Archive for the ‘UK’ category


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 1970s: when TV shows were New

12.11.2019

As a child of the 1970s, I was exposed to this English word: new. Now, before you say that that isn’t anything special, for some reason, in the ’70s, there was an obsession with newness. It wasn’t like the news (by this I mean the plural of new) of Amsterdam or Zealand, but an adjective that was adapted to really emphasize that you should pay attention and consume, consume, consume.
   Perhaps the earliest exposure was a Tomica model I had: the Blue Whale Crown. The base plate and box read ‘Toyota New Crown’. Even as a child, I wondered: what happens to the old Crown models? And what happens to this Crown model when a new new Crown comes out? It didn’t matter: Toyota wanted us to live in the present and bask in the newness, and back in the early 1970s, this Crown certainly looked like nothing that had come from Toyota prior, or since. It was almost saying, ‘Yes, we know it looks weird, but hey, it’s “new”, so that means it’s good!’
   The real car flopped (relatively speaking; they still shifted plenty given top Japanese managers still needed transportation), and it was the last generation of Crown to be sold in the US, but to me it remains iconic, even if it is garish. After a mere three years on sale, very short even by Japanese standards, its ‘New’ successor emerged in 1974 with all the idiosyncrasies gone. Conservatism ruled in this segment, at least till fairly recently. The old toys hung round, still ‘new’, so even if your parents bought you one in 1975 or 1976, you could still relish the adjective.
   It wasn’t a case of Japlish. It was all over television as well. When we emigrated here, the Anglophone television introduced me to The New Dick Van Dyke Show. Never mind that I had never seen the old Dick van Dyke show at this point. This was the white-haired man doing the New Zealand Fire Service PSAs. Everyone knew him. And why was it The New? Because we needed to be told that despite the same network in its home country (CBS), Dick van Dyke wasn’t playing Rob Petrie, but a new character altogether. Please don’t take this as a continuation of the previous one.




Here are the News: The New Dick Van Dyke Show; The New Perry Mason; and The New Avengers.

   Van Dyke, in his autobiography, recounts a fan coming up to him berating him for leaving Laura (Mary Tyler Moore’s character from the earlier The Dick Van Dyke Show), so it’s not as though the qualifier worked; goodness knows how the same fan would have computed The Mary Tyler Moore Show, on the same night as The New Dick Van Dyke Show. Maybe that was proof that Rob had left Laura or vice versa and they were forging ahead with their separate lives.
   The New Dick Van Dyke Show wasn’t alone. A couple of years later, there was The New Perry Mason (1973), starring Monte Markham in the title role (though no one ever called him ‘New’). The Fred Steiner theme was nowhere to be heard. I’ve seen a few of these, and they are pretty good in a 1970s sort of way—which is to say more exterior filming and more flash cars (product placement was growing) on the back lot and on location. To make it more confusing, when Perry Mason returned in a bunch of TV movies in the 1980s, starting with Perry Mason Returns, it wasn’t Markham, but original actor Raymond Burr once more. You see, it wasn’t The New Perry Mason Returns.
   The New Perry Mason starred a different actor, so I can comprehend its Newness, and at least the presence of another actor underscored this. It didn’t do that well, which is probably why hardly anyone remembers it. Probably more people remember Markham as the Seven Million Dollar Man. I’m not kidding.
   One that I do remember extremely well was The New Avengers, in 1976. Again, given when I was born, I had no exposure to The Avengers, but The New Avengers was a favourite of mine then, and I bought the DVDs when I saw them decades later. Unlike the other two series, this was a direct continuation, though it wasn’t explained just how John Steed returned to Earth after Tara King blasted them both into space when they had their Endgame in 1969; but we do know they enjoyed Laurent Perrier champagne when they got back. It’s a third definition of new as far as the TV shows were concerned, with the same motive: if you want to be seen as in, hip and groovy, come watch the new.
   Perhaps more obscure were one-off TV movies: Halloween with the New Addams Family (1977), which had the same cast (grandmother aside, as actress Blossom Rock was ill), and where the new serves no useful purpose other than attempting to sell us on newness where there is none; and The New Maverick (1978), which sees the return of James Garner as Bret and Jack Kelly as Bart, though there’s no sign of Roger Moore as Beau (presumably too busy being James Bond) and Robert Colbert as Brent, but it did introduce a first cousin once removed called Ben Maverick (Charles Frank). I imagine Ben is the new Maverick, and a short-lived TV series, Young Maverick, did appear afterwards.
   No one really did much more New shows after this—it seemed to be a 1970s phenomenon. With one exception: CI5: the New Professionals in the 1990s, an attempt to recapture the glory days of The Professionals but winding up more like episodes of Bugs. There, new sort of meant old, reminding us that some of the writing and directing was out of step with late 1990s’ audience expectations; and, with the greatest of respect, showed that certain parties were past their prime. By then, we had had seven episodes of Bodyguards, which perhaps showed how a modern-day Professionals might be. All that needed was to be “laddified” for the FHM audience, at least in theory, and certainly, after 9-11, there may have been some scope for an élite, globally coordinated, anti-terrorist squad (which is what The New Professionals suggests the fictional CI5 unit morphed into, probably to accommodate its backers and the South African location filming in some episodes). But in 1998, there was less of an appetite for revival shows, especially when the top-rated series were ER and Friends, and the Americans were a year away from The Sopranos. Britain, meanwhile, was gripped with the tension of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and the FHM lads were more than catered for by Babes in the Wood.

PS., December 6: How could I forget this item of regular childhood viewing? From the US, in 1979.

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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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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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I’m still doing election campaign posters, just not what you thought

24.06.2019

If I think so little of Big Tech, why do I remain on Twitter?
   Because of some great people. Like Dan, who Tweeted:

Followed by:

   My response: ‘Awesome, I just got hired as the graphic designer!’

   I still maintain that the idea of PM Boris Johnson makes as much sense as Rabbi Mel Gibson.

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The playbook used against Wikileaks

11.06.2019

Now for something actually important beyond my first world problems.
   Journalist Suzie Dawson has a fantastic piece outlining how the smear of ‘serial rapist’ is part of the playbook used against senior members of Wikileaks. Her article is well worth reading, especially in light of how the mainstream media have spun the narrative against Julian Assange. He’s not alone: two other men have had campaigns launched against them, with no substantial evidence, thereby diminishing the seriousness of what rape is.
   It is lengthy and well researched, but if you haven’t the time, at least consider the briefer post linked from here.

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How to lose readers: accuse them of something they don’t or wouldn’t do

11.06.2019

Here’s a sure-fire way to lose readers and cost you ad revenue.
   It seems Haymarket’s Autocar (which I have been reading in print since 1980) wasn’t pleased about people using online ad blockers, so it created a warning.
   The trouble is I don’t use ad blockers. In fact, you can see a massive advertisement underneath the warning:

In fact, that ad keeps changing, so I guess the advertiser is charged for totally useless impressions.
   Clicking ‘I’ve disabled my Ad-Blocker’ does nothing.
   I decided to click the other option, for advice on how to whitelist the ad blocker that I do not have.

I presume whatever’s in that blue box are the instructions, which are illegible.
   Autocar often talks about the difficulties behind some car infotainment interfaces, but you’d hope a publisher with a budget that far exceeds mine would get this right.
   The irony of this effort is that Autocar winds up losing ad revenue.
   I have Tweeted them, so here’s hoping this silly tech can be removed so I can help their bottom line. You do wonder about their bosses sometimes though—maybe this sort of abrasive behaviour comes from the top.

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