Archive for the ‘culture’ category


Why Twitter’s stock went down in my book in 2018

01.01.2019

Twitter bird fallen
Pixabay

Of my friends, about eight or nine voted for President Trump. Two voted for Brexit. These are my friends, who I vouch for, who I like. Other than a difference of opinion on these topics, we remain friends. I still think incredibly highly of them.
   Since I know them well, I know a little bit about why they voted their way.
   Of the Americans, some wanted an end to the neoliberal order and hoped Trump would deliver. Others saw Clinton as corrupt and that Trump would actually be better. Of the Brits, their reasons were more complex, but among them were the thought of an unwieldly EU bureaucracy, and the belief that a customs’ union would be sufficient to keep trade going with the Continent.
   None of these people are racists or xenophobes—the opposite, in fact. None of them are hillbillies or gun-loving, NRA-donating hicks, or whatever narrative the mainstream media would like to spin. Most of them would be regarded by any measure in society as decent, intelligent and compassionate.
   I have found little reason to dislike someone, or not vote for someone, over one relatively minor disagreement. If their hearts are in the right place, it is not for me to condemn them for their choices. Indeed, when it comes to these issues, I find that while our actions differ (hypothetically, in my case, since I cannot vote in countries other than my own), our core views are actually quite similar.
   In the US, strip away the hatred that vocal fringe elements stoke, and you’ll find that most people have common enemies in big business, tax evaders, and censorship. In 2018 we have seen Big Tech silence people on both the left and the right for voicing opinions outside the mainstream. My two Brexit-voting friends share some concerns with Remainers.
   Therefore, in August, when one of these American friends wrote a Tweet in support of her president, it was horrible to watch Tweeters, total strangers, pile on her.
   I’m not saying I like Trump (quite the contrary, actually), but I will give him props when he does things that I happened to agree with. If I’ve Tweeted for years that I disagreed with US military involvement in Syria, for instance, which at least one US veteran friend says lacks an objective, then I’m not going to attack the man when he pulls his country’s troops out. However, it was interesting to see some viewpoints suddenly change on the day. Those who opposed the war suddenly supported it.
   I can’t say that I praise him very often, but I like to think I’m consistent. I was also complimentary about his withdrawal of the US from TPPA, something I have marched against.
   And this friend is consistent, too.
   In fact, her Tweet wasn’t even one of actual support. Someone called Trump a ‘loon’ and she simply said, ‘You don’t have to like my president,’ and added a few other points in response.
   The piling began.
   It seems almost fashionable to adopt one prevailing view peddled by the mainstream (media or otherwise) but there was no attempt to dissect these opposing views. My friend was measured and calm. What came afterwards did not reciprocate her courtesy.
   Since I was included in the Tweet, I saw plenty of attacks on her that day. I was included in one, by a black South African Tweeting something racist to me.
   When the mob goes this unruly, and it’s “liked” or deemed OK by so many, then something is very wrong. These people did not know my friend. They didn’t know why she supported Trump. They were just happy to group her in to what they had been told about Trump supporters being ill-educated hicks, and attacked accordingly.
   Call me naïve, but social media were meant to be platforms where we could exchange views and get a better understanding of someone else, and make the world a little better than how we found it. The reverse is now true, with Google, Facebook et al “bubbling” data so people only see what they want to see, to reinforce their prejudices, and having been convinced of their “rightness”, those espousing a contrary view must be inhuman.
   I don’t like dominant viewpoints unless it’s something like ‘Intolerance is bad’ or a scientific fact that is entirely provable, though you could probably take issue with where I draw the line. Generally, I like a bit of debate. No position is perfect and we need to respect those with whom we disagree. That day, Twitter was a medium where there was no such respect, that it was OK to pile on someone who fell outside the standard narrative. To me, that’s as unhealthy was a socialist being piled upon by conservatives if the latter group’s view happened to prevail. It doesn’t take much imagination to extend this scenario to being a Chinese republican in the early 20th century in the face of the Ching Dynasty. I’m always mindful of how things like this look if the shoe were on the other foot, hence I was equally upset when Facebook and Twitter shut down political websites’ presences on both the left and the right wings. We should advance by expanding our knowledge and experiences.
   It encouraged me to head more to Mastodon in 2018, where you can still have conversations with human beings with some degree of civility.
   And, frankly, if you disagree with someone over something relatively trivial, then there is such a feature as scrolling.
   Twitter became less savoury in 2018, and it has well and truly jumped the shark.

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Posted in culture, internet, media, politics, UK, USA | 1 Comment »


2019: replicants beware

01.01.2019

Quick Tweet for the Blade Runner fans.

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It takes 10 years (and sometimes 50) for the establishment to wake up

28.11.2018


Given the topic of this post, some of you will know exactly why this still, from the 1978 Steve McQueen movie An Enemy of the People, is relevant. If you don’t know, head here.

Admittedly, I was getting far more hits on this blog when I was exposing Facebook and Google for their misdeeds. Of course I have less to report given I use neither to any degree: Facebook for helping clients and messaging the odd person who’s still on it (but not via Messenger on a cellphone), and Google as a last resort. I shall have to leave all this to mainstream journalists since, after a decade on this blog, it’s all finally piqued their interest.
   It also seems that my idea about pedestrianizing central Wellington, which appeared in my 2010 mayoral campaign manifesto (which I published in 2009) has finally reached the minds of our elected mayors. Auckland has a plan to do this that’s hit the mainstream media. I notice that this idea that I floated—along with how we could do it in stages, giving time to study traffic data—never made it into The Dominion Post and its sister tabloid The Wellingtonian back in 2009–10. Either they were too biased to run an idea from a candidate they “predicted” would get a sixth of the vote one actually got, or that foreign-owned newspapers suppress good ideas till the establishment catches up and finds some way to capitalize on it. Remember when their only coverage about the internet was negative, on scammers and credit card fraud? Even the ’net took years to be considered a relevant subject—no wonder old media are no longer influential, being long out of touch with the public by decades.
   To be frank, my idea wasn’t even that original.
   If you are on to something, it can take a long time for conventional minds to come round.

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Americans like big numbers

24.11.2018

Scott Milne and I had a little fun over ‘American English’ recently on Twitter (and hopefully US friends will see this in the humour in which it was intended). He wrote:

   I responded that Americans like big numbers. It’s a big country, and everything must sound more impressive, even yuge. Therefore:


Rest of world: Audi 100
USA: Audi 5000


Rest of world: 2019 Range Rover Evoque
USA: 2020 Range Rover Evoque

‘Black Friday’
Western world: Friday 13th
USA: Friday 23rd (it was this year, anyway)

1,000,000,000
Originally in English: ‘one thousand million’
USA: ‘one billion’

1,000,000,000,000
Originally in English: ‘one billion’
USA: ‘one trillion’

   I realize Americans mean something different when they say ‘Black Friday’ (and it doesn’t mean we need to adopt a change in definition, though judging by the last two we probably will), and I realize how their model years work (and they have nothing to do with calendar years).

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Why paywalls are getting more prevalent; and The Guardian Weekly rethought

10.11.2018

Megan McArdle’s excellent op–ed in The Washington Post, ‘A farewell to free journalism’, has been bookmarked on my phone for months. It’s a very good summary of where things are for digital media, and how the advent of Google and Facebook along with the democratization of the internet have reduced online advertising income to a pittance. There’s native advertising, of course, which Lucire and Lucire Men indulged in for a few years in the 2010s, and I remain a fan of it in terms of what it paid, but McArdle’s piece is a stark reminder of the real world: there ain’t enough of it to keep every newsroom funded.
   I’ll also say that I have been very tempted over the last year or two to start locking away some of Lucire’s 21 years of content behind a paywall, but part of me has a romantic notion (and you can see it in McArdle’s own writing) that information deserves to be free.
   Everyone should get a slice of the pie if they are putting up free content along with slots for Doubleclick ads, for instance, and those advertising networks operate on merit: get enough qualified visitors (and they do know who they are, since very few people opt out; in Facebook’s case opting out actually does nothing and they continue to track your preferences) and they’ll feed the ads through accordingly, whether you own a “real” publication or not.
   It wasn’t that long ago, however, when more premium ad networks worked with premium media, leaving Google’s Adsense to operate among amateurs. It felt like a two-tier ad market. Those days are long gone, since plenty of people were quite happy to pay the cheap rates for the latter.
   It’s why my loyal Desktop readers who took in my typography column every month between 1996 and 2010 do not see me there any more: we columnists were let go when the business model changed.
   All of this can exacerbate an already tricky situation, as the worse funded independent media get, the less likely we can afford to offer decent journalism, biasing the playing field in favour of corporate media that have deeper pockets. Google, as we have seen, no longer ranks media on merit, either: since they and Facebook control half of all online advertising revenue, and over 60 per cent in the US, it’s not in their interests to send readers to the most meritorious. It’s in their interests to send readers to the media with the deeper pockets and scalable servers that can handle large amounts of traffic with a lot of Google ads, so they make more money.
   It’s yet another reason to look at alternatives to Google if you wish to seek out decent independent media and support non-corporate voices. However, even my favoured search engine, Duck Duck Go, doesn’t have a specific news service, though it’s still a start.
   In our case, if we didn’t have a print edition as well as a web one, then online-only mightn’t be worthwhile sans paywall.

Tonight I was interested to see The Guardian Weekly in magazine format, a switch that happened on October 10.
   It’s a move that I predicted over a decade ago, when I said that magazines should occupy a ‘soft-cover coffee-table book’ niche (which is what the local edition of Lucire aims to do) and traditional newspapers could take the area occupied by the likes of Time and Newsweek.
   With the improvement in printing presses and the price of lightweight gloss paper it seemed a logical move. Add to changing reader habits—the same ones that drove the death of the broadsheet format in the UK—and the evolution of editorial and graphic design, I couldn’t see it heading any other way. Consequently, I think The Guardian will do rather well.

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The double standards on the Ross affair are equally to do with race

09.11.2018

Graham Adams, in a very good opinion in Noted, suggests that while there is a public interest in knowing the identity of the married National MP who had an affair with her colleague, Jami-Lee Ross, the media have been silent because of the relationship it enjoys with parliamentarians. He contrasts this with The New Zealand Herald’s publication of the identity of my friend Bevan Chuang as the woman who had an affair with then-Auckland mayor Len Brown, and concludes that councils have no such relationship.
   Adams makes a compelling case. His suggestion is that if the MP is making a stand for family values, then the hypocrisy should be pointed out. However, personally I have little interest in details of who is sleeping with whom, and I suggest the double standards are not to do with the reason he identifies, but to do with race. I Tweeted:

   On Twitter tonight, Bevan agrees with me:

   She never wanted the limelight on what was a private matter, but we have certain stereotypes at play.
   We even see certain people incensed that we would even stand up for ourselves.
   The sands are slowly shifting, and from what I see on social media, the majority of New Zealanders have no issue with giving everyone the same treatment regardless of their colour or creed.
   Establishments and institutions have proved more difficult to shift. Our media are slowly changing, but many newsrooms have yet to reflect the diversity in our nation. Cast your minds back only to 2013 and newsrooms were even less diverse then.
   Then there is the whole Dirty Politics angle, and as the decade advanced, the National Party seems keen to evolve into a caricature of its past self, borrowing elements from the US in what appears to be a desire to become a conservative parody—except many aren’t in on the joke. It’s a pity because this is the party of certain politicians I admired such as the late George Gair, and it was within my lifetime when its policies had substance.
   I’m not here to bag National (at least not in this post) and maybe the anonymous MP enjoys some protection because of the party she’s in, whereas Bevan found herself embroiled in an anti-Labour attack.
   Of course, the reality could be a combination of all three.
   The one we can do something about really quickly is the race and sexism one. All it takes is the shifting of attitudes, and to call the double standards out when we see them.

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Remakes: Widows joins other Euston Films series

04.11.2018

I see British filmmaker Steve McQueen has remade Lynda La Plante’s Widows.
   I was younger than he was when it aired, and didn’t appreciate the storylines to the same extent, though I have recollections of it.
   What I did recall was a Smith and Jones sketch, which had a voiceover along these lines: ‘From the makers of The Sweeney and Minder, Eusless Films presents Widows: exactly the same, but with women in it.’
   The reality was that La Plante wrote Widows because she was unimpressed with how men wrote female parts in scripts (she was the actress Lynda Marchal, and I still remember a small role she had in The Professionals). It was actually ground-breaking. Verity Lambert produced.
   I hope McQueen does well with his remake, with Viola Davis, and the setting shifted to Chicago.
   I worry a bit given that Hollywood also remade Edge of Darkness or State of Play: pretty decent miniseries that weren’t as good when transplanted and turned into feature films, according to period reviews.
   I saw the former and while it was a pacy actioner, even as far as employing the same New Zealand director, Martin Campbell, it lacked the depth and suspense of the original; I daren’t even see the latter as the original remains one of my favourite miniseries and I don’t want to see it butchered, even if Scottish director Kevin Macdonald helmed it. It was a wave of American efforts to remake anything with John Simm and Philip Glenister.
   But tonight I did think about the other famous Euston Films series that were remade or reimagined.
   The Sweeney was remade but with the action still in South London. The 2012 version by Nick Love had a tight budget but plenty of violence, perhaps recapturing the grittiness that audiences would have felt when they first saw the Armchair Cinema special of Regan. Ray Winstone, who guested on the original, took the lead, and channelled Jack Regan well; Ben Drew (Plan B) had even more of a coldness and wild tension on screen as George Carter than Dennis Waterman did. It’s perhaps best known for a car chase involving the crew from Top Gear, who took the opportunity to build a sketch around it during production. It wasn’t as special as the original, and I didn’t rush to repeat the DVD. Reviewers didn’t like it, but in my opinion it ranks above Sweeney!, the first attempt to turn the TV series into a silver screen film but using the original cast. There, we saw countless acts of violence explained away at the end in one meeting with Thaw and Michael Latimer’s characters after a plot that seemed to build up a complex conspiracy. Sweeney 2, by Troy Kennedy Martin (the brother of the creator), was far tenser and the better effort, and it was fun to spot the Ford press fleet vehicles with the VHK prefix on the number plates.

   Minder never went to the big screen, but a remake, or sequel, appeared in 2009, with Shane Richie and Lex Shrapnel. I sat through the first, found it tolerable, and at least in the spirit of the original, but it always felt like an imitation trying to live up to its forebear, not something that carved its own direction. Many don’t seem to remember that Minder was created as a vehicle for Dennis Waterman, not George Cole, even if more and more scripts wound up focusing on the latter’s Arthur Daley, leading to Waterman quitting the series. The 2009 series’ première followed on from that later formula, whereas to me it always required the two stars being on par with each other.

   So, will the Americanized Widows follow suit? Will it be ‘exactly the same, but with women in it,’ or, with McQueen as talented as he is, will it be a solid retelling with the same sense of ambiguity at the conclusion as the original? I might have to see it because of McQueen and screenwriter Gillian Flynn, and McQueen says he has been a fan of the series since he saw it as a teenager. Even the original Dolly Rawlins (Ann Mitchell) has a cameo.
   Now, who’ll star in a new Van der Valk?

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A more honest computing glossary

26.10.2018

Since (mostly) leaving Facebook, and cutting down on Twitter, I’ve come to realize the extent of how outdated traditional computing definitions have become. To help those who need to get up to speed, I’ve compiled a few technobabble words and translated them into normal English.

app: in many cases, an extremely limited web browser for your cellphone that only works with one site, as opposed to a proper web browser that works with many sites.

bots: fake, computer-driven profiles masquerading as real humans on, predominantly, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

clean install: something entirely unnecessary, but suggested by tech support people who want to cover up buggy operating systems (q.v. Windows 10).

cloud: hackable online repository of naughty photos of celebrities.

comments’ section: when you see this while surfing, it’s a reminder to leave the web page you are on and make up your own mind.

Facebook: a website where bots live, where post-sharing is intentionally broken to ensure you need to pay for attention. Once paid, your posts are shared with bots, so even fewer humans actually see them.

Facebook friend: (a) a friend; (b) a total stranger; (c) a bot.

Google: (a) a virtual hole into which you dump all your private information, to be sold on to corporations, but feel good doing it because you gave it up to a private company to use against you rather than have the state take it to use against you; (b) a cult that supports (a), whose members will think you have a degenerative brain disease if you dare question the perfection of their god.

malware scanner: malware (especially when offered by Facebook, q.v.).

messenger app: an inefficient messaging program where typing takes 10 times as long as on a desktop or laptop computer. Designed to dissuade you from actually calling the person.

phone: portable computing device, not used to make calls.

remote desktop: when your operating system fails, and the odds of you seeing your familiar screen are remote.

social media: media where people are antisocial.

Twitter: (a) social media with no discernible rules on who gets kicked off and why; (b) where the US president gets angry.

white balance: when racists attack people of colour but pretend they are noble and against racism.

Weibo: a website monitored by the Chinese Communist Party, where users have more freedom than on Facebook and Twitter.

Windows 10: a buggy operating system that requires 10 goes at any updates or patches, hence the name.

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Life inside Google—an ex-Googler airs the dirty laundry

19.10.2018

In amongst all the political fallout of the National Party this week—what I’m dubbing (and hashtagging) ‘caught in the Rossfire’—was a series (well, over 100) Tweets from Morgan Knutson, a designer who once worked for Google. Unlike most Googlers, especially the cult-like ones who refuse to help when you point out a fault with Google, Knutson decided he would be candid and talk about his experience. And it isn’t pretty. Start here:

Or, if you prefer, head to the Twitter page itself, or this Threader thread.
   As anyone who follows this blog knows, I’ve long suspected things to be pretty unhealthy within Google, and it turns out that it’s even worse than I expected.
   A few take-outs: (a) some of the people who work there have no technical or design experience (explains a lot); (b) there’s a load of internal politics; (c) the culture is horrible but money buys a lot of silence.
   Knutson claims to have received a lot of positive feedback, some in private messaging. His Tweets on the aftermath:

   This, I thought, summed it up better than I could, even though I’ve had a lot more space to do it:

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Don’t group Chinese New Zealanders into one faceless bunch

18.10.2018

Some visiting Australian friends have said that they are finding New Zealand politics as interesting as their own, although I don’t think this was meant as a compliment.
   Those of us in New Zealand had a few days of House of Cards-lite intrigue, in that it was stirred up by a conservative whip, in an attempt to take down his party leader. Except it was so much more condensed than the machinations of Francis Urquhart, and, if you were Chinese, Indian or Filipino, in the words of Taika Waititi, it was ‘racist AF’.
   Two of my Tweets garnered hundreds of likes each, which generally doesn’t happen to me, but I am taking that as reinforcing something I truly believe: that most New Zealanders aren’t racist, and that we despise injustices and treating someone differently because of their ethnicity.
   Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross and opposition leader Simon Bridges’ phone call, where the former stated that two Chinese MPs were worth more than two Indian ones, drew plenty of thoughts from both communities, where we felt we were treated as numbers, or a political funding source, with none of us actually getting into a National Cabinet (or the Shadow Cabinet) since Pansy Wong was ousted last decade—making you feel that had other Cabinet ministers been held to the same standard, they would have been gone as well. Here was my first Tweet on the subject:

   While Bridges was quick to apologize to Maureen Pugh MP, whom he insulted in the leaked phone call:

   There’s the inevitable look back through the history of Chinese New Zealanders, who have largely been humiliated since the gold-mining days by earlier generations, and the Poll Tax, for which an apology came decades after during the previous Labour government.
   And the scandal also inspired Tze Ming Mok to write an excellent op-ed for The New Zealand Herald, which I highly recommend here. It’s one of the most intelligent ones on the subject.

   She’s absolutely right: those of us with few connections to the People’s Republic of China don’t like being grouped in among them, or treated as though we’re part of the Chinese Communist Party apparatus.
   Her research showed that roughly half of Chinese New Zealanders were born on the mainland, and that the group itself is incredibly diverse. My father’s family fled in 1949 and I was raised in a fairly staunch anti-communist household, images of Sun Yat Sen and the ROC flag emblazoned on my paternal grandfather’s drinking glasses. My mother, despite being born in Hong Kong, grew up behind the Bamboo Curtain and survived the famine, and didn’t have an awful lot of positive things to say about her experiences there, eventually making her way out to her birthplace during her tertiary studies.
   Tze Ming writes:

This chilling effect is harming Chinese people in New Zealand. Many people cannot differentiate Chinese people from the actions of the CCP (I mean hey, many people can’t tell a Chinese from a Korean), but this is made worse when hardly any authorities on the topic will address the issue openly. Concerns can only erupt as xenophobia against the Chinese and “Asian” population …
   CCP-linked politicians parroting Xi Jinping and promoting Beijing’s Belt & Road priorities don’t speak for at least half of us.

   ‘At least’ is right. My father was born in the mainland where 反共 was a catch-cry in his young adult life. I’m willing to bet there’s an entire, older Chinese-born generation that thinks the same.
   She continues:

It’s endlessly irritating and insulting that both Labour and National have lazily assigned Chinese communities as the fiefdoms of politicians openly backed by the Chinese government.

   That’s true, too. In 2014 I was approached by the National Party asking how best to target the Chinese community. My response was to treat us the same as any other New Zealanders. I’m not sure whether the advice was taken on board, as within months I was invited to a Chinese restaurant for a $100-a-head dinner to be in the presence of the Rt Hon John Key, a fund-raiser that was aimed at ethnic Chinese people resident here. It certainly didn’t feel that I was being treated like my white or brown neighbours.
   The other point Tze Ming touches on, and one which I have written about myself, is the use of the term Asian in New Zealand.
   Let me sum it up from my time here, beginning in 1976, and how I saw the terms being used by others:

1970s: ‘Chinese’ meant those people running the groceries and takeaways. Hard working. Good at maths. Not good at politics or being noticed, and Petone borough mayor George Gee was just an anomaly.

1990s: ‘Asian’ became a point of negativity, fuelled by Winston ‘Two Wongs don’t make a white’ Peters. He basically meant Chinese. It’s not a term we claimed at the time, and while some have since tried to reclaim it for themselves to represent the oriental communities (and some, like super-lawyer Mai Chen, have claimed it and rightly extended it to all of Asia), it’s used when non-Chinese people whine about us. It’s why ‘My best friend is Asian’ is racist in more than one way.

2010s: ‘Chinese’ means not just the United Front and the Confucius Institute (which has little to do with Confucius, incidentally), but that all Chinese New Zealanders are part of a diaspora with ties to the PRC. And we’re moneyed, apparently, so much that we’ve been accused of buying up properties based on a list of ‘Chinese-sounding names’ by Labour in a xenophobic mood. I’ve been asked plenty of times this decade whether I have contacts in Beijing or Shanghai. If you’re born in Hong Kong before July 1, 1997, you were British (well, in a post-Windrush apartheid sense anyway), and unlikely to have any connections behind the Bamboo Curtain, but you’ve already been singled out by race.

   Now, I don’t want to put a dampener on any Chinese New Zealander who does have ties back to the mainland and the CCP. We share a history and a heritage, and since I wasn’t the one who had any experience of the hardships my parents and grandparents suffered, I don’t have any deep-seated hatred festering away. My father visited the old country in 2003 and put all that behind him, too. A republic is better than the imperial families that had been in charge before, and if I’ve any historical power to dislike, I’d be better off focusing on them. So in some respects, there is “unity” insofar as I’ll stick up for someone of my own race if they’re the subject of a racist attack. I’ll write about Chinese people and businesses without the derision that others do (e.g. here’s an article on the MG GS SUV that doesn’t go down the Yellow Peril route). But we’re not automatons doing Beijing’s bidding.
   I’ll lazily take Tze Ming’s conclusion in the Herald:

We deserve better than to be trapped between knee-jerk racists and Xi Jinping Thought. Abandoning us to this fate is racism too.

   I haven’t even begun to address the blatant sexual harassment that has since emerged as a result of the scandal, but others are far better placed to speak on that.

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Posted in China, culture, Hong Kong, India, media, New Zealand, politics | 1 Comment »