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30.12.09

Why Peter Jackson deserves a knighthood 

[Cross-posted at Lucire] When Lucire first broke news yesterday about Peter Jackson’s knighthood in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours’ List, I was particularly delighted.
   Peter Jackson deserves a knighthood not just because he makes marvellous films. Peter Jackson deserves a knighthood because he continues to believe in New Zealand even after certain bodies and their bureaucrats gave him grief.
   Before he was a big name internationally, there was reported tension between Jackson and the New Zealand Film Commission in the 1990s.
   Because Jackson believed in this country so much, he got over it. A lesser man would have thought, ‘If the establishment won’t accept me, I’ll leave.’
   Many of the big Kiwi names in movies are based in California, because when they left there was no centre for movie production in New Zealand. And they wanted somewhere that could understand their vision for making movies.
   Instead, Jackson fought to make his Lord of the Rings trilogy in New Zealand—setting up a world-class hub for film in Wellington.
   While some politicians would like to give credit to the Tourism New Zealand 100 Per Cent Pure campaign for lifting the national image, I’ve always argued it was the effort of one man—Jackson—for bringing the country to the world stage.
   Destination branding can be ignored, passed over as just another tourism ad in a travel magazine. Peter Jackson alone gave it that hook, and if any one man can take credit for the first decade’s economic boosts, it is him.
   Through Jackson not only did the films become nice earners for New Zealand, the tourist industry boomed because of the trilogy. And the Film Commission came right in the end.
   And in many respects, Peter Jackson kicked the tall poppy syndrome idea out of the country’s psyche where it could only be entertained by a few foreign companies who use it to keep Kiwis down. Peter Jackson changed our culture.
   This knighthood is long overdue, but I applaud this honour for Jackson. He is a patriot, a word that should not have politically incorrect shades. His level of pride is just what New Zealand needs. Sir Peter Jackson is an inspirational figure and one hopes many others will have faith in their own beliefs, in the way that he does.

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29.12.09

History of the decade, part 9: 2008 

Yesterday: 2007

2008

Raúl Castro becomes Cuban president as the dislike for khaki tones, which hit the US earlier in the decade, finally arrives there.
   President Sarkozy fulfils his hot-women election promise by marrying Carla Bruni.
   César winner Mathieu Amalric plays President Sarkozy in a film loosely based on his life, Quantum of Solace. In the film, Amalric plays a speech-making Frenchman with a hot girlfriend and plans for world domination, and ticks off the British Government.
   With his Powerpoint market secure after the Bush administration’s botch-up, and with so much money from Warren Buffett, Bill Gates decides that there is no more need to work at Microsoft.
   Unable to locate the Queer Eye guys after the show’s cancellation, Radovan Karadžić is arrested in Beograd.

February: Carla Bruni and Nicolas Sarkozy marry, as part of the French president’s election promise to put someone in the Élysée hotter than Ségolène Royal.
   The solar eclipse is visible in Canada though in China, they are unsure whether it was an eclipse or pollution. This makes the Chinese realize that Beijing needs to be cleaned up ahead of the Olympics. Beijing stops making cars briefly, delaying its aim to have the largest car market in the world in a contest with Japan till the following year.
   Tired of the unchanging fashions of the Bush administration, Americans head to the polls. The Republicans, realizing that the Democrats lost because they concentrated too much on khaki tones with Al Gore and on hair with John Kerry, select a boringly dressed bald guy, John McCain, as their presidential nominee. The plan backfires when the Democrats, thinking third time lucky, believe Barack Obama is the snazziest dresser and choose him.
   Realizing that McCain is not fashionable enough, and seeing how women were sweeping into power the year before, the GOP introduces Sarah Palin as its vice-presidential nominee on the strength of her candidacy in a 1980s’ Miss Alaska pageant. It was too late. Americans had already decided they preferred Obama’s style, more so when George Clooney himself said he liked the cut of his suits.
   Tina Fey is hired by Sarah Palin to be her double and to do the talk show circuit in advance of her book, Going Rogue, being published. Palin becomes wildly popular, while Fey is criticized by the mainstream media for being less funny than 30 Rock.
   O. J. Simpson goes to jail for 15 years, after a Nevada jury evaluates his earlier performances in the Naked Gun movies. Disgusted, they set out to make an example of him.

Tomorrow: 2009

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24.12.09

History of the decade, part 5: 2004 

Earlier today: 2003

2004

Martha Stewart goes to jail and likens herself to Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela says his ANC newsletters had a far bigger circulation than Martha Stewart Living ever did and that the comparison is unjustified.
   John Kerry reports for duty, but gets hassled by Republicans for having too good a hairstyle and undergoing Botox treatments.
   Enemy agents inside the Ukraine, seeing how obsessed electors are with looks, try to give west-friendly Viktor Yushchenko an extreme makeover, but in reverse, to harm his

August: The original version of The Apprentice was set at McDonald’s, with contestants vying for an assistant manager’s position. If they failed, they would have to be demoted to make French fries, with the famous catchphrase, ‘You’re fried!’ The original host, Jim Cantalupo, CEO of McDonald’s, died in April 2004, after which Donald Trump, and his hair, negotiated to take over for the second season. Cantalupo was paid $50,000 per episode, but Trump negotiated a fee 10 times as much, and due to a typo, read the famous catchphrase as ‘You’re fired!’ The new catchphrase proved more enduring. Like the Miss Universe pageant, Trump has an ulterior motive: to find the best hair transplant donor.
chances. The urban population of Ukraine, cynical of all reality TV-themed propaganda, still overwhelmingly support Yushchenko. However, the rural population, who did not get decent reception, were still convinced by the agents’ efforts, and preferred the other guy.
   John Kerry’s hairstyle fails to win the US presidential election. John Edwards’s hair helps little, although the Democrats put as much emphasis on that as they did Al Gore’s khaki tones in 2000. The US re-elects President Bush and Vice-president Cheney, despite both men having less hair, in an upset victory for the Republicans.
   Donald Trump’s hair starts its own reality show, called The Apprentice. The object is to find the best hair transplant donor. During the show’s history, no bald man has ever won.
   The US concludes that it would have to stick with Microsoft Powerpoint after discovering there was, indeed, no new software inside Iraq.
   Peter Jackson feels vindicated by his experimentation with weird puppets in Bad Taste (originally developed as Kermit’s Worst Nightmare) as he takes home a lot of Oscars for The Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King.

Returning Boxing Day: 2005

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History of the decade, part 4: 2003 


October: Arnold Schwarzenegger travels to Sacramento to attend the première of Terminator III, only to find himself stuck at the Governor’s mansion. He has been trapped there since.

Yesterday: 2002

2003

Colin Powell says Iraqi WMDs are threats to global security, but fails to convince other Security Council members except the UK because they did not like Microsoft Powerpoint. This sparked the development of Open Office.
   Hu Jintao becomes the president of Communist China, giving rise to jokes in the White House about ‘Hu is the president of China?’ and other fun quips between Bush and Cheney.
   SARS becomes a trendy illness, and even becomes available in canned form in Australia.


Photographed by Michael Spencer/
   The US and UK go in to Iraq after being tipped off that there was new software there that was better than Microsoft Powerpoint. They believe they find it in the first few weeks, leading President Bush to declare ‘Mission accomplished.’ However, when the software is brought back to the US, it is found that it is only compatible with the Apple II.
   President Qaddafi of Libya admits that his country was to blame for the Lockerbie bombing and the two terrorists in Back to the Future. As a sign of good faith that he did not want Doc Brown’s plutonium back, he announces he will give up his weapons’ programme.
   In a return goodwill gesture, Great Britain says it would end the series Crossroads, after killing off both Benny and Diane.
   Arnold Schwarzenegger accepts an invitation to what he believed was the Sacramento première of Terminator III, only to find himself trapped at the Governor’s mansion. Barred from returning to Hollywood, he decides to do the Governor’s job anyway, calling his Democratic opponents ‘girly men’. Ted Kennedy shows up, but is unable to get his nephew-in-law to stop quoting from his movies.
   UN votes to stop Israel from erecting a border between itself and the Palestinian areas, after China says it was bad feng shui.
   Saddam Hussein finds that his doubles have disappeared, and that his disguise as a Baghdad cab driver has failed him. This leads to US networks wondering whether Queer Eye for the Straight Guy should be revived as a concept, with Saddam Hussein as the first aired subject. A lessy bushy makeover is done by Carson Kressley for Saddam’s trial, and the show becomes a hit.

Later today, as a Christmas special: 2004

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23.12.09

History of the decade, part 3: 2002 

Yesterday: 2001

2002

The euro is introduced in Europe as the most boringly named currency in the world.
   Enron, the winner of climate change awards and a self-proclaimed leader in green energy, and often bragged about by consultancies such as McKinsey’s, finds that saying the

September: John Major would later receive a knighthood from the Labour government, after the media revealed he Curried favour with a fellow MP.
right things could not dissuade the Feds knocking at the door asking to see the accounts.
   President Bush, after learning that the original ‘President George W.’ had an axe, decides he needed to create axes that people disliked as well, to balance the original legend and shine light on his own administration. This gave rise to his ‘axes of evil’ speech.
   Bush’s tough talk inspires numerous imitators on television, as even daytime TV hardens up with Phil McGraw and his new show, Dr Phil. Contrasting the softly, softly approach of Oprah Winfrey, McGraw screams at guests in an effort to have them “scared straight”.
   Hugo Chavez of Venezuela moved out of his house, then changed his mind and moved back.
   The media reveal that John Major had an extramarital affair, for which he later receives a knighthood.
   ImClone states that it dislikes Martha Stewart, kicking off a chain of events that would see her behind bars.
   Although A Beautiful Mind wins the Best Picture Oscar, the Academy is careful not to give another Oscar to Russell Crowe. No one has been able to figure out where he is from, and the Bush administration become concerned about illegal aliens coming in to the US and taking American jobs. The borders are tightened up, and the Minutemen in Texas begin patrolling the southern border for other actors.

Tomorrow: 2003 and, as a Christmas special, 2004

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21.12.09

History of the decade, part 1: 2000 

I have had a busy decade. I was best known in 2000 for designing typefaces and I start the new decade running for mayor. Somewhere in between I wrote and co-wrote some books and still publish a bunch of fashion magazines. But how has the world changed in the last 10 years?
   My memory is a bit hazy after this time, but I think it goes something along the lines of the following.

2000

The year began with a hangover, with people waking up from millennium celebrations to discover that there was nothing wrong with their computers. Everyone had celebrated, except math geeks, who insisted that the millennium actually began in 2001.
   Vladimir Putin became Russian president on the promise that, ‘If it’s not right, we’ll put it right. It is the Putin right that counts,’ which appealed to Russian appliance owners, who voted overwhelmingly for the judo black belt.

November: Texas governor George W. Bush begins to form a government, regardless of whether he won in Florida.
   The Olympics opened in Australia, with New Zealanders outnumbered by other nationalities for the first time on Bondi Beach.
   Vice-president Al Gore appears in an unaired pilot for Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and is advised to wear khaki tones if he is to win the presidential election. Democrats claim victory.
   Meanwhile, George W. Bush decides to start forming a government regardless of whether he won or not, because his Daddy had won twelve years before, and he was just following his lead.
   When Americans see the winter 2001 ranges at their department stores, to discover khaki was not in after all, Bush became president the following January. Queer Eye is shelved temporarily as a TV concept.
   Saddam Hussein hires an extra double.

Tomorrow: 2001

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15.12.09

Sign of the time 

Barack Obama

I have an amateur interest in graphology, and I wanted to have a look at the signatures of the past five, and the current, American presidents.
   The inspiration came when I saw that George W. Bush and his father had similar approaches to the capital B, and I began thinking back to the books I had read on the topic in the 1980s.
   None of this post is to be taken as gospel or anything near a professional graphological analysis. We are talking about me struggling to remember what I read over 20 years ago.
   James Earl Carter Jr’s signature has quite a large initial cap, and what we type designers would call a low x-height. It suggests some idea of self-importance. The cross-bar of the t is high, suggesting the 39th president had great self-confidence—quite the opposite to how his successor portrayed him. However, the words are closely spaced, which indicates an element of wishing to be close to people. There are small loops, so we are not talking about an extravagant man.
   Ronald Reagan, interestingly, also does not have much in the way of extravagance. This is a very simple signature, which goes against stories of the 40th president preparing his own autographed photographs to give to visitors. There is a greater space between the two words, which gives the impression that President Reagan was more aloof than his predecessor. But it is a humble signature: for someone who was an actor, it actually shows a degree of introversion and not wanting to make much noise.
   His successor, George Bush, almost abbreviates his first name, but his surname is written out in full. The B in Bush is almost a swash in comparison to the remaining letters, almost as though there is a greater sense of family pride and duty over any personal gain.
   Bill Clinton has short ascenders, which is unusual. It’s a quiet signature, closer to Ronald Reagan’s than either side of US politics would like to admit. There’s a greater separation still between the two words, indicating even less of a desire to appreciate others, though the elongated tail of the n suggests some force or a wish to have a longer impact than might be permitted.
   George W. Bush abbreviates both names, as though he were in a hurry. For a man who gave a down-home image for most of his political campaigning, the 43rd president skilfully executes a very old-fashioned G, placing a greater emphasis on the self than his father. The closeness of the two words suggests he might be the most people-friendly president, more so than Jimmy Carter. While Republicans would agree there, the former president’s stance on many issues wound up alienating Democrats, not to mention a good part of the world.
   Finally, the current president. Barack Obama shows creativity and non-conformity, evidenced most by the joint OB, with the B cleverly incorporated as a capital letter inside the O. His signature suggests a great deal of self-confidence, but he is not one to dwell on detail. I disagree with one analysis on the internet saying that the President is disappointed in his father; in fact, I think he finds his father’s side of the family and his Kenyan heritage a huge source of pride and identity.
   For those who disagree with the analyses, then you can either take graphology to be a load of BS, or my recollection of graphological skills to be very poor. Any errors in interpretation above are mine alone. I suppose none of us know for sure, even if we like to, how these men view themselves. They are the best judges of the above, with their wives and children the next best.

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14.12.09

Saab shouldn’t object to a Beijing courtship 


Photographed by Meredyth Lewis/JY&A Media
I know I blogged enthusiastically about the potential of Koenigsegg buying Saab to put its solar-powered car into production but, as we know, that deal has since fallen through. Saab’s future is uncertain again, even if Dutch company Spyker—which also makes specialty sports cars—has expressed an interest in buying it. There are still a couple of other bidders, Renco, and Red Chinese automaker Beijing Automotive (BAIC).
   While I’ve very happily dissed BYD for falling foul of intellectual property law (to which some very un-Chinese face-losing types cried over), and had it in for SAIC over its tactics in trying to buy MG Rover, I’ve always applauded those Chinese firms who are willing to showcase the true ingenuity of Chinese designers. The latest Cherys, the MG 6, and even the great symbol of Chinese communism, the Hongqi, actually look the part. (The Hongqi, in particular, plays homage to some of the 1960s’ and 1970s’ models, and straddle the part of looking retro and heritage with communist restraint and free-market limousine pretensions.)
   I’ll reserve judgement on quality till I see a Red Chinese vehicle in the metal, but right now, BAIC looks like the only automaker that might be able to give Saab a shot.
   It’s not beyond Spyker’s capability. If I thought that Koenigsegg could make a go of Saab, then why not Spyker? A lot of it is restoring the corporate culture and reinstil that Saab pride. (It’s the sort of move John Egan made at Jaguar when he put a large leaper mascot back at the factory and had an unveiling ceremony. The cars might have been badly made, but at least the pride was back.) While Koenigsegg had plans for a solar car, which fits marvellously with Swedes’ business and social conscience, Spyker might be the sort of owner that would encourage Swedish innovation. Saab’s engineers have not all disappeared and the new 9-5, from what I have seen, is still quite a capable and distinctive car.
   But does it have the readies to ensure long-term survival for Saab? That’s the hardest question to get one’s head around, because if it were there in the family silver, why hadn’t it been used to launch smaller, less exclusive Spykers? Simple: even if the money were there, Spyker hasn’t had downmarket plans in mind. Will it be able to take on a (relatively speaking) volume manufacturer and turn it around, or will Saab simply become another limited-production line, being built by a few hundred staff in Sweden?
   Meanwhile, we are seeing some interesting tactics being employed by Beijing. I already knew that the old 9-5 production line was making its way over to China, but the latest news is that the 9-3 is heading east, too. Powertrain technology and tooling have also gone, and Saab people will help BAIC integrate the technology into its cars. The Murdoch Press claims that the current 9-5 has also headed east, but I wonder if this is a typo.
   BAIC lacks, of course, a brand, but its styling is fairly sharp among the Chinese automakers when it comes to its own-design work.
   The sales do not bode well for the Swedish worker, but what does one expect of a conservative government that has been keen on selling everything from Absolut to a part of TeliaSonera? It was predictable, and similar moves in New Zealand have done little for the country’s productivity and wealth.
   This is not a popular view in the Swedish business press, which embraces the technocracy, but it is all too familiar to most New Zealanders, who wound up opposing asset sales by the late 1980s.
   However, I digress, and there is plenty there for another blog post.
   The BAIC acquisitions have been done legally and at arm’s length. There are no stories emerging from Trollhättan about Saab managers getting drunk as Chinese executives entertained them, or false promises about joint ventures that failed to materialize. Already, this shows good faith and face.
   The company has learned from the days when the Jeep Cherokee design somehow leaked from the company and pirate firms were churning out a model to which BAIC itself had the exclusive Chinese licence. It might actually be quite a good defender of intellectual property.
   It has roughly the same number of years in JVs as SAIC, initially with Chrysler, and more recently with Hyundai, so we are not talking about a bunch of amateurs.
   And BAIC has dreams of international expansion. What Chinese firm doesn’t, at this level? What it eyes is less the 9-3 and 9-5, but the Saab name that could adorn a whole generation of new cars.
   The conservative government of Sweden is unlikely to kick up much of a fuss on behalf of the Swedish worker if more assets go to Beijing.
   However, this might be the lesser of two evils, if some production is kept in Sweden—even if it is assembly—than for it to fade away completely as a slightly downmarket Spyker.
   It would ensure the continuation of a brand that will inherently be tied to Sweden, even if some componentry comes off Chinese production lines.
   And is being Chinese that much worse than being German, when Saabs have been rebodied Opel Vectras for some time now?
   If indeed Swedish engineers are flying out Beijing these days to help productionize the 9-3 and 9-5, then the quality will surely be up to Swedish levels.
   It keeps the door open long-term for top-end Saabs still emerging from Trollhättan while more basic models emerge from Beijing. Eastern markets are the ones that are really growing these days, and basic economics suggest that the products should be built where they are most desired.
   And at least whatever BAIC builds will be of Saab design, albeit on Opel platforms. It will not be a Japanese Saab, the 9-2X, which the company’s brand adorned earlier this century when GM had a Subaru share holding. It will not be a big SUV based on the Oldsmobile Bravada and made in Ohio, another of GM’s abominations (though at least that kept buyers at Saab when, prior the 9-7X’s release, they were flocking to SUVs made by other brands).
   Whatever BAIC builds at least will have a Saab soul, not one dictated by Detroit economics. BAIC itself has an electric car design which would work quite well with the Saab brand, too. GM’s failure to grasp anything about the Saab culture—which, incidentally, contrasts with Ford’s ability to keep the brand essence of most of its acquisitions, including Volvo—meant that any differentiation and distinctiveness were washed away by cost controls and the GM way. If it could not keep its own Stateside Saturn division unique, what hope was there for an out-of-sight, out-of-mind outpost, starved of resources to develop new models?
   I wish Saab and Koenigsegg had tied up, or Saab had the volume to be independent. These are not options. Looking at what we have, BAIC might not be the worst suitor. If Saab becomes its only international brand, it certainly would treasure it more than GM, with its many divisions, ever did. And if it understands that brand value and country of origin have some important ties to car buyers, as Tata did when it acquired Jaguar and Land Rover, then Sweden might not lose out.

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12.12.09

A great finalé for the Palin book tour 



Looks like the Palinomenon has continued, this time on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, where the former governor got her own back against William Shatner, who had lampooned two of her speeches and excerpts from her autobiography.
   Judging by the audience applause, the response to Sarah Palin—you know, the Sarah Palin with more Facebook followers than Oprah Winfrey—seemed to be positive. Americans, like anyone, enjoy a dose of humour and the ability to poke fun at oneself, and I dare say this book tour of Sarah Palin, which gave her a larger platform than her opponents, has done her image considerable good for those with shorter memories.
   I still don’t agree with a lot of what she says—and now I understand that she’s a climate change doubter to boot—but I take my hat off to her performance on American network television.
   Don’t be surprised now if I say that a future George W. Bush book tour will go down very well, once a suitable time has passed for people to don rose-coloured glasses about 2001–9. Regardless of how well or badly he does (depending on one’s point of view), some Obama fatigue will set in, as it does for every president. Apart from those who have stuck firm to the idea that Bush is a crook, a lot of people might begin to think that a Dubya autobiography might make good reading.

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