Posts tagged ‘2020’


You can’t bank on the Wales (or, why I closed our Westpac account)

31.07.2020

At some point as a young man, my Dad worked at a bank. He had a formal understanding of finance—despite his schooling being interrupted by the Sino–Japanese War and then by the communist revolution, he managed to get himself a qualification in economics, and had some time working for a bank.
   I was taught all about promissory notes, bills of exchange, cheques, honourable accounts, balance of payments and foreign exchange as a teenager. He impressed on me why certain things were sacrosanct in banking, the correct way to draw a cheque, and why the Cheques Act 1993 in this country was a blight on how bills of exchange were supposed to work. Essentially, I grew up with what might have been a 1950s or 1960s idea of what banking is, things that were still mostly observed by New Zealand banks into the 1980s and the 1990s.
   Today [Wednesday, July 29] I opened a new business account at TSB, with whom I had banked personally since 2007, as had Jack Yan & Associates. I will be closing the account at Westpac, because it’s clear to me that they don’t believe in the fair dinkum banking values that my father taught me. By the time you read this, the closure should be a fait accompli, as I don’t wish them to put up more obstacles than they have already.
   Westpac held my mortgage on the old house, of which I had paid off 88 per cent before I sold it. I began my banking relationship with them in 2006, for reasons I won’t go into here. My parents had banked ‘on the Wales’ when they were new immigrants in 1976, and stayed with them for some time.
   Very early on, I noticed how confusing their statements were. You can contrast theirs to everyone else’s in Aotearoa, and believe me, I know: I’ve banked with a lot of people. Trust Bank, Countrywide, POSB, National, ANZ—all the usual suspects that a Kiwi growing up in the 1970s through to the 1990s will have encountered. No, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank, but they seem to exist in their own bubble.
   I got caught out once or twice on not getting a mortgage payment sorted because of the confusing statements. And there was one time that Westpac decided to be relentless about it, by setting a bot on me. The bot would call at various hours hounding me to sort this out, with a pre-recorded message, and if you hung up, it would call again. And again. And again. Never mind that you haven’t had a chance to enquire with the bank as to what was going on. This amounted to a breach of the Telecommunications Act, and I put this to them before the activity ceased. And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   You are stuck with the buggers, and over the years I’d make the payments. As many of you know, some of our companies’ income comes from abroad, which I always regarded to be a good thing, since it helps with foreign exchange and this country’s balance of payments. Twice, I think, I needed a top-up because a client was slow to pay, and I would clear that within 30 days. As interest rates changed (the mortgage was floating), the bank would, from time to time, send a letter saying I could reduce my mortgage payments and still keep to the payment schedule, and in 2010 I took them up on it.
   As some of you know, in 2015 Dad was diagnosed formally with Alzheimer’s disease and eventually I became his full-time carer as his condition worsened, with predictable results on my work. But hey, Westpac has all these posters around their branches with Dementia New Zealand logos telling us how great they are, and how they can help. Since Dementia New Zealand won’t acknowledge or respond to my complaint about this (Dementia Wellington, on the other hand, had), let me publicly say that this is bollocks. My experience tells me that it appears to be a feel-good exercise that counts for nowt for a bunch of arrogant twats in Australia.
   My branch was great. They were decent, hard-working and friendly people, and many of them stayed for years—always a good sign. But outside of the branch is where you’ll find the rot.
   In 2019, my partner and I found a home we wanted to purchase. After Dad went into a home in July 2018 I had begun renovating the old place anyway. The new house was a step up, and by the time we factored in all the costs, we would need to borrow under 20 per cent of the total purchase price.
   Westpac wanted to see the balance sheets, as was their right to, and I’ll say now that they weren’t rosy. Of course not, not when you’ve been a caregiver. However, by this point I had got back in the saddle, and I could show them contracts that we had secured.
   Apparently this wasn’t good enough for that 20 per cent. The fact I had been a caregiver and had an account at a bank which had a Dementia New Zealand endorsement carried absolutely no weight.
   The mortgage officer said that according to the balance sheet, I couldn’t even afford the mortgage. Turns out he didn’t know how to read a balance sheet and the ‘Mortgage repayments’ line therein. And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   Apparently, the fact my income was coming from abroad was a concern. Yet it was never a concern for Westpac in 13 years when I was paying the mortgage with that foreign income. Earning foreign exchange for your country and helping with its balance of payments are, seemingly for Westpac, a bad thing. I suppose it would be to greedy Australian bankers, who love to see a weakened New Zealand subservient to other nations. If you adopt this viewpoint when examining how Australian-owned publications here behaved (I’m looking at The Dominion Post from that era), then it actually all fits neatly, given their editorial bias. And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   I know some of you in banking will be going, ‘But there are the anti-money-laundering requirements,’ which I get, but what about the idea of an honourable account? Other than what I outlined above, I was a good customer, and every other bank will tell you the same: I kept honourable accounts. But maybe honour isn’t a thing for Westpac.
   Never mind. We approached two mortgage experts who worked tirelessly for us, and whom I heartily endorse here. Lynne Russell, an old friend of mine, was the first I approached. And Stephanie Murray was referred to me by a good friend from school. Both ladies went to second-tier lenders, told us that the foreign income was the problem, and proceeded to get us the best deal possible. Stephanie won out because of the interest rate, and she noted that the lender, Avanti Finance, was quite happy because I had a good credit rating. But while most Kiwis were enjoying home loans at around the 4 per cent mark, ours was nearer 11 per cent (and this was the lower one). Stephanie, and later my own solicitor, noted that my problem was not unique, and they had clients who were also earning money from abroad who the banks shut out. This is a grand mistake in my book, because these are the very people we should be rewarding and encouraging. You’ve heard of export earners, right, banks? We usually talk about them in positive, glowing terms. Turn on the news. Get schooled.
   We still had renovations to do. At least Westpac would give me a top-up to get that sorted, surely. After all, we had already engaged a builder and he needed money for materials.
   Um, no. Westpac shut off that avenue completely. From memory they could give me a couple of grand, and that was it. This was despite my having a six-figure mortgage that I had whittled down to around a fifth, a relatively small five-figure sum. At all other times, it was fine, even when I enquired about purchasing a car. But not any more. And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   Harmoney came to the rescue there and we were approved within 24 hours. Interest rate: 14·55 per cent.
   I had set up the direct debits with Avanti using my honourable (or so I thought) Westpac account.
   Except Westpac had one more trick up its sleeve. They seemed intent on making sure we would never move, so, without notice, they doubled my mortgage payments. They kept going on about how I was falling behind. No one at the branch could explain why, not even one of their most senior staff. If I hadn’t caught one of the debits, I would have defaulted on an early payment to Harmoney. Fortunately, I spotted it in time, and pulled some money from a TSB account to plug the gap.
   And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   But all together, they were reasons.
   We sold the house, discharged that mortgage, and thanks to my very talented partner and her skills in money management and property investment, we managed to get our finances in order. I won’t elaborate on this since I regard this part as private, but let’s say Westpac should have had faith in us since we carried out what we proposed we do.
   It was only when the Westpac mortgage was discharged that the bank apologized for doubling my mortgage payments and gave a reason for doing so.
   Remember that letter in 2010 which said I could reduce my payments without affecting things? Turns out that affected things, and they wanted to grab what they could to make up for lost time. Not that they thought it was important to tell me any time between 2010 and 2019. They only played this at a customer’s most stressful point, and buying a house is one of the most stressful things you can do as an adult.
   So much for me being such a massive risk to Westpac. We told them our game plan to get to where we are today, and we carried it out to the letter. Two well educated, well qualified and intelligent people. Yet we were viewed with suspicion from the first moment we said we wanted a new home. So how do they treat people with less education or with a shorter history? If they are the Dementia New Zealand-friendly bank how do they treat those who haven’t had to deal with dementia? The branch was awesome and did right by us but as they’re not the ones approving things, then I can only expect that others are treated far, far worse.
   I felt they only apologized because they had thrown everything at us and realized we had a greater resolve.
   This experience teaches me that if you’ve kept up a decent history with Westpac, earned foreign exchange, and helped with your country’s balance of payments, then they will shit on you. Since sharing parts of this story on Twitter, I’ve heard of similar unreasonable treatment by Westpac toward hard-working New Zealanders. The moment they learn you need them, you’re on their radar, and they will block every avenue you normally would have—avenues that you exercised literally just months before, like the top-up. Because why have a customer who is freed of their grasp? That’s just not good for business. Better to keep them impoverished and not let them move to a nicer home. Better to let them know who’s really in charge. And, ladies and gentlemen, that explains a great deal about why foreign ownership can be troublesome in so many quarters—and why I’m happy to take this account to TSB. Thanks to Kerry Gribben and Panith Ear at TSB’s Wellington branch for sorting me out and making it totally painless. And Kerry was a total pro in not slagging off a competitor, especially given where he once worked (he didn’t tell me, but he knew a lot about Westpac’s processes!).

I had to choose a New Zealand bank on principle. The Cooperative Bank was on the radar, and they were really friendly, though I thought their charges were a little high and TSB looked better capitalized on the figures I could find. However, my respect goes to Brian Batchelor at the Wellington branch for being thoroughly professional. It would have been nice to have gone there, since Medinge Group banks with Coop in the UK, and a mate of mine who did some contract work for them says that our Cooperative (a different and unrelated entity) are genuine about their promises to customers.
   Kiwibank didn’t even reply to emails when we were trying to get a mortgage, and rejected all PDFs and ZIP files I sent their despite them saying their email systems could accept them. They just gave up all contact, so I figured they didn’t need the business. And I hear they don’t do foreign exchange anyway, which is just bizarre for a state-owned bank that should be encouraging foreign exchange in these economically tricky times. SBS had no nearby branches (technically, Blenheim isn’t that far but you can’t drive there without an amphibious car). Sometimes, you just go back to what you know.

Today (Friday), the day I am posting this. Westpac accounts shut (despite a massive queue at Lambton Quay). Really nice young chap behind the counter. Except I have 35 cheques on which I want the duty refunded. He didn’t know how to do that and wrote down the helpline number. I called that. Eighteen minutes later, the rep there didn’t know how to do that and referred it to my branch. I really need them to pay me back the NZ$1·75 on principle and then I will consider the matter closed.

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Posted in business, globalization, New Zealand, Wellington | No Comments »


Autocade reaches 20 million page views

26.07.2020


Above: The 4,243th model entered into Autocade, now on 20,008,500 page views: the Maxus G50.

Autocade’s passed the 20,000,000 page-view mark, sitting on just over 20,008,000 at the time of writing, on 4,243 models entered (the Maxus G50 is the newest), an increase of 101 models over the last million views.
   As it’s the end of July, then it’s taken just under four months for the site to gain another million page views. It’s not as fast as the million it took to get to 18,000,000 or the previous million milestone.
   To be frank, the last few months have been a little on the dull side for updating Autocade. No Salon de Genève meant that while there were new models, they weren’t all appearing during the same week at one of the world’s biggest car shows. And it’s not all that interesting talking about another SUV or crossover: they’re all rather boxy, tall, and unnecessary. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that we have certain behaviours that aren’t really helping our planet, and surely selfish SUVs are a sign of those?
   I don’t begrudge those who really use theirs off-road, but as a statement of wank, I’m not so sure.
   So many of them seem like the same vehicle but cut to different lengths, like making cake slices and seeing what remains.
   During the lockdown, I put on a bunch of older models, too, which made the encyclopædia more complete, but I imagine those who come to the site wanting data on the latest stuff might have been slightly disappointed.
   It does mean that we didn’t see much of an increase in traffic during lockdown here, but the opposite.
   As is the tradition on this blog, here was how the growth looked.

March 2008: launch
April 2011: 1,000,000 (three years for first million)
March 2012: 2,000,000 (11 months for second million)
May 2013: 3,000,000 (14 months for third million)
January 2014: 4,000,000 (eight months for fourth million)
September 2014: 5,000,000 (eight months for fifth million)
May 2015: 6,000,000 (eight months for sixth million)
October 2015: 7,000,000 (five months for seventh million)
March 2016: 8,000,000 (five months for eighth million)
August 2016: 9,000,000 (five months for ninth million)
February 2017: 10,000,000 (six months for 10th million)
June 2017: 11,000,000 (four months for 11th million)
January 2018: 12,000,000 (seven months for 12th million)
May 2018: 13,000,000 (four months for 13th million)
September 2018: 14,000,000 (four months for 14th million)
February 2019: 15,000,000 (five months for 15th million)
June 2019: 16,000,000 (four months for 16th million)
October 2019: 17,000,000 (four months for 17th million)
December 2019: 18,000,000 (just under three months for 18th million, from first week of October to December 27)
April 2020: 19,000,000 (just over three months for 19th million, from December 27 to April 9)
July 2020: 20,000,000 (just over three-and-a-half months, from April 9 to July 26)

   Unlike the last entry on this subject, the Alexa ranking stats have been improving, despite the slow-down in traffic.

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Posted in cars, China, internet, media, publishing | No Comments »


Have we stopped innovating in online publishing?

22.07.2020

For a while, we’ve been thinking about how best to facelift the Lucire website templates, to bring them into the 2020s. The current look is many years old (I’ve a feeling it was 2016 when we last looked at it), which in internet terms puts this once-cutting edge site into old-school territory.
   But what’s the next step? When I surf the web these days, so many websites seem to be run off one of several templates, and there aren’t many others out there. After you scroll down past the header, everything more or less looks the same: a big single-column layout with large type.
   I know we have to make things responsive, and we haven’t done this properly, by any means. The CSS will have to be reprogrammed to suit 2020s requirements. But I am reminded of when we adopted many of the practices online publishers do today, except we did them nearly two decades ago.
   Those of you who have been with us a long time, and those who might want to venture into the Wayback Machine, might know that we provided “apps” for hand-held devices even then. We offered those using Palm Pilots and the like a small, downloadable version of the Lucire news pages. We had barely any takers.
   Then Bitstream (if I recall correctly) came out with tech that could reduce pages to a lower resolution and narrower pixel width so those browsing on smaller devices could do so, and those of us publishing for larger monitors no longer needed to do a special version.
   So that was the scene 20 years ago. Did apps, no one cared; and eventually tech came out that rendered it all unnecessary. It’s why I resisted making apps today, because I keep expecting history to repeat itself. I can’t be the only one with a memory of the first half of the 2000s. As a non-technical person, I expect there’d be something like that Bitstream technology today. Maybe there is. I guess some browsers have a reader mode, and that’s a great idea. And if we want to offer that to our readers, it can’t be too hard to find a service that we can point modern smartphone users to, and they can browse all sites to their hearts’ content.
   Except I know, as with so many tech things, that it isn’t that easy, that in fact it’s all so much harder. Server management hasn’t become easier in 2020 compared with 2005, all as the computing industry loses touch with everyday people like me who once really believed in the democratization of technology and bridging the digital divide.
   Back to the templates. I wrote on NewTumbl yesterday, ‘Remember when we could surf the web pretty easily and find amazing new sites, and creative web designs, as people figured out how best to exploit this medium? These days a lot of websites all look the same and there’s far less innovation. Have we settled into what this medium’s about and there’s no need for the same creativity? I’m no programmer, so I can’t answer that, but it wasn’t that long ago we could marvel at a lot of fresh web designs, rather than see yet another site driven by the same CMS with the same single-column responsive template. Or people just treat a Facebook page or an Instagram feed as their “website”, and to heck with making sure it’s hosted on something they have control over.’
   And that’s the thing: I haven’t visited any sites that really jumped out at me, that inspires me to go, ‘What a great layout idea. I must see if I can do something similar here.’ My very limited programming and CSS design skills aren’t being challenged. This is a medium that was supposed to be so creative, and when I surf, after finding a page via a search engine, those fun moments of accidental discovery don’t come any more. The web seems like a giant utilitarian information system, which I suppose is how its inventor conceived it, but I feel it could be so much more. Maybe the whole world could even get on board a fair, unbiased search engine, and a news spidering service that was current and didn’t prioritize corporate media, recognizing that stories can be broken by independents. Because such a thing doesn’t really exist in 2020, even though we had it in the early 2000s. It was called Google, and it actually worked fairly. No search engine with that brand name strikes me as fair today.
   I am, therefore, unsure if we can claim to have advanced this medium.

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Posted in design, internet, New Zealand, publishing, technology, Wellington | No Comments »


Back on RNZ’s The Panel: on Hong Kong’s new national security legislation

08.07.2020


Public domain/Pxhere

What a pleasure it was to be back on The Panel on Radio New Zealand National today, my first appearance in a decade. That last time was about the Wellywood sign and how I had involved the Hollywood Sign Trust. I’ve done a couple of interviews since then on RNZ (thank you to my interviewers Lynda Chanwai-Earle and Finlay Macdonald, and producer Mark Cubey), but it has been 10 years and a few months since I was a phone-in guest on The Panel, which I listen to very frequently.
   This time, it was about Hong Kong, and the new national security legislation that was passed last week. You can listen here, or click below for the embedded audio. While we begin with the latest development of social media and other companies refusing to hand over personal data to the Hong Kong government (or, rather, they are ‘pausing’ till they get a better look at the legislation), we move pretty quickly to the other aspects of the law (the juicy stuff and its extraterritorial aims) and what it means for Hong Kong. Massive thanks to Wallace Chapman who thought of me for the segment.

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Posted in business, China, culture, Hong Kong, media, New Zealand | 1 Comment »


Switching to a Chinese OS solves another Instagram bug

25.06.2020

Whaddya know? Uploading an Instagram video with an Android 7-based phone is fine if it’s on a Chinese OS and not a western one.
   This was a bug I wrote about nearly two years ago, and I wasn’t alone. Others had difficulties with their Android 7 phones with getting Instagram videos to play smoothly: the frame rate was incredibly poor. The general solution posted then was to upgrade to Android 8.
   I never did that. Instead I would Bluetooth the files over to my old Meizu M2 Note (running Android 5), and upload to Instagram through that. It wasn’t efficient, and soon afterwards I stopped. By 2020 I gave up Instagramming regularly altogether.
   With my switch over to a Meizu Chinese OS (Flyme 8.0.0.0A, which on the M6 Note is still Android 7-based) earlier this week, I uploaded one video and it appears to be perfectly fine.

   So all those who wrote on to Reddit and elsewhere with their Android 7 problems, this could be a solution—though I know it won’t appeal to those who aren’t familiar with the Chinese language and would rather not get lost on their own phones. Those who managed to upgrade their OSs have likely already done so.

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Posted in China, internet, New Zealand, technology, USA | No Comments »


After 18 months, some progress on the Meizu M6 Note

23.06.2020

That was an interesting day in cellphone land. I collected the Meizu M6 Note from PB last Friday and switched it on for the first time in the small hours of Tuesday.
   I originally wasn’t pleased. I had paid NZ$80 for a warranty repair (there is provision under the Consumer Guarantees Act 1993 in some circumstances) and was told at the service counter that all that was performed was a factory reset, followed by a week’s testing. In other words, what I had originally done, twice, before bringing the phone in. I replied that that was not going to work, and was told by the PB rep that maybe I shouldn’t have so many apps open. Conclusion: a newer phone is far less capable than an older one.
   But he wasn’t the technician, and as I discovered, Joe had done more than a mere factory reset. When I switched the phone on, it was back to square one, like the day I bought it, complete with Google spyware. I wasn’t thrilled about this, but it suggested to me that the ROM had been flashed back to the beginning.
   Meizu’s factory resets don’t take you right back to factory settings, not if you had rooted the phone and removed all the Google junk.
   To his credit, this was a logical thing to do. However, within 10 minutes it developed a fault again. The settings’ menu would not stay open, and crap out immediately, a bit like what the camera, browser, and gallery had done at different times. All I had done up to this point was allow some of the apps to update, and God knows what Google was doing in the background as messages for Play and other programs flashed up in the header. The OS wanted to update as well, so I let it, hoping it would get past the bug. It didn’t.
   So far, everything was playing out exactly as I had predicted, and I thought I would have to head to PB and point out that I was taking them up on the three months they guarantee their service. And the phone was warranted till December 2020 anyway. Give me my money back, and you can deal with Meizu for selling a lemon.
   However, I decided I would at least try for the umpteenth time to download the Chinese OS, and install it. Why not? Joe had given me a perfect opportunity to give this another shot, and the phone appeared unrooted. The download was painfully slow (I did the same operation on my older Meizu M2 Note out of curiosity, and it downloaded its OS update at three to four times the speed—can we blame Google for slowing the newer phone down?) but eventually it got there. The first attempt failed, as it had done countless times before. This was something that had never worked in the multiple times I had tried it over the last 18 months, and I had drawn the conclusion that Meizu had somehow locked this foreign-market phone from accepting Chinese OSs.
   I tried again.
   And it worked. A fluke? A one-off? Who knows? I always thought that in theory, it could be done, but the practice was entirely different.
   It took a while, but I was astonished as the phone went through its motions and installed Flyme 8.0.0.0A, killing all the Google spyware, and giving me the modern equivalent of the Meizu M2 Note from 2016 that I had sourced on Ebay from a Chinese vendor.
   I may be speaking too soon, but the settings’ bug disappeared, the apps run more smoothly, and as far as I can tell, there is no record of the phone having been rooted. I had a bunch of the APKs from the last reset on the SD card, so on they went.
   Meizu synced all contacts and SMSs once I had logged in, but there was one really annoying thing here: nothing from the period I was running the western version of the phone appeared. The messages prior to December 2018 synced, plus those from the M2 Note during June while the M6 was being serviced.
   It appears that the western versions of these apps are half-baked, and offer nothing like the Chinese versions.
   With any luck, the bugs will not resurface—if they don’t, then it means that the read–write issues are also unique to the western version of the M6 Note.
   I’ve spent parts of today familiarizing myself with the new software. There are some improvements in presentation and functionality, while a few things appear to have retrograded; but overall, this is what I expect with a phone that’s two years newer. There should be some kind of advance (even little things like animated wallpapers), and with the western version, other than processor speed and battery life, there had not been. It was 2016 tech. Even the OS that the phone came back with was mid-decade. This is what the western editions are: out of date.
   The only oddity with the new Chinese Flyme was the inability to find the Chinese version of Weibo through Meizu’s own Chinese app store—only the foreign ones showed up on my search, even though the descriptions were all in simplified Chinese.
   These mightn’t have been the developments that Joe at PB expected but if things remain trouble-free, that NZ$80 was well worth spending to get a phone which, for the first time in its life, feels new. The other lesson here is to avoid western-market phones if you don’t find the Chinese language odd. I had already made enquiries to two Aliexpress sellers to make sure that they could sell me a non-western phone, ready to upgrade. Hopefully that won’t need to happen.
   Next week: let’s see if I can shoot some video and have that save without killing the gallery, the bug that kicked all of this off.

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Posted in business, China, design, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | 1 Comment »


Nissan’s own documents show Carlos Ghosn’s arrest was a boardroom coup

22.06.2020

I said it a long time ago: that the Carlos Ghosn arrest was part of a boardroom coup, and that the media were used by Hiroto Saikawa and co. (which I said on Twitter at the time). It was pretty evident to me given how quickly the press conferences were set up, how rapidly there was “evidence” of wrongdoing, and, most of all, the body language and demeanour of Mr Saikawa.
   Last week emerged evidence that would give me—and, more importantly, Carlos Ghosn, who has since had the freedom to make the same allegation that he was set up—cause to utter ‘I told you so.’
   I read about it in The National, but I believe Bloomberg was the source. The headline is accurate: ‘Nissan emails reveal plot to dethrone Carlos Ghosn’; summed up by ‘The plan to take down the former chairman stemmed from opposition to deeper ties between the Japanese company and France’s Renault’.
   One highlight:

the documents and recollections of people familiar with what transpired show that a powerful group of insiders viewed his detention and prosecution as an opportunity to revamp the global automaker’s relationship with top shareholder Renault on terms more favourable to Nissan.
   A chain of email correspondence dating back to February 2018, corroborated by people who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive information, paints a picture of a methodical campaign to remove a powerful executive.

   Another:

Days before Mr Ghosn’s arrest, Mr Nada sought to broaden the allegations against Mr Ghosn, telling Mr Saikawa that Nissan should push for more serious breach-of-trust charges, according to correspondence at the time and people familiar with the discussions. There was concern that the initial allegations of underreporting compensation would be harder to explain to the public, the people said.
   The effort should be “supported by media campaign for insurance of destroying CG reputation hard enough,” Mr Nada wrote, using Mr Ghosn’s initials, as he had done several times in internal communications stretching back years.

   Finally:

The correspondence also for the first time gives more detail into how Nissan may have orchestrated [board member] Mr Kelly’s arrest by bringing him to Japan from the US for a board meeting.

   Nissan’s continuing official position, that Ghosn and Kelly are guilty until proved innocent, has never rang correctly. Unless you’re backed by plenty of people, that isn’t the typical statement you should be making, especially if it’s about your own alleged dirty laundry. You talk instead about cooperating with authorities. In this atmosphere, with Nissan, the Japanese media duped into reporting it based on powerful Nissan executives, and the hostage justice system doing its regular thing, Ghosn probably had every right to believe he would not get a fair trial. If only one of those things were in play, and not all three, he might not have reached the same conclusion.

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Posted in business, cars, culture, France, globalization, leadership, media | No Comments »


Crunching the COVID-19 numbers for June 15

15.06.2020

I hadn’t done one of these for a long time: take the number of COVID-19 cases and divide them by tests done. For most countries, the percentage is trending down, though there has been little movement in Sweden. I hadn’t included Brazil, Russia and India before, but as they are in the top part of the table, I’ve included them for the first time for context. That does leave the C of the BRIC countries out, but as China does not disclose its testing numbers, I can’t work out a figure for them. Given the news, it is no surprise that Brazil has the worst percentage I have seen since I began crunching these numbers: more than half of the tests done result in a positive. The source is Worldometers.

Brazil 867,882 of 1,604,784 = 54·08%
Sweden 51,614 of 325,000 = 15·88%
France 157,220 of 1,384,633 = 11·35%
KSA 127,541 of 1,106,398 = 10·99%
USA 2,162,261 of 24,795,407 = 8·72%
Singapore 40,818 of 488,695 = 8·35%
Switzerland 31,131 of 461,128 = 6·75%
Spain 291,008 of 4,826,516 = 6·03%
India 333,255 of 5,774,133 = 5·77%
Italy 236,989 of 4,620,718 = 5·13%
UK 295,889 of 6,772,602 = 4·37%
Germany 187,671 of 4,694,147 = 4·00%
Russia 537,210 of 15,161,152 = 3·54%
South Korea 12,121 of 1,105,719 = 1·10%
Taiwan 445 of 74,409 = 0·60%
New Zealand 1,504 of 311,121 = 0·48%
Australia 7,335 of 1,830,665 = 0·40%
Hong Kong 1,113 of 275,293 = 0·40%

   It shows that COVID-19 is far from over, something that we here in New Zealand need to be reminded of as we begin to rebuild. Still, nearby Fiji is also COVID-19-free, so perhaps we can begin having some travel with them?

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

11.06.2020


BBC

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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Posted in culture, Hong Kong, humour, interests, New Zealand, TV, UK | No Comments »


Catfished on Facebook? That’s OK, too, they’re there to provide the tools

11.06.2020

I don’t particularly have it in for Google and Facebook. I’m only pointing out the obvious: if you say your policy is x, or your product is y, then don’t deliver us z. Put it into non-electronic terms: if you sell me a car and I put it into first gear, and it instead reverses, then I will complain. And if you look back through 11 years of critique, that is what lies at the foundation of every post about them. Medinge does Brands with a Conscience, Big Tech does Brands without a Conscience. Once they start being honest and levelling with people, then I’ll stop pointing out their hypocrisy.

Speaking of which, a Facebook user calling themselves Barbara Black has taken a photo of former Miss Universe New Zealand Tania Dawson, using Tania’s photo as her profile pic and, of course, catfishing men. You know where this is going: despite numerous reports from Tania’s friends since the D-Day anniversary, including multiple ones from me, nothing has been done. Facebook tells me that there has been no violation of their terms. Some have actually found it impossible to report the fake profile, as their screen fills up with gibberish.

   Yet again it’s Facebook being on the side of the spammers, bots and phonies, as usual, because they have the potential to help their bottom line.
   I can safely say that all my reports of fake or compromised accounts this year have resulted in no take-downs whatsoever, making it far, far worse than what I experienced in 2014 when I said that Facebook faced a bot ‘epidemic’ (I used that very word).
   Very easy prediction for 2020: despite COVID-19, Facebook will have to remove more fake accounts than there are people on the planet. I reckon it has already happened but they won’t admit it. I just don’t know when people will wake up to the fact that this dubious site isn’t serving them, but at least the fakes have got to such a point now that everyday people recognize them: at some point, we will either know someone, or be that someone, who has been catfished or cloned. I’ve been off it for personal stuff for three years and have missed nowt.

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Posted in culture, internet, New Zealand, technology, USA | No Comments »