Archive for the ‘culture’ category


Back on RNZ’s The Panel: on Hong Kong’s new national security legislation

08.07.2020


Public domain/Pxhere

What a pleasure it was to be back on The Panel on Radio New Zealand National today, my first appearance in a decade. That last time was about the Wellywood sign and how I had involved the Hollywood Sign Trust. I’ve done a couple of interviews since then on RNZ (thank you to my interviewers Lynda Chanwai-Earle and Finlay Macdonald, and producer Mark Cubey), but it has been 10 years and a few months since I was a phone-in guest on The Panel, which I listen to very frequently.
   This time, it was about Hong Kong, and the new national security legislation that was passed last week. You can listen here, or click below for the embedded audio. While we begin with the latest development of social media and other companies refusing to hand over personal data to the Hong Kong government (or, rather, they are ‘pausing’ till they get a better look at the legislation), we move pretty quickly to the other aspects of the law (the juicy stuff and its extraterritorial aims) and what it means for Hong Kong. Massive thanks to Wallace Chapman who thought of me for the segment.

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Nissan’s own documents show Carlos Ghosn’s arrest was a boardroom coup

22.06.2020

I said it a long time ago: that the Carlos Ghosn arrest was part of a boardroom coup, and that the media were used by Hiroto Saikawa and co. (which I said on Twitter at the time). It was pretty evident to me given how quickly the press conferences were set up, how rapidly there was “evidence” of wrongdoing, and, most of all, the body language and demeanour of Mr Saikawa.
   Last week emerged evidence that would give me—and, more importantly, Carlos Ghosn, who has since had the freedom to make the same allegation that he was set up—cause to utter ‘I told you so.’
   I read about it in The National, but I believe Bloomberg was the source. The headline is accurate: ‘Nissan emails reveal plot to dethrone Carlos Ghosn’; summed up by ‘The plan to take down the former chairman stemmed from opposition to deeper ties between the Japanese company and France’s Renault’.
   One highlight:

the documents and recollections of people familiar with what transpired show that a powerful group of insiders viewed his detention and prosecution as an opportunity to revamp the global automaker’s relationship with top shareholder Renault on terms more favourable to Nissan.
   A chain of email correspondence dating back to February 2018, corroborated by people who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive information, paints a picture of a methodical campaign to remove a powerful executive.

   Another:

Days before Mr Ghosn’s arrest, Mr Nada sought to broaden the allegations against Mr Ghosn, telling Mr Saikawa that Nissan should push for more serious breach-of-trust charges, according to correspondence at the time and people familiar with the discussions. There was concern that the initial allegations of underreporting compensation would be harder to explain to the public, the people said.
   The effort should be “supported by media campaign for insurance of destroying CG reputation hard enough,” Mr Nada wrote, using Mr Ghosn’s initials, as he had done several times in internal communications stretching back years.

   Finally:

The correspondence also for the first time gives more detail into how Nissan may have orchestrated [board member] Mr Kelly’s arrest by bringing him to Japan from the US for a board meeting.

   Nissan’s continuing official position, that Ghosn and Kelly are guilty until proved innocent, has never rang correctly. Unless you’re backed by plenty of people, that isn’t the typical statement you should be making, especially if it’s about your own alleged dirty laundry. You talk instead about cooperating with authorities. In this atmosphere, with Nissan, the Japanese media duped into reporting it based on powerful Nissan executives, and the hostage justice system doing its regular thing, Ghosn probably had every right to believe he would not get a fair trial. If only one of those things were in play, and not all three, he might not have reached the same conclusion.

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Why I don’t find the Asiatic characters on Little Britain and Come Fly with Me racist

11.06.2020


BBC

I have a problem with blackface and yellowface, generally when there are more than capable actors who could have taken the role, but I make exceptions in some situations.
   Take, for example, the news that Little Britain and Come Fly with Me are being removed from streaming services because of what are now deemed racist portrayals. Matt Lucas, who plays half the roles in each, has even said that the shows were right for the time but they’re not what he would make today. Yet I don’t find myself being troubled by his and David Walliams’s characters, since in both they are equal-opportunity about it, even going so far as to address racism head-on with Come Fly with Me’s Ian Foot, a clearly racist character.
   I always viewed everyone from Ting Tong to Precious as caricatures viewed through a British lens, and it is through their comedy that they shine a light on the nation’s attitudes. Matt and David might not like me grouping their work in with Benny Hill’s Chow Mein character, who, while offensive to many Chinese, tended to expose the discomfort of the English “straight man” character, usually portrayed by Henry McGee. I can’t think of one where Mein doesn’t get the upper hand. I like to think these characters all come from the same place.
   Sometimes, especially in comedy, you need people of the same race as most of the audience to point to their nation’s attitudes (and often intolerance)—it’s often more powerful for them as it’s not seen as preaching. Where I have a problem is when characters are founded on utterly false stereotypes, e.g. the bad Asian driver, the loud black man.
   And can you imagine the furore if every character portrayed by Matt and David in Come Fly with Me was white? They would be sharply criticized for not being representative of the many cultures at a modern British airport.
   I don’t turn a blind eye to brownface in Hong Kong (Chinese actors playing Indians) or the mangled Cantonese used to dub white actors, but the same rules apply: if it shines a light on a situation, helps open our collective eyes, and make us better people, then surely we can accept those?
   I Tweeted tonight something I had mentioned on this blog many years ago: Vince Powell’s sitcom Mind Your Language, set in 1970s Britain, where Barry Evans’s Jeremy Brown character, an ESL teacher, has to deal with his highly multicultural and multiracial class. The joke is always, ultimately, on Mr Brown, or the principal, Miss Courtenay, for their inability to adjust to the new arrivals and to understand their cultures. Maybe it’s rose-coloured glasses, but I don’t remember the students being shown as second-class; they often help Jeremy Brown out of a pickle.
   Importantly, many of the actors portrayed their own races, and, if the DVD commentary is to be believed, they were often complimented by people of the same background for their roles.
   Powell based some of his stories on real life: a foreign au pair worked for them and brought home her ESL classmates, and he began getting ideas for the sitcom.
   However, at some stage, this show was deemed to be racist. As I Tweeted tonight, ‘I loved Mind Your Language but white people said the depictions of POC were racist. Hang on, isn’t it more racist to presume we can’t complain ourselves? Most of the actors in that depicted their own race.
   ‘I can only speak for my own, and I didn’t find the Chinese character racist. Because there were elements of truth in there, she was portrayed by someone of my ethnicity, and the scripts were ultimately joking about the British not adjusting well to immigrant cultures.
   ‘Which, given how Leavers campaigned about Brexit, continues to be true. I get why some blackface and yellowface stuff needs to go but can’t we have a say?
   ‘Tonight on TV1 news, there were two white people commenting on the offensiveness of minority portrayals in Little Britain and Come Fly with Me. I hope someone sees the irony in that.’
   However, if any minorities depicted by Matt and David are offended by their work—Ting Tong, Asuka and Nanako are the only Asiatic characters they do that I can think of, so east Asians aren’t even that well represented—of course I will defer to your judgement. I can’t pretend to know what it’s like for someone of Pakistani heritage to see Matt’s Taaj Manzoor, or someone with a Jamaican heritage to see Precious Little. However, unlike some commentators, I do not presume that members of their community are powerless to speak up, and they are always welcome on this forum.

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Catfished on Facebook? That’s OK, too, they’re there to provide the tools

11.06.2020

I don’t particularly have it in for Google and Facebook. I’m only pointing out the obvious: if you say your policy is x, or your product is y, then don’t deliver us z. Put it into non-electronic terms: if you sell me a car and I put it into first gear, and it instead reverses, then I will complain. And if you look back through 11 years of critique, that is what lies at the foundation of every post about them. Medinge does Brands with a Conscience, Big Tech does Brands without a Conscience. Once they start being honest and levelling with people, then I’ll stop pointing out their hypocrisy.

Speaking of which, a Facebook user calling themselves Barbara Black has taken a photo of former Miss Universe New Zealand Tania Dawson, using Tania’s photo as her profile pic and, of course, catfishing men. You know where this is going: despite numerous reports from Tania’s friends since the D-Day anniversary, including multiple ones from me, nothing has been done. Facebook tells me that there has been no violation of their terms. Some have actually found it impossible to report the fake profile, as their screen fills up with gibberish.

   Yet again it’s Facebook being on the side of the spammers, bots and phonies, as usual, because they have the potential to help their bottom line.
   I can safely say that all my reports of fake or compromised accounts this year have resulted in no take-downs whatsoever, making it far, far worse than what I experienced in 2014 when I said that Facebook faced a bot ‘epidemic’ (I used that very word).
   Very easy prediction for 2020: despite COVID-19, Facebook will have to remove more fake accounts than there are people on the planet. I reckon it has already happened but they won’t admit it. I just don’t know when people will wake up to the fact that this dubious site isn’t serving them, but at least the fakes have got to such a point now that everyday people recognize them: at some point, we will either know someone, or be that someone, who has been catfished or cloned. I’ve been off it for personal stuff for three years and have missed nowt.

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The ‘A’ (Aotearoa) Team

09.06.2020

Now that Aotearoa New Zealand has lifted our COVID-19 restrictions after getting rid of the virus on our shores, other than keeping our border closed, I Tweeted:

and between Cachalot on Twitter and I, we actually wound up with a variation of the song (incidentally, he was first with the chorus, showing that great minds think alike).

Then back to the refrain.
   Out of respect to the language in which the song was composed, te reo Māori, here are the original, poignant lyrics. It’s a beautiful, heart-wrenching song. There’s a further explanation to it here.

Pōkarekare ana,
ngā wai o Waiapu
Whiti atu koe hine,
marino ana e.

Refrain
   E hine e,
   hoki mai ra.
   Ka mate ahau
   I te aroha e.

Tuhituhi taku reta,
tuku atu taku rīngi,
Kia kite tō iwi
raru raru ana e.

Refrain

Whati whati taku pene
ka pau aku pepa
Ko taku aroha
mau tonu ana e.

Refrain

E kore te aroha
e maroke i te rā
Mākūkū tonu i
aku roimata e.

Refrain

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Going beyond a blacked-out image: thoughts on Black Lives Matter

04.06.2020

Usually I find it easier to express myself in written form. For once, Black Lives Matter and the protests in the US prompted me to record another podcast entry. I’m not sure where the flat as and the mid-Atlantic vowels come from when I listened to this again—maybe I was channelling some of the passion I was seeing in the US, and I had watched the news prior to recording this.

   My Anchor summary is: ‘Personal thoughts in solidarity with my black friends in the US. Yes, I posted a blackout image on my Instagram but it didn’t seem to be enough. This is my small contribution, inspired by a Facebook post written by my white American friend Eddie Uken where he reflects on his perspective and privilege.’ Eddie’s Facebook post, which is public, is here.

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The end of the cellphone?

22.05.2020


Motorola

This is a take that will probably never come true, but hear me out: this is the end of the cellphone era.
   We’ve had a pandemic where people were forced to be at home. Whilst there, they’ve discovered that they can be productive on their home desktop machines, doing Zoom and Skype meetings, and a proper keyboard with which to type and respond to people properly.
   They’ve realized that everything they do on a cell is compromised. It’s hard to reply to an email. It’s hard to compose something properly. It’s hard to see the participants in a virtual meeting. It’s hard to edit a photo. Voice recognition is still nowhere near what David Hasselhoff and KITT suggested 38 years ago.
   Camera aside, which I find is the cellphone’s best feature, it doesn’t offer that great a utility.
   More organizations say you can work from home today, and many have discovered what I’ve known for 33 years: it’s nice to have a commute measured in seconds and not be at the beck and call of whomever is on the other end of your cellphone. You are the master of your schedule and you see to the important things as you see fit.
   This is, of course, a massive generalization as there are professions for whom cellphones are a must, but I’m betting that there’s a chunk of the working population that has discovered that they’re not “all that”. In 1985 it might have looked cool to have one, just as in 1973 the car phone was a sign of affluence, but, frankly, between then and now we’ve gone through a period of cellphones making you look like a wanker to one of making you look like a slave. In 2001 I was the only person at an airport lounge working on a device. In 2019 (because who’s travelling in 2020?) I could be the only person not looking at one.
   But they have apps, you say. Apps? We offered a Lucire news app for PDAs in the early 2000s and hardly anyone bothered downloading them. So we gave up on them. Might take others a bit longer.
   By all means, have one to keep in touch with family, or take one on your travels. Emergency professionals: naturally. A lot of travelling salespeople, of course. But as someone who regularly does not know where his is, and who didn’t find it much of a handicap when the ringer stopped working (actually, I think that bug has recurred), I’m just not among those working groups who need one.

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Live from Level 3

03.05.2020

Finally, a podcast (or is it a blogcast, since it’s on my blog?) where I’m not “reacting” to something that Olivia St Redfern has put on her Leisure Lounge series. Here are some musings about where we’re at, now we are at Level 3.

   Some of my friends, especially my Natcoll students from 1999–2000, will tell you that I love doing impressions. They say Rory Bremner’s are shit hot and that mine are halfway there. It’s a regret that I haven’t been able to spring any of these on you. Don’t worry, I haven’t done any here. But one of these days …

Perhaps the funniest Tweet about the safe delivery of the British PM and his fiancée’s son, for those of us who are Clint Eastwood fans:

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Posted in China, culture, France, globalization, Hong Kong, humour, New Zealand, politics, publishing, Sweden, UK, USA, Wellington | No Comments »


Facebook exploits COVID-19 for profit, and viral thoughts

01.05.2020

A lot of the world’s population has come together in the fight against COVID-19. Except Facebook, of course, who is exploiting the virus for profit. Facebook has done well in the first quarter of 2020 with positive earnings. Freedom From Facebook & Google co-chairs Sarah Miller and David Segal note (the links are theirs): ‘Facebook has exploited a global pandemic to grow their monopoly and bottom line. They’ve profited from ads boasting fake cures and harmful information, allowed ad targeting to “pseudoscience” audiences, permitted anti-stay-at-home protests to organize on the platform, and are now launching a COVID “Data for Good” endeavour to harvest even more of our personal information.
   ‘Make no mistake, Facebook having more of your data is never “good”, nor will they just relinquish the collected data when the pandemic’s curve has been flattened. Rather, they’ll bank it and continue to profit from hyper-targeted ads for years to come.’

It’s been a few weeks (April 19 was my last post on this subject) since I last crunched these numbers but it does appear that overall, COVID-19 infections as a percentage of tests done are dropping, several countries excepting. Here is the source.

France 167,178 of 724,574 = 23·07%
UK 171,253 of 901,905 = 18·99%
Sweden 21,092 of 119,500 = 17·65%
USA 1,095,304 of 6,391,887 = 17·14%
Spain 239,639 of 1,455,306 = 16·47%
Singapore 17,101 of 143,919 = 11·88%
KSA 22,753 of 200,000 = 11·38%
Switzerland 29,586 of 266,200 = 11·11%
Italy 205,463 of 1,979,217 = 10·38%
Germany 163,009 of 2,547,052 = 6·40%
South Korea 10,774 of 623,069 = 1·73%
Australia 6,766 of 581,941 = 1·16%
New Zealand 1,479 of 139,898 = 1·06%
Taiwan 429 of 63,340 = 0·68%
Hong Kong 1,038 of 154,989 = 0·67%

Emmerdale fans will never forgive me. I’ve not been one to watch British soaps, finding them uninteresting. However, in this household, we have had Emmerdale on since it’s scheduled between TV1’s midday bulletin and the 1 p.m. government press conference on COVID-19, or, as some of us call it, The Ashley Bloomfield Show, named for our director-general of health who not only has to put up with all of this, but took a hit to one-fifth of his pay cheque. Naturally, one sings along to the Emmerdale theme, except I have no clue about its lyrics. Are there lyrics?

Not a single like on Twitter or Mastodon. I’ve offended a heck of a lot of people.

We are supposedly at Level 3, which someone said was Level 4 (the full lockdown) with takeaways. However, we’ve gone from the 1960s-style near-empty motorways to this almost immediately.

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Even the web is forgetting our history

26.04.2020


Hernán Piñera/Creative Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0

My friend Richard MacManus wrote a great blog post in February on the passing of Clive James, and made this poignant observation: ‘Because far from preserving our culture, the Web is at best forgetting it and at worst erasing it. As it turns out, a website is much more vulnerable than an Egyptian pyramid.’
   The problem: search engines are biased to show us the latest stuff, so older items are being forgotten.
   There are dead domains, of course—each time I pop by to our links’ pages, I find I’m deleting more than I’m adding. I mean, who maintains links’ pages these days, anyway? (Ours look mega-dated.) But the items we added in the 1990s and 2000s are vanishing and other than the Internet Archive, Richard notes its Wayback Machine is ‘increasingly the only method of accessing past websites that have otherwise disappeared into the ether. Many old websites are now either 404 errors, or the domains have been snapped up by spammers searching for Google juice.’
   His fear is that sites like Clive James’s will be forgotten rather than preserved, and he has a point. As a collective, humanity seems to desire novelty: the newest car, the newest cellphone, and the newest news. Searching for a topic tends to bring up the newest references, since the modern web operates on the basis that history is bunk.
   That’s a real shame as it means we don’t get to understand our history as well as we should. Take this pandemic, for instance: are there lessons we could learn from MERS and SARS, or even the Great Plague of London in the 1660s? But a search is more likely to reveal stuff we already know or have recently come across in the media, like a sort of comfort blanket to assure us of our smartness. It’s not just political views and personal biases that are getting bubbled, it seems human knowledge is, too.
   Even Duck Duck Go, my preferred search engine, can be guilty of this, though a search I just made of the word pandemic shows it is better in providing relevance over novelty.
   Showing results founded on their novelty actually makes the web less interesting because search engines fail to make it a place of discovery. If page after page reveals the latest, and the latest is often commodified news, then there is no point going to the second or third pages to find out more. Google takes great pride in detailing the date in the description, or ‘2 days ago’ or ‘1 day ago’. But if search engines remained focused on relevance, then we may stumble on something we didn’t know, and be better educated in the process.
   Therefore, it’s possibly another area that Big Tech is getting wrong: it’s not just endangering democracy, but human intelligence. The biases I accused Google News and Facebook of—viz. their preference for corporate media—build on the dumbing-down of the masses.
   I may well be wrong: maybe people don’t want to get smarter: Facebook tells us that folks just want a dopamine hit from approval, and maybe confirmation of our own limited knowledge gives us the same. ‘Look at how smart I am!’ Or how about this collection?
   Any expert will tell you that the best way to keep your traffic up is to generate more and more new content, and it’s easy to understand why: like a physical library, the old stuff is getting forgotten, buried, or even—if they can’t sell or give it away—pulped.
   Again, there’s a massive opportunity here. A hypothetical new news aggregator can outdo Google News by spidering and rewarding independent media that break news, by giving them the best placement—as Google News used to do. That encourages independent media to do their job and opens the public up to new voices and viewpoints. And now a hypothetical new search engine could outdo Google by providing relevance over novelty, or at least getting the balance of the two right.

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