Archive for the ‘politics’ category


Capitalism falls down when it’s rigged

04.12.2019

Martin Wolf, writing in the Financial Times, touches on a few points that resonate with my readings over the years.
   He believes capitalism, as a system, is not a bad one, but it is bad when it is ‘rigged’; and that Aristotle was indeed right (as history has since proved) that a sizeable middle class is necessary for the functioning of a democracy.
   We know that the US, for instance, doesn’t really do much about monopolies, having redefined them since the 1980s as essentially OK if no one gets charged more. Hence, Wolf, citing Prof Thomas Philippon’s The Great Reversal, notes that the spikes in M&A activity in the US has weakened competition. I should note that this isn’t the province of “the right”—Philippon also shows that M&A activity reduced under Nixon.
   I alluded to the lack of competition driving down innovation, but Wolf adds that it has driven up prices (so much for the US’s stance, since people are being charged more), and resulted in lower investment and lower productivity growth.
   In line with some of my recent posts, Wolf says, ‘In the past decade, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft combined have made over 400 acquisitions globally. Dominant companies should not be given a free hand to buy potential rivals. Such market and political power is unacceptable. A refurbishment of competition policy should start from the assumption that mergers and acquisitions need to be properly justified.’
   History shows us that Big Tech’s acquisitions have not been healthy to consumers, especially on the privacy front; they colluded to suppress wages before getting busted. In a serious case, according to one company, Google itself commits outright intellectual property theft: ‘Google would solicit a party to share with it highly confidential trade secrets under a non-disclosure agreement, conduct negotiations with the party, then terminate negotiations with the party professing a lack of interest in the party’s technology, followed by the unlawful use of the party’s trade secrets in its business.’ (The case, Attia v. Google, is ongoing, I believe.) Their own Federal Trade Commission said Google ‘used anticompetitive tactics and abused its monopoly power in ways that harmed Internet users and rivals,’ quoting the Murdoch Press. We see many undesirable patterns with other firms there exercising monopoly powers, some of which I’ve detailed on this blog, and so far, only Europe has had the cohones to slap Google with massive fines (in the milliards, since 2017), though other jurisdictions have begun to investigate.
   As New Zealand seeks to reexamine its Commerce Act, we need to ensure that we don’t merely parrot the US and UK approach.
   Wolf also notes that inequality ‘undermines social mobility; weakens aggregate demand and slows economic growth.’ The central point I’ve made before on Twitter: why would I want people to do poorly when those same people are potentially my customers? It seems to be good capitalism to ensure there’s a healthy base of consumers.

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The British media are telling you they want you to vote Conservative

03.12.2019


George Hodan

Those who remember Visual Arts Trends, a publication created and edited by my friend Julia Dudnik-Stern in the late 1990s and early 2000s, might recall that I didn’t have kind words about the Rt Hon Tony Blair and his government. In those pre-Iraq war days, one reader was so upset they wrote to Julia, who, to her credit, defended my freedom to express a political view.
   It was actually quite rare to attack Blair, Mandy, the Blairites and Labour then—the fawning interviews given to Blair by the likes of Sir David Frost, and so many of the British media establishment made their 1997 campaign relatively easy. They shrewdly pitched themselves, light on substance and heavy on rhetoric, and that may have been what I was calling out. For once, I don’t recall too clearly, but I can tell you that I do sweat, and did so even when the Falklands were on.
   How times have changed. In 2019, an independent study has shown that Labour largely gets negative press coverage in British newspapers, while Conservative gets positive. As covered in The Independent, Loughborough University researchers assigned negative scores to negative articles and positive scores to positive ones, to arrive at an index.
   In the period from November 7 to 27, 2019, coverage on Labour scored –71·17 in the first week, –71·96 in the second, and –75·79 in the third.
   By contrast, the Tories received +29·98, +17·86 and +15·87.
   Tonight, Colin Millar’s thread made for an interesting read, where the Rt Hon Jeremy Corbyn is damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t.

   Now, I’m sure I’ve shifted my position on things, but generally not in the same year. And yes, Labour itself hasn’t had the best comms in the world.
   However, the UK population, and, for that matter, we here in New Zealand, look at the state of news in the US and think we somehow are above the phenomenon of “fake news”. But it’s very clear that we aren’t, and I have insisted for years that we aren’t. This may be uncomfortable for some, but the truth often is. I can only imagine some are all right with being lied to, just as they are all right with being surveilled by Big Tech.
   There seems to be little outrage in a week when an article by the UK PM saying that his country’s poor are made up of chavs, burglars, drug addicts and losers emerges, and that poverty is caused by low IQ. In a separate story of his, admittedly older than mine for Julia, he says that children of single mothers are ‘ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate’. One wonders what our former PM, Sir John Key, raised by his mother, makes of that.
   Just like 1997, one side is being given a free pass by the British media, whether you like them or not. Are ‘we British’ smart enough to see through it? History suggests we are not.

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The latest round of Facebook lies

26.10.2019

I believe one of the Democrat-leaning newspapers in the US compiles a list of lies by Donald Trump. I really think we should be doing one for Facebook, as it would make for impressive reading, though it would also take some time to compile.
   Founder Mark Zuckerberg claimed he talked to media from ‘across the spectrum’, but as The Intercept’s Jon Schwarz and Sam Biddle discovered, this is another lie: Zuckerberg cultivates relationships with US conservatives, not their liberals, based on the duo’s checks.

   This adds fuel to the fire that Zuckerberg dreads US senator Elizabeth Warren getting into the White House, and has said so, and we know the buck really stops with him when it comes to Facebook’s activities. Facebook even pulled Sen. Warren’s ads from their platform briefly: so much for impersonal algorithms, ‘We’re just a platform,’ and free speech. We also know from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s questioning of the Facebook founder that he claims he passes the buck on what media are considered legit to a conservative group, something he’ll have sanctioned, so be prepared to see Facebook reflect his (and Trump-supporting, Facebook board member Peter Thiel’s) right-wing political views.
   As Schwarz and Biddle also note, Facebook’s VP for US public policy is a George W. Bush aide and a board member for the former president’s museum.
   Jack Morse at Mashable, meanwhile, reported that Zuckerberg is attempting historical revisionism on why he started Facebook. Retconning might work with comic books but less so in real life. Apparently, instead of the truth—a website which scraped photos of students and asked people to rate who was hotter—Facebook is now something created to give people a voice after the Iraq war in 2003.
   Sorry, Mark, we know you didn’t have such noble intentions, regardless of what they eventually became.
   It’s an insult to all those entrepreneurs who actually did start businesses or ventures with noble intent or socially responsible purposes.
   Frankly, sticking to the truth, and saying you discovered the power of connecting people, is a far more compelling story.
   Except, of course, Facebook no longer connects people. It divides people by validating their own biases, including less savoury viewpoints. It stokes outrage because that’s worth more clicks and time spent on its site. At worst, it’s a tool used for genocide. It’s a shame Facebook refuses to acknowledge the Pandora’s box it has opened, because its top management has no desire to do a thing about it. And as such it loses my respect even further. Don’t want the likes of Warren calling for breaking your company up? The solution is actually quite simple, but you all have become too rich and too establishment to want to break things.
   I actually had to write this in my op–ed for Lucire’s 22nd anniversary last week: ‘In this respect, we see our mission as the opposite of social media: we want to bring people together, not usher them into silos and echo chambers.’ The narrative Facebook wishes to spin, like so many in its past, is an easily seen-through joke.

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Facebook: no change, business as usual

24.10.2019

I would have loved to have seen this go to trial, but Facebook and the plaintiffs—a group of advertising agencies alleging they had been swindled by the social network—settled.
   Excerpted from The Hollywood Reporter, ‘The suit accused Facebook of acknowledging miscalculations in metrics upon press reports, but still not taking responsibility for the breadth of the problem. “The average viewership metrics were not inflated by only 60%-80%; they were inflated by some 150 to 900%,” stated an amended complaint.’
   Facebook denies this and settled for US$40 million, which is really pocket change for the multi-milliard-dollar company. Just the price of doing business.
   Remember, Facebook has been shown to have lied about the number of people it can reach (it now admits that its population estimates have no basis in, well, the population), so I’m not surprised it lies about the number of people who watch their videos. And remember their platform has a lot of bots—I still have several thousand reported on Instagram that have yet to be touched—and Facebook itself isn’t exactly clean.
   Every time they get called out, there are a few noises, but nothing ever really happens.
   This exchange between Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Mark Zuckerberg is a further indication that nothing will ever happen at Facebook to make things right—there’s no will from top management for that to happen. There’s too much to be lost with monetization opportunities for questionable services to be shut down, while Facebook is all too happy to close ones that don’t make money (e.g. the old ‘View as’ feature). The divisions and “fake news” will continue, the tools used by all the wrong people.
   It’s your choice whether you want to be part of this.

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What’s all this Johnny Foreigner type?

23.10.2019

After all that bollocks from the Hon J. Rees-Mogg, MP about banning the metric system from the Commons, I thought the Brexit-loving Tories would at least get this right.

   Strictly speaking, I realize it was Book Antiqua, though as we all know, that’s a Palatino clone.
   Since even English types like Baskerville were influenced by what was happening on the Continent, for official use, the UK really needs to go back to Old English. And yes, I realize that suggestion has unpleasant parallels to what was going on in Germany in the 1930s …
   There was a great follow-up to my Tweet, incidentally:

   And for some reason, this keeps coming to mind:

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Wikipedia acts swiftly when criticized, bans an editor for life

05.10.2019

When I wrote this post in May 2018, ‘People are waking up to Wikipedia’s abuses’, even I didn’t expect that Wikipedia would act so harshly when it gets criticized on its own platform.
   One editor decided to create a page on Philip Cross, who (or which) received a great deal of attention that month, and was probably deserving of a page detailing his notoriety. Cross, as I detailed in May 2018, is a person or entity that is anti-Jeremy Corbyn and favourable toward right-wing figures. He ‘has not had a single day off from editing Wikipedia between August 29, 2013 and May 14, 2018, including Christmas Days.’
   Wikipedia’s reaction? Delete the page, and subject its creator to a lifetime ban. Then, any record of the Philip Cross page was scrubbed clean—forget page histories. The story is detailed at Off-Guardian here.
   In other words, Wikipedia was complicit in biased editing. I’ve been saying Wikipedia was questionable for over a decade, but to actually protect someone who engages in what some might call libel?
   It’s entirely consistent with Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales’s attitude to the whole thing, as Craig Murray detailed at the time.
   After five years of Cross’s inputs to Wikipedia, he was finally discussed by Wikipedia by a principled editor, KalHolmann, though not without opposition (KalHolmann was initially “punished” for even bringing it up). Like all big sites, Wikipedia decided to show people that it has some form of governance only after it had been outed (including a BBC World Service radio story that went out during the arbitration process) for allowing abuse.
   And by means of a postscript to these events of mid-2018 that I missed till now, George Galloway, a regular target of Philip Cross’s Wikipedia activity, claims he has identified the man, and knows the background behind him.

Additional links: wikipedia.fivefilters.org/agenda.html, wikipedia.fivefilters.org/evidence/, www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w3csws6q, www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/05/emma-barnett-a-classic-philip-cross-wikipedia-operation/, and everipedia.org/wiki/lang_en/philip-cross-wikipedian/.

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How to come third in a mayoral election

14.09.2019

One mayoral candidate recently asked me for my advice. I won’t name who it is, since I want those who contact me to know I’ll keep their communications in confidence.
   Now, the first thing to do is to get a time machine and ask me the same question 18 months earlier.
   But I can only provide tips for coming third in Wellington:

• have forward-thinking policies;
• appeal to thinking voters of all ages;
• resonate with younger voters who are most affected by them;
• frighten the establishment with common sense.

   I can’t advise how to win since I didn’t. Presumably it is to do the opposite of my approach?

• Use rose-coloured glasses;
• appeal to non-thinking voters of all ages;
• resonate with older voters more likely to vote;
• suck up to the establishment.

   This is with the greatest respect to many previous winners, who actually didn’t do all these things. But they make for a couple of fun Tweets.
   I repeat the call to administer the Voigt-Kampff test to all candidates.

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On Boris Johnson’s strategy, Ken Clarke nails it

03.09.2019

Ken Clarke has been around long enough (indeed, as the Father of the House, he has been in Parliament for longer than my lifetime) to see through political shenanigans, and Bojo and Brexit are no exception. (Yes, Minister is also instructive.)

   Subsequently, Jacob Rees-Mogg, who lives in a dream world detached from understanding others, inspired even more rebellion, and with the PM’s speech, it played out exactly as Clarke predicted. Not predicted: Iain Duncan-Smith picking his nose.
   Johnson is acting like the schoolboy who hasn’t done his homework and is trying to hide it in a myriad of excuses. The UK doesn’t even have a negotiating team, according to former Chancellor Philip Hammond, and the PM’s claims of ‘progress’ are a mystery to those in Brussels. There is only so much nationalistic bluster will get you if you don’t actually do the work—even if you voted leave, you would expect this government to have advanced your interests even slightly. It appears that that was never its aim. It feels a bit like the last days of Mao: keep it messy in a hope to hold on a little longer.

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An expat’s thoughts about Hong Kong

01.09.2019


Studio Incendo/Creative Commons 2·0

As an expat, I’ve been asked a few times about what I think of the Hong Kong protests. There’s no straight answer to this. Here are a few thoughts, in no particular order.

  • The British never gave us universal suffrage, so the notion that it was all roses before 1997 is BS. The best the Brits managed was half of LegCo toward the end, but before that it was pitiful. And the express reasons they didn’t give it to us, certainly in the mid-20th century, were racist.
  • Having said that, I’d love to see half of LegCo up for grabs, if not more.
  • The extradition bill is, in the grand scheme, pretty minor. If the PRC really wants to grab you, they will.
  • However, I totally get that codifying it into law gives them greater authority, or is perceived to give them that.
  • It wouldn’t be the first time the US State Department and others meddled in our affairs, and I don’t believe this is an exception.
  • Expecting the British to help out is a hiding to nothing. The Shadow Cabinet was critical of John Major’s Conservatives in the 1990s over Hong Kong, and when in office, months before the handover, was arguably even less effective. There’ll be the occasional op-ed from Chris Patten. Not much else. The UK is too mired in its own issues anyway, looking more and more like the sort of failed state that it professes to “help” right now.
  • It hasn’t helped that HK Chinese feel that our culture is under threat, including our language, and there hasn’t been any indication from the PRC of alleviating this (the old playbook again). Observers inside China may see HKers’ embrace of its internationalist culture as colonial and subservient to foreigners; HKers see it as a direct contrast to the lack of openness within the PRC between 1949 and the early 1980s and as a “freer” expression of Chineseness. Arguments could be made either way on the merits of both positions. That resentment has been stoked for some time, and HKers will only need to point to the Uighurs as an indication of their fears.
  • Withdrawal of the bill, even temporarily, would have been wiser, as it’s not a time for the PRC to get hard-line over this. This shouldn’t be a case of us v. them. This is, however, a perfect opportunity to have dialogue over reinterpreting “one country, two systems”, and persuade the ROC of its merit—the Chinese commonwealth idea that has been in my thoughts for a long time. However, Xi is one of the old-school tough guys, and this mightn’t be on his agenda. China hasn’t exactly gone to young people to ask them what they think—we never have, whether you’re talking about the imperial times, the period between 1911 and 1949, or afterwards.
  • This might be my romantic notions of Hong Kong coloured by childhood memories, but the place thrived when the young could express themselves freely through music and other arts. They felt they had a voice and an identity.
  • Right now there’s a huge uncertainty about who we are. I think we’re proudly Chinese in terms of our ethnicity and heritage, and we might even think our ideas of what this means are superior to others’. Rose-coloured glasses are dangerous to don because they don’t tell us the truth. But we might be nostalgic for pre-1997 because the expression of our identity was so much clearer when the ruling power was nothing like us. Who cares if they thought we were a bunch of piccaninnies if they just let us get on with our shit? Now there’s a battle between “our Chineseness” versus “their Chineseness” in the eyes of some HKers. Thanks to certain forces stoking the tensions, and probably using the resentment HK Chinese feel, there isn’t a comfortable, foreseeable way out any time soon.

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When you let amateurs like Rees-Mogg write style guides

27.07.2019

I thought I could be archaic on a few things—I still use diphthongs in text in our publications (æsthetic, Cæsar), the trio of inst., ult. and prox. in written correspondence, and even fuel economy occasionally in mpg (Imperial) because I am useless at ℓ/100 km and too few countries use km/ℓ. However, even I had to cringe at Jacob Rees-Mogg’s style guide as revealed by ITV. This has now been circulated to his House of Commons staff. It is not satire.


   His first rule is ‘Organisations are SINGULAR’. (No, this isn’t licence to write ‘Organisations is singular.’) I don’t mind this as it’s one I adopt myself (admittedly inconsistently), but note the spelling of the first word. It’s French. The correct spelling is organizations, and the switch to the French in the Anglosphere appears to have happened postwar. Go to English books that are old enough, and you’ll find the z to be more commonplace. (Please don’t comment that z is ‘American’ before doing some research.)
   His sixth rule is ‘Double space after fullstops’. Now, the last word should be two words, but the rule itself has even been abandoned by the newspaper that Rees-Mogg’s father edited for so many years. Most compositors in Britain abandoned large spaces at the start of the 20th century, by my reckoning—my interpretation of the reading studies by Tinker et al is that the single space is sufficient, and web convention agrees. If we are to follow The Times in, say, 1969, we also need to insert spaces around certain other punctuation marks. If you find a copy from around that time, I can promise you it won’t be easy to read.
   What is apparent to me is that the rules have been typed up, at least, by an amateur, which accounts for the poor spacing and inconsistent capitalization, and generally it shows a disregard for professional style guides (again, we return to The Times). Sometimes, the acorn does fall far from the tree.
   I note that Imperial measurements are to be used again: none of this newfangled metric system nonsense. As I do some transactions in pounds sterling, I am going to refresh my memory on shillings, half-crowns and thruppenny bits in case currency decimalization is reversed. You never know, Johnson’s Britain may find the decimal system too Johnny Foreigner for its liking. ‘They cannot, and will not, change our sausage!’

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Posted in culture, politics, publishing, typography, UK | 2 Comments »