Archive for the ‘UK’ category

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



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

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


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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Stay home. Drive to Durham. Say lies


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


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


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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COVID-19 stats’ update, April 16


Don’t worry, I won’t make this too regular, but as I had done some more number-crunching of the available stats during the daytime, I thought I’d share them. I’ve noticed that some countries update their test numbers on a less regular basis, e.g. France, Singapore, Sweden and Switzerland, though Worldometers now has updated ones since my last COVID-19 post. France’s test figure hasn’t changed, so we can safely conclude that its infection rate as a percentage of tests done is lower than what’s cited below. The same applies to Singapore.
   New Zealand has dipped below 2 per cent, finally, but thanks to rounding it’s cited as 2·00 per cent below. These figures include what Dr Ashley Bloomfield announced an hour ago. Happily, the US has started to see a fall since I last did these figures—there’s one post I didn’t write even though I had the calculations ready (it was too late at night for me to compose something cogent). Goes to show how quickly the landscape changes.
   I had overestimated the number of tests Sweden had done: it turns out they haven’t increased in number at the same rate as the fortnight before, though my use of 75,000 in the previous table wasn’t far off. Despite my overestimation, their infection rate continues to rise.
   The UK has also risen but not at the same rate, though judging by Twitter there, some are questioning whether deaths in aged care facilities are being included.
   Germany should be happy with its rate going from the 9s into the 7s.

France 147,863 of 333,807 = 44·30%*
Spain 180,659 of 650,755 = 27·76%
UK 98,476 of 398,916 = 24·69%
USA 644,089 of 3,258,879 = 19·76%
Sweden 11,927 of 74,600 = 15·99%
Italy 165,155 of 1,117,404 = 14·78%
Switzerland 26,336 of 199,000 = 13·23%
Germany 134,753 of 1,728,357 = 7·80%
Singapore 3,699 of 72,680 = 5·09%*
KSA 5,862 of 150,000 = 3·91%
New Zealand 1,401 of 70,160 = 2·00%
South Korea 10,613 of 538,775 = 1·97%
Australia 6,462 of 377,024 = 1·71%
Hong Kong 1,017 of 116,273 = 0·87%
Taiwan 395 of 49,748 = 0·79%

* Test number has not been updated

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COVID-19 infections as a percentage of tests done: April 13 update


I can cite these COVID-19 calculations (infections as a proportion of tests done) with a bit more confidence than the last lot, where many countries’ testing figures had not updated. I see the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has released its total test numbers now, and they show a pretty good result, too.
   Compared to my post of the 7th inst., there are improvements in France, Italy, Switzerland and Germany, while Spain has shown a marked and positive improvement (from 39·58 per cent to 28·25 per cent).
   The UK’s delay and its initial reliance on herd immunity, with sycophants up and down the country agreeing, is showing up now as its number grows slightly, from 20·4 per cent on the 7th to 23·88 per cent with the latest data.
   The US’s numbers are holding fairly steadily with an increase of 0·8 per cent since the 7th (to 19·78 per cent).
   Sweden’s total test figure is one of two inaccurate ones here, having remained unchanged since the last tables, which obviously cannot be right. I estimate they have done around 75,000 tests so far, which would bring the figure to 13·98 per cent, fairly close to the 7th’s, rather than the 19·16 per cent that the Worldometers’ table would have me calculate.
   Also statistically similar are Switzerland, South Korea, Australia and Hong Kong, though Hong Kong’s total test figure is also inaccurate (unchanged from the 7th). Singapore is showing a rise with the reports of community transmission. New Zealand is showing a small drop (2·71 to 2·15 per cent), though the percentage change here is less than what the US’s is.
   Taiwan continues to see its percentage decline with another 8,000 tests done and only an additional 17 infections since the 7th’s post.

France 132,591 of 333,807 = 39·72%
Spain 169,496 of 600,000 = 28·25%
UK 84,279 of 352,974 = 23·88%
USA 560,433 of 2,833,112 = 19·78%
Italy 156,363 of 1,010,193 = 15·48%
Sweden 10,483 of c. 75,000 = c. 13·98%*
Switzerland 25,449 of 193,800 = 13·13%
Germany 127,854 of 1,317,887 = 9·70%
KSA 4,462 of 115,585 = 3·86%
Singapore 2,532 of 72,680 = 3·48%
New Zealand 1,349 of 62,827 = 2·15%
South Korea 10,537 of 514,621 = 2·05%
Australia 6,359 of 362,136 = 1·76%
Hong Kong 1,010 of 96,709 = 1·04%*
Taiwan 393 of 47,215 = 0·83%

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Another COVID-19 table: total infections as a proportion of tests done


Peter Lambrechtsen rightly pointed out that COVID-19 per capita infection statistics aren’t as good as knowing the infection rate based on tests done, so at 2 a.m. I decided to crunch some numbers based on the stats I had on hand. These are many hours old now but hopefully still indicative of where things stand. Here you want a low percentage, and we are very fortunate to be sitting on 2·71 per cent. This site has tests per million as well, which I haven’t factored in. Taiwan and Hong Kong are looking even better on this measure; Australia isn’t looking too bad, either. The European and US numbers are sobering. Mainland China and the KSA haven’t released their testing numbers, only total infections.
   I don’t really want to go into fatality rates.

France 98,010 of 224,254 = 43·70%
Spain 140,510 of 355,000 = 39·58%
UK 51,608 of 252,958 = 20·40%
USA 369,179 of 1,941,052 = 19·02%
Italy 132,547 of 721,732 = 18·37%
Sweden 7,693 of 54,700 = 14·06%
Switzerland 22,242 of 167,429 = 13·28%
Germany 104,199 of 918,460 = 11·34%
New Zealand 1,160 of 42,826 = 2·71%
South Korea 10,331 of 461,233 = 2·24%
Singapore 1,375 of 65,000 = 2·12%
Australia 5,908 of 310,700 = 1·90%
Hong Kong 936 of 96,709 = 0·97%
Taiwan 376 of 39,011 = 0·96%

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One more COVID-19 post: graphing and animating the data


Russell Brown linked this COVID-19 trend page by Aatish Bhatia on his Twitter recently, and it’s another way to visualize the data. There are two axes: new confirmed cases (over the past week) on the y and total confirmed cases on the x. It’s very useful to see how countries are performing over time as it’s animated, and to get a handle on what trajectory you’re on.
   I’ve plotted us against some Asian countries and territories in the first graph and western countries in the second. South Korea is doing quite well and Taiwan is really bending its curve down. Try it yourself by clicking on either of the screenshot graphs below.

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Rather locked down than living within a controlled experiment


As a dual national, I hope there’s some exaggeration or selective quoting in the Bristol Post about its report of former police officer Mike Rowland, who’s stuck in Auckland with his wife Yvonne. Apparently, New Zealand is in ‘pandemonium’ and he feels like he’s in ‘Alcatraz’.
   As we are most certainly not in pandemonium, the British Crown may have to ponder if it needs to reopen some of the cases Mr Rowland was once involved in due to unreliable witness testimony. Then again, if it can keep a foreign national like Julian Assange indefinitely and subject him to psychological torture as well as the risk of COVID-19 infection, perhaps it won’t need to ponder a thing.
   Mr Rowland’s not a fan of our breakfast television, either, saying that it makes Piers Morgan a ‘god’. There actually is some truth to the quality of our breakfast telly depending on which channel he has come across (I won’t name names), and I recommend that he switch to another. Go a bit further up the dial, and Aljazeera English has a whole variety of ex-BBC presenters speaking in RP that might make him feel less at home.

   And I’ve my own stories about the inability to get answers from the British High Commission, so I sympathize on this note.
   But given the choice between being stuck in Aotearoa and being amongst the control group that is Great Britain and Northern Ireland, where the government’s sense of British exceptionalism meant that it delayed locking things down, so much so that the PM himself has COVID-19, I would be quite happy to be in the land Down Under.
   Mr Rowland may have missed the (disputed) Murdoch Press (which usually leans right) report that suggested that Boris Johnson’s senior adviser said it was ‘too bad’ if ‘some pensioners die’, consistent with Mr Johnson’s own position that Britain would pursue a strategy of herd immunity—and consistent with what the British government initially announced, with sycophants in full agreement.
   I admit I’ve called our government ‘a bunch of Blairites’ but I’d take them over their lot, including their Mr Johnson who does less convincing prime ministerial impressions than Neville Chamberlain. Their mass U-turn had to happen as it appeared the British people figured out their lives were being put in danger and forced the government’s hand.
   I realize he misses the comforts of home and I would, too, in his shoes, though equally I’d be grateful to be alive, in a country where even he acknowledges that food is readily available and we haven’t suffered the extent of panic buying that the UK has seen. If only Alcatraz were this pleasant.

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