Posts tagged ‘Donald Trump’


Coronavirus: the weakening of globalization, and the lessons to learn

12.03.2020

A generation ago, I don’t think many would have thought that globalization could be brought to its knees by a virus. They may have identified crazy politicians using nationalism as a tool, but probably considered that would not happen in developed economies and democracies sophisticated enough to withstand such assaults.
   This course correction might be poetic to the pessimist. Those who emptied their own nations’ factories in favour of cheaper Chinese manufacture perhaps relied on appalling conditions for their working poor; and if China were incapable of improving their lot—and you can argue just why that is—then with hindsight it does not seem to be a surprise that a virus would make its leap into humankind from Wuhan, itself not the shiny metropolis that we might associate with the country’s bigger cities. Those same corporations, with their collective might, now find themselves victim to an over-reliance on Chinese manufacture at the expense of their own, with their primary, and perhaps only, country of manufacture no longer producing anything for them as the government orders a lock-down.
   I argued months ago that failing to declare the coronavirus as a matter of international concern a week before the lunar New Year was foolhardy at best; perhaps I should have added deadly at worst. Here is the period of the greatest mobilization of humans on the planet, and we are to believe this is a domestic matter? If capitalist greed was the motive for downplaying the crisis, as it could have been within China when Dr Li Wenliang began ringing alarm bells on December 30, 2019 and was subsequently silenced, then again we are reaping the consequences of our inhumanity: our desire to place, if I may use the hackneyed expression, profits above people. And even if it wasn’t capitalism but down to his upsetting the social order—the police statement he was forced to sign said as much—the motive was still inhuman. It was the state, as an institution, above people and their welfare.
   We arrive at a point in 2020 where one of Ronald Reagan’s quotes might come true, even if he was talking about extraterrestrials. At the UN in 1987, President Reagan said, ‘Perhaps we need some outside universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.’
   This might not be alien, but it is a universal threat, it is certainly indiscriminate and it affects people of all creeds and colours equally.
   Our approaches so far do not feel coordinated globally, with nations resorting to closing borders, which prima facie is sensible as a containment measure. You would hope that intelligence is being shared behind the scenes on combatting the virus. I’m not schooled enough to offer a valuable opinion here so I defer to those who are. But I’m not really seeing our differences vanish, even though we are being reminded at a global level of the common bond that Reagan spoke of. This is a big wake-up call.
   Examining the occidental media, there appears to be a greater outcry over President Donald Trump closing the US from flights from the EU Schengen zone than there was when China faced its travel ban, suggesting to me that barring your nation from people within a group of 420 million is a bigger deal than barring people from a group of 1,400 million. One lot seems more valued than the other lot.
   What I do believe is that we have made certain choices as a people, and that while the pure model of globalization raises standards of living for all, we, through our governments and institutions, haven’t allowed it to happen. We’ve not seen level playing fields as we were promised. We’ve seen playing fields dominated by bigger players, and for all those nations that are sucked into the prevailing mantra that arose in the 1980s, we’ve allowed our middle classes to shrink and the gap between rich and poor to grow. The one economic group that assures prosperity has been eroded.
   As it’s eroded then we’re looking at economies that favour the rich and their special interest groups over the poor, rather than investing in public infrastructure and education.
   No wonder many lack faith in their institutions, and their willing and continued pursuit of the monetarist order over humanistic agenda.
   Yet at the one-to-one level many differences disappear. It’s not helped by social media, those corrosive corporations that seek to separate through algorithms that encourage tribalism, but those that take the time to have a dialogue realize that we are in this together. Within these elaborate websites lies some hope.
   My entire working career to date has been mostly one where individuals and independent enterprises have formed contracts to do business, creating things that once didn’t exist through intellectual endeavour. We have done so outside elephantine multinationals, within which many imaginations have been stifled. We are people who can think outside the square—and all too often, the inhabitants of the square reject us anyway.
   When the world comes back online, I hope we have learned some lessons about the source of our troubles. We’ve willingly let certain institutions get too big at our expense; we’ve allowed a playing field slanted in their favour that encourages a race to the bottom by outsourcing to underpaid people; and as a result we’ve allowed unhygienic conditions to flourish because they’re “over there”, instead of holding corporations and nations to account. It will take us making choices with our eyes open about policies that champion individuals over big corporations; genuinely creating level playing fields where entrepreneurship can flourish at every level and benefit all; ensuring that we properly fund education and other long-term investments; and having strong foreign policies that can constructively call out injustices by suggesting a better way. We need to do this over the long term. The big corporations have mustered global power and so must individuals. Nationalism is not the answer to solving our problems: it is a reaction, a false glimpse into the past with rose-coloured glasses. It is no more a reflection of our past than a young northern lad pushing his bicycle uphill to Dvořák’s ‘New World Symphony’. Nostalgia is often inaccurate.
   Whether you are on the left or the right, whether you love Trump or Sanders, Ardern or Bridges, we’re simply lying to ourselves if we think the other political side is our enemy, when it’s in fact institutions, political or corporate, that have grown too distant to be concerned with anyone but those in power.
   Call me an idealist, but we could be on the verge of a humanistic revolution where we use these technological tools for the betterment of us all. Greta Thunberg has done so for her agenda, and we have a chance to, too: a global effort by individuals who see past our differences, because we have those common bonds that Reagan spoke of. Let’s debate the facts and get us on track, resisting both statism and corporatism at their extremes, since they’re sides of the same coin. What empowers us as individuals? In the system we have today, is there a party that can best deliver this? Who’ll keep the players honest? When we start asking these in the context of the pandemic, the answer won’t be as clear as left and right. And I’m not sure if the answer can even be found in major political parties who wish to deliver more of the same, plus or minus 10 per cent.
   Or we can wait for the coronavirus to disappear, carry on as we had been, keep dividing on social media to help line Mark Zuckerberg’s pockets, and allow another pandemic to venture forth. It can’t be business as usual.

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Posted in business, China, culture, globalization, politics, social responsibility, technology, USA | No Comments »


History of the 2010s: a look back at the decade that was

02.01.2020

When I first wrote a satirical look back at the decade, which ran on this blog in December 2009 (on the old Blogger service, as I was helping a friend fight a six-month battle with Google to restore his blog), it was pretty easy to make up little fictions based on reality. This one, covering the decade just gone, was a different matter. No matter how you did it, often the reality would be stranger than the satire.
 
2010
The Australian establishment, especially large portions of its media, are shocked a woman could become prime minister. They spend her entire term telling the Australian public that this is morally wrong.
   Americans decide that they needed less honesty from television, so Simon Cowell leaves the US version of Pop Idol, American Idol.
   Donald Trump-hosted show The Apprentice gets its lowest ratings ever. He begins planning another show and brainstorms with his countrymen on Twitter.

   Long-running shows Ashes to Ashes and Lost end with exactly the same conclusion. Frustrated at years of investment in the two shows, the Anglosphere is so turned off television that they would rather form silos on social media websites to make their owners rich. Two guys in San Francisco spot the opportunity and invent Instagram.
   Jay Leno unquits The Tonight Show after discovering the $30 million per annum he made prior to leaving just couldn’t sustain his car collecting hobby.
   Kate loves Willy, so they get engaged.
 
2011
It’s revealed that Arnold Schwarzenegger does films, politics, and the family maid.
   Following the example of HH the Dalai Lama, Charlie Sheen decides to impart his wisdom to the masses, gaining an extra million Twitter followers as a result.
   Cheryl Cole starts on the US X Factor amid much buzz, then vanishes from the show. Only her dimples remain.
   Proving Apple is either a cult or a religion, Steve Jobs shrines appear all over the world after his passing.
   How I Met Your Mother concludes as we find out River Song is Amy Pond’s daughter.
   Kate loves Willy, so they get married.
 
Reality is stranger

   Facebook launches Timeline, but it actually doesn’t work on the 1st of each month as no one there has worked out there are time zones other than US Pacific. Still no one thinks they’re stupid.
   Google gets busted over its advertising preferences’ manager, which actually doesn’t stop gathering your preferences after you’ve opted out from having them gather your preferences. None of the other NAI members seem to have a problem with their opt-outs. As far as I can tell, Google has been lying about its opt-out for two years, affecting millions.
 
2012
President Obama finally figures out that same-sex marriage would not bring about disaster—that could safely be left to Big Tech, as it enjoys monopolies. As a result, Facebook has its IPO.
   Forget 2011’s Steve Jobs shrines, Jesus got a new look in Zaragoza, thanks to a repair job. Not everyone is enamoured with the updated Jesus, but it saves the town and numerous businesses.
   Prince Harry parties and brings a new meaning to ‘Las Vegas strip’. Got to have something to mark his grandmother’s 60th Jubilee.
   The Hunger Games makes stars of Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth, although people over a certain age thought it was The Unger Games, a remake of The Odd Couple.
   Kate loves Willy, so they expect a kid.
 
In the real world
   Malala Yousafzai kicks ass and a bullet to the head doesn’t stop her. If anything, it makes her stronger and grows her reputation.
   E. L. James gathers up her Twilight fan fic and puts it all into a book, called 50 Shades of Grey.
   Remember, this is where Boris Johnson is mayor: the London Olympics use the Kazakh national anthem from Borat. High five!
   Google gets busted over bypassing the ‘Do not track’ setting on Iphone Safari browsers by The Wall Street Journal. Despite trying to look innocent, it stops this the same day. Several US states’ attorneys-general decide this was such a gross violation of privacy that they fine Google a few hours’ earnings.

   Proving boys can do anything, Brad Pitt became the face of Chanel No. 5.
   Lana Del Rey has really good hair.
 
2013
Jennifer Lawrence brings publicity to her new film, Silver Linings Playbook, by falling at the Oscars.
   Miley Cyrus mainstreams twerking, which showed how far society had already descended. Her Dad’s ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ release in 1992 wasn’t considered a cultural high-point at the time: the apple does not fall far from the tree.
   Edward Snowden exposes mass surveillance on US citizens and even US allies. There is mass panic over the collection of data and the private sector pushes back, ensuring encryption of users’ private information … actually, nothing happened, and the NSA continued with its data collection while the Obama administration charged Snowden with a crime and tried to extradite him from Russia, where he had more freedom of speech.
   HM Queen Elizabeth II evens things up with Helen Mirren by winning a BAFTA for playing HM Queen Elizabeth II.
   Kate loves Willy, so they have a kid.
 
In the real world
   RIP Nelson Mandela.
 
2014

Ellen Degeneres broke Twitter with a selfie, but since everyone knew why, no one recalls if the fail whale went up.
   The world got a reminder not to upload private stuff to the cloud—as celebrities found out the hard way when their intimate pics were leaked. En masse, the world stopped uploading images to the cloud and to social media while they waited for Big Tech to fix things with their privacy … actually, nothing happened, and people uploaded more photos, in the hope that hackers would find them and release them.
   Scotland decides to stay part of the Union—for now. Of course they could trust London not to do something silly like leave the European Union.
   Bill Cosby makes Mel Gibson look respectable.
   Jay Leno decides he’s made enough for his car collecting hobby and leaves The Tonight Show, though he might still unquit. Watch your back, Jimmy.
   Kate loves Willy, so they expect another kid.
         
In the real world
   You’ve heard of the website You Park Like a C***? An American exchange student in Tübingen wanted to be featured on You’re Stuck in a C***.
   RIP Robin Williams, one of the funniest actors on Earth.
 
2015
Volkswagen, trying to outdo its links to Nazism and allegations of labour relations’ corruption, recalls tens of millions of diesel vehicles to see how far its brand would stretch. The US plans to fine VW way more than Ford or GM when they cheated on emissions, because, foreign.
   Donald Trump hits on an idea for a new reality show where he runs for president. Casting begins.
   Steve Harvey named the wrong winner at the Miss Universe pageant. At this point, being ‘Harveyed’ is a fairly innocent term.
   Jon Snow is very much alive and continues fronting the news on Channel 4.
   Kate loves Willy, so they have another kid.
 
In the real world
   Forget that August 9, 1976 Sports Illustrated cover; Caitlyn Jenner appears on the cover of Vanity Fair.
 
2016
The Chicago Cubs win the World Series, as detailed in Grey’s Sports Almanac.
   In November, the unthinkable happens: Wellington has a massive rainstorm, followed by an earthquake that triggers a tsunami warning, followed by flooding and extreme fog that leave the city cut off from the rest of the country. Summer would be called off while citizens figured out what to do. The UFO invasion does not take place, though with local body elections, certain candidates were replaced by replicants.
   Kate loves Willy—and Harry loves Meghan. Not a bad way to mark HM the Queen’s 90th birthday.
 
In the real world
   The UK votes to leave the European Union: Nigel Farage is overjoyed, but Boris Johnson and Michael Gove’s body language and facial expression reveal their dismay, and their words don’t match.
   I discover first-hand that Facebook is forcing downloads on people with the guise of ‘anti-malware’, even though this claim is dubious, and Facebook admits data are transferred back to the mother ship. I spend two years finding a journalist with the guts to write about it. Potentially millions have already been affected stretching to the beginning of the decade.
   RIP David Bowie.
 
2017
With the approval of the US audience, a massive, multi-channel series débuts, starring Donald J. Trump. It shows a dystopian America that elects a game show host its president, and warns us what can follow. This four-year experiment is expected to culminate in 2020 with an election special, which determines the series’ fate for a renewed batch of episodes.
   Kendall Jenner can do anything. She can solve riots with cans of Pepsi. Forget flower power.
   Kate loves Willy, so they expect another kid.
 
In the real world
   La La Land wins the Oscar for Best Picture, until it was taken off them and Midnight wins the Oscar for Best Picture. Someone Harveyed (first definition): presenter Warren Beatty had been handed the wrong card.
   Someone unplugs British Airways’ computers, and all flights at Heathrow and Gatwick are cancelled.
   News of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual harassment changes the meaning of getting ‘Harveyed’, and this one is far more horrific.
 
2018
Kanye West became Donald Trump’s biggest fan and joins the cast of his experimental four-year show. He plays an unhinged character who believes slavery was a choice.
   Harry loves Meg, and tie the knot. Meghan’s Dad, however, was too busy pursuing a career in modelling to attend.
   Taylor Swift gets the voters out, and the public hasn’t seen anything like this since David Hasselhoff brought down the Berlin Wall.
   Kate loves Willy, so they have another kid.
 
Reality is stranger
   Louise Matsakis at Wired writes the story on Facebook’s forced downloads, after I tipped her off. Facebook stopped pushing these downloads, after affecting millions and telling them it was for their own good.
   A month later, a pink-haired man named Christopher Wylie blew the lid on something much bigger: Facebook, in violation of a 2011 FTC consent decree, allowed a data company to harvest over 50 million users, swinging the outcome of the US presidential election.
   Roseanne comes back, Roseanne Barr Tweets something racist, Roseanne goes away.
   Some media job-shame actor Geoffrey Owens for working at Trader Joe’s; people come to his defence.
   Twelve boys are rescued from a cave in Thailand, after Elon Musk makes a coffin that others brand impractical, angering him so much he calls one of the rescuers ‘pedo guy’.
   Speaking of Elon, Tesla will call the cops on you if you’re a whistleblower, telling them you’re heading to work to shoot up the place.
   And yes, this does mean that the real news was whackier than the fiction.
 
2019
To keep the ratings up for his long-running show, Donald Trump gets jealous of Greta Thunberg, as she didn’t have to fake her Time Person of the Year cover.
   He heads to the UK for the D-Day commemorations, and bonds with HM the Queen, telling her, ‘My Dad was German and my Mum was Scottish, too.’

   The British attempt a remake of Donald Trump’s show. They search for a man who is born in New York, cheated on his first two wives, has five kids, funny hair, used to espouse more liberal views, before trying to sell ethnonationalism as part of his schtick. They find him: Boris Johnson, best known for his earlier work on Little Britain USA. Within weeks he’s already cheated on his partner Carrie by giving everyone in the UK a weak pound.
   Harry loves Meg, and this year, they didn’t need Kate and Willy to provide the baby news.
 
Reality is stranger
   Facebook says it will act in the wake of the Christchurch massacre, but by the following month, New Zealand’s privacy commissioner reveals they’ve done nothing, and are ‘morally bankrupt, pathological liars’.
   Twitter deletes the account of Will ‘Egg Boy’ Connolly, but not racist Australian politician Fraser Anning, again demonstrating how fearful they are of racists. Twitter also deleted an account that looked for anti-Semitic bots, as bots are good for business (just like Facebook).
   The Hong Kong police show their nostalgia for the British, by using the same colonial, “the natives are revolting” techniques once developed to quash piccaninnies.
   The UK charges in to the Ecuadorian Embassy to arrest Julian Assange, then subject him to psychological torture. The US and UK mainstream media continue vilifying him, while the Russian state media call it out.
   Mark Zuckerberg keeps meeting with right-wing figures, and people still want to keep making him rich by using Facebook, despite being lied to constantly about everything.

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Why Twitter’s stock went down in my book in 2018

01.01.2019

Twitter bird fallen
Pixabay

Of my friends, about eight or nine voted for President Trump. Two voted for Brexit. These are my friends, who I vouch for, who I like. Other than a difference of opinion on these topics, we remain friends. I still think incredibly highly of them.
   Since I know them well, I know a little bit about why they voted their way.
   Of the Americans, some wanted an end to the neoliberal order and hoped Trump would deliver. Others saw Clinton as corrupt and that Trump would actually be better. Of the Brits, their reasons were more complex, but among them were the thought of an unwieldly EU bureaucracy, and the belief that a customs’ union would be sufficient to keep trade going with the Continent.
   None of these people are racists or xenophobes—the opposite, in fact. None of them are hillbillies or gun-loving, NRA-donating hicks, or whatever narrative the mainstream media would like to spin. Most of them would be regarded by any measure in society as decent, intelligent and compassionate.
   I have found little reason to dislike someone, or not vote for someone, over one relatively minor disagreement. If their hearts are in the right place, it is not for me to condemn them for their choices. Indeed, when it comes to these issues, I find that while our actions differ (hypothetically, in my case, since I cannot vote in countries other than my own), our core views are actually quite similar.
   In the US, strip away the hatred that vocal fringe elements stoke, and you’ll find that most people have common enemies in big business, tax evaders, and censorship. In 2018 we have seen Big Tech silence people on both the left and the right for voicing opinions outside the mainstream. My two Brexit-voting friends share some concerns with Remainers.
   Therefore, in August, when one of these American friends wrote a Tweet in support of her president, it was horrible to watch Tweeters, total strangers, pile on her.
   I’m not saying I like Trump (quite the contrary, actually), but I will give him props when he does things that I happened to agree with. If I’ve Tweeted for years that I disagreed with US military involvement in Syria, for instance, which at least one US veteran friend says lacks an objective, then I’m not going to attack the man when he pulls his country’s troops out. However, it was interesting to see some viewpoints suddenly change on the day. Those who opposed the war suddenly supported it.
   I can’t say that I praise him very often, but I like to think I’m consistent. I was also complimentary about his withdrawal of the US from TPPA, something I have marched against.
   And this friend is consistent, too.
   In fact, her Tweet wasn’t even one of actual support. Someone called Trump a ‘loon’ and she simply said, ‘You don’t have to like my president,’ and added a few other points in response.
   The piling began.
   It seems almost fashionable to adopt one prevailing view peddled by the mainstream (media or otherwise) but there was no attempt to dissect these opposing views. My friend was measured and calm. What came afterwards did not reciprocate her courtesy.
   Since I was included in the Tweet, I saw plenty of attacks on her that day. I was included in one, by a black South African Tweeting something racist to me.
   When the mob goes this unruly, and it’s “liked” or deemed OK by so many, then something is very wrong. These people did not know my friend. They didn’t know why she supported Trump. They were just happy to group her in to what they had been told about Trump supporters being ill-educated hicks, and attacked accordingly.
   Call me naïve, but social media were meant to be platforms where we could exchange views and get a better understanding of someone else, and make the world a little better than how we found it. The reverse is now true, with Google, Facebook et al “bubbling” data so people only see what they want to see, to reinforce their prejudices, and having been convinced of their “rightness”, those espousing a contrary view must be inhuman.
   I don’t like dominant viewpoints unless it’s something like ‘Intolerance is bad’ or a scientific fact that is entirely provable, though you could probably take issue with where I draw the line. Generally, I like a bit of debate. No position is perfect and we need to respect those with whom we disagree. That day, Twitter was a medium where there was no such respect, that it was OK to pile on someone who fell outside the standard narrative. To me, that’s as unhealthy was a socialist being piled upon by conservatives if the latter group’s view happened to prevail. It doesn’t take much imagination to extend this scenario to being a Chinese republican in the early 20th century in the face of the Ching Dynasty. I’m always mindful of how things like this look if the shoe were on the other foot, hence I was equally upset when Facebook and Twitter shut down political websites’ presences on both the left and the right wings. We should advance by expanding our knowledge and experiences.
   It encouraged me to head more to Mastodon in 2018, where you can still have conversations with human beings with some degree of civility.
   And, frankly, if you disagree with someone over something relatively trivial, then there is such a feature as scrolling.
   Twitter became less savoury in 2018, and it has well and truly jumped the shark.

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Orange may be the new black but the difference is less than you think

09.02.2018


Instruct Studio

It’s easy to dismiss comedians as, well, comedians, there to tell a joke and to get a laugh out of us. But what if the comedian—such as Frankie Boyle—is one of those who sees the state of the world we’re in, and “tells it as it is”? His opinion for The Guardian makes for sobering reading.
   Initially, you think this was going to be a laugh-a-minute piece, when he writes, of US president Donald Trump:

You kind of wish he’d get therapy, but at this stage it’s like hiring a window cleaner for a burning building.

   But there are some uncomfortable truths, and it is certainly not slanted against the right, despite the medium:

I don’t really understand commentators who say it’s vital not to normalise any of Trump’s actions. They have been normalised for eight years by Barack Obama while many of the same people looked the other way. Banks and corporations writing their own legislation; war by executive order; mass deportations; kill lists: it’s all now as normal and American as earthquakes caused by fracked gases being ignited by burning abortion clinics. Of course, there is a moral difference in whether such actions are performed by a Harvard-educated constitutional law professor or a gibbering moron, and the distinction goes in Trump’s favour. That’s not to say Trump won’t plumb profound new depths of awfulness, like the disbanding of the environmental protection agency set up by hippy, libtard snowflake Richard Nixon.

   When confronted with that, it becomes much clearer why many people—and I include American friends of mine who are neither racists nor hicks (sorry to go against the mainstream narrative)—voted for Trump. If the country’s making some very un-American moves, then why not have someone who claims he can make a clean sweep? Never mind that he had no intention of doing so—it’s a case of swapping one bunch for another while satiating his own ego—but people cling to hope in their own ways. I am no supporter of the main alternative they had—Hillary Clinton—and only wish that Americans had the confidence to support a third party as we do, rather than be told ‘A vote for [Jill or Gary] is a vote for [Donald or Hillary].’ I heard this from both supporters of the right (Clinton) and further right (Trump) there, and it didn’t matter which third-party candidate’s name they inserted.
   It’s a reminder that we need to continue forging our own path, and do what is right by us—and it appears our new coalition government has received this message on so many policy fronts in its first 100 days, though with the revised TPPA I wonder sometimes. As Britain is finding out, it’s not that good for your own people to be a vassal of the United States in times like this.
   The solution? Focus on your own doorstep and do what you can with your own government. I won’t quote Boyle’s words here since I’d rather you click through and The Guardian can earn some money from ad revenue (at least from those of us who aren’t using ad blockers), but it’s a good a solution as any.

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Don’t let the bastards divide you, USA

31.01.2017

From Prof Heather Richardson, a professor of political history, and republished with her permission. We have social media, we can gather together. It’ll be important for people in the US, whether they are Republican, Democrat or have another political leaning, to show that they’re not going to get suckered in by what’s happening in their country.

I don’t like to talk about politics on Facebook—political history is my job, after all, and you are my friends—but there is an important non-partisan point to make today.
   What Bannon is doing, most dramatically with last night’s ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries—is creating what is known as a “shock event.” Such an event is unexpected and confusing and throws a society into chaos. People scramble to react to the event, usually along some fault line that those responsible for the event can widen by claiming that they alone know how to restore order. When opponents speak out, the authors of the shock event call them enemies. As society reels and tempers run high, those responsible for the shock event perform a sleight of hand to achieve their real goal, a goal they know to be hugely unpopular, but from which everyone has been distracted as they fight over the initial event. There is no longer concerted opposition to the real goal; opposition divides along the partisan lines established by the shock event.
   Last night’s Executive Order has all the hallmarks of a shock event. It was not reviewed by any governmental agencies or lawyers before it was released, and counterterrorism experts insist they did not ask for it. People charged with enforcing it got no instructions about how to do so. Courts immediately have declared parts of it unconstitutional, but border police in some airports are refusing to stop enforcing it.
   Predictably, chaos has followed and tempers are hot.
   My point today is this: unless you are the person setting it up, it is in no one’s interest to play the shock event game. It is designed explicitly to divide people who might otherwise come together so they cannot stand against something its authors think they won’t like. I don’t know what Bannon is up to—although I have some guesses—but because I know Bannon’s ideas well, I am positive that there is not a single person whom I consider a friend on either side of the aisle—and my friends range pretty widely—who will benefit from whatever it is. If the shock event strategy works, though, many of you will blame each other, rather than Bannon, for the fallout. And the country will have been tricked into accepting their real goal.
   But because shock events destabilize a society, they can also be used positively. We do not have to respond along old fault lines. We could just as easily reorganize into a different pattern that threatens the people who sparked the event. A successful shock event depends on speed and chaos because it requires knee-jerk reactions so that people divide along established lines. This, for example, is how Confederate leaders railroaded the initial southern states out of the Union. If people realize they are being played, though, they can reach across old lines and reorganize to challenge the leaders who are pulling the strings. This was Lincoln’s strategy when he joined together Whigs, Democrats, Free-Soilers, anti-Nebraska voters, and nativists into the new Republican Party to stand against the Slave Power. Five years before, such a coalition would have been unimaginable. Members of those groups agreed on very little other than that they wanted all Americans to have equal economic opportunity. Once they began to work together to promote a fair economic system, though, they found much common ground. They ended up rededicating the nation to a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
   Confederate leaders and Lincoln both knew about the political potential of a shock event. As we are in the midst of one, it seems worth noting that Lincoln seemed to have the better idea about how to use it.

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How my Dad called the primary and the election for Donald Trump ages ago

11.11.2016


FJM88NL, licensed under Creative Commons

I’ve had a phone call and a lot of comments on this in the last couple of days: my Dad, who is 81 with early-stage Alzheimer’s, called the US presidential election for Donald Trump months ago. I posted it on my social networks the day he made his definitive call, and friends remembered it. Thank you for all your compliments.
   Go back to 2015, he had called the Republican primary for Trump.
   I wasn’t as confident but I had Tweeted the week before the election that polls were understating Trump’s actual support by at least 6 per cent.
   In 2008, when everyone had dismissed Gov. Sarah Palin, he said that she wasn’t going to go away, and that she’d command an even greater influence in the first Obama term. While he predicted an Obama win, again quite early on, he wasn’t optimistic and didn’t think there would be great change in the US. You may or may not agree with that.
   Going right back to the 1980s, when I was at college, and before China showed any signs of opening up, he made the call about its economic rise, and that I would be assured, by the time I was in my 30s and 40s, that many would want to deal with the country. It would be, I remember him telling me, a career advantage to being Chinese—in contrast to the racism we encountered far more frequently back then.
   During the height of the Muldoon era, Dad, who counted himself as part of Rob’s Mob, made the call that Sir Robert Muldoon would not be able to hold on to his power or reputation in his old age. When a documentary aired condemning Sir Robert after his death, so that he wouldn’t be around to file a defamation suit, he said, ‘I told you so.’
   Even in the elections I contested (and he encouraged me to run), while he refused to be drawn on what he thought my chances were, he was unequivocally clear that my rival, John Morrison, wouldn’t win, in 2013. Dad certainly did better than some so-called political experts I can name.
   And if you want to get really spooky, during the Martin Bashir interview of Princess Diana, he said that by the time she was 37, she’d have a ‘really bad year’. He didn’t say she’d die.
   No, he’s not a Mystic Meg of any sort. He’s a guy who’s been around for a while and kept his eyes open.
   If you want to know his secret, I can tell you that his political projections are based in part around reading. Not mainstream media, but websites that he’s discovered over the years himself. He’s a keen web surfer and loves his news. He doesn’t put that much stock in political “experts”, and after having run myself, I can fully understand why.
   He’d even take in the viewpoints on Russia Today, which gives you an idea of how varied his reading was. Just today I caught him watching an address from Edward Snowden.
   With Palin, it was probably the sudden rise of her fan sites set up by US conservatives. He hadn’t seen such a rapid rise of sites that soon galvanized their support around the former Alaskan governor before. While mainstream media dismissed her and gave the impression that post-2008, she wouldn’t matter, Dad had entirely the opposite reading. Politically centrist, and, like me, a swing voter, he kept following the sites out of interest, and saw how they morphed into the Tea Party movement. He also knew they wouldn’t go away any time soon, and observed that there was a Palin effect, as the likes of Ted Cruz soon found out when contesting their Senate seats.
   And, despite my own criticisms of this practice, Dad would read the comments. Sometimes he would wade through hundreds of them, to get a sense of what people were thinking.
   It was his reading of media from left and right during the latest US presidential election that saw him made his calls very assertively.
   Rather than dismiss certain conservatives as ill-educated, as some media might, Dad treated them as human beings. He knew they would galvanize and get behind Trump.
   When you’ve lived through a world war (including an occupation) and then a civil war, and saw your family start from the bottom again after 1949, you get to be good at knowing what people go through.
   He’s always been politically switched on, and had a keen interest in history and economics, the latter of which he studied at a tertiary level. But he’d always explain to me that it came down to people and their behaviour, and never rational decision-making. I might have only lived just over half his lifetime so far, but I find little fault in that statement. All new movements have plenty of power, till they become the establishment.
   His thoughts on China in the 1980s could well have stemmed from that: I never asked him, and aphasia means he’d now find difficulty telling me anyway.
   Sadly for the US, he finds appeal in the theory that the nation will break up, though he hasn’t quite yet made the call in the same way he made the one for the Trump presidency. But as with his Trump prediction, I’m publishing this one online.
   He’s never stated it as succinctly but he has, in passing in the 1980s and 1990s, said that the British Empire wouldn’t last much longer beyond our current monarch’s reign.
   You never know, we might be coming back to this post in a few years’ time. These are gloomy scenarios but I’d rather put Dad’s ideas out there now, as I did with the Trump presidency, rather than tell you ex post facto how clever he was. The lesson: treat people as people, and it’s amazing how much that will reveal.

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A look back at 2015: a year that was harder to laugh at

20.12.2015

I’ve done this a few times now: looked through my year’s Tumblr posts to get an alternative feel for the Zeitgeist. Tumblr is where I put the less relevant junk that comes by my digital meanderings. But as I scrolled down to January 2015 in the archive, I’m not that certain the posts really reflected the world as we knew it. Nor was there much to laugh at, which was the original reason I started doing these at the close of 2009.
   January, of course, was the month of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, which saw 11 murdered, including the famed cartoonist Wolinski, whose work I enjoyed over the years. Facebook was still going through a massive bot (first-world) problem, being overrun by fake accounts that had to be reported constantly. The anti-vax movement was large enough to prompt a cartoonist to do an idiot’s guide to how vaccines work. In other words, it was a pretty depressing way to end the lunar year and start the solar one.
   February: Hannah Davis made it on to the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition by pulling her knickers down as far as socially acceptable (or unacceptable, depending on your point of view), while 50 Shades of Grey hit the cinemas, with one person commenting, ‘Seriously, this book raises every red flag warning signal I learned during my Military Police training. Grey is a ****ing psycho.’ Mission: Impossible’s second man with the rubber mask, Leonard Nimoy, he of the TV movie Baffled, passed away. Apparently he did some science fiction series, too.
   Citroën celebrated the 60th anniversary of the DS, generally regarded as one of the greatest car designs of the 20th century, while Alarm für Cobra 11 returned for another half-season in March. In April, one Tweeter refused to do any Bruce Jenner jokes: ‘there are kids & adults confused/bullied/dying over their gender identity,’ said an American photographer called Spike. The devastating Nepalese earthquakes were also in April, again nothing to be joked about. There was this moment of levity:

And the Fairfax Press published a photograph of President Xi of China, although the caption reads ‘South Korea’s President Park Geun Hye’. Wrong country, wrong gender. When reposted on Weibo, this was my most viral post of the year.

   In May, we published a first-hand account of the Nepal ’quakes in Lucire, by Kayla Newhouse. It was a month for motorheads with For the Love of Cars back on Channel 4. Facebook hackers, meanwhile, started targeting Japanese, and later Korean, accounts, taking them over and turning them into bots.
   In June, rumours swirled over the death of Channel 4 newsreader Jon Snow, whereupon I made this image:

   In July, rape complaints against actor Bill Cosby reached fever pitch as woman after woman came out with credible and very similar stories. Staying Stateside, one writer said of the GOP primaries: ‘It will go down someday as the greatest reality show ever conceived. The concept is ingenious. Take a combustible mix of the most depraved and filterless half-wits, scam artists and asylum Napoleons America has to offer, give them all piles of money and tell them to run for president. Add Donald Trump.’ A Sydney man, who allegedly insulted then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott, inspired the internet public to raise funds for him to beat the fine.
   In September, Doctor Who returned to telly for its 35th season, while Facebook continued to be overwhelmed by bots, mostly based around hacked Korean accounts. A young Briton, Connie Talbot, released a cover version of Sam Smith’s ‘Writing’s on the Wall’, the theme from the James Bond film Spectre, which I regarded as superior to the original.
   In October, US Senator Bernie Sanders answered the question, ‘Do black lives matter, or do all lives matter?’ He responded, ‘Black lives matter. And the reason those words matter is the African-American community knows that on any given day, some innocent person like Sandra Bland can get into a car, and then three days later she’s going to end up dead in jail. Or their kids are going to get shot. We need to combat institutional racism from top to bottom, and we need major, major reforms in a broken criminal justice system in which we have more people in jail than China.’
   As we neared the year’s end, I wrote a blog post, uncharacteristically published both on my Tumblr and here, on how a pharmaceutical company would release a Daraprim competitor for US$1 a pill, after the company behind Daraprim raised its price from US$13·50 to US$750. That was before Martin Shkreli, CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, was arrested in an investigation that began in 2014. I did one post noting what my Dad had begun forgetting because of his newly diagnosed Alzheimer’s disease, with the intent of following up, out of solidarity with another other caregivers of Alzheimer’s sufferers. November, too, saw Paris’s second major terrorist attack, and Astérix illustrator Albert Uderzo contributed this touching image:

Microsoft rolled out the bug-filled Windows 10, which worked differently every day.
   In December, it wasn’t quite ‘Star Wars, nothing but Star Wars’. There was, after all, Trump, Trump and more Trump, the only potential presidential candidate getting air time outside the US. Observing the primaries, 9Gag noted that the movie Idiocracy ‘started out as a comedy and is turning into a documentary’. Michael Welton wrote, meanwhile, in Counterpunch, ‘The only way we might fathom the post 9/11 American world of governmental deceit and a raw market approach to political problem solving is to assume that moral principle has been banished because the only criteria for action is whether the ends of success and profitability have been achieved. That’s all. That’s it. And since morality is the foundation of legal systems, adhering to law is abandoned as well.’ The New Zealand flag referendum didn’t make it into my Tumblr; but if it had, I wonder if we would be arguing whether the first-placed alternative by Kyle Lockwood is black and blue, or gold and white—a reference to another argument that had internauts wasting bandwidth back in February.
   It’s not an inaccurate snapshot of 2015, but it’s also a pretty depressing one. France tasted terror attacks much like other cities, but the west noticed for a change; there were serious natural disasters; and bonkers politicians got more air time than credible ones. Those moments of levity—my humorous Jon Snow image and feigned ignorance, for instance—were few and far between. It was that much harder to laugh at the year, which stresses just how much we need to do now and in 2016 to get things on a more sensible path. Can we educate and communicate sufficiently to do it, through every channel we have? Or are social media so fragmented now that you’ll only really talk into an echo chamber? And if so, how do we unite behind a set of common values and get around this?

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Trump a creation of the media, not of ad spends

11.12.2015

This is by no means a blog post in favour of the Republican poll front-runner, although this graphic from Vox (not the old Vox that I used to be on) was very interesting:

   When I ran for office in 2010 and 2013, I tried to mount campaigns that were the most effective per dollar spent. If you can’t practise it in your own campaign, you sure as heck can’t practise it when in office. J. E. Bush’s massive spend is exactly what you don’t want to see for the numbers he’s getting.
   And unlike the “polls” here in those two local body elections, which had no resemblance to the voters’ reality (got to love sextupling your poll numbers), I trust the Vox one is more accurate, being an aggregate of many US polls with large samples.
   The sad thing we can take from the numbers above is that celebrity seems to trump (pun unintended) all else. For those complaining about where all the moderate Muslim voices are when extremists speak out, have a look at this. Where are the moderate Republican voices? Outside the US, we don’t hear any in the mainstream media: the US political coverage has been Trump, Trump and more Trump. Extremism gets sensationalist headlines, and sensationalism sells in a headline culture, whether you’re Stateside or here. Similarly, peaceful Muslims just don’t fit the narrative, as this article in The Independent highlights. American legal experts who say that Trump’s proposal to bar Muslims from entering the country is unconstitutional because it violates their First and Fifth Amendments have parallels with Muslim leaders who say their faith is one of peace, practised peacefully by thousands of millions. They reflect the majority view, but rationality doesn’t sell the nightly news.
   No wonder some have called for the media not to give terrorists coverage, and their argument must similarly apply to all forms of extremism.
   I don’t know in which media the million-dollar club is spending in, but these numbers might also show that conventional above-the-line advertising can’t work without complementary below-the-line activity. Trump engagement—for and against—must be pretty good on Twitter, if my own Tweetstream is anything to go by, and that gets his name out more. The man has five million followers on Twitter and, for all the predictions about doom and gloom for the social network, it seems there’s life in it yet.
   At least it stays up an awful lot more than Facebook.
   At this point in 2007, Clinton had a 20-point lead over Obama, and four years before that, when his campaign was trying to buy advertising on our sites, the likely Democratic candidate was a pre-‘I have a scream’ Howard Dean. We really don’t know how this is all going to pan out, because on the other hand, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were leading at this point in 1979 and 1999 respectively.
   MSNBC has done the only poll I’ve seen where they’ve put the likely Democratic candidate this time—which appears to be Clinton, who has spent large—against potential Republican ones. Interestingly, only Carson comes closest to her if he became the Republican nominee; but the question among moderate conservatives and liberals must be how Trump still manages 41 against her 52 (below). Either these numbers will not be borne out at the polls should these two face off against each other, or the answer is simpler than we think: the US political media will talk up a creation of the US political media. They don’t want to be proven wrong, because otherwise they risk losing their perceived authority.

   What we do know, unless Sanders gets up there through his populist campaign, is that regardless of the outcome, the United States will swear in another right-wing president on January 20, 2017.

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