Archive for the ‘culture’ category


All you need is one NewTumbl user to undo management goodwill

14.01.2021

This is a comment (with my reply, in reverse chronology) from a NewTumbl user, Thewonderfulo, who often posts about the site’s rating system. I’ve no idea if it’s official, but it certainly passes itself off as authoritative.
   I usually find myself agreeing with them but here’s a prime example where I don’t—because, first, I can’t see anything in the NewTumbl rules that confirms this (excepting one sentence below which I’ll get on to); secondly, NewTumbl has told me of some of their positions personally and I feel they’ve confirmed my position; and thirdly, if bare behinds can be seen in PG-13 films (including in their country), then a single ‘buttcheek’ is even less offensive and couldn’t possibly be M, which is where NewTumbl classifies nudity.
   There is one sentence under the O category (‘Office’, or safe for work): ‘Images that would be considered sultry or provocative qualify as O provided the people in the photo have both their tops and bottoms covered – not just hidden from view, but actually wearing clothes.’ We’d then have to argue about how much “coverage” there is, and here I’d fall back on being alive for nearly five decades and having kept my eyes open about popular culture. Swimwear, for instance, provides acceptable coverage which wouldn’t offend most of us in the occident. From memory that’s the level of skin the post in question was dealing with.
   It’s exactly as I said in my last post on NewTumbl. I love the concept, and the people who run the site, but the moderators are in some sort of Handmaid’s Tale Gilead. In fact, I’d venture to say that Tumblr wouldn’t consider a buttock to be offensive enough for removal. Given NewTumbl’s history, as a Tumblr alternative that would be more tolerant, I believe that the moderators really don’t understand the whole picture, and where the lines should be drawn.
   To think, after chatting directly to NewTumbl I was feeling a bit more chipper about the site, only to have a one-sentence comment and zero willingness to engage by a user who is, I fear, typical of the “standards” that are actually being applied by the overenthused American puritans.
   Incidentally, speaking of Americans, the sort of divisive talk that they are infamous for is all too present. Have a look at the thread from my earlier post. Frankly, if they have a problem with a buttock on a woman who is actually wearing clothes, while this sort of mudslinging is fine on a family-friendly post, then I won’t be in a hurry to return. Sorry.

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This was the natural outcome of greed, in the forms of monopoly power and sensationalist media

11.01.2021

I did indeed write in the wake of January 6, and the lengthy op–ed appears in Lucire, quoting Emily Ratajkowski, Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden. I didn’t take any pleasure in what happened Stateside and Ratajkowski actually inspired the post after a Twitter contact of mine quoted her. This was after President Donald Trump was taken off Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
   The points I make there are probably familiar to any of you, my blog readers, pointing at the dangers of tech monopolies, the double standards that they’ve employed, and the likely scenario of how the pendulum could swing the other way on a whim because another group is flavour of the month. We’ve seen how the US has swung one way and the other depending on the prevailing winds, and Facebook’s and Twitter’s positions, not to mention Amazon’s and Google’s, seem reactionary and insincere when they have had their terms and conditions in place for some time.
   Today, I was interested to see Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel, referred to by not a few as the leader of the free world, concerned at the developments, as was President López Obrador of México. ‘German Chancellor Angela Merkel objected to the decisions, saying on Monday that lawmakers should set the rules governing free speech and not private technology companies,’ reported Bloomberg, adding, ‘Europe is increasingly pushing back against the growing influence of big technology companies. The EU is currently in the process of setting up regulation that could give the bloc power to split up platforms if they don’t comply with rules.’
   The former quotation wasn’t precisely my point but the latter is certainly linked. These tech giants are the creation of the US, by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, and their institutions, every bit as Trump was a creation of the US media, from Fox to MSNBC.
   They are natural outcomes of where things wind up when monopoly power is allowed to gather and laws against it are circumvented or unenforced; and what happens when news networks sell spectacle over substance in order to hold your attention. One can only hope these are corrected for the sake of all, not just one side of the political spectrum, since freedom—actual freedom—depends on them, at least until we gain the civility and education to regulate ourselves, the Confucian ideal. Everything about this situation suggests we are nowhere near being capable, and I wonder if homo sapiens will get there or whether we’ll need to evolve into another species before we do.

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The US, where big business (and others) can lie with impunity

31.12.2020

One thing about not posting to NewTumbl is I’ve nowhere convenient to put quotations I’ve found. Maybe they have to go here as well. Back when I started this blog in 2006—15 years ago, since it was in January—I did make some very short posts, so it’s not out of keeping. (I realize the timestamp is in GMT, but it’s coming up to midday on January 1, 2021 here.)
   Here’s one from Robert Reich, and I think for the most part US readers will agree, regardless of their political stripes.

In 2008, Wall Street nearly destroyed the economy. The Street got bailed out while millions of Americans lost their jobs, savings, and homes. Yet not no major Wall Street executive ever went to jail.
   In more recent years, top executives of Purdue Pharmaceuticals, along with the Sackler family, knew the dangers of OxyContin but did nothing. Executives at Wells Fargo Bank pushed bank employees to defraud customers. Executives at Boeing hid the results of tests showing its 737 Max Jetliner was unsafe. Police chiefs across America looked the other way as police under their command repeatedly killed innocent Black Americans.
   Yet here, too, those responsible have got away with it.

   I did offer these quotations with little or no commentary at NewTumbl and Tumblr.
   What came up with the above was a Twitter exchange with a netizen in the US, and how some places still touted three- to four-day shipping times when I argued that it was obvious—especially if you had been looking at the COVID positivity rates that their government officials relied on—that these were BS. And that Amazon (revenue exceeding US$100 milliard in the fourth quarter of 2020) and Apple (profit at c. US$100 milliard for the 12 months ending September 30) might just be rich enough to hire an employee to do the calculations and correlate them with delays—we are not talking particularly complicated maths here, and we have had a lot of 2020 data to go on. But they would rather save a few bob and lie to consumers: it’s a choice they have made.
   The conclusion I sadly had to draw was that businesses there can lie with impunity, because they’ve observed that there are no real consequences. The famous examples are all too clear from Reich’s quotation, where the people get a raw deal—even losing their lives.

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From one émigré to the Lais, leaving Hong Kong for Scotland

31.12.2020

This final podcast of 2020 is an unusual one. First, it’s really directed a family I’ve never met: the Lais, who are leaving Hong Kong for Glasgow after the passing of the national security law in the Chinese city, as reported by Reuter. They may never even hear it. But it’s a from-the-heart piece recounting my experiences as a émigré myself, whose parents wanted to get out of Hong Kong because they feared what the communists would do after 1997. Imagine heading to a country with more COVID-19 infections and lockdowns and feeling that represented more freedom than what the Chinese Communist Party bestows on your home town.
   Secondly, it’s in Cantonese. The intro is in English but if you’re doing something from the heart to people from your own home town, it’s in your mother tongue. It seemed more genuine that way. Therefore, I don’t expect this podcast episode to have many listeners since I suspect the majority of you won’t know what I’m saying. They are themes I’ve tackled before, so you could probably guess and have a good chance of getting it right.
   If you know the Lais, feel free to share this link with them.

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Posted in China, culture, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Wellington | No Comments »


Facebook leaves up over 95 per cent of hate speech; ‘embarrassing to work here,’ says ex-staffer

16.12.2020

Buzzfeed’s article, on departing Facebook staff who write ‘badge posts’, wasn’t a surprise; what was a greater surprise was just how long it took for such news to surface.
   Badge posts are traditional farewell notes at Facebook, and not everyone has had rosy things to say. One wrote, ‘With so many internal forces propping up the production of hateful and violent content, the task of stopping hate and violence on Facebook starts to feel even more sisyphean than it already is … It also makes it embarrassing to work here’ (original emphasis).
   Buzzfeed noted, ‘More stunning, they estimated using the company’s own figures that, even with artificial intelligence and third-party moderators, the company was “deleting less than 5% of all of the hate speech posted to Facebook,”’ a claim that Facebook disputes, despite its points having already been addressed in the badge post:

   The rest is worth reading here.
   Meanwhile, this Twitter thread from Cory Doctorow, sums up a lot of my feelings and has supporting links, and it is where I found the above. Highlights:

   I realize US conservatives feel they are hard done by with Facebook, but I know plenty of liberals who feel the same, and who’ve had posts censored. Even if Silicon Valley leans left, Facebook’s management doesn’t, so I’d go so far as to say right-wing views get more airtime there than left-wing (actually, also right-wing by anyone else’s standards) ones. On Facebook itself, during the few times I visit, I actually see very few conservatives who have complained of having their posts deleted or censored.
   That isn’t a reason to shut it down or to break it up, but misinformation, regardless of whom it supports is. Inciting genocide is. Allowing posts to remain that influence someone to commit murder is. Facebook has proved over 15 years-plus that it has no desire to do the right thing, in which case it may well be time for others to step in to do it for them.

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The 2020 Level 2 history exam is racist

14.12.2020

The below is excerpted from an email sent to the Race Relations’ Commissioner, Meng Foon, sent yesterday, in light of this Tweet (and the thread that follows):

   The New Zealand Qualifications’ Authority responded to Cadence:

   My words to Meng:

I find it totally bizarre and inexplicable in the wake of the March 15 mosque terror attacks that someone would have thought it appropriate to include a poem by Terry in such a context, which in my view affords a murderer, racist, and white supremacist undeserved sympathy, and treats the murder of Joe Kum Yung as a side note.
   I dare say the equivalent would be quoting from the manifesto of the Christchurch terrorist.
   I would have no issue if Terry had been discussed in the context of the xenophobia (even the sinophobia) and racism of the era, with students asked to analyse that critically.
   Looking at the Level 2 history exam paper in full, I question whether the poem’s inclusion is even that relevant to the question, more so when compared to the other sources given by the examiner.
   Cadence Chung, the student who brought this to the attention of a number of people on Twitter, said she received a response from NZQA suggesting that sufficient context had been given. This I feel dismisses the seriousness of the hate crime perpetrated on Joe Kum Yung and, by extension, on our community, and is yet another example of the ongoing racism that surfaces from time to time.
   One is used to it coming from certain quarters but from an official government body?
   It does not reflect where New Zealanders stand today and NZQA should both explain and apologize for its inclusion.
   Indeed, right now, an analysis of why NZQA felt its actions appropriate in 2020 would make a suitable question in a future exam.

   If only I had read Tina Ngata’s Tweet on the subject first, as it is far more to the point:

   One hundred and fifteen years on since the racially motivated murder of Joe Kum Yung, we still have people who give this little regard to our various communities. My tale about being denied service at a Wellington supermarket in 1993 on racial grounds doesn’t seem that far-fetched, to be frank.

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Bring back humour to all, please!

10.12.2020

Very humorously, Nigella Lawson mispronounced microwave, only to have Those Who Have No Humour get up in arms and Ms Lawson having to clarify that she indeed knew how to pronounce the word the Tory way. Maybe it’s the Brexit age, where we can’t even reference the Continent, because of the Empah or some such, but sadly it might be down to the demise of humour in parts of our society. Britain may be leaving the EU but parts of society are about as cheerful as a bureaucrat from Brussels as they realize it’s a fait accompli. Oops.
   Back in April, I Tweeted this:

   Got plenty of positive replies and likes except one chap was concerned:

   So even in New Zealand, free from the stresses of COVID-19 infections, humour is dying in parts of our nation. (In this country, it’s spelled humour.)
   The reason the joke isn’t offensive or even distressing is that it’s highly unlikely. That’s often the essence of a good joke. (‘Let’s send an astronaut to the sun.’ ‘They’d get burnt up.’ ‘Not at night.’) If you took exception to it, then the explanation that follows is that you think the scenario is likely, and, therefore, you’re in a defensive mode.
   And come on, most of us wouldn’t drive hundreds of kilometres to take a meeting during a pandemic, so if you choose to make an odd decision, then expect some mirth at your expense.
   This entire episode brings up so many other thoughts: what did he tell his wife? (‘Just popping out to have a chat to some people at work.’) What did she respond? (‘Come back by 11 p.m.’) What crossed his mind then? (‘Cool, she didn’t say which day.’) There’s an entire sitcom episode about the drive down.
   I believe Mrs Bridges is English by birth and it’s completely in line with her country’s sense of humour. (‘Another woman? Pull the other one, I couldn’t even get Simon to drive back to Oxford.’) I’d even say she loves a good joke because of some of the things her husband says. Simon Bridges showed his more jovial and relaxed side once freed from the pressures of leading the Opposition, so clearly he has a sense of humour, too. You’d need it to have taken on that job.
   I used to wonder why this country no longer does political satire as often as it once did, but the humourless are being given positions of responsibility. Ever been to a party where certain staff from a certain ministry are present? (I won’t name which one, in case they change their mind about my being the New Zealand ambassador to Someplace.)
   This has been happening since Labour got elected in 1984. McPhail & Gadsby, endless critics of Sir Robert Muldoon, and The Billy T. James Show vanished. The powers-that-be didn’t want to risk their own lot being lampooned. Being a National MP, Simon clearly wished to reverse that by entertaining all of us in the absence of such shows. How we all laughed at David ‘I’m not that guy off Red Dwarf’ Seymour twerking, and look at the votes he got! And how he converted the votes from Dancing with the Stars to political ones in 2020! There’s something to be said for the Wally act. If we no longer fund such programmes then it is over to the politicians.
   How I wish that were not the case and Melanie Bracewell could appear more often as Jacinda Ardern. Is Liz Mullane still keen to don the Helen Clark costume? Who’d play Dr Ashley Bloomfield? Calls to Jacinda. (Episode 1: Helen Clark calls Jacinda Ardern. ‘If you want my advice …’ ‘I don’t.’ Episode 2: Jack Dorsey calls Jacinda Ardern. ‘Why don’t you Tweet much?’ ‘With Jack and Maurie on there? Are you mad?’ Episode 3: James Shaw calls Jacinda Ardern. ‘Come round, I’ll brew some tea the Green Party way.’ We would entitle this ‘The Billy Tea, James Shaw’.) I’d watch that.

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Searching for Murray Smith

09.12.2020

Earlier today Strangers, the 1978 TV series created by Murray Smith, came to mind. Smith created and wrote many episodes of one of my favourite TV series, The Paradise Club (which to this day has no DVD release due to the music rights), and penned an entertaining miniseries Frederick Forsyth Presents (the first time that I noticed one Elizabeth Hurley) and a novel I bought when I first spotted it, The Devil’s Juggler. He also wrote one of my favourite Dempsey and Makepeace episodes, ‘Wheel Man’, which had quite a few of the hallmarks of some of his other work, including fairly likeable underworld figures, which came into play with The Paradise Club.
   Yet there’s precious little about Smith online. His Wikipedia entry is essentially a version of his IMDB credits with some embellishments, for instance. It doesn’t even record his real name.
   Don’t worry, it’s not another dig at Wikipedia, but once again it’s a reflection of how things aren’t permanent on the web, a subject I’ve touched on before after reading a blog entry from my friend Richard MacManus. And that we humans do have to rely on our own memories over what’s on the ’net still: the World Wide Web is not the solution to storing all human knowledge, or, at least, not the solution to accessing it.
   It’s easy to refer to the disappearance of Geocities and the like, and the Internet Archive can only save so much. And in this case, I remember clearly searching for Murray Smith on Altavista in the 1990s, because I was interested in what he was up to. (He died in 2003.) I came across a legal prospectus of something he was proposing to do, and because it was a legal document, it gave his actual name.
   Murray Smith was his screen name, and I gather from an article in The Independent quoting Smith and his friend Frederick Forsyth, he went by Murray, but the family name was definitely Murray-Smith. Back in those days, there was a good chance that if it was online, it was real: it took too much effort to make a website for anyone to bother doing fake news. My gut says it was George David Murray-Smith or something along those lines, but there’s no record of that prospectus online any more, or of the company that he and Forsyth set up together to make Frederick Forsyth Presents, which I assume from some online entries was IFS Productions Ltd. Some websites’ claim that his name was Charles Maurice Smith is incorrect.
   Looking today, there are a couple of UK gazette entries for George David Murray Smith (no hyphen) in the armed forces, including the SAS in the 1970s, which suggest I am right.
   Even in the age of the web, the advantage still lies with those of us who have good memories who can recall facts that are lost. I’ve often suggested on this blog that we cannot fully trust technology, and that there’s no guarantee that even the official bodies, like the UK Companies’ Office, will have complete, accessible records. The computer is a leveller, but not a complete one.

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The most likely explanation: Google doesn’t like academic reports that harm its interests

07.12.2020


TechCrunch/Creative Commons 2·0

I summarized this article to my friends as: ‘How can we trust Big Tech? Google didn’t like hearing the truth from an intelligent woman, so they forced her out.’ And my friend Cathy pointed out it’s a woman of colour.
   And if you take the basic position that Google lies, just as I take the basic position that Facebook lies, then you’d rightly take Google’s Jeff Dean’s explanation with a grain of salt. The MIT Technology Review noted that it doesn’t hold water based on practice.
   The ousted woman, Dr Timnit Gebru, was the co-lead of Google’s ethical AI team—you can already spot the oxymoron as there is no place at Google, a company exercising monopoly powers and paying little tax, for ethics.
   Dean claimed Gebru resigned voluntarily, which is being disputed by both current and former Google employees. The Review notes:

Online, many other leaders in the field of AI ethics are arguing that the company pushed her out because of the inconvenient truths that she was uncovering about a core line of its research—and perhaps its bottom line. More than 1,400 Google staff and 1,900 other supporters have also signed a letter of protest.

   Dr Emily Bender of the University of Washington said in Ars Technica, ‘From the outside, it looks like someone at Google decided this was harmful to their interests.
   ‘Academic freedom is very important—there are risks when [research] is taking place in places that [don’t] have that academic freedom.’
   It wouldn’t be the first time Google attempted to silence a critic, then claimed it did nothing of the sort.
   And if it doesn’t like being warned about the dangers of AI, then what sort of horror awaits us from Google in that space? It’s not hard to foresee AI bots operating online being harmful or generating misinformation, with nothing to hold them back. Again from the Review:

In 2017, Facebook mistranslated a Palestinian man’s post, which said “good morning” in Arabic, as “attack them” in Hebrew, leading to his arrest.

   We are letting these companies get away with being accessories to crimes and, in Facebook’s case, to genocide (over which it withheld evidence).

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NewTumbl: a parting response

05.12.2020

After I posted that I would leave NewTumbl (not quite those words—I said I would still return to check out a few people I followed), I had a very nice note from Alex, one of the US folks there whose posts I regularly enjoyed, along with those of Marius and a few others. Alex reblogged my post and you can see his additional words here. Below was my response (italics added). He’s faced ridiculous actions against his posts as well, which I allude to. I suspect he’s slightly older than me (he recalls actress Angel Tompkins, for instance, after I posted about her—and I’ve a feeling he remembers her in period, not in reruns), but not by much.

Thank you for your good wishes. It’s ludicrous, isn’t it, that something as wholesome as Samantha from Bewitched would be marked O here? There were just too many examples where the inmates are running the asylum—I had a couple of modelling images marked M despite there being no nudity, for instance—and when that kept happening, it was time to depart.
   I never really felt comfortable having blogging presences across the ’net anyway. When I joined Vox I had some trouble deciding what to put there and what to put on my main blog. Eventually I decided silly stuff would go on Vox and business stuff on my blog. But as each presence shut down (Vox today is something else entirely), I lost content. Another website called Blogcozy also went a couple of years ago and I lost my content there.
   Tumblr was that “secondary home” for over a decade before I came to NewTumbl, and I only came here after noticeable censorship at Tumblr—you couldn’t search for the word NewTumbl, for instance. But the censoring here is worse than anything there now. I’ve never had any posts there taken down other than a few by their bot, which I appealed, and won. If there was an appeal process here I might have stayed. It was one thing Tumblr did right but I get that Dean and co. lack the resources.
   As I get older, the less patience I have for those who make daft decisions—and maybe middle age has taught me that there are some people too far down the intellectual food chain for me to waste time on. You and I stick by the rules and we still get penalized—there are régimes that do this and people flee those countries!
   So consolidating everything back to my own space makes sense, even if I have to pay for the storage. It’s my place, so I can put up what I like. Because of a lot of work content I will have to monitor myself a bit, and the image gallery plug-in doesn’t show the captions in the enlarged view (I may hack the PHP files to see if I can change that), but I welcome your visits. The car posts will still keep heading up, for a start. And I will return here to NewTumbl from time to time, principally to look at posts from you, @vergangene-automarken, and a few of the regulars I followed.

   I still would like to see NewTumbl do well, but they really need to refine their post patrols, which make Mary Whitehouse look liberal.

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Posted in culture, interests, internet, USA | 1 Comment »