Archive for the ‘culture’ category


In the wake of terrorism in your own country

20.03.2019


Above: Flowers at the Islamic Centre in Kilbirnie, Wellington on Monday.

On 9-11, I wrote an editorial in Lucire immediately. It was clear to me what I needed to write, and the editorial got quite a few readers at the time.
   Today is March 20, five days after a terrorist attack on our country, and it’s only now I’ve had some idea of how to put my thoughts into a longer-form fashion, rather than a lot of Tweets, some of which have had a lot of support.
   I guess it’s different when the attack happens to your own people in your own country.
   One of the earliest points I made, when the death toll hit 49, was that this was “our 9-11”, at least when you consider the per capita loss of life. When it hit 50, it actually exceeded the number of lives lost per capita in 9-11. This helps put the matter into some context.
   While the terrorist is a foreign national, who was most likely radicalized by foreign ideas, it has generated a great deal of soul-searching among New Zealanders. Even the right-wing talking heads have suddenly changed their tune, although, if a friend and colleague’s experience as a waiter in New York City in September 2001 is anything to go by, they will return to their regularly scheduled programming in two weeks’ time. Certain media bosses, especially among foreign-owned companies, would have it no other way, since they are not here to benefit New Zealanders, only their foreign shareholders and their own pockets. Stoking division is their business and I do not believe leopards change their spots.
   Therefore, the majority of right-thinking New Zealanders are not complicit, but a minority of us harbour bigoted thoughts, and enough of that minority infect the comments’ sections of mainstream media websites and social networks to make it seem as though they are more numerous in number. The outpouring of support for our Muslim community highlights that the good far outnumber the rotten eggs in our society. And I think more of us are now prepared to call out racism and bigotry knowing that, in fact, public opinion is behind us.
   So many Kiwis, myself included, say that hatred toward Muslims is not in our national character. But it is sufficiently in our national character when Muslim groups have pleaded with government agencies to step up, to be met with endless bureaucratic roadblocks; and many political parties have stains on their records in appealing to Islamophobia, something which indeed was foreign to this nation for all of my childhood.
   I grew up with a Muslim boy and we remain friends to this day, but I never thought of him by his creed. If I was forced to “label” him I would have called him a Pakistani New Zealander. I am willing to bet many Kiwis were in the same boat: we probably knew Muslims but never thought once about their religion.
   It takes certain people to make changes in mainstream thinking. I thought I might be labelled a ‘Chinese New Zealander’ till Winston Peters, now our deputy PM, droned on about ‘Asians’ out of some fear about the weakness of New Zealand culture; and we might have only become aware of Islam to any degree after 9-11. But these are, in fact, foreign ideas, adopted here by those who lack imagination or a willingness to do some hard work. They have been imported here through the sharing of culture. While I support the exchange of ideas, in some misguided utopian belief that dialogue is good for us all, I certainly did not anticipate, during the first heady days of the web, that we would have so much of the bad come with the good. I believed in some level of natural selection, that educated people would refrain and filter, and present their country’s or community’s best face. But as each medium boganfied (yes, I am making up words), the infection came. Newspapers changed thanks to Rupert Murdoch cheapening them, eventually morphing into publications that sensationalized division, especially against Muslims after 9-11. Television went downhill as well largely thanks to the same bloke and his lieutenant, Roger Ailes. The web was fine till each medium became infected with negativity, but Google, Facebook and Twitter were all too happy for it to continue because it increased engagement on their properties. Each fuelled it more with algorithms that showed only supporting views, deepening each user’s belief in the rightness of their ideas, to the exclusion of everyone else’s.
   Most Americans I know believe in civility. I’ve spoken often enough in their country to know this. They don’t believe their freedom of speech is absolute, and personally draw the line at hate speech, but their big websites act as though this is absolute, and allow the negative to fester. It seems it is for profit: we see Twitter remove Will Connolly’s (‘Egg Boy’) account but not racist Australian politician Sen. Fraser Anning. It is tempting to believe that Twitter is following the dollars here without regard to their stated policy. We have, after all, seen all Big Tech players lie constantly, and, for the most part, they get away with it. We let them, because we keep using them. Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t need to say anything about Christchurch, because we’ll keep using his websites (Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp) and he’ll keep finding ways of monetizing us, dehumanizing us. He won’t show up to the UK when summoned, and Facebook will continue to lie about removing videos and offensive content when we know many reports go unheeded.
   Umair Haque wrote in the wake of the Christchurch terrorist attacks: ‘Facebook and Twitter and YouTube etcetera really just bring the American ideal to life that there should be extreme, absolute freedom of speech, with zero consequences whatsoever, even for expressing hate and violence of the most vile and repellent kinds.’
   As people become dehumanized through words and campaigns, it makes it easier for people to commit violence against them. They no longer see them as deserving of respect or protection. In the foulest version, they no longer see them as having a right to life.
   Now, I don’t believe that this absolute approach can be branded American. And I do believe Big Tech has very different values to Americans. Their newsmedia have, too. When regular people are censored, when big money talks more loudly than their laws, then there is something very wrong with their companies—and this is the common enemy of both Republicans and Democrats, not each other. And this wrongness is being exported here, too. I’ve said it for years: we are a sovereign nation, and we have no need to copy their failed idea of a health system or even their vernacular (on this note: retailers, please cease using Black Friday to describe your end-of-year sales, especially this year). We do not need to import the political playbooks, whether you are a political party, a blogger, or a local newspaper. There are Kiwis who actually talked about their ‘First Amendment rights’ because they may have watched too much US television and are unaware we have our own Bill of Rights Act. Even the raid on Kim Dotcom’s home seemed to be down to some warped idea of apeing their cop shows, about impressing the FBI more than following our own laws on surveillance and our own beliefs on decency.
   I honestly don’t see the attraction of turning us into some vassal state or a mutant clone of other nations, yet foreign-owned media continue to peddle this nonsense by undermining the Kiwi character and everyday Kiwi unity.
   Did the terrorist see any of this? I have no idea. I equally have no idea if the people he came into contact with here cemented his hate. However, I think he would have come across sufficient international influences here to validate his imagined fears of non-whites and women. By all means, we should call out bad behaviour, but when we do, we shouldn’t restrict it to individual cases we see in our daily lives. There are entire institutions that are doing this, strings pulled from faraway lands, and to them we must also say: enough is enough. The way you do business isn’t in line with who we are. We need to be aware of who the non-Kiwi players are, often masquerading under locally grown brand names (such as ‘Newstalk ZB’—a quick peek of shareholders suggest the majority are as Kiwi as Ned Kelly), and, if need be, vote with our time and money to support those who really understand us. Be alert to who’s really trying to influence us.

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Posted in culture, globalization, internet, media, New Zealand, politics, USA | No Comments »


Autocade turns 11 as the web turns 30

12.03.2019


The latest model to appear on Autocade today: the Mazda CX-30.

It’s March, which means Autocade has had another birthday. Eleven years ago, I started a car encyclopædia using Mediawiki software, and it’s since grown to 3,600 model entries. The story has been told elsewhere on this blog. What I hadn’t realized till today was that Autocade’s birthday and the World Wide Web’s take place within days of each other.
   The inventor of the web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, still believes that it can be used as a force for good, which is what many of us hoped for when we began surfing in the 1990s. I still remember using Netscape 1·2 (actually, I even remember using 1·1 on computers that hadn’t updated to the newer browser) and thinking that here was a global communications’ network that could bring us all together.
   Autocade, and, of course, Lucire, were both set up to do good, and be a useful information resource to the public. Neither sought to divide in the way Facebook has; Google, which had so much promise in the late 1990s, has become a bias-confirmation machine that also pits ideologies against each other.
   The web, which turns 30 this week, still has the capacity to do great things, and I can only hope that those of us still prepared to serve the many rather than the few in a positive way begin getting recognized for our efforts again.
   For so many years I have championed transparency and integrity. People tell us that these are qualities they want. Yet people also tell surveys that Google is their second-favourite brand in the world, despite its endless betrayals of our trust, only apologizing after each privacy gaffe is exposed by the fourth estate.
   Like Sir Tim, I hope we make it our business to seek out those who unite rather than divide, and give them some of our attention. At the very least I hope we do this out of our own self-preservation, understanding that we have more to gain by allowing information to flow and people to connect. When we shut ourselves off to opposing viewpoints, we are poorer for it. As I wrote before, American conservatives and liberals have common enemies in Big Tech censorship and big corporations practising tax avoidance, yet social networks highlight the squabbles between one right-wing philosophy and another right-wing philosophy. We New Zealanders cannot be smug with our largest two parties both eager to plunge forward into TPPA, and our present government having us bicker over capital gains’ tax while leaving the big multinationals, who profit off New Zealanders greatly, paying little or no tax.
   A more understanding dialogue, which the web actually affords us, is the first step in identifying what we have in common, and once you strip away the arguments that mainstream media and others drive, our differences are far fewer than we think.
   Social media should be social rather than antisocial, and it’s almost Orwellian that they have this Newspeak name, doing the opposite to what their appellation suggests. The cat is out of the bag as far as Big Tech is concerned, but there are opportunities for smaller players to be places where people can chat. Shame it’s not Gab, which has taken a US-conservative bent at the expense of everything else, though they at least should be applauded for taking a stance against censorship. And my fear is that we will take what we have already learned on social media—to divide and to pile on those who disagree—into any new service. As I mentioned, Mastodon is presently fine, for the most part, because educated people are chatting among themselves. The less educated we are, the more likely we will take firm sides and shut our minds off to alternatives.
   The answer is education: to make sure that we use this wonderful invention that Sir Tim has given us for free for some collective good. Perhaps this should form part of our children’s education in the 2010s and 2020s. That global dialogue can only be a good thing because we learn and grow together. And that there are pitfalls behind the biggest brands kids are already exposed to—we know Google has school suites but they really need to know how the big G operates, as it actively finds ways to undermine their privacy.
   The better armed our kids are, the more quickly they’ll see through the fog. The young people I know aren’t even on Facebook other than its Messenger service. It brings me hope; but ideally I’d like to see them make a conscious effort to choose their own services. Practise what we preach about favouring brands with authenticity, even if so many of us fail to seek them out ourselves.

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After driving automatic and manual trucks, the manual still wins for me

05.03.2019

I rented a couple of trucks over the last few days, and I’m surprised that automatics have taken such a hold in this country.
   I’ve written about my preference for manuals elsewhere, and for a regular car, I would consider one with a sequential gearbox. We’re in an era now where the advantages of a modern automatic can outweigh those of a manual, notably in fuel economy. Generally, however, having the control of a manual—and not having an atrophied left leg while driving—is my preference, and it’s absolutely fine even in gridlock if you know how to control the gears properly. I grew up with the idea, rightly or wrongly, that a good driver knows how to operate a manual and desires the control that it affords.
   Polling my friends, it appears that half have the same preference as me and many note, ‘But I own an automatic because I couldn’t find a manual.’ It’s true: we’ve become a slush-box nation just as the United States has, going from a country where maybe 10 per cent were autos to one where 90 per cent are. A big part of that shift happened this century. The notion that automatics have been market-driven (as I was told at Brendan Foot) is, as far as I can ascertain, bollocks.
   In 2015–16, I went to some extremes to buy the car I wanted, namely one with a manual transmission, by sourcing one from where the majority of drivers still prefer to shift gears themselves: the UK. I understand that the UK, as New Zealand once did, insists that you do your driver’s licence test in a manual if you want to be able to drive both; should you do it in an auto, you’re restricted to just autos until you ‘upgrade’ to a manual licence. Indeed, the latter position invites ridicule in the UK—Daniel Craig got his share of it after a fake-news piece alleged he didn’t know how to drive a manual.
   This UK licensing position still makes sense to me, but it appears we license people to drive manuals even though they have never seen a clutch in their lives.
   One of the young men helping me out with shifting stuff in the truck, who is on a learner’s, and owns an automatic, said to me that he couldn’t comprehend a manual, and that confirms that we may have it wrong with our licensing system by slavishly following the US.
   And after the weekend’s experience, I’m even more wedded to manual transmissions.
   The first truck from Vancy Rentals was a two-tonne Toyota Dyna with a slush box. For the most part it wasn’t too difficult to drive, except for one corner when I had to turn off the Hutt Road (speed limit 80 km/h) to head up Ngauranga Gorge, while carrying a load. I didn’t consider that I was going too quickly but the truck’s gearing did not change down with the speed reduction, and I had to rely solely on heavy braking to slow the vehicle. I wrestled with the steering wheel to keep it in my lane but came close to crossing the line.
   You can put this down to inexperience and you would be partially right. With hindsight, I could have turned off the overdrive, or changed to D-4, but in my opinion autos have a tendency to make you lazy. It’s the equivalent of a point-and-shoot Instamatic camera: acceptable but not what a professional might demand for full control.
   The second was a larger 2·5 tonner from Hino, but with a five-speed manual transmission. That corner was taken cleanly (with an even heavier and higher load) by shifting down, and it was simple heading down Ngauranga later by changing into a lower gear—exactly what the sign at the top of the Gorge suggests you do. It kept the truck to a maximum of 80 km/h, the legal limit down that stretch. (I also accomplished this with D-4 on the Toyota.) It was at this point that my young helper remarked that he couldn’t understand the manual, so I pointed out that it was the gearing that was keeping us safely within the speed limit, not the brake—by having that additional security I wouldn’t be reliant solely on the truck’s braking system.
   That same thinking applies to my driving in a motor car, and I wonder why one wouldn’t want the extra assurance of having chosen the gear yourself, limiting your speed when needed, and not be dependent on the decision of a gearbox engineer in Japan (or elsewhere) who mightn’t understand Kiwi roads.

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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 | 3 Comments »


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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