Archive for the ‘politics’ category


Where does Hong Kong’s new national anthem law leave parody?

05.06.2020


Steve Cadman/Creative Commons 2·0

I don’t profess to be an expert on how Hong Kong law functions these days with its mix of old British ordinances and the laws made after 1997, but one thing that struck me with at least the news reports covering the criminalizing of insults against ‘March of the Volunteers’, the national anthem of the People’s Republic of China, is whether parody—a fundamental part of free speech—will still be permitted.
   I don’t have a problem with the anthem being taught to children as it was sung long before 1949, the establishment of the PRC. It was a wartime anthem, which people like my father knew, having been born in the 1930s at the time of the Sino–Japanese War. It is historical, and it has meaning. It is arguably even more familiar to older Chinese than the Republic of China’s anthem generally sung on the island of Taiwan. But, even back then, ‘March of the Volunteers’ had picked up this parody:

起來! 買嚿牛肉蒸葱菜!

   If I recall correctly, the parody emerged when the Communists and Nationalists were trying to entice the citizenry over to their side, and the Communists were promising food.
   I won’t go in to parody and its relationship to freedom of speech here; there are plenty of resources on it online.
   But does it mean that repeating the parody lyrics would put me at risk in Hong Kong?
   Of course it has escaped no one that the law was passed on June 4, a ballsy move by Beijing.
   Meanwhile, a few members of the UK government have talked about giving BN(O) (British National [Overseas]) passport holders a pathway to British citizenship, leading some to say there would be a brain drain. What I will say here is: the British have talked about defending the rights of Hong Kong people under the joint declaration ever since 1997—indeed, even before, with the Blair-led opposition—and nothing has happened. I’ve gone into my issues entering the UK with this passport before, so you’ll excuse me if I say that actions speak more loudly than words. British politicians have been high on rhetoric for over two decades on this issue and I have no reason to believe the least trustworthy lot they have ever elected.
   I disagree that they are interfering with Chinese affairs if they are simply looking after those that identify themselves as British, but at the same time I don’t think Beijing’s foreign ministry has anything to be concerned about. The British have their own doorstep to think about, and the prospect of millions of Hong Kong Chinese heading there was too hard for them to stomach under Major or Blair, and I do not expect that attitudes have changed.

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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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Stay home. Drive to Durham. Say lies

27.05.2020

You couldn’t make this up.
   Fortunately for us all, RussInCheshire on Twitter has summed up Cumgate, or whatever it’s being dubbed in the UK.
   No matter how bad our politics could get, I think we should be pleased that we have not followed the UK, and that we have dealt with COVID-19 far better than they have. Given the behaviour of their government, perhaps this is no surprise.
   I don’t know how to combine the lot in one embed, so I hope Russ will forgive me for quoting his Twitter thread in full. The original may be found here.

The week in Tory (Cummings special):

1. Dominic Cummings, one of the few men to have ever been found in contempt of Parliament, moved onto contempt for everything

2. When the story broke, and he was accused of doing things that look bad, he said he didn’t care how things looked

3. Then ministers said press outrage meant nothing, only the opinion of the people mattered

4. Then polls showed 52% of people wanted Cummings to resign

5. So Cummings decided to show the public some respect, by turning up 30 minutes late to make his explanation

6. He began by saying he wasn’t speaking for the govt, which must be why he was in the Rose Garden of 10 Downing Street

7. Then the self-styled “enemy of the Islington media elite” said his wife, who works in the media, had been ill in their house in Islington

8. But she was only a bit ill, so he popped home, got himself nice and infected, then went back to Downing Street for meetings with lots of vitally important people in the middle of a national crisis

9. But then he got ill too, so then it was suddenly important

10. Sadly he couldn’t get childcare in London, even though 3 immediate relatives live within 3 miles of his London home

11. So because he was carrying a virus that can cross a 2 metre distance and kill, he immediately locked himself in a car with his wife and child for 5 hours

12. He then drove 264 miles without stopping in a Land Rover that gets maybe 25 MPG

13. Then the scourge of the metropolitan elites made himself extra-relatable by describing his family’s sprawling country estate, multiple houses and idyllic woodlands

14. He explained that he’d warned about a coronavirus years ago in his blog

15. Then it was revealed he actually secretly amended old blogs after he’d returned from Durham

16. And anyway, if he’d warned years ago, why was he so massively unprepared and slow to react?

17. Then he said he was too ill to move for a week

18. But in the middle of that week, presumably with “wonky eyes”, he drove his child to hospital

19. Then he said that to test his “wonky eyes” he put his wife and child in a car and drove 30 miles on public roads

20. Then it was revealed his wife drives, so there was no reason for the “eye test”, cos she could have driven them back to London

21. Then it was revealed the “eye test” trip to a local tourist spot took place on his wife’s birthday

22. Then cameras filmed as he threw a cup onto the table, smirked and left

23. And then it emerged his wife had written an article during the time in Dunham, describing their experience of being in lockdown in London, which you’d definitely do if you weren’t hiding anything

24. A govt scientific advisor said “more people will die” as a result of what Cummings had done.

25. Boris Johnson said he “wouldn’t mark Cummings ” down for what he’d done.

26. The Attorney General said it was ok to break the law if you were acting on instinct

27. The Health Minister said it was OK to endanger public health if you meant well

28. Johnson said Cummings’ “story rings true” because his own eyesight was fine before coronavirus, but now he needs glasses

29. But in an interview with The Telegraph 5 years ago, Johnson said he needed glasses cos he was “blind as a bat”

30. Michael Gove went on TV and said it was “wise” to drive 30 miles on public roads with your family in the car to test your eyesight

31. The DVLA tweeted that you should never, ever do this

32. Then ministers started claiming Cummings had to go to Durham because he feared crowds attacking his home. The streets were empty because we were observing the lockdown.

33. And then a minister finally resigned

34. Steve Baker, Richard Littlejohn, Isabel Oakeshott, Tim Montgomerie, Jan Moir, Ian Dale, Julia Hartley Brewer, 30 Tory MPs, half a dozen bishops and the actual Daily Mail said Cummings should go

35. The govt suggested we can ignore them, because they’re all left-wingers

36. Then a vicar asked Matt Hancock if other people who had been fined for doing exactly what Cummings did would get their fine dropped. Matt Hancock said he’d suggest it to the govt

37. The govt said no within an hour. Cummings’ statement had lasted longer than that

38. And if the guidelines were so clear, why were people being stopped and fined for driving to find childcare in the first place?

39. Then a new poll found people who wanted Cummings sacked had risen from 52% to 57%

40. Cummings is considered the smartest man in the govt

41. And in the middle of all this, in case we take our eye off it: we reached 60,000 deaths. One of the highest per capita death rates worldwide.

42. We still face Brexit under this lot.

43. It’s 4 years until an election

44. And it’s still only Wednesday

   The Hon David Clark MP is not a story in this context. Though the former opposition leader’s 1,000 km round trips are.

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Cautiously optimistic about Boucher

26.05.2020

When I ran for office, there was often a noticeable difference between how I was treated by locally owned media and foreign- owned media. There are exceptions to that rule—The New Zealand Herald and Sky TV gave me a good run while Radio New Zealand opted to do a candidates’ round-up in two separate campaigns interviewing the (white) people who were first-, second- and fourth-polling—but overall, TVNZ, Radio New Zealand with those two exceptions, and the local community papers were decent. Many others seemed to have either ventured into fake news territory (one Australian-owned tabloid had a “poll”, source unknown, that said I would get 2 per cent in 2010) or simply had a belief that New Zealanders were incapable and that the globalist agenda knew best. As someone who ran on the belief that New Zealand had superior intellectual capital and innovative capability, and talked about how we should grow champions that do the acquiring, not become acquisition targets, then those media who were once acquisition targets of foreign corporations didn’t like what they heard.
   And that, in a nutshell, is why my attitude toward Stuff has changed overnight thanks to Sinéad Boucher taking ownership of what I once called, as part of a collective with its Australian owner, the Fairfax Press.
   The irony was always that the Fairfax Press in Australia—The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald—were positive about my work in the 2000s but their New Zealand outpost was quite happy to suggest I was hard to understand because of my accent. (Given that I sound more like an urban Kiwi than, say, the former leader of the opposition, and arguably have a better command of the English language than a number of their journalists, then that’s a lie you sell to dinosaurs of the Yellow Peril era.) A Twitter apology from The Dominion Post’s editor-in-chief isn’t really enough without an erratum in print, but there you go. In two campaigns, the Fairfax Press’s coverage was notably poor when compared with the others’.
   But I am upbeat about Boucher, about what she intends to do with the business back in local ownership, and about the potential of Kiwis finally getting media that aren’t subject to overseas whims or corporate agenda; certainly Stuff and its print counterparts won’t be regarded as some line on a balance sheet in Sydney any more, but a real business in Aotearoa serving Kiwis. Welcome back to the real world, we look forward to supporting you.

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May is always quieter for blogging—and we get to 4,200 models on Autocade

12.05.2020

Again, proof that each 100th vehicle on Autocade isn’t planned: the 4,200th is the second-generation Mazda Premacy, or Mazda 5 in some markets, a compact MPV that débuted 15 years ago. If it were planned, something more significant would have appeared.
   I know MPVs aren’t sexy but they remain one of the most practical ways to ferry people around when it comes to the motor car. In terms of space efficiency and the percentage of the car’s length dedicated to passenger accommodation, they remain one of the best. And with the old Premacy, they handled really well, too.
   It must be the times we live in that people demand inefficient crossovers and SUVs instead, and that is a shame. Maybe with the pandemic people will re-evaluate what’s important, and signalling that you have some inadequacy with a large vehicle might fall down the pecking order. MPVs were usually cleverly designed, and the Premacy was no exception—what a shame Mazda, and so many others, are no longer in this market as buyer tastes shifted.

Out of curiosity, why do people visit Autocade? We haven’t had a big jump in visits with COVID-19 (contrary to some other motoring sites), as I imagine encyclopædias aren’t as fun as, say, AROnline, where at least you can reminisce about the British motor industry that was, back in the day when Britain had a functioning government that seemed terrible at the time when no one could imagine how much worse it could get. Obviously we haven’t had as many new models to record, but are they the reason people pop by? Or are the old models the reason? Or the coverage of the Chinese market, which few Anglophone sites seem to do? If you are an Autocade fan reading this, please feel free to let us know why in the comments.

One moan about Facebook. Go on.
   Sometimes when I pop in—and that remains rarely—and look at the Lucire fan page, I’ll spot an automated Tweet that has appeared courtesy of IFTTT. It’s had, say, no views, or one view. I think, ‘Since there have been no real interactions with this bot entry, maybe I should delete it and feed it in manually, because surely Facebook would give something that has been entered directly on to its platform better organic reach than something that a bot has done?’
   With that thought process, I delete it and enter the same thing in manually.
   Except now, as has happened so many times before, the page preview is corrupted—Facebook adds letters to the end of the URL, corrupting it, so that the preview results in a 404. This is an old bug that goes back years—I spotted it when I used Facebook regularly, and that was before 2017. It’s not every link but over the last few weeks there have been two. You then have to go and edit the text to ask people, ‘Please don’t click on the site preview because Facebook is incapable of providing the correct link.’ Now you’re down some views because people think you’ve linked a 404. Not everyone’s going to read your explanation about Facebook’s incompetence. (Once again, this reminds me why some people say I encounter more bugs there than others—I don’t, but not everyone is observant.)

   This series of events is entirely counterintuitive because it means that bot activity is prioritized over actual activity on Facebook. Bot activity is more accurate and links correctly. And so we come back to the old, old story I have told many times about Facebook and bots and how the platform is bot city. In 2014, I rang the alarm bells; and I was astonished that in 2019 Facebook claims it had to delete over 5,400 million bot accounts. You should have listened to me then, folks—unless, of course, bots are part of the growth strategy, and of course they are.
   So, when feeding in links, remember this. Facebook: friendly to bots, not to humans. It’s probably not a bad way to approach their site anyway.

I’ve looked at my May blogging stats going back a decade (left sidebar, for those on the desktop skin) and it’s always quieter. I blog less. I wonder why this is. The beginning of hibernation? The fact that less interesting stuff’s happening in late autumn as the seasons change?

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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 »


An update on yesterday’s COVID-19 table

09.04.2020

Another late-night calculation of COVID-19 cases as a proportion of total tests done, so the figures will be out of date again, and I’ve also discovered that the total testing numbers some countries are giving are out of date. The ones with asterisks below are those that haven’t cited increased testing numbers (at least none that I can find; a search actually yielded lower and older figures in some cases), so I imagine the real percentages might be lower. The order of countries hasn’t changed.

France 109,069 of 224,254 = 48·64%*
Spain 146,690 of 355,000 = 41·32%*
UK 55,242 of 266,694 = 20·71%
USA 400,549 of 2,082,443 = 19·23%
Italy 135,586 of 755,445 = 17·95%
Sweden 8,419 of 54,700 = 15·39%*
Switzerland 22,789 of 171,938 = 13·25%
Germany 109,178 of 918,460 = 11·88%
New Zealand 1,210 of 46,875 = 2·58%
Singapore 1,623 of 65,000 = 2·50%*
South Korea 10,384 of 477,304 = 2·18%
Australia 6,013 of 319,368 = 1·88%
Hong Kong 961 of 96,709 = 1·38%*
Taiwan 379 of 40,702 = 0·93%

   I was buoyed by news on what some of us have cheekily dubbed The Ashley Bloomfield Show (the Ministry of Health director-general’s press conference) that we had only 29 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours here. As a sporting nation I think we understand that you can’t shirk when you’re playing the second half of the match. If anything, you need to go harder. By now I suspect many of us are finding the hand-washing and other advice second nature.

Hasn’t it been revealing to hear which journalists ask crappy questions at the Bloomfield press conference? Since the pressers are watched by a huge number of New Zealanders during lockdown, I think the scales have fallen from many eyes lately to see how the stories get edited and even editorialized. And which members of the media don’t seem to want to work with the good advice being given by our government, yet have nothing solid (e.g. other experts) to counter it with. In my opinion, it’s put TV1 in a good light, and shown its reasonable balance. It also reinforces that many of our talking heads are irrelevant (see below, from The Press in Christchurch). Science is saving the day and showing loud-mouthed opinions for what they are.

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Posted in media, New Zealand, politics, TV, Wellington | 1 Comment »


Saddened to see colleagues lose their jobs as we bid, ‘Auf wiedersehen, Heinrich Bauer Verlag’

03.04.2020

I am privy to some of the inner workings at Bauer Media through friends and colleagues, but I didn’t expect them to shut up shop in New Zealand, effective April 2.
   Depending on your politics, you’re in one of two camps.
   TV3, itself part of a foreign company who has made serious cutbacks during the lockdown, said Bauer had approached the government and offered to sell the business to them at a rock-bottom price in the hope of saving the 200-plus jobs there. The government declined. I believe that’s the angle foreign-owned media are adopting here.
   Both the PM and the minister responsible for media, Kris Faafoi, have said that Bauer never applied for the wage subsidy, and never approached the government to see if it could be classified as an essential service to keep operating. Indeed, in the words of the PM, ‘Bauer contacted the minister and told him they weren’t interested in subsidies.’
   It’s murkier today as there is evidence that Bauer had, through the Magazine Publishers’ Association, lobbied for reclassification for it to be turned down, though the minister continues to say that it had never been raised with him and that Bauer had already committed to shutting up shop.
   Outside of “we said, they said”, my takes are, first, it was never likely that the government would want to be a magazine publisher. Various New Zealand governments have been pondering how to deal with state-owned media here, and there was little chance the latest inhabitants of the Beehive would add to this.
   We also know that Bauer had shut titles over the years due to poor performance, and Faafoi’s original statement expressly states that the Hamburg-based multinational had been ‘facing challenges around viability of their operations here in New Zealand.’
   With these two facts in mind, the government would not have taken on the business to turn it around, especially while knowing the owner of Bauer Media (well, 85 per cent of it) has a personal worth of US$3,000 million and the company generated milliards in revenue per annum.
   I also have to point to its own harsh decisions over the years in shutting titles. In 2018, Bauer’s own Australian CEO told Ad News: ‘There’s a really interesting view that somehow we are here to provide a social service. The reality is we’re here to make money and if we can’t make money out of our magazines, we’ll sell them or we’ll close them.
   ‘We have an obligation, whether that’s a public company or private company, to make money for shareholders. If it doesn’t make money, why would we do it?’
   That, to me, sounds like the corporate position here as well, and no doubt Bauer’s bean counters will have crunched the numbers before yesterday’s announcement.
   I’ve had my own ideas how the stable could have evolved but it’s easy to talk about this with hindsight, so I won’t. Enough people are hurting.
   But I’d have applied for whatever the government offered to see if I could keep things going for a little while longer. Even if the writing was on the wall, it would have been nice to see my colleagues have a lifeline. Get one more issue of each title out after June. Maybe I’m just not as brutal. I mean, I’ve never defamed Rebel Wilson as Bauer’s Australian publications have. Maybe it’s different for a small independent.
   If I may use a sporting analogy, Bauer hasn’t let their players on to the field and kept them in the changing room, and more’s the pity.
   One comment I received yesterday was that Bauer wouldn’t have been in a position to pay its staff even with the government subsidy, with no advertising sales being generated. I’m not so sure, with annual global revenues of over €2,000 million. New Zealand was probably too unimportant to be saved by Bauer’s bosses in Hamburg. I guess we’ll never know.

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COVID-19 per capita: April 2 update

02.04.2020

I had to see how we were tracking on total COVID-19 infections alongside other countries on a per capita basis, and here’s the latest update (source also linked above). I knew Switzerland was doing badly, but not this badly. I know I haven’t been consistent with my previous post’s country selection, but I don’t want this becoming an obsession.

Spain 2,227·1
Switzerland 2,057·5
Italy 1,828
Germany 931·6
France 873·6
Netherlands 795
USA 651·7
Sweden 490·7
UK 434·8
Australia 202·2
South Korea 194·6
Singapore 171·3
New Zealand 165·7
Hong Kong 102·4
Mainland China 56·7
Saudi Arabia 49·6
Japan 18·8
Taiwan 14·2
India 1·5

   I said in a recent post that a lot of the Asian territories have done well because of a community response. Another thing Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore have in common: a lot of people descended from Chinese who fled the mainland in 1949, and have a mistrust of anything the Communist Party says. If the CCP said Dr Li Wenliang was a stirrer, then that would automatically have these places thinking: shit, there might be a pandemic coming. That could account for their numbers being on the lower half, and for their general decrease in new infection numbers. (I realize Singapore just had a big jump. Anomalous? Or were things not tracking downwards?)

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The team approach

31.03.2020

At the end of the last century, the National Government announced its Bright Future programme. Their research had identified that one thing holding back our national competitiveness was our devotion to the team rather than the individual, when in fact there have been many times New Zealand individuals have made immeasurable contributions and had not been fêted. It compared us with the US, where someone like Bill Gates—I seem to recall he was held up as an example—could be recognized by many as an innovator, while the equivalent Kiwi wasn’t generally known. One of the first moves was to knight Angus Tait, the Christchurch entrepreneur.
   These Kiwi pioneers are still around—people like Dr Sean Simpson of LanzaTech, for instance, using bacteria to consume carbon monoxide and turning it into ethanol—but other than news programmes, they’re not part of our mainstream, and part of me wonders if they should be. They are doing work that should be rewarded and recognized.
   However, the team spirit that New Zealand exhibits all the time, and admires, such as the All Blacks, the Black Ferns, or yachting’s Team New Zealand, could help with the COVID-19 pandemic, as it’s invoked in our response. The four-week lockdown ordered by the New Zealand government has, from what I see out there, been generally accepted, even if I’ve publicly Tweeted that I’d like to see more testing, including of all those arriving back on our shores, including the asymptomatic. (I note today that the testing criteria have been loosened.) The places held up to have done well at “flattening the curve”, such as Taiwan, have managed it because, it is believed by the Financial Times and others, there is a community response, and, I would add, a largely homogeneous view when it comes to being in it together, helped in part by experience with the SARS outbreak, and possibly by the overall psyche of ‘We have an external threat, so we have to stick together.’ Each territory has a neighbour that it’s wary of: Taiwan looks across the strait at the mainland, since there hasn’t really been an armistice from 1949; Singapore has Malaysia as its rival; and South Korea has North Korea.
   Across Taiwan, there have been 13·5 cases per million population, or a total of 322 cases; New Zealand is currently sitting on 134·5 per million, or 647 cases. Singapore is on 158·7 per million, or 926 cases; South Korea, which is now seeing a fairly low daily new case increase, is on 190·9 per million, or 9,786 cases.
   I support the Level 4 approach in principle, and having the lockdown, and while we aren’t accustomed to the “external threat” as the cited Asian countries, we are blessed with the team spirit that binds Kiwis together. We are united when watching the Rugby World Cup or the America’s Cup as we root for our side, and the unity is mostly nationwide. There are some on the fringe, particularly on Facebook, based on what others have said, with ideas mostly imported from foreign countries that are more divisive than ours.
   On that note, we might have been very fortunate to have the national culture that we do to face down this threat—and not have any one person standing out as we knuckle down together. Even those who are seen regularly delivering the news—the director-general of health, for instance—do so in humble fashion, while our own prime minister goes home after we go to Level 4 and answers questions in her Facebook comment stream via live video. Even if economically we aren’t egalitarian, culturally we believe we are, and it seems to be keeping us in good stead.

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Posted in business, China, culture, leadership, New Zealand, politics | 1 Comment »