Posts tagged ‘Fairfax Press’


Modern masculinity doesn’t involve reinventing the wheel

29.11.2019

When Douglas Bader recorded in his log book on the aeroplane accident that cost him his legs, he wrote, ‘Bad show’.
   It was men like Bader, Audie Murphy, Claire Lee Chennault and Douglas MacArthur that my father spoke of as heroes from his childhood.
   There were plenty more from our own culture but I’m using these ones given my largely occidental audience, and Dad really did cite them as well.
   None of these men, by the accounts I’ve read, were braggarts. Most were indeed very humble about their contributions to their countries.
   But even my late pacifist veteran grandfather (he served, but desperately hated war) would consider these men heroes, as my father did.
   I may have blogged at other times about my first years in New Zealand, but I won’t go into depth about it as it would be too much of a digression from the point I want to make.
   Perhaps it’s growing up in an immigrant household that what your father tells you a real man should be trumps what you witness at school from your classmates about what they think masculinity is.
   And you see your own father display the qualities of what he considered to be gentlemanly. Children are good mimics.
   A gentleman, he would say, has the ability to refrain. A lesser man might act out, or strike someone, but that is not a civilized man. Society runs best when people are civilized.
   Those ideas of what we call toxic masculinity today were never displayed in my household and are utterly foreign to me—and as an immigrant, ‘foreign’ has two meanings in that sentence. I may be the “foreigner” as far as others (such as certain Australian-owned newspapers) are concerned, even after living here for 43 years, but from your own perspective, you can more easily distance yourself from any undesirable behaviour, saying, ‘That’s not who I am.’
   In the early years at my first high school, I may have had some cause to doubt the fatherly advice because what I witnessed was an extreme and intellectually stunted form of hero worship that might was right. That the brute force of the rugby player was true masculinity and if you didn’t have it, then you were a ‘poofter’ or a ‘faggot’. Brag, brag, brag, be it about sports or sexual encounters.
   This, as any real rugby player knows, and I have met men who have represented our national side, is a wholly inaccurate perception of who they are.
   They will tell you that true men display values of camaraderie, teamwork, quiet achievement, tolerance and decency. No All Black I know talks himself up as anything other than one of the boys who happened to be lucky enough to be chosen.
   Indeed, some of the bigger blokes who wound up in the school rugby teams, especially the Polynesian and Māori lads, were generally gentle and protective fellows with strong family values.
   Yet that misplaced perception held by immature high school boys, I fear, informs many young men of how they are to conduct themselves in adult life.
   They think that being jerks toward women is the norm. ‘Treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen,’ is the familiar refrain.
   I’ve had comments over the years of, ‘Why didn’t you make a move on me?’ when I either could not read the signs or felt that forceful “masculine” behaviour was not particularly respectful. As a middle-aged man I wonder if the patriarchy, “just the way things are”, has warped expectations for heterosexual men and women. (I can’t obviously speak for our LGBTQI community.)
   However, what I do know is sending intimate pictures of yourself via a dating app or messaging service is disgusting (and, incidentally, has not worked for any man in the history of the planet), and that constant desperation is particularly unappealing.
   I remember a female friend showing me the sorts of messages she received from potential suitors on a dating website.
   ‘Holy crap,’ I said. ‘This is the calibre of men out there?’
   And when I talk to my partner today, she tells me that that was par for the course.
   But I have a quality relationship because I did listen to my father and behaved in a way that I thought he would approve of. Whatever he taught me wound up being hard-wired in me and I never aped the boys in my first high school. He was right after all, even if it took longer for me to be in a long-term relationship.
   No, I don’t have a massive list of “conquests” because it honestly isn’t about quantity and life is too short for empty encounters. And while my behaviour at uni age, and shortly after, wasn’t always exemplary, as I tried to figure out the norms, I’ve also come through this knowing that I didn’t have to lie to any woman, and not a single woman out there will be able to say I did anything physical without her consent.
   While I obviously told my other half of my career when we met (‘So what do you do?’), I never mentioned my mayoral bids till our fourth date, a month in to our courtship (she lived out of the country when I ran), and I admitted I didn’t always have an easy time in business during a period of my life, including the recession. I am human, after all. And if one can’t accept me for the bad as well as the good, then is the relationship founded on reality? Or simply fantasy?
   We’ve recently had a murder trial here in New Zealand with the accused a young man who is described as a serial liar, and accounts from women he had met were tragic: he would lie about his occupation, bigging himself and his family up, or pretend he had terminal cancer. Enough has been written on this creep.
   I had the misfortune to meet another young man who has since been exposed by the Fairfax Press as a con man, who also told constant lies about his life, thinking that talk of personal wealth would impress me and a co-director of one business we have.
   Mercifully, the latter case didn’t wind up with anyone physically hurt, and I know plenty of young people who would never behave like this. But it got me wondering whether the core of these cases tells us something about how certain young men feel inadequate, because of a misplaced hero worship of a warped form of masculinity that leaves them as outsiders.
   I’m by no means excusing the murderer because he frankly committed a heinous crime, in a premeditated fashion. I remain appalled at the victim-shaming that I saw reported as though the deceased, the one person who couldn’t answer, were on trial. I’m also not excusing the failed con-man who any viewer of Hustle would be able to spot a mile away: his actions, too, were his own. But I am pointing at society and how we men have shaped expectations.
   For I look at some male behaviour and they are entirely at odds with what a man should be.
   While examples like Douglas Bader might not resonate with young men today, because his example is too far back in history for them (the biopic is in black and white), surely we can find ones of humble men who accomplish great deeds and don’t have to go on social media to talk themselves up.
   Just tonight I was at a dinner for Merrill Fernando, the 89-year-old founder of Dilmah Tea, who was earlier today conferred an honorary doctorate by Massey University.
   When I asked if he was now Dr Fernando, he replied that he would still be Merrill Fernando, and that all the honours he had received—and they are plentiful—would never change who he was. His humility and his faith continue to inspire me.
   This is the mark of a decent and admirable man.
   And surely we can find examples where men aren’t being disrespectful to women and show us that that is the norm.
   Surely we don’t need to berate anyone who doesn’t fit the trogoldyte mould and use homophobic slurs against them.
   Because, chaps, I don’t believe what defines a man, a real man, a fair dinkum bloke, has actually changed, at its core, from what my Dad told me.
   There is room for the jocks, the geeks, the musos, the artists, the romantics, the extroverts and introverts, because we all have our strengths.
   One female friend of mine tells me that it’s safer for her to presume all men are jerks as her default position till proved otherwise, and I know fully why she would take that position. On social media she points to the ‘bros’, men who’ll gang up on women because they don’t like them for calling it as it is, or having a different viewpoint. In real life she has had unwanted attention, even after she tells them she’s queer.
   These men, the bros, the braggarts, the dick-pic senders, the liars, the bullies, the slanderers, are actually trying to change the definition of what a real man is—and that, to me, seems to be non-masculine, insecure and inadequate. We can do better—and history shows that we had done once.

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


We’ve been here before: foreign-owned media run another piece supporting an asset sale

04.05.2018


Clilly4/Creative Commons

I see there’s an opinion piece in Stuff from the Chamber of Commerce saying the Wellington City Council should sell its stake in Wellington Airport, because it doesn’t bring in that much (NZ$12 million per annum), and because Auckland’s selling theirs.
   It’s not too dissimilar to calls for the Council to sell the Municipal Electricity Department a few decades ago, or any other post-Muldoon call about privatization.
   Without making too much of a judgement, since I haven’t inquired deeply into the figures, it’s interesting that the line often peddled by certain business groups, when they want governments to sell assets, is: ‘They should run things like households, and have little debt.’
   This never applies to themselves. When it comes to their own expansion, they say, ‘We don’t need to run things like households, we can finance this through debt.’
   The same groups say that governments should be run more like businesses.
   However, their advice is always for governments to be run like households.
   Has it escaped them that they are different beasts?
   I wouldn’t mind seeing government entities run like businesses, making money for their stakeholders, and said so when I campaigned for mayor.
   Doing this needs abandoning a culture of mediocrity at some of those entities. Some believe this is impossible within government, and there are credible examples, usually under former command economies. But then there are also decent examples of state-owned enterprises doing rather well, like Absolut, before they were sold off by the Swedish government. If you want something current, the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. is one of the most profitable car makers on the planet.
   The difference lies in the approach toward the asset.
   But what do I know? I come from Hong Kong where the civil service inherited from the British is enviably efficient, something many occidentals seem to believe is impossible—yet I live in a country where I can apply for, and get, a new passport in four hours. Nevertheless, that belief in inefficiency holds.
   Change your mindset: things are possible with the right people. Don’t be a Luddite.
   And therein lies why Stuff and I are on different planets.

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Posted in business, China, culture, globalization, leadership, media, New Zealand, politics, Sweden, Wellington | No Comments »


Too many white cars make fake news

17.09.2017


A photo taken in Wellington with a test car I had for Lucire. White cars aren’t the over-represented colour in New Zealand: guess from this photo what is.

A friend of mine put me on to this Fairfax Press Stuff article, entitled ‘Silly Car Question #16: Why are there so many white cars?’. It’s a silly question all right, because I haven’t noticed this phenomenon in New Zealand at all, and if any colour is over-represented, it’s the silver–grey tones. It seems like “fake news”, and if you read on, then there’s more to support that assertion.
   ‘It’s because every second car imported from Asia is white – literally. Latest research tells us that 48 per cent of all vehicles manufactured in Asia, particularly Japan, are painted white.’ (My friend, of Chinese descent, summarized jokingly, ‘It’s our fault,’ and my thought was, ‘Not again.’)
   Let’s break this one sentence down. The author says that we source a lot of our used cars from Japan, hence this 48 per cent figure is reflected in the New Zealand fleet. But you only need to ask yourself a simple question here: how many of those white cars made in Japan (or Korea, or India, or Thailand) stay in those countries to become used imports to New Zealand? These nations are net exporters of cars, so whatever trickles on to the Japanese home market will be a smaller percentage of that 48. How many are white—we don’t have that statistic, but, as I noted, it’s certainly not reflected in the cars on our roads. Now, if we’re talking Tahiti, where there are a lot of white cars, then that’s another story—and that is likely to do with white reflecting light in a hot climate. As this is a foreign-owned newspaper group, then perhaps the author does not live in New Zealand, or if he does, maybe he hangs around taxi ranks a lot.
   Let’s go a bit further: ‘Statistics gathered by Axalta Coating Sytems, a leading global supplier of liquid and powder coatings, showed that worldwide 37 per cent of all new vehicles built during 2016 were painted white, which was up two percentage points on 2015’ and ‘All this leads to the next obvious question: why are all these cars painted white? / It may be because that’s what the manufacturers want.’
   From what I can tell, this article was cobbled together from two sets of statistics. A bit of research wouldn’t have been remiss. However, it is a sign of the times, and even we’re guilty of taking a release at face value to get news out. But the result on Stuff just doesn’t make much sense.
   James Newburrie, a car enthusiast and IT security specialist, has a far more reasonable answer to the high number of silver (and dull-coloured, which includes white) cars, which he gave me permission to quote in May 2016:

Car colours are fairly well correlated with consumer confidence. In an environment where consumer confidence is high, regular cars are likely to be available in all sorts of bright and lurid colours (purple, green, yellow, etc). As consumer confidence tanks, people start to think more about resale value and they chose more “universal” colours (the kind of colours no one hates: Silver, conservative blues, etc).
   Cars directed at young people tend to be cheaper and maintain strong colours throughout the cycle – but to keep costs down they tend to stay around red, black, white, blue and silver, perhaps with one “girly” colour if it is a small car. Cars directed to financially secure people as second cars, like sports cars for instance, tend to be more vibrantly coloured, because your buying into the dream.
   So, in the 1950s while the economy was good, people bought cars in bright colours with lots of colours, the oil crisis comes along and they go to white and beige, the 80s come along and we all vomit from car colours, the recession we had to have leads to boredom, then everything is awesome again and you can buy a metallic purple Falcon, or a metallic orange commodore – then the great recession and we’re all bored to death again.
   Consumer confidence probably is just starting to recover now. If history is any indication, there will be a point where people just go “oh screw worrying” and then they will see that other people aren’t worried anymore and they’ll say “screw worrying” etc … and we will snap back.

   Follow that up with what car dealers are now selling, and bingo, you might have a serviceable article.

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Posted in business, cars, media, New Zealand | No Comments »


Go well, Dave Moore

02.06.2017

I was very saddened to learn of the passing of my colleague and friend Dave Moore on May 31, which I learned about a few hours after.
   You don’t expect your mates to drop dead at breakfast while on a press trip, especially not at the age of 67, and it’s particularly painful to know he leaves behind a wife and two children.
   The only solace is that he was doing something he loved, in a beautiful part of New Zealand, Wanaka.
   One of my good memories is driving with Dave along south Auckland roads, each of us in a new BMW 650i Cabriolet, during the press launch in 2011. Good manners prevent me from saying what speeds we were doing, but as this is a public blog, let’s say it was 101 km/h on a 100 km/h road. Remember Dave was 61 at this point but he still had the reflexes of a guy half his age.
   Having travelled up this road earlier (this was our return journey), we knew the likelihood of anyone coming the other way was remote. We decided to wind things back down to 50 km/h when we hit the main road and about 200 m down was a police checkpoint!
   We beamed innocently, as though we were doing the legal limit all the time.
   Back at BMW, Dave said to me, ‘That was good, but you could feel a bit of flex in the chassis. Let’s hope they fix that for the M6.’
   Dave was a good bloke. We didn’t always agree but we were always civil about it. On that I have no regrets. He hated mispronunciations (d’Or being pronounced as Dior was his pet peeve) and his politics tended to be further right than mine, but we never let that get in the way of a healthy respect for each other. He was in a good place in his life after quitting the top motoring post at Fairfax New Zealand, and doing his own thing. His daughter was moving up in the foreign service and doing exceptionally well, and he was deeply proud of her. The only photo I have of him is a silly one (he’s on the left and no, I don’t remember why three of us put the napkins on our heads) but usually when you’re on a press junket, you’re not taking photos of your colleagues!
   Dave was still posting on social media right up till his death, remarking how he was enjoying his view at his accommodation in Wanaka.
   There’s something fitting about his Facebook cover photo being his beloved dog, Ruby, walking alone into the distance.
   Our last conversation online was discussing the death of Sir Roger Moore a week before. Dave remembered Ivanhoe and we talked about Robert Brown playing the serf to Roger Moore’s Sir Winifred. Sadly, it wasn’t a car conversation, but it’s not a bad one to end on.
   My condolences to Dave’s family on the passing of a much loved and respected man.

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Posted in cars, media, New Zealand | No Comments »


How a car accident makes you grateful

04.05.2015

The trouble with all the yellow-peril reporting that’s far more prevalent than it should be in Aotearoa is when something happens to you that may get people thinking about a stereotype.
   Back in March, of course, we had one writer justifying racism toward (east) Asian tourist drivers in the Fairfax Press, when the facts show that Aussies are the worst of the tourists when it comes to causing accidents on our roads. That’s no surprise, since there are simply more Aussie tourists driving on our roads; yet, as I pointed out in March, no one really seemed to mind how many accidents tourists were causing when the bulk of them were Aussies, Brits and continental Europeans.
   Then we had another one a few weeks later from the same newspaper group that suggested the increase in corrupt practices among New Zealand companies was due to immigration from countries such as China, tying in the story to a Deloitte report to give it legitimacy—except the report makes no such claim.
   With the exception of journalists like Dave Moore of The Press (part of the same newspaper group) who prefers to cite motoring facts and back them up rather than rely on hearsay from their grandfathers, it seems pretty easy for some in the media to draw a stereotype of the corrupt, incompetent Chinese driver. Those who think that we have completely moved past drawing pigtails (I said pigtails, not ponytails) on Chinese caricatures are wrong; while there aren’t such negative portrayals in our media, it seems incredibly easy, almost a default position, for some less responsible types to fall back on unrealistic conclusions. After all, The Dominion Post said my accent is hard to understand on its p. 1 some years back, and as many of you pointed out to them via the social networks, no one in the real world knows that they are talking about. (Note: I received a Twitter apology from the editor-in-chief.)
   The trouble comes when the fantasyland concocted by some starts impacting on everyday life, which is, of course, some of the discussions that US residents are having right now over how black Americans are portrayed. The peaceful protesters don’t get covered, because they are less newsworthy; the violent looters do, and it becomes dreadfully easy for the less cosmopolitan to equate being black with being violent.
   After a car accident on Friday, where everyone was exemplary, I couldn’t help but have these thoughts go through my mind. I found myself telling friends, ‘I had an accident, but the other driver was at fault,’ even though my friends know of my love of cars, and my above-average abilities with them. I double-checked with the police officer that he clearly understood me, when I should never have doubted his objectivity. My radar was alert for anyone who might fall back on the stereotype, even though I live in a city, with an urban population that generally has more contact with minority cultures and know that the fantasyland concocted by certain people is designed only to appeal to the ever-shrinking market of xenophobes in society.
   The ages of most of the people involved were under 30, so I really had nothing to fear: the other driver, the police officer, the witnesses, and the schoolboy who, as a responsible young New Zealander, called the emergency services for us. One witness offered her lounge for us to rest and get over the shock. The officer was scrupulously professional, not letting on any emotion (the Dieter Bonrath poker face school of policing, for the Cobra 11 fans out there) as he gathered his facts; he became friendlier after it was established we were both decent folks willing to help, and there was no booze involved. The ambulance staff were ultra-friendly and we had to assure them that we were all right and they should head off to the next gig where there may be a greater need for them. The other driver was honest, considerate and took responsibility, although she was in shock (as was I for some time, though I probably hid it better), yet her first utterance was to ask if I was all right. That says volumes about her character. Not only was this an urban population, this was a young urban population for whom skin colour is far down the list of priorities. Ditto with me: I can’t tell you what races people were. I just remembered everyone sounded like me. You know, like Sir Anand Satyanand.
   But it is a worry when your thoughts go toward defending yourself from the stereotype, because years of living in a place where you are the minority have taught you to be alert. Granted, no one shoots at us, since our cops are unarmed for the most part, but I began to get an appreciation for the hands-up gesture among black Americans in their country. It’s a symbol of so much, including ensuring that no one ever mistakes you for being armed, because of the negative associations that are portrayed. You nevertheless worry if anyone around you bought into fantasyland, because you know the less intelligent do: you’ve seen it. (I hasten to add that this is not a criticism of any particular people, because I am well aware that if you go to a place where my race is the majority, there will be a certain segment of the population there that holds negative and false stereotypes of others.)
   Race relations in this country have improved markedly since my arrival in 1976, so this is heartening. I don’t see things like refusal of service to people of my colour (yes, it has happened in the last four decades), and the stories of my great-uncle and others, of having stones and rocks thrown at you by fellow Kiwis because of their colour, seem foreign and distant. Last Friday was a reminder that most New Zealanders look at others fairly, regardless of their origins. That was a silver lining. Lucy Knight’s instincts kicked in to defend a Chinese New Zealander whose handbag was being stolen by a young man, and Mrs Knight got a serious head injury for her intervention, requiring months of surgery and rehabilitation. I doubt she evaluated the race of thief or victim before stepping in, and, rightly, The New Zealand Herald didn’t care, either. Go to your social media feeds, and by and large, racism is frowned upon. Last Friday was a fantastic reminder of the good of the place I have proudly called home most of my life. A place where xenophobia is virtually dead.
   We’ve come a long way, and we just need to weed out the last little bits of this strange fantasy where it’s apparently desirous that Aotearoa looks something like Midsomer but without the deaths. The reality is that the Midsomers of this world (by that I mean any society that adopts a Luddite position in part through having its head in the sand) are terrible at trading and stagnate. We’re in a global society, we’ve a lot to gain from working with others in different nations, and we’re really not that different across the planet. As someone once pointed out to me, the Palestinian Dream looks an awful lot like the American Dream.
   And, if you’re truly proud of your country, you’d naturally want to share, secure enough in your belief about the place to know that the fundamental things about it will never change. New Zealand will always be New Zealand, with an independent, determined outlook, and those who come get it. The more we share, the more we all get it. That’s a good thing.

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Posted in cars, China, culture, media, New Zealand, USA, Wellington | 1 Comment »


Read the report: Deloitte actually doesn’t blame migrants for increased corruption

26.03.2015

Deloitte has published a report on the increasing corruption in Australia and New Zealand, which Fairfax’s Stuff website reported on today.
   Its opening paragraph: ‘An increase in bribery and corruption tarnishing New Zealand’s ethical image may be due to an influx of migrants from countries where such practices are normal.’
   The problem: I’m struggling to find any such link in Deloitte’s report.
   The article paraphrases Deloitte’s Ian Tuke perhaps to justify that opening paragraph: ‘Tuke said one working theory explaining the rise was the influx of migrants from countries such as China, which are in the red zone on Transparency International’s index of perceived corruption,’ but otherwise, the report makes no such connection.
   The real culprit, based on my own reading of the report, is the lack of knowledge by Australians and New Zealanders over what is acceptable under our laws.
   Yet again I see the Chinese become a far bigger target of blame than the source suggests, when we should be cleaning our own doorstep first.
   The Deloitte report acknowledges that there is indeed a high level of corruption in China, Indonesia, India and other countries, making this a big warning for those of us who choose to extend our businesses there. It’s not migration to New Zealand that’s an issue: it’s our choosing to go into these countries with our own operations.
   It would be foolhardy, however, for an article in the business section to tell Kiwis to stop exporting.
   But equally foolhardy is shifting the blame for a problem that New Zealand really needs to tackle—and which we are more than capable of tackling.
   The fact is: if we Kiwis were so clean, we’d uphold our own standards, regardless of what foreign practices were. Our political leaders also wouldn’t confuse the issue with, say, what happened at Oravida.
   When faced with a choice of paying a kickback or not in the mid-2000s when dealing in eastern Europe, our people chose to stay clean—and we lost a lot of money in the process.
   To me they did the right thing, and I credit less my own intervention and more the culture we had instilled.
   Hong Kong cleaned up its act in the 1970s with the ICAC, and I have said for decades (since the Labour asset sales of the 1980s) that New Zealand would do well in following such an example. Why haven’t we?
   Perhaps if we stopped shifting the blame and followed the recommendations in the Deloitte report, including shifting corporate cultures and instigating more rigorous checks, we can restore our top ranking in those Transparency International reports. But this has to be our choice, not a case where we are blaming migrants, for which there is little support in this very reasonable report.

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Posted in business, China, culture, Hong Kong, India, leadership, media, New Zealand, publishing | No Comments »


When the media advocate racism to hide the real culprits behind bad driving

07.03.2015

This op–ed in the Fairfax Press smacks of typical yellow peril journalism that has come to typify what passes for some media coverage of late.
   Yes, some Chinese drivers are awful in their home country and they will bring those bad habits here. But I’d be interested to get some hard stats. For instance, Chris Roberts, CEO of the Tourism Industry Association, tells us that 5 per cent of accidents are caused by tourists, and 3 per cent of fatalities are caused by them. That has been the case for years. The only difference is the mix of tourists. We were never that concerned when Aussies, Brits and continental Europeans were causing that 3 per cent. All of a sudden, we are concerned when Chinese tourists are causing part of that 3 per cent.
   Roberts also notes that Australian tourists are the worst culprits when it comes to accidents here—no surprise, since more Aussies travel here.
   In the last three years, 240 were killed on our roads by drunk drivers. None were killed by a drunk visitor.
   So what a shame when a writer cannot uncover some basic facts and advocates ‘benevolent racism’, citing a book written by an American about Chinese drivers in China in support.
   I wouldn’t have a problem if we were up in arms in earlier years about all the accidents caused by tourists, and the media, especially talkback radio, were filled with calls to make sure the many Aussies and Brits were tested before they got behind the wheel of a rental car here.
   But to devote so much time and column inches now smacks of hypocrisy.
   There’s a difference between the everyday Chinese driver in China and a more educated tourist who has the means and smarts to go abroad—just as there is between an everyday Kiwi driver in New Zealand and those of us who opt to drive and travel in countries where they drive on the other side of the road. I’d be surprised if you told me you were as relaxed as you normally are in New Zealand when you drive abroad.
   I have done my own study on this—a tiny sample to be sure—where the incidents of bad driving in this country are—surprise, surprise—exactly in proportion to the racial mix. It is always troubling when we buy into a stereotype.
   You can easily argue that we drive more kilometres over a year in our country than a tourist might over a small period of time. However, I understand from my friend Nadine Isler, whose father is the expert in this area, that even when you factor this in, we Kiwis still fare poorly. The xenophobia, then, that I see in our country is disturbing, especially when it relates to the yellow peril.
   Many of my friends who visit here comment on the appalling behaviour of local drivers, and they notice a marked decline in the driving ability they witness after they arrive. As Dave Moore—also of the Fairfax Press, but a journalist who prefers to research and cite facts—has rightly pointed out, our road toll per capita is substantially higher than the UK’s. He has said so for years, consistently, warning us about our own low standards. This should tell you something about where we stand, and just how appalling the average Kiwi motorist is. As I say to British friends who bemoan their own driving standards: you need to kill another 1,400 Britons each year to get an idea of where New Zealand is. (I am using a mix of 2012 and 2013 figures for that number.)
   His solution, which also appeared on Fairfax’s Stuff website, has merit, but, of course, it forces us to take a long, hard look at ourselves—something we’re not happy doing when there is an easily identified group to blame. And blame, and blame.
   As I said in an earlier status update on Facebook: if we want to target the driving habits of tourists (and it is not a bad idea), then let’s get the 95 per cent of trouble-makers—Kiwis on Kiwi roads, and predominantly white—up to speed as well. If we are going to do any profiling of who the dangerous drivers are on our roads, it’s not Chinese tourists we should be concerned about.

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Posted in cars, China, culture, media, New Zealand | 5 Comments »


A familiar call after two mayoral campaigns on Wellington’s knowledge economy

01.08.2014

The latest Victoria University study, expressing that there is a shortage of creative people, sounds very familiar.
   Dr Richard Norman highlights in a Fairfax Press editorial that knowledge economy companies are ‘struggling to capitalise on opportunities for growth because of limited local talent …
   ‘Many of these companies are well-seasoned and high-earning—a third of those interviewed had total sales of over $50 million for the most recent financial year and about half had been here for more than two decades.’
   The study also revealed, ‘Views varied widely about the effectiveness of current promotion of Wellington. The strongest recurring idea for promotion of Wellington’s attributes was to focus on its potential as a digital city.’
   In other words, had people been listening to this sector—as I had for many years—this comes as no surprise.
   In both my mayoral campaigns, I expressed that Wellington needed to be open for business for tech and the knowledge economy, and last year I made it very clear that I would find ways to bridge the training at the tertiary level with these very companies seeking talented graduates. Not only would there be a city-supported internship programme modelled on that of Dunedin, but specifically geared to this sector, but there would be another that would connect graduates directly to these firms, which told me that they knew these young people were there, but their sits vac weren’t known to them.
   Wellington is a haven for companies operating in the knowledge economy, whether it’s down to our creativity thanks to the highest-profile firms being based here (Xero, Trade Me) or our work–life balance, and it has been heading that way for all of my career, since I began developing digital fonts in the 1980s and digital publications as the 1990s unfolded.
   Frictionless exports form part of a productive, profitable future for our city and yet they have often been ignored by some of the same-again politicians and business “leaders” who have a Life on Mars mindset to our economy.
   To this end I approached the Chancellor at Victoria University last week, and formally in writing earlier this week, to see if I could still create something that would help today’s students find the jobs that they want.
   Already I had signed up to the Alumni as Mentors programme (on to my second “mentee” now), and was part of the pilot programme for Vic internships late last year, to help enhance the employment prospects of final-year students. But that’s just in one company. I can do more.
   After a discussion with a senior Victoria University professor last year, I was very keen, had I been elected as mayor, to get Wellington to a level of critical mass when it came to R&D and technology. I have similarly been talking to representatives at other tertiary institutions such as Weltec, and of course, I still serve on one advisory board at Whitireia.
   My hands are more tied as a private citizen, and things will take longer, but they are still worth doing.
   As Dr Norman’s study was developed in partnership with the Greater Wellington Regional Council, with support from Grow Wellington and the Wellington City Council, there will be others who are thinking along the same lines. I’m sure that all these efforts will intersect, but we have to act.
   I only wish such a study was released a year earlier, as I don’t recall anything of the sort in The Dominion Post during the election cycle.

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Posted in business, culture, New Zealand, politics, technology, Wellington | No Comments »


Upset about needing Google Plus to comment on YouTube? Here’s a radical idea: don’t

18.01.2014

There were a few upset people in November because Google compelled everyone who wanted to comment on YouTube to have a Google Plus profile. Even a co-founder of YouTube, Jawed Karim, objected.
   But it’s been a long time coming.
   In 2011, Google combined, as is its prerogative, YouTube accounts with its own. While prior to that you could maintain separate YouTube and Google accounts, by 2011 you couldn’t. That helped Google sell more advertising, since YouTube is one of the most visited sites in the world and 2011 figures show that 96 per cent of Google’s $37,000 million annual revenue comes from advertising. If it could get your YouTube browsing data mixed with your other preferences (when you saw a Doubleclick ad, or when you used your Gmail), then their targeting could be pretty potent. As we also saw, it didn’t matter if you had asked Google not to track you, either through its own Ads Preferences Manager or through an Iphone setting, Google would hack you to get these data—at least till it gets busted, by me to the NAI or by the Murdoch Press to a much larger audience.
   Will it try it again? You bet. It’s had a record of such behaviour and since the fines are tiny—they were penalized $17 million over the Apple hack, which is one two-thousandths of what they made, or about four hours’ revenue—there’s not a huge disincentive. Getting effectively a speeding ticket is worth the risk in their corporate culture.
   In 2011, already incensed by the annual battles I had with Google, although I was yet to discover their deception over Ads Preferences Manager, I thought: I won’t connect the two accounts. In fact, I might even stop using my YouTube account.
   My reasons for doing so were outlined exactly three years ago. They weren’t so much about Google’s advertising business but about the very real privacy issues that a friend had uncovered first-hand. He had asked me, however, to report it as a hypothetical, since he had discovered this very situation with a client. (I’m only revealing this now since a commenter confirmed that this scenario was real.)
   I’ve covered other YouTube privacy problems, so I won’t elaborate here, but once the Ads Preferences Manager con was discovered later that year, I did two things: (a) blocked all Doubleclick cookies, since opting out of their Manager actually did nothing after a day; (b) blocked all YouTube cookies, since going to YouTube was one way Google could alter its opt-out cookie into one that began tracking you again.
   From that day on, I could no longer comment on YouTube and the great news: after three years, I don’t miss it.
   And to make it even better, Google changed the commenting system recently, so that if you don’t have a YouTube cookie, you see no comments at all.
   That means my YouTube browsing is more intelligent since I don’t have to put up with the idiots that seem to outnumber the few smart ones on the website. (You can, incidentally, do the same with Fairfax’s Stuff.)
   If I find myself desperately needing to comment on a video, I simply embed it on a blog or on Facebook and write my remarks there for my own limited audience to enjoy. Those friends who comment don’t wind up making it all about Barack Obama’s birth certificate in the thread. Unlike YouTube.
   Since Google will not reverse its decision to force every YouTube account holder to have a Plus account—after all, the protests in 2011 came to nought, and since then, most people just came to accept the new status quo—then those who really dislike it might have to change their online habits. Google’s betting on users eventually giving up the fight—and, realistically, most of you will.
   And yet, not being able to comment on YouTube is no bad thing. I’ve done it for three years, and if your blog even carries advertising, then why not make a few bob for yourself for taking the time to write? Just try not to use Google ads.

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Posted in business, internet, marketing, USA | 2 Comments »


Steve Guttenberg shows us how a Kiwi accent is done

27.12.2013

Back in September, The Dominion Post claimed on its front page that I have an ‘accent’ that is holding me back. It was a statement which the editor-in-chief subsequently apologized for, and which she had removed from the online edition—you can judge for yourself here if the claim was a falsehood. Still, despite having lived here for 37 years and having grown up here, I thought I had better take lessons from the great actor, Steve Guttenberg, on what a New Zealander sounds like, since evidently I was still too foreign for a newspaper reporter.
   Head to around 49 minutes for Steve in the persona of Lobo Marunga, from Auckland, in The Boyfriend School, which aired in New Zealand as Don’t Tell Her It’s Me. Forget Sir Ben Kingsley in Ender’s Game.

   My thanks to all those on Twitter and Facebook who complained to the newspaper back in September. The plus side is turning fictions like this into what they should be: a source of humour and entertainment.

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Posted in humour, internet, media, New Zealand, politics, TV, USA, Wellington | 4 Comments »