Archive for the ‘globalization’ category


A quick look at COVID-19 on a per capita basis

24.03.2020


Virusncov.com

I don’t think it’s easy for most of us to make sense of the number of COVID-19 infections, especially as we’re recording more new infections daily. This website has some useful stats, and I was interested to see how we compared per capita.
   I know others might get more utility seeing how we creep up the scale (I notice a few of these graphs) but as a snapshot, I found this useful. I’ve thrown in other countries for comparison’s sake. The numbers deal with total infections (i.e. no subtractions are made for recovered cases).

COVID-19 cases per 1,000,000
Italy 1,056·9
Spain 751·6
Germany 347·1
France 304·4
Sweden 204·3
South Korea 176·3
USA 139·7
UK 98·1
Singapore 87·2
Australia 84·1
Mainland China 56·5
Canada 55·5
Hong Kong 47·7
New Zealand 32·2
KSA 16·2
Taiwan 9

   I realize our numbers are set to rise because of Kiwis coming home and the virus incubation period, and the numbers will be reflecting our border situation and containment measures from two weeks ago rather than today. I’m looking forward to the day when the daily announcement of new infections shows a drop.

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Coronavirus: the weakening of globalization, and the lessons to learn

12.03.2020

A generation ago, I don’t think many would have thought that globalization could be brought to its knees by a virus. They may have identified crazy politicians using nationalism as a tool, but probably considered that would not happen in developed economies and democracies sophisticated enough to withstand such assaults.
   This course correction might be poetic to the pessimist. Those who emptied their own nations’ factories in favour of cheaper Chinese manufacture perhaps relied on appalling conditions for their working poor; and if China were incapable of improving their lot—and you can argue just why that is—then with hindsight it does not seem to be a surprise that a virus would make its leap into humankind from Wuhan, itself not the shiny metropolis that we might associate with the country’s bigger cities. Those same corporations, with their collective might, now find themselves victim to an over-reliance on Chinese manufacture at the expense of their own, with their primary, and perhaps only, country of manufacture no longer producing anything for them as the government orders a lock-down.
   I argued months ago that failing to declare the coronavirus as a matter of international concern a week before the lunar New Year was foolhardy at best; perhaps I should have added deadly at worst. Here is the period of the greatest mobilization of humans on the planet, and we are to believe this is a domestic matter? If capitalist greed was the motive for downplaying the crisis, as it could have been within China when Dr Li Wenliang began ringing alarm bells on December 30, 2019 and was subsequently silenced, then again we are reaping the consequences of our inhumanity: our desire to place, if I may use the hackneyed expression, profits above people. And even if it wasn’t capitalism but down to his upsetting the social order—the police statement he was forced to sign said as much—the motive was still inhuman. It was the state, as an institution, above people and their welfare.
   We arrive at a point in 2020 where one of Ronald Reagan’s quotes might come true, even if he was talking about extraterrestrials. At the UN in 1987, President Reagan said, ‘Perhaps we need some outside universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.’
   This might not be alien, but it is a universal threat, it is certainly indiscriminate and it affects people of all creeds and colours equally.
   Our approaches so far do not feel coordinated globally, with nations resorting to closing borders, which prima facie is sensible as a containment measure. You would hope that intelligence is being shared behind the scenes on combatting the virus. I’m not schooled enough to offer a valuable opinion here so I defer to those who are. But I’m not really seeing our differences vanish, even though we are being reminded at a global level of the common bond that Reagan spoke of. This is a big wake-up call.
   Examining the occidental media, there appears to be a greater outcry over President Donald Trump closing the US from flights from the EU Schengen zone than there was when China faced its travel ban, suggesting to me that barring your nation from people within a group of 420 million is a bigger deal than barring people from a group of 1,400 million. One lot seems more valued than the other lot.
   What I do believe is that we have made certain choices as a people, and that while the pure model of globalization raises standards of living for all, we, through our governments and institutions, haven’t allowed it to happen. We’ve not seen level playing fields as we were promised. We’ve seen playing fields dominated by bigger players, and for all those nations that are sucked into the prevailing mantra that arose in the 1980s, we’ve allowed our middle classes to shrink and the gap between rich and poor to grow. The one economic group that assures prosperity has been eroded.
   As it’s eroded then we’re looking at economies that favour the rich and their special interest groups over the poor, rather than investing in public infrastructure and education.
   No wonder many lack faith in their institutions, and their willing and continued pursuit of the monetarist order over humanistic agenda.
   Yet at the one-to-one level many differences disappear. It’s not helped by social media, those corrosive corporations that seek to separate through algorithms that encourage tribalism, but those that take the time to have a dialogue realize that we are in this together. Within these elaborate websites lies some hope.
   My entire working career to date has been mostly one where individuals and independent enterprises have formed contracts to do business, creating things that once didn’t exist through intellectual endeavour. We have done so outside elephantine multinationals, within which many imaginations have been stifled. We are people who can think outside the square—and all too often, the inhabitants of the square reject us anyway.
   When the world comes back online, I hope we have learned some lessons about the source of our troubles. We’ve willingly let certain institutions get too big at our expense; we’ve allowed a playing field slanted in their favour that encourages a race to the bottom by outsourcing to underpaid people; and as a result we’ve allowed unhygienic conditions to flourish because they’re “over there”, instead of holding corporations and nations to account. It will take us making choices with our eyes open about policies that champion individuals over big corporations; genuinely creating level playing fields where entrepreneurship can flourish at every level and benefit all; ensuring that we properly fund education and other long-term investments; and having strong foreign policies that can constructively call out injustices by suggesting a better way. We need to do this over the long term. The big corporations have mustered global power and so must individuals. Nationalism is not the answer to solving our problems: it is a reaction, a false glimpse into the past with rose-coloured glasses. It is no more a reflection of our past than a young northern lad pushing his bicycle uphill to Dvořák’s ‘New World Symphony’. Nostalgia is often inaccurate.
   Whether you are on the left or the right, whether you love Trump or Sanders, Ardern or Bridges, we’re simply lying to ourselves if we think the other political side is our enemy, when it’s in fact institutions, political or corporate, that have grown too distant to be concerned with anyone but those in power.
   Call me an idealist, but we could be on the verge of a humanistic revolution where we use these technological tools for the betterment of us all. Greta Thunberg has done so for her agenda, and we have a chance to, too: a global effort by individuals who see past our differences, because we have those common bonds that Reagan spoke of. Let’s debate the facts and get us on track, resisting both statism and corporatism at their extremes, since they’re sides of the same coin. What empowers us as individuals? In the system we have today, is there a party that can best deliver this? Who’ll keep the players honest? When we start asking these in the context of the pandemic, the answer won’t be as clear as left and right. And I’m not sure if the answer can even be found in major political parties who wish to deliver more of the same, plus or minus 10 per cent.
   Or we can wait for the coronavirus to disappear, carry on as we had been, keep dividing on social media to help line Mark Zuckerberg’s pockets, and allow another pandemic to venture forth. It can’t be business as usual.

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Carlos Ghosn redresses the balance

10.01.2020

It’s been fascinating to watch Carlos Ghosn’s press conference in Beirut, and subsequent interviews, confirming my own suspicions back in November 2018 (as Tweeted and blogged).

   Criticisms of Japan’s justice system don’t just come from Ghosn. There was Mark Karpeles, who endured 11 months awaiting trial in Japan. From the Asia Times:

But Karpeles didn’t confess. Prosecutors kept re-arresting him and denied his lawyer’s request for bail again and again. During his incarceration, he suffered mild frost-bite, malnutrition and sleep disorders and went slightly stir crazy. He finally won bail in July 2016.

and:

It didn’t surprise me that the police and prosecutors didn’t want to find the real criminal: I had seen it before in the 2002 Nick Baker drug smuggling case. In that case, Japanese prosecutors declined evidence from overseas police agencies that supported Briton Baker’s assertion that he had been framed by his traveling companion. Their aim in the case was simple: conviction.

   The criticism isn’t coming only from foreigners. Carlos Ghosn’s own lawyer in Japan, Takashi Takano, recalled on his blog:

「・・・残念ながら、この国では刑事被告人にとって公正な裁判など期待することはできない。裁判官は独立した司法官ではない。官僚組織の一部だ。日本のメディアは検察庁の広報機関に過ぎない。しかし、多くの日本人はそのことに気がついていない。あなたもそうだ。20年間日本の巨大企業の経営者として働いていながら、日本の司法の実態について何も知らなかったでしょ。」

「考えもしなかった。」

「逮捕されたら、すぐに保釈金を積んで釈放されると思っていた?」

「もちろん、そうだ。」

「英米でもヨーロッパでもそれが当たり前だ。20日間も拘束されるなんてテロリストぐらいでしょう。でもこの国は違う。テロリストも盗人も政治家もカリスマ経営者も、みんな逮捕されたら、23日間拘禁されて、毎日5時間も6時間も、ときには夜通しで、弁護人の立ち会いもなしに尋問を受け続ける。罪を自白しなかったら、そのあとも延々と拘禁され続ける。誰もその実態を知らない。みんな日本は人権が保障された文明国だと思い込んでいる。」

「・・・公正な裁判は期待できないな。」

   The Asia Times story has a translation, and you’re free to copy and paste into a translation service.
   As someone who follows the car industry, and holds business and law degrees, this case has fascinated me far more than any Instagram caption from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex—and it will also be interesting to see how Renault Nissan Mitsubishi deals with the fallout.

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Posted in business, cars, France, globalization, media, TV | No Comments »


I want to remove a My Business location, but Google won’t let me

23.08.2019

I really should not have wasted my time with Google, as My Business (see yesterday’s post) reminded me just why I don’t use the site—it’s not only the privacy issues, but the fact that things don’t work as advertised, which has always been the case with Google.
   You’ve already seen that it’s impossible for me to add my business’s address to Google My Business. That’s not a huge surprise, since the last time I had Google Earth, they didn’t even know that the White House was at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC—and that was version 5 of their software. If these folks don’t even know where their own president is, I can’t expect them to deal with Tawa.
   However, we do have an address in Manhattan, so I attempted to add that. After all, it seemed I was verified, or at least close to being verified, so why not get around the existing entry’s non-verification (as it goes through the process of sending a postcard, and, frankly, no one at the office can be bothered—they feel about Google much the same way as I).
   There was no difference: Google still wanted to send a postcard, so I thought I should delete the entry.
   Well, you can’t. There isn’t anything in the documentation that says it’s this hard. Following their own instructions, I delete the location, and nothing happens.


Seems simple enough: Google says I should select ‘Remove location’.


Google wants me to confirm. I click ‘Remove’.


Like a lot of US Big Tech, they make it appear that they’re busy doing something …


… when in fact, nothing is being done.

   Maybe I should go in and edit it, as perhaps Google can’t deal with three businesses called Lucire.
   Good luck with that. I click on the entry and just get taken to a page where I am asked to select an account. I only have one, so I click on it three times, and I get taken back to the My Business home page with the four locations on it.


Clicking on the last entry goes to this page. Click my email address three times, and you’ll go back to the start.

   And ad infinitum. You can attempt to do this as many times as you like, but it is impossible to delete a location, contrary to what Google claims, it is impossible to edit some locations, contrary to what Google claims.
   It’s no wonder the Dashboard was so full of discrepancies because, like Facebook, like Twitter, like Amazon, their databases are probably shot to hell, and nothing works as they say they do. I may be a layman on such subjects but it appears the more they add, the more the house of cards collapses.
   I suspect some of these errors are intentional—we know Google intentionally programs in more pages so they can claim increased page-views to their site (e.g. if you click on an image in the Google image search, they take you to an intermediate page first—10 years ago, they took you straight to the page)—so by offering a website that is SNAFU, you’re forced to increase the page-view count. (Of course, if we do holding pages and forwarding pages to our sites, Google penalizes us.) When such obvious inefficiencies are introduced, you know that the reasons aren’t all kosher.
   So there you are: even if you wanted to delete an entry (and I was sorely tempted to yesterday), Google won’t let you.
   Google: deceitful and useless. And a total waste of time. I’m so glad I don’t use this site in any real way—apart from the time it sucked over the last 24 hours.

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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 | 1 Comment »


A chain of events that led to my Dad being effectively starved today

15.12.2018


Above: Dad and I wait for his psychogeriatric ‘re-evaluation’ on November 30, or, treading a path of bullshit.

Even in the rest home, Dad remained very protective of the other residents, so much so that there was an incident involving a day care resident in late November that saw the home insist that he be re-evaluated.
   I said to the head nurse, ‘I just want him to be given a fair go. What are the chances he will be allowed back there?’
   ‘It depends on what the psychogeriatrician says.’ I sensed the insincerity in her voice.
   For when the psychogeriatrician from Wellington Hospital called (actually, he told me he was a ‘psychiatrist’ and to this day I remain unsure if a psychogeriatrician or psychogeriatric nurse has seen him), he told me that he was told that they didn’t want him back.
   Lie number one, then.
   This is despite a course of medication that has actually helped Dad with his alertness.
   Of course, during this whole evaluation, Dad contracted pneumonia, for which he had to be on a course of Augmentin.
   The ‘psychiatrist’ also told me that he would prescribe Risperidone to Dad as the original course of medication that I had discussed with our GP, Donepezil, was, in his opinion, ineffective.
   When speaking to the nurses and health care assistants at Ward 6, I was always informed that Dad was taking Augmentin and Risperidone.
   He was still having balance issues and a severe cough but deemed ‘medically fit’ and had to leave the hospital.
   The social worker worked extremely hard to find a dementia care unit for him. I have him on a waiting list at one home, but till that place is free, the closest is Bupa in Whitby.
   I’m now reading his discharge sheet, to discover that he is ‘Best suited for dementia level care or high dependency care if BPSD cannot be treated successfully.’ Note the word if.
   Frankly, they haven’t had a chance to see if any course of medication has helped his BPSD. I have witnessed it, to my knowledge, they haven’t.
   Everyone seems dead keen to get Dad into dementia-level care that he’s being pigeonholed.
   So he was, in my non-medical opinion, prematurely discharged and shipped off to Bupa.
   And the discharge sheet doesn’t mention anything about Risperidone other than that it is PRN—prescribed only when needed. It doesn’t appear to be a regular medicine.
   So, was I lied to at Wellington Hospital or is the discharge sheet bullshit?
   Lie number two, then.
   I’m not saying that Dad won’t eventually have to go into dementia-level care but it doesn’t seem necessary, and the Bupa staff agree.
   Today I discovered him agitated because he was hungry.
   The staff said he hadn’t been eating.
   He was brought his dinner but I noticed that his dentures were missing.
   No shit, you took his dentures so he couldn’t eat.
   But no one put two and two together.
   Seeing I was there he made a valiant effort to try to eat some cold meat they had served him and choked horribly on it. I had to stop him and said I would enquire what was going on.
   The carers made a good effort looking in his room to no avail.
   No one was at reception but fortunately there were some cellphone numbers posted on a notice there. I texted one of the RNs, who, despite not working today, made a massive effort to find out what had happened. God bless this man for digging.
   Turns out they took Dad’s dentures for cleaning last night and no one thought to return them. They were in the office, locked away.
   All of this has me deeply angry that they think they can treat elderly people like this. And how poor the communications are because they aren’t treating them as human beings.
   If I wasn’t a daily visitor—and driving from Rongotai to Whitby is no easy task—then would Dad have just starved?
   He has aphasia so he can only point and show if he’s upset.
   One RN told me he was agitated earlier today. Again, no shit.
   I’ve texted the social worker my concerns. Discharging a patient prematurely is one thing but taking him to a facility where they have effectively starved him for a day is cruel and negligent.
   All this sprung because of the clinical and inhuman way he was marginalized in late November.
   It set off a chain of events that give you very little confidence in the treatment of Alzheimer’s and dementia sufferers.
   Despite the kindness of the HCAs and the staff at Wellington Hospital, there are clear gaps here which I wonder whether others might question.
   I will advise the GP tonight as he and the social worker have batted in our corner consistently.
   He needs to be out of the clutches of a clumsy multinational corporation and put somewhere actually consistent with his level of dementia.
   And if I don’t get some satisfactory answers for once, then things will get … interesting.

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Posted in globalization, New Zealand, Wellington | 3 Comments »


PS/2 keyboard one way to get your Windows 10 computer back after bricking

10.05.2018


Everybody wants PS2. Still from The Professionals episode ‘Servant of Two Masters’.

I read this article in The Guardian, thinking: surely, after Microsoft rolled out some terrible updates, it wouldn’t be so stupid as to do one that bricks customers’ computers again? Especially after the bug was reported a month ago.
   The April update worked reasonably well, though I lost my wallpaper. But everything else was there, and I was using Vivaldi, which is a Chromium-based browser.
   Then I rebooted.
   That was it: my computer was bricked. The first boot, a very tiny rotating circle eventually appeared, but I couldn’t do anything except move the circle with my mouse. Subsequent reboots just resulted in a black screen—something, I must say, I had already encountered with an earlier Windows update that saw my having to take the PC back to the shop.
   I rebooted the computer three times to force it into recovery mode, but then there was another problem: neither mouse nor keyboard worked. It was as though USB was dead.
   Out of sheer luck I had a PS/2 keyboard that was unused, and after more forced reboots, I was able to use the old keyboard to look at various recovery options. Remember: no input device on USB works, and this was a bug that had surfaced with the last update in February.
   Forget system restore: the April update is a fresh OS, so there are no restore points.
   I had no choice but to roll back to the previous version I had installed.
   And here I am, back again, an hour wasted. It would probably be longer if I didn’t have an SSD.
   Microsoft, get your QC sorted, because this current model you’ve employed over the last few years simply does not work. I have spent more hours on these updates than with any OS you have ever rolled out, and that includes XP Service Pack 3 on a comparatively ancient system.
   And if you get stuck like I do, and like all those in The Guardian’s article did, I hope you still have a way of plugging in a PS/2 device and have an old-school keyboard lying around.

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Posted in China, design, globalization, marketing, technology, USA | No Comments »


We’ve been here before: foreign-owned media run another piece supporting an asset sale

04.05.2018


Clilly4/Creative Commons

I see there’s an opinion piece in Stuff from the Chamber of Commerce saying the Wellington City Council should sell its stake in Wellington Airport, because it doesn’t bring in that much (NZ$12 million per annum), and because Auckland’s selling theirs.
   It’s not too dissimilar to calls for the Council to sell the Municipal Electricity Department a few decades ago, or any other post-Muldoon call about privatization.
   Without making too much of a judgement, since I haven’t inquired deeply into the figures, it’s interesting that the line often peddled by certain business groups, when they want governments to sell assets, is: ‘They should run things like households, and have little debt.’
   This never applies to themselves. When it comes to their own expansion, they say, ‘We don’t need to run things like households, we can finance this through debt.’
   The same groups say that governments should be run more like businesses.
   However, their advice is always for governments to be run like households.
   Has it escaped them that they are different beasts?
   I wouldn’t mind seeing government entities run like businesses, making money for their stakeholders, and said so when I campaigned for mayor.
   Doing this needs abandoning a culture of mediocrity at some of those entities. Some believe this is impossible within government, and there are credible examples, usually under former command economies. But then there are also decent examples of state-owned enterprises doing rather well, like Absolut, before they were sold off by the Swedish government. If you want something current, the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. is one of the most profitable car makers on the planet.
   The difference lies in the approach toward the asset.
   But what do I know? I come from Hong Kong where the civil service inherited from the British is enviably efficient, something many occidentals seem to believe is impossible—yet I live in a country where I can apply for, and get, a new passport in four hours. Nevertheless, that belief in inefficiency holds.
   Change your mindset: things are possible with the right people. Don’t be a Luddite.
   And therein lies why Stuff and I are on different planets.

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Ford to stop selling passenger cars in the US and Canada, save for Mustang and Focus Active

26.04.2018


The Ford Focus Active: by the turn of the decade, this will be the only four-door passenger car Ford will sell in the US and Canada

In a surprise move, Ford has announced that it will cease selling passenger cars in the US and Canada by the early 2020s, excepting the Mustang and the Focus Active.
   The announcement was actually for ‘North America’ but as Ford of México does a reasonable trade on Figos and Fiestas, it’s hard to see the policy be uniform right across the continent.
   It’s a cost-cutting exercise, designed to save $25,500 million in five years, and trucks and SUVs simply make more money for them. Small cars mean small profits. In fact, car sales lag those of the F-series, Escape and Explorer in the US. Shares have risen on the news.
   That means Americans and Canadians will say goodbye to the Fiesta, Fusion (the four-door sedan counterpart to the Mondeo) and Taurus, the last of which is already superseded in China. If you liked the cooking RS and STs, then too bad. Lincolns are losing money for Ford, too, so maybe the Continental will vanish—given the Fusion is history, the MKZ will follow. That doesn’t leave much in the Lincoln line-up.
   My initial reaction was that the economies of scale would worsen: if you’re not developing for a global market, will development costs be successfully amortized in the same period? We have, however, seen the Japanese do reasonably well with products strictly for the North American market, e.g. certain Acuras and Hondas that are sold only in their neck of the woods. We also know most of the costs of the car are in the platform and architecture, and Ford has shown decent adaptability, particularly with the C519 Focus (the recently released Mk IV).
   Ford says the cuts will come from sales and marketing, engineering and product development, as well as material costs, manufacturing and IT, in that order, according to Automotive News.
   The fact that product development and engineering rank so highly there is worrying to me.
   They’re bandying the word efficiency about a lot, and that always has me worried. That’s the word you used to hear from corporate raiders like Slater Walker. Things can look efficient while they’re being weakened.
   CEO Jim Hackett says he’s feeding the healthy parts of the business, ‘and deal decisively with the parts that destroy value.’
   While it’s true that the crossover, SUV and truck markets are strong, as they are in many parts of the world, I can’t help but think that Ford isn’t preparing itself for tougher future scenarios.
   Energy crises can come unpredictably, for one. Ford was late to the downsizing game in the 1970s because it saw the dollar signs with big cars. By 1977, GM had stolen a real march on Ford. By the turn of the decade, Chrysler was back from the brink with fuel-efficient cars while Ford sailed into the red.
   Chrysler found itself too truck- and SUV-heavy with the recession of the late 2000s, and its entry-level nameplate Plymouth had already vanished, thanks to mismanagement by Daimler earlier in the century.
   While there’s not always a need for a full line—AMC taught us that extending yourself too far isn’t always wise—I wonder if Ford is leaving itself vulnerable.
   Crossovers like the Escape, which might outsell the Fusion, are being beaten in the market-place by the likes of the Toyota RAV4, so it’s not as though Ford is that strong in all the markets it wishes to remain in.
   GM, having pulled out of Europe and Russia, might be in better shape because of its position in China. Ford trails GM when it comes to its Chinese footprint, although it will remain in Europe.
   Ford’s Jim Farley says the company is looking at new types of vehicles that are spacious, versatile and economical, which hopefully will fill the gap should economic surprises surface. Because you need something cheap to hook buyers and get them to the brand. That’s not going to happen if Focus Active is the smallest car in the line-up.
   Ford is likely to have these on global platforms. But that signals to me a real need to remain strong in R&D. Failing that, Ford is looking to partner up with someone, and it may already have an idea who that is.
   I am speculating here, since I don’t have any figures outlining what proportion of revenue is devoted to that area.
   Nevertheless, this sounds like an appeasement of Wall Street.
   That leaves one concern over nameplates. Ford has successfully introduced nameplates over the years because the product was right: Cortina, Mustang, Escort, Capri, Fiesta and Focus among them. But it has also failed by killing nameplates and replacing them with ones that had no real goodwill, such as Five Hundred and Freestyle.
   Whatever Ford has in mind, I hope for their sake that the new product is compelling, as much as the Mustang and Fiesta were when they appeared on the market. Both emerged in the wake of economic recessions, with Ford innovating because it had to.
   In this century, Alan Mulally’s time at Ford had a measured, sensible approach, where you could understand the future. There are question marks over what Hackett has planned, and usually we have some clue what these new products will be four years out. All I know of is that the Ranger will make it to the US again, boosting truck sales, but that’s hardly an innovation. That’s just filling a market niche with familiar product.
   Will Ford do Brasil come up with something that can be sold in both North and South America? Perhaps the next-generation Ecosport?
   There are lessons in history that shouldn’t be ignored, and Ford has one of the most interesting pasts of any car maker. There is, however, a feeling from the announcement that this heralds a time of retrenchment, as its profits fall globally, and net income in the US rising for the first quarter in part due to a lower tax rate.
   Remember, Isuzu also once thought it was a good idea to stop selling passenger cars and focus on SUVs and trucks. And they’re no longer around in North America.

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Is the death of expertise tied to the Anglosphere?

20.03.2018


Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Boris Johnson: usually a talented delivery, but with conflicting substance.

I spotted The Death of Expertise at Unity Books, but I wonder if the subject is as simple as the review of the book suggests.
   There’s a lot out there about anti-intellectualism, and we know it’s not an exclusively American phenomenon. Tom Nichols, the book’s author, writes, as quoted in The New York Times, ‘Americans have reached a point where ignorance, especially of anything related to public policy, is an actual virtue. To reject the advice of experts is to assert autonomy, a way for Americans to insulate their increasingly fragile egos from ever being told they’re wrong about anything. It is a new Declaration of Independence: No longer do we hold these truths to be self-evident, we hold all truths to be self-evident, even the ones that aren’t true. All things are knowable and every opinion on any subject is as good as any other.’
   I venture to say that the “death of expertise” is an Anglophone phenomenon. Head into Wikipedia, for instance, and you’ll find proof that the masses are not a good way to ensure accuracy, at least not in the English version. Head into the German or Japanese editions and you find fewer errors, and begin to trust the pages more.
   Given that many of “the people” cannot discern what is “fake news” and what is not, or who is a bot and who is not, then it’s absolutely foolhardy to propose that they also be the ones who determine the trustworthiness of a news source, as Facebook is wont to do.
   I can’t comment as much on countries I have spent less time in, but certainly in the Anglosphere, I’ve seen people advance, with confidence and self-authority, completely wrong positions, ones not backed up by real knowledge. You only need to visit some software support forums to see online examples of this phenomenon.
   When I visit Sweden, for instance, there’s a real care from individuals not to advance wrongful positions, although I admit I am limited by my own circles and the brief time I have spent there.
   It’s not so much that we don’t value expertise, it’s that the bar for what constitutes an expert is set exceptionally low. We’re often too trusting of sources or authorities who don’t deserve our reverence. And I wonder if it comes with our language.
   I’ll go so far as to say that the standing of certain individuals I had in my own mind was shattered when we were all going for the mayoralty in my two campaigns in 2010 and 2013. There certainly was, among some of my opponents, no correlation between knowledge and the position they already held in society. It didn’t mean I disliked them. It just meant I wondered how they got as far as they did without getting found out.
   Fortunately, the victor, whether you agreed with her policies or not, possessed real intelligence. The fact she may have political views at odds with yours is nothing to do with intelligence, but her own observations and beliefs. I can respect that (which is why I follow people on social media whose political views I disagree with).
   In turn I’m sure many of them disliked what I stood for, even if they liked me personally. Certainly it is tempting to conclude that some quarters in the media, appealing to the same anti-intellectualism that some of my rivals represented, didn’t like a candidate asserting that we should increase our intellectual capital and pursue a knowledge economy. No hard feelings, mind. As an exercise, it served to confirm that, in my opinion, certain powers don’t have people’s best interests at heart, and there is a distinct lack of professionalism (and, for that matter, diversity) in some industries. In other words, a mismatch between what one says one does, and what one actually does. Language as doublespeak.
   So is it speaking English that makes us more careless? Maybe it is: as a lingua franca in some areas, merely speaking it might put a person up a few notches in others’ estimation. Sandeep Deva Misra, in his blog post in 2013, believes that’s the case, and that we shouldn’t prejudge Anglophones so favourably if the quality of their thought isn’t up to snuff.
   Maybe that’s what we need to do more of: look at the quality of thought, not the expression or make a judgement based on which language it’s come in. As English speakers, we enjoy a privilege. We can demand that others meet us on our terms and think poorly when someone speaks with an accent or confuses your and you’re. It gives us an immediate advantage because we have a command of the lingua franca of business and science. It gives us the impunity to write fictions in Wikipedia or make an argument sound appealing through sound bites, hoping to have made a quick getaway before we’re found out. Political debate has descended into style over substance for many, although this is nothing new. I was saying, although not blogging, things like this 20 years ago, and my students from 1999–2000 might remember my thoughts on Tony Blair’s 1997 campaign as being high on rhetoric and light on substance. Our willingness to accept things on face value without deeper analysis, lands us into trouble. We’re fooled by delivery and the authority that is attached with the English language.
   You’ll next see this in action in a high-profile way when Facebook comes forth with more comment about Cambridge Analytica. I can almost promise you now that it won’t hold water.

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Posted in business, culture, globalization, India, leadership, media, New Zealand, politics, publishing, Sweden, UK, USA, Wellington | 4 Comments »