let these personalities do their thing.