Posts tagged ‘globalization’


The hunt for reliable news is harder today

03.10.2017


Above: A reputable Las Vegas newspaper, the Las Vegas Review–Journal.

I’m not going to weigh in on the debate surrounding the US Second Amendment today, but what I will say is whether we like their politicians or not, the victims in Las Vegas didn’t deserve their fates. My thoughts and prayers go to them and their families.
   One related observation from a very good friend was that one local (albeit foreign-owned) media outlet was running live web coverage of the shooting, and questioned whether this was of any real interest to New Zealanders. It could be, to use her words, ‘disaster voyeurism.’
   I have to agree. If you were concerned for a loved one who was there, you’re more likely on Las Vegas, Nevada, or US national news media, and not a local one.
   There is some public interest in it, of course. This is a country we have a connection with, but arguably not to this extent.
   Now, I don’t totally begrudge a publisher trying to make money from breaking news, either, since we all have to eat, but in chatting to my friend I had to look at what was enabling this to happen.
   I’m not one to knock having a global market-place, either, as I’ve benefited from it. And there is a global market-place for news. However, it does seem out of kilter that a locally targeted website covers international news to this minute detail. It’s not like those media outlets that aimed to be global despite having a local or national base (the British tabloids come to mind, such as the Mail and The Guardian), where you could rightly expect that.
   It’s hard to avoid that this is a cynical grab for clicks, and I point my finger at Google News.
   I might have de-Googled a lot of my life, but I always maintained that I would keep using Google News, as it’s a service I find some utility from. But a while back, Google News changed its focus. Rather than reward the outlet that broke a news item, it tended to take people to mainstream media outlets. We used to get rewarded for breaking stories. Now the mainstream media do. There’s less incentive for independent media to do so because we’re not being rewarded meritoriously. As Spanish publishers discovered, Google News sends you traffic, and it gets to decide whom is to be rewarded. When Google News shut its Spanish service, traffic to small publishers fell: it was independents that suffered the most.
   Therefore, if we had the old algorithm, those searching today for news of the Las Vegas shooting would see the outlet(s) that broke the news first leading their searches, and other media would follow. That would be in line with the Google I liked during the first decade of this century. It, too, was once a plucky upstart and for years it rewarded other plucky upstarts.
   From my experience having broken stories that other publishers eventually do, searches now take you to mainstream outlets, and, if Google’s “bubbling” of its regular search results is any indication, they take you to mainstream outlets in your own country, or those that you (and others like you, because it has the data on this) have traditionally favoured.
   Proponents might argue that that is a good thing: the local outlet might express things in more familiar language or the layout might be more comforting, but I question whether that helps people discover fresh perspectives. It certainly doesn’t get you the best news if it’s not the best source, the ones that were responsible for the first reports.
   It encourages a blatant grab for clicks for international outlets, knowing Google News will send enough people their way to make this worthwhile. If a New Zealand website reporting either second-hand or having less informed sources still benefits from the traffic from locals and some foreigners, then why not, and to heck with journalists who can do it better? Are we really getting our fair share of the traffic when it might not actually be fair for us to do so?
   It doesn’t make for a richer news environment if it’s just about the clicks. Yet this is the world we live in—and for some reason we still love Google.
   I might add this change in policy long predates the US president’s first utterance of the term ‘fake news’.
   Merit is out, big firms are in, as far as the Googlebot is concerned. And that’s yet another reason we should be very wary of the big G.

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Posted in culture, globalization, internet, media, New Zealand, USA | 5 Comments »


Brexit reminds us that we need to take a lead in making globalization fairer

28.07.2016

Brexit was an interesting campaign to watch, and there’s not too much I can add that hasn’t been stated already. I saw some incredibly fake arguments from Brexit supporters, including one graphic drawing a parallel between the assassinations of Anna Lindh in 2003 and Jo Cox MP, saying how the murder of the former led Sweden to remain in the EU.

   The trouble with the graphic is that the only thing it got right was that two women were killed. Sweden wasn’t having a referendum on whether to leave the EU, it was about whether it should adopt the euro. The closest British parallel would have been when then-PM John Major negotiated the Maastricht opt-out in 1991. It also claimed that the polls were for leaving; notwithstanding that that wasn’t what the Swedes were voting for, the polls for and against adopting the euro were roughly neck in neck, though the wisdom was that the pro-euro camp would win. By the weekend, the result was that Sweden would keep the krona.
   When I argued with some pro-Brexiters about this, they, like most pecksniffians, demanded I check my facts. I didn’t have to: I have a memory that goes back further than one month, and unlike them, I know what went on in their own backyard because, in 2003, I kept my eyes open.
   I should point out that I am not summarizing all Brexiters as dimwitted Britons who wanted Johnny Foreigner to go home. I count among my closest friends someone who voted leave, and for very substantial, well thought-out reasons. He felt that the European Union had become an unwieldy bureaucracy which benefited Britain little, and while I felt the benefits outweighed the detriments, I respect his opinion and his vote. At least it was considered, and at least it wasn’t one that was based on the ramblings and rants of Farage, Johnson, Gove et al.
   Appealing to nationalism, as the likes of Farage did, is a cheap trick in politics: it stirs a wave of nostalgia, and people might love chanting at how great their nation is, but it doesn’t address the core issues that put them into the poo to begin with. Of course the UK has a great deal to be proud of; but like many countries (including ours) the globalist technocratic agenda are what have made things untenable for a growing part of the population. It’s why real wages haven’t risen yet certain corporations profit aplenty; it’s why we work more hours today than we ever did, despite futurists of a generation ago predicting all this leisure time that we would all have thanks to automation.
   But is retreat the right thing to do? The remain camp believes that it wasn’t: to influence Europe you must be in Europe. It wasn’t that long ago that not being in Europe was fatal to British exports—the failure of the British motor industry, for instance, was in part due to its late recognition that the UK needed to be part of the EEC or, at least, produce vehicles there. Globalization’s positives should be the free movement of people and of capital; and economic union to permit that greater freedom seems a sensible thing to pursue, not to run away from. The trick is how to make this work for everyday people, the growing number who are impacted by globalist forces; once there were few, now few escape them. It is, then, the role of government to either protect those who are most vulnerable, to champion (either through private enterprise or on its own accord) real innovation and industry that can create jobs, and to cut through the BS where both public and private enterprise simply reinvent the wheel from time to time, putting lipstick on the bulldog.
   I am ambivalent about it because I’ve seen our own governments, National and Labour, be particularly weak when it comes to dealing with globalization, succumbing to foreign takeovers and allowing the little guy to be run over. The deals haven’t been good for New Zealand in many respects, a small country that believes in its place in the first world but which can be deluded about this very fact. Our economy just isn’t that solid to take it on the chin. Look at our banks, mostly foreign-owned and more unreliable than ever: remember how 40 years ago cheques would take 24 hours to clear? Yet now our computerized systems take three to five working days? Insiders tell me this is the consequence of less reliable Australian systems being foisted upon us; so much so that we have a wire transfer that has been taking weeks, and no one knows where the money has gone. Just how do you misplace tens of thousands of dollars? Why do we assume Australian bankers are smart enough to answer? And those who question such agenda don’t get much truck in a media landscape also dominated by foreigners: I’m looking at one newspaper publishing group at the least. The ways of the big countries are not always the best—yet somehow the powers-that-be in this country have been hoodwinked by this consistently since 1984. I can’t understand it, and my initial reaction when there is such a lack of logic is to follow the money.
   Brexit has made me refine my thinking: I might not like a system where New Zealand’s the little player that doesn’t benefit from a level playing field, but at the same time I believe we need to find ways to influence the globalist game for the better. We love looking at Scandinavian countries because of their comparable size. They may have higher taxes but at the same time they don’t seem to balk at innovation for the greater good; they believe in the freedom of movement of capital and of people, and, despite their general humility, they actually aren’t afraid of creating global companies that take on the rest of the world. Look at Vattenfall or Statoil. We might not like Statoil for what it wants to do to our own environment, but we do have to ask what our equivalent is. We lost our lead in hybrid cars, which we held for most of the 1980s, but it’s an example of what we can do when government and private enterprise cooperate on something that is future-oriented. What’s the next big thing? Is it renewable energy tech that we can export? There are companies here already doing frictionless exports, and more need to be encouraged. Government shouldn’t try to create groups of them or force mergers upon them; that can be left to the market. But there needs to be a vision or a direction that we take to create a new brand for our country where people naturally think: innovation for the greater good = New Zealand. And, maybe, to go with that, a fairer version of globalization can emerge, certainly one that is not coloured by the next quarterly result demanded by Wall Street.
   Yes, there is some national fervour involved here, too, but applied correctly, it won’t be false flag-waving that’s dependent on the past. I’m all for being proud of your country when the victories are real and measurable—like on the sporting field. There it’s real, and it’s often about the next game or the next season: it’s future-oriented, too. With Brexit, I can’t see the vision; and the most visible foreigner among this, the Turkish-American politician, Boris Johnson, hasn’t communicated one that I can discern.
   And maybe this confusion is the opportunity we need for New Zealand.
   After the UK abandoned the Commonwealth markets in favour of one right next door, our country found new export markets, so much so that the UK accounts for 3 per cent today. Even in 1973, when it was 40 per cent, it had been falling consistently for half a decade, if I recall correctly, and the notion that Britain would reach back out toward the Empah for trade is fanciful at best.
   Being someone who has enjoyed looking at world history play out through maps, ever since I discovered a book on the subject as a third former at Rongotai College, it hasn’t escaped my thoughts that this is a further retreat for the UK in terms of its global influence.
   So who’s on the rise? It might be us. The centre of the global economy has been shifting eastward in recent times and we’re well placed to take advantage of it. We’re part of the Anglosphere so we bridge the past, where it was the dominant global culture, with those trading partners who might be on the horizon. But it has to be real. We’re nimble enough, and I can’t see why we’ve been so fascinated with apeing the US and the UK for so long. Once again we need to set our own direction: we have a culture that’s ready for it with a greater sense of identity than we’ve ever had. I just wonder if we have a government, local or national, courageous enough to embark on this.

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Posted in branding, business, China, culture, globalization, marketing, New Zealand, politics, social responsibility, Sweden, UK | No Comments »


Organizing this planet in the 21st century

03.04.2016

As he has done so many other times since we encountered each other in 2001, Simon Anholt has articulated my thoughts on governance and politics much better than I can through his ventures. I think this puts a very good context on why I ran my mayoral campaigns the way I did, and for that matter, a good deal of my own businesses. The ideas here are in line with what we believe at Medinge Group, too—more on that in an upcoming post. We live in a connected, globalized planet—and the sooner our leaders wake up to this fact, and the positive potential it brings, the better.
   How can we better organize ourselves as seven thousand million people? My belief has been: if we can start at a city level, we can bring about change.

   Head to Simon’s website at good.country to find out more.

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Posted in culture, globalization, internet, politics, Wellington | No Comments »


How can we help those fooled into believing what their local brands are?

06.01.2016

How interesting to see a silly Tweet of mine make the Murdoch Press and lead an opinion column—I’m told it even hit the news.com.au home page.
   It’s a very old joke that I’ve told since 2002, when I walked along Bay Road in Kilbirnie and saw a locksmith sign in Futura. Back then, Dick Smith Electronics had its logotype set in ITC Avant Garde Gothic. I really thought it was a Dick Smith sign at a first, fleeting glance, seeing CKSMITH. The joke was born.
   Most in my social media streams got it except a couple of Australians who had likely come across it via Murdochs a day late, one calling me ignorant (not sure how you can get that from one Tweet), and another ‘ahole’ (is this a misspelling of aloha?). As the funniest guy in their media is John Clarke, who was born in New Zealand, maybe humour doesn’t reach a couple of households there if it has to be imported. And the number of times John’s taken the piss about us, to my thorough enjoyment, means that some of us can take a joke. Perhaps we just have a sense of humour. We have to: it was the only way we could deal with our PM appearing on The Late Show with David Letterman. It is, to quote the man, ‘a bit of banter. No drama.’
   The false indignation “on behalf of others” is always a comical one, because it’s usually founded on a misplaced and unjustified sense of superiority. During a political campaign, they’re the ones I find the most humorous and least authoritative. Thick skin came with that territory.
   Neither deserves a response beyond what I said on Twitter, but the second one (with a fresh new account to troll from, always a good sign of someone who won’t stand by their words) highlights a point that I have made on this blog before.
   “Ruby Pond” notes, ‘The guy is pure Oz and started when you were in nappies and tried! Stick to your foreign companies, they really help Oz.’ I’m not sure what I was tried about, not having been to court while I was in nappies, but maybe she’s depending on the fact that not everyone remembers back to their infancy.
   Well done. She got this from an American-owned newspaper website (remember, Rupert’s no longer an Australian, nor is the HQ in Australia and hasn’t been for a long, long time), and, for the record, I’m not as old as the business that Dick founded. There’s also a suggestion that I must be Australian, because, after all, everyone on the planet must be. No other countries exist. I didn’t want to get into trans-Tasman rivalry in such a situation, nor was it appropriate to give a list of Australian corporate misdeeds in New Zealand. The term off-topic springs to mind.
   I told her, ‘Stick to your foreign media, they really help Oz.’
   Hers is that simplistic thinking that gets people supporting foreign-owned businesses when they believe they are supporting local ones.
   Dick’s been one of my personal heroes since his solo helicopter flight and I’ve been a customer of the chain he founded since I was old enough to buy my own tech gear. Entrepreneurs like him are the ones I’ve always encouraged, through mentoring and through my policies. However, the sad story of the company, no longer owned by Dick, is one of corporate greed—which the founder himself has been critical of. We haven’t learned the lessons of so many economic crises: Gordon Gecko’s mantra of ‘greed is good’ continues to drive the corporate world.
   The reason so many multinationals buy local brands is to fool the public into thinking they’re supporting their own. We’re guilty of it ourselves, and I recall using the examples of Just Juice and most of our local newspapers on this blog. People closed accounts at the National Bank when it became ANZ here, because of a suspicion of, dislike of, or rivalry with Australia, perceiving National to be a local bank. The problem there: ANZ had owned the National Bank for years before the rebranding of its own subsidiary, and prior to that it was part of Lloyds TSB in the UK. A lot of Australians think Ford and Holden are domestic players (though, oddly, not Toyota, which probably builds as many, if not more, cars there), just as many Britons still think they are buying British when they shop at Ford and Vauxhall.
   The situation with news.com.au differs slightly in that that business was started in Australia by Rupert Murdoch’s Dad, and it has grown from there—but the fact remains that its HQ is overseas and that’s where it pays its tax. Help to Australians: not a lot. The Murdoch Press’s globalization agenda won’t be one that the “buy Australian” crowd would support for the most part.
   But this is how brands work, because they encourage us to make mental shortcuts for the products and services we consume. I’ve devoted a good deal of my professional life to it. Some should encourage scrutiny because of the power they have (Wally Olins noted, many years ago, how some brands need to adopt notions that were once reserved for states), and it was hoped that, post-No Logo, we would be more inquisitive about the backgrounds to the organizations we support.
   Even though it’s our money and time, the sad thing is that this level of inquiry remains the province of the few, those people who are willing to scrutinize their own behaviour and practise what they preach. Social media have helped spread news of corporate misbehaviours (Volkswagen will attest to that) and more people are aware; but to counter that we get more information than we ever used to, and unless something resonates, will we just forget it?
   Therefore, it can only be something where people who have done the proper investigation get to have a say. And like all human endeavours, it can be scammed, so safeguards have to be built in.
   One of the reasons the Medinge Group awarded its Brands with a Conscience accolades for close to a decade was to champion the organizations that were getting it right, inviting transparency and scrutiny, championing good corporate citizenship, and engaging in socially responsible programmes. Among them were companies devoted to doing things right by the communities they were present in, whether it was Dilmah Tea, Tata Steel or Hennes & Mauritz.
   By our championing them, selected by a think-tank of leading brand professionals, we would be able to highlight shining examples of branding, as well as give them the sort of boost they deserved. If positive companies could increase their custom, and if positive non-profits could increase their influence, then we can do some good in the world.
   As people rightly want shortcuts in their busy daily lives, then the work at Medinge, if seen as an endorsement, would help them make a decision about whether to deal with that organization or not.
   It’s nice to be in that bubble, which makes me ever-grateful to get reminders that we still have a lot of work to do. If you’re genuinely desirous of helping your own, then we need to help create more ways of reminding people which organizations do just that. The Brands with a Conscience programme was definitely a very good way of doing it. What shall we do, in the post-peak-Facebook world of the second part of this decade, to get word out? Is it through video, thanks to greater bandwidth, that allows us to experience and understand more? Is this the coming of age of some form of virtual reality? Or, as we did when we first started exploring bulletin boards and email, time again for us to reach out to people in communities very foreign and different to ours through video chats—something like Google Hangouts but actually with people? (Yes, I know, Google fans, I was taking the piss.) Is Skype the service on which this can be built?
   I would have said that technology is the great democratizer, and maybe more of us should be giving out awards to truly deserving organizations, voted on by more of the public. But we come across the issue of quality versus quantity again: the Reputation Institute surveyed 60,000 people in 15 countries and still wound up with Nestlé among the most reputable firms in the world. Nestlé may do very good things in some quarters, but it hasn’t been able to avoid a lawsuit by environmental and public interests groups in California over its water-bottling operation there, or accusations by activists who believe the company wants to privatize water at the expense of public health. Volkswagen was there in the 2014 survey. We decide on image, and that image is the very thing that gets us making bad choices.
   The next innovators are already on to it, and we don’t even know that we seek it. But, in order to self-actualize, maybe organizing us—individuals, not corporations—into global communities is the next stage. We have seen Kiva work so positively, so how about making it more interactive? Naturally we will tend to choose to help those in our own countries first—crowdfunding campaigns show us that—but allowing us to understand another human being’s situation could be the challenge in a time when governments pursue their austerity agenda. Somehow, we can restore, at least to some degree, the optimism we had when we in the first world accessed the World Wide Web for the first time.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, culture, globalization, humour, internet, marketing, media, social responsibility, technology, UK, USA | No Comments »


When mistrust brings us together

13.11.2015

I can be staunch on IP protection in a lot of cases—but in the case of Martin Shkreli of Turing Pharmaceuticals AG hiking the price of an Aids drug from $13·50 to $750 per pill, not so much (for obvious reasons). If you’re in pharmaceuticals, then there has to be some element of wanting to benefit enough of humankind so that they can be, well, alive to better society—or, if you want to be monetarist about it, so they can consume more products and services. Whichever side of politics you’re on, productive people are a good thing for everyone except the arms’ industry. Yet the pharmaceutical industry is the one that’s trying to patent natural ingredients and phenomena—and that’s a step too far. It was something we were taught at law school that could not happen—how can a corporation own nature?—so for the industry to challenge both that jurisprudence smacks of greed. If you didn’t originate it, you shouldn’t be able to own it. Even if it could be protected, nature has been around long enough for that protection to have lapsed. Patenting genes? Please.
   Sure, everyone has the right to make a buck from intellectual endeavours, but their track record needs to be a lot cleaner. Why was there so much opposition to TPPA et al? Because there had been far too many cases of corporations taking the piss when it came to basic rights and established laws, and governments haven’t upped their game sufficiently. I love the idea of global trade, the notion “we’re all in this together”, but not at the expense of the welfare of fellow human beings. Simply, I give a shit. Hiking the price of something that costs $13·50 to $750 is laziness at the very least—let’s profit without lifting a finger—and being a douchebag at the worst. And I don’t believe we should reward either of these things.
   I have a friend who is against vaccinations—not a position I agree with—but his rationale boils down to his mistrust of Big Pharma. And why should he trust them, with these among their worst cases? (As far as I know, he doesn’t oppose other forms of IP protection.) Somewhere, there’s something that kicks off various positions, and corporate misbehaviour must fuel plenty.
   Meanwhile, here’s Martin Shkreli’s point of view, where he doesn’t see his actions as wrongful, as told on Tinder, and as told by Yahoo. His view is that Turing isn’t making a profit and he needs to find ways where it does. He has a duty to his shareholders. It seems incredibly short-term—one would hope that innovation is what turns around a pharmaceuticals’ business—and we come back to the notion that it all feels a bit lazy.

A version of this post originally appeared on my Tumblog.

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Posted in business, leadership, social responsibility, USA | 1 Comment »


The political caricatures of old have taken human form, but they’re still nothing like us

09.05.2015

That’s another British General Election done and dusted. I haven’t followed one this closely since the 1997 campaign, where I was backing John Major.
   Shock, horror! Hang on, Jack. Haven’t the media all said you are a leftie? Didn’t you stand for a left-wing party?
   Therein lies a fallacy about left- and right wings. I’ve never completely understood the need to pigeonhole someone into a particular camp, when I would say most people on this planet hold a mix of views from both sides. Now that politicians are not unlike caricatures—there has been a “rightward” shift where the policies being adopted by some are so outside economic orthodoxy that they look like what their Spitting Image counterparts would have uttered back in the day—this holds more true than ever. We know what subscribing to certain parties’ views fully and completely is like: we risk looking loony, and, if taken too far, we risk becoming loony.
   But the spin doctors and advisers aren’t in to transparency. They are into their talking heads conveying what they feel the public responds to, hence Mitt Romney, once an advocate of universal health care in his own state, becoming an opponent of it when he ran for president; or, for that matter, Ed Miliband’s insistence on the ‘budget responsibility lock’, to demonstrate that he had a handle on the economy, when Economics 101 told us that austerity isn’t a good way to help the economy along and Miliband began sounding like Cameron lite.
   My support of Major in the 1997 General Election, which went against the prevailing view at the time, was down to several reasons. Unlike Cameron, Major didn’t practise austerity, but he did practise conventional economics with the government going more into deficit through increasing spending during the early 1990s’ recession, knowing the stimulus to be affordable, and knowing it had to be paid back once the economy was healthy again. It is interesting to note Sir John’s own goal while campaigning for the Tories in this General Election, when he said at the Tory Reform Group annual dinner, ‘We need to acknowledge the fact we have a pretty substantial underclass and there are parts of our country where we have people who have not worked for two generations and whose children do not expect to work.
   ‘How can it be that in a nation that is the fifth richest nation in the world, that in the United Kingdom we have four of the poorest areas in Europe? I include eastern Europe in that question.’
   How indeed. The John Major who was prime minister will have answered that easily, and his own record illustrates just why he avoided such consequences in the 1990s that Cameron was unable to.
   The second reason was that I really believed the ‘classless society’ speech, and if you have read his memoirs, or even biographies written about him, then there was a real personal experience woven into that. Critics will point at the fact the speech was written by Antony Jay (Yes, Minister) or the fact that Britain invented To the Manor Born and such sitcoms, but, generally, why should only certain classes have the ability to excel and do their best? Everyone should have that opportunity, and the measures implemented under the Major premiership, while not as far to the left as traditional socialists would have wanted, struck a good balance in my view in an immediate post-Thatcher period. We should always be wary of sudden shifts, whether they’re swings from the left to the right, or vice versa. A pragmatic approach seemed sensible.
   Third, it was precisely that Major was not a Thatcherite, even if Margaret Thatcher might have believed him to be when she made him Chancellor of the Exchequer, a job that he wanted most of his political life. But what we had in his very shrewd opponent in 1997 was Thatcherism, or at least monetarism. As we know from Tony Blair’s and Gordon Brown’s early move in allowing the Bank of England to be free of political control, their belief that this would avoid boom-and-bust cycles was not realized. However, the evidence does show that the freedom has coincided with a period of low interest rates and stable inflation, but equally one can credit the work of the Tories in handing New Labour a booming economy in May of that year. As Major noted at the time, it was rare for a government to lose while the economy was improving, but the Labour campaign, ably assisted by biased media at the time, and the easy pass Blair got from the British establishment despite being very, very vague about his policies, was hard to beat. All he had to do was utter ‘Change’ and ‘It’s about New Labour, new Britain.’ It hid, to those of us watching the General Election and the year before it, New Labour’s Thatcherite aims. I am not even that sure what Blair, Brown and Peter Mandelson were doing in the party to begin with.
   This might be contrasted with a Tory party weakened through allegations of sleaze (and we know now that no party is any less sleazy than the other, but it depends on when you are caught out) leading Major to fight a campaign largely alone with the occasional publicity boost from the Spice Girls. No matter how specific the PM got, it didn’t matter. (Or, as I had told many of my design classes at the time when I was teaching, the Conservatives’ Arial was no match for Labour’s Franklin Gothic, a typeface family that, incidentally, was used by Thatcher in her 1983 election campaign, and by Labour in New Zealand in 1999 and 2002.) It was frustrating to try to discern what Labour’s specific policies were from Down Under, watching the General Election campaign with keen interest. And those lack of specifics worried me from the start, which explains why when I ran for office, I issued a manifesto early in the game. I liked being first, even if the electorate didn’t put me there.
   Whether you agreed with Labour or not, and many would argue that the Blair and Brown years were not stellar, the divisions in their party—which I imagine we will see reemerge in the next few days—indicate that even within there is a great deal of polarization. The Thatcherites are in there, except they are called Blairites. And while Sir John put his weight behind his party out of loyalty, and from his earlier political years witnessing how ‘Labour isn’t working’ (the Wilson–Callaghan years must have been formative for him given his age), his comments at the dinner are telling on just where modern Conservative economic policies under George Osborne differed to his own and those of Norman Lamont. If people are suffering, if they aren’t getting their shot at the ‘classless society’, then is the place any good? If the class divide has grown, contrary to Sir John’s own views, and weakened Britain as a result of the contraction of economic players in it, then even the “right” can’t support that. To me, I thought conservatism was letting everyone have a shot, and about solid, national enterprise, and this century hasn’t given me much faith that that applies very widely.
   Labour might have campaigned on that and on preserving the NHS although having listened to Miliband, I was never totally convinced. Perhaps, I, too, had concerns about Labour vagueness, and until this General Election I had not followed the Shadow Cabinet closely enough to know the thinking and histories behind the players. That area, I will leave to others to comment. In some respects, the caricature comment I made above applies to Labour, too.

Contrasting the Tories this time with the party I knew a bit better through observation—the two terms of John Major—I feel they are very different. And, sadly, I draw parallels with the National Party here at home, where people attempt to compare incumbent John Key with Sir Robert Muldoon (1975–84), and I simply cannot see the parallels other than the colour of the branding.
   Sir Robert resolutely believed in full employment, the rights of the unemployed, the state ownership of assets, energy independence, and his ability to fight his own battles. Had attack blogs been around then, he wouldn’t have needed them. I do not agree with everything about his premiership, and his miscalculation of public opinion over the Gleneagles Agreement and the environment is now part of history. However, his terms are still being misjudged today, with an entire generation happily brainwashed by both the monetarist orthodoxy of the 1980s and a prime-time documentary (The Grim Face of Power) aired after his death (probably to avoid a defamation suit) to belittle his legacy. (The contrasting documentary made many years later, Someone Else’s Country, was buried on a weekend afternoon.) We did not have to wait months for a telephone, nor did we not have cars to buy; yet the belief that the electorate has a collective memory of only five years means we haven’t a hope of comprehending fully what happened thirty years ago. But to those of us who pride ourselves on a decent memory, and I believe if we seek public office we must have one, then things were never as bleak as people believe. He was sexist, yet I do not believe him to want to preside over a divided New Zealand, and his own books reveal a desire for unity. Unfortunately, looking at a man born in 1921 through the prism of 2015, plenty of his sayings look anachronistic and passé, but once context is added, the New Zealand we look at today looks more divided.
   We, too, have an underclass that has emerged (those begging for change weren’t there two decades ago, nor were so many food banks), through economic policies that have weakened our businesses. Both major parties deserve criticism over this. For a country where experts have said we must head toward technology to end our reliance on primary products, other than software patents, we have had a strange record over intellectual property with a prime minister who was against certain copyright amendments before he was for them (and voted accordingly). A New Zealand resident who adopted the same rules over copyrighted materials as Google and Dropbox has been indicted by the US Government—that’s right, I am talking about Kim Dotcom. It’s a reminder that we haven’t done enough for our tech sector, the one which governments have said we should aid, which can help our overall economy.
   We are hopelessly behind in how much technology contributes to our economy, and we have done little to support the small- to medium-sized businesses that form the backbone of our economy. Instead, we have been selling them short, welcoming ever-larger multinationals (who usually pay tax in their home country, not ours) and giving them more advantages than our own. Since when has allegiance to these foreign players ever been part of politics on the left or on the right? If we are to support businesses, for instance, we should be negotiating for our own milliard-dollar enterprises to make headway into new markets. Xero et al will thank us for it. Globalization is as much about getting our lot out there so they can pay tax back here. Politicians should be patriotic, but toward our own interests, not someone else’s.

Therein lie my many posts about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement on my Facebook. It is precisely because I support business that I am against a good part of what has been leaked so far. (I am aware that many trade agreements are negotiated in secret, so there is nothing new there.) It is precisely because I believe in a level playing field for Kiwis that we should be careful at how we liberalize and in what sectors and at what pace we should do it. The curious thing there is that the substantial arguments (obviously against it) have come from the “left”, or friends who identify as being left-wing, while some who have identified as being right-wing have bid me an indignant exit from the discussion by attacking the players and not their utterances, and yet somehow the lefties are branded the woolly, emotional wrecks?
   As I wrote last year, ‘All I want are facts, not emotional, ideological arguments. On the evidence for me, things are leaning toward the anti side. I come from the standpoint of the market being a man-made construct and people are not numbers.
   ‘… [T]here are cases going on with tobacco companies where they are using IP to argue that plain packs are contrary to trade agreements. So where do you draw the line with public health versus a foreign enterprise profiting? I’d like to see healthy people not taxing the system, and plain packs were a foreseeable development IMO for a tobacco manufacturer. [I know this is an argument that is typically trotted out, but I use it since there is at least one case out there.] A wise tobacco company would have acquired businesses in other fields (as some have done), just as Coca-Cola, seeing the tide turn against sodas, have bought up water, energy drink and juice businesses. It’s wise investing, and it’s progress.
   ‘There is nothing wrong with the notion of a trade tribunal but what has been emerging from the leaks are ones where corporations can be compensated for loss of profits based on, say, plain packaging. If a government is democratically elected to implement such a policy, and corporations have always understood investments to be subject to the laws of the land (including the risk of divestment in some), then should their rights trump that of the citizens? This is the danger here, and this is the heart of the sovereignty argument.
   ‘Another example is with software patents, which our country has voted to do away with. It’s been shown that that would spur innovation.
   ‘The tendency is that TPPA is against these moves, although given the secrecy we do not know for sure. But reading other IP provisions it does not take a big leap of the imagination.
   ‘… Do I believe in global free trade? Absolutely. But I also believe in making sure that people have the means the buy the stuff I sell, and to me this treaty (based on what has been leaked) does not ensure that. I also believe in social responsibility and that citizens have their basics looked after so they can participate in commerce. I am pro-innovation, especially in smaller enterprises where some great stuff is taking place, and we have reasonably robust IP laws already and conventions that govern them. I’m not saying I have a complete alternative that replaces it, but some of the work we have done at the Medinge Group touches on these issues.’
   One argument in favour is: if we are not party to this, then does this mean we will get shut out of it? I’m not entirely sure we will in that we are already one of the freest markets in the world, although I welcome arguments and past examples. In the areas I know well, the absence of a free-trade agreement with the US, for instance, have never hampered our firm exporting there, but I realize for our primary producers there have been obstacles. But do such agreements mean unimpeded access when it’s so easy, even under WTO, to erect non-tariff barriers? And why should corporations’ rights trump citizens’, as opponents are quick to point out?
   ‘At the end of the day,’ to borrow a phrase, all human systems are imperfect. And the market is just as human as any other. My belief is that your own citizens, and their welfare, must be placed first, and we should support our own people and our own businesses. The political caricatures that certain parties have now rendered into human form don’t necessarily appear to understand this, certainly not by their actions. This is at the crux of the arguments that I saw from Labour supporters in the UK General Election, and to some extent from those who opposed National and ACT in our one last year. Labour’s loss here, too, in my view, can be placed on a leader who himself came across as unsubstantial on TV as his opponents; and his refusal to resign can be contrasted to the behaviour of Miliband and Nick Clegg yesterday. He could have always pulled a Nigel Farage.
   The sooner we get away from notions of “left” and “right” and work out for ourselves where we’d like our country and our world to head, we will start working together without these false divisions. I might add that “being Asian” in this country is yet another false division. No wonder most people are sick of politics, politicians and “politics as usual”, because most of us cannot be bothered pigeonholing ourselves. We just want to do what’s decent and honourable and have the chance to get on with it.

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When referring to your Australian office might not be a smart thing to do

02.08.2014

There are some companies that do not realize that we live in a global community.
   And there are at least two who have done themselves a disservice by referring our account or enquiries to their Australian representative.
   We left Rackspace in 2013 although, for most of the 11½ years we were with them, things were fairly good. I had issues with them in 2005, but they weren’t serious enough to depart. In the last year, the server fell over regularly, and suddenly we found ourselves being referred to their Australian office.
   From then on, I just got jargon from their rep who tried to get us on to the “cloud”. When I asked about further specifics, I heard nothing back, and when I sent another query to the company, I found her response rude and dismissive. The sense I got was, ‘How dare you keep asking questions on how much you expect to spend.’ I can’t remember her exact words, but I seem to recall she used the, ‘As I told you before’—when in fact she hadn’t.
   So we left. It was a sad end though I still think the world of Rackspace’s techs. The guys running their Twitter are second to none as well. The guys in the US are fantastic and are completely on to it. But, as I told one of the Kiwis working from their Australian office, I wasn’t going to stand for their rudeness after paying them a fairly hefty amount each month.
   He explained that they were rude in Australia, which is a pity. I wasn’t sure if he referred to his company or to Australians in general, because I certainly haven’t found the latter to be the case on my visits there, and I haven’t encountered that in 99 per cent of Australian organizations.
   Before the Australian office was opened, we had very cordial dealings with our Texan and later Hong Kong account managers. I get why they want to localize: it’s to serve different time zones and, in many cases, to serve different languages. But, for goodness’ sake, make sure that you hire people who have had some training on how to talk to customers.
   I was always under the impression that the account manager is the one who doesn’t talk technobabble, the one who translates all of that to human, in order to secure your business. She’s not the one who joins in with the throng in a game of “us and them”—and in Rackspace’s case, undoes a decade’s worth of hard-earned goodwill, earned largely by the US staff.
   Interestingly, they were replaced by a small Australian firm run by an expat New Zealander, who tells me that there is some rudeness in the Aussie IT sector. Maybe that’s what the Kiwi at Rackspace meant.
   Hugo Boss is the other story, to whom we sent a query for press images, at their German HQ. We were referred to their Australian office. And from there we never heard back. Luckily for us, we wound up using catwalk imagery from Berlin Fashion Week, which we can access. They got their story, one which looked at their history and how it impacted on their design, written by one of our associate editors, but I’m not convinced they deserved the two pages in Lucire.
   And now we’ve been referred again by a European label to their Australian PR. I won’t name this company this time, because the rep might not have had the chance to respond yet. Or the enquiry is somewhere in their system. But it is a company for whom we had a username and password for their press database, neither of which works now. (That is a whole other story—companies which take your data but upgrades mean that you have to sign up again. I am looking at you, Telegraph Group plc.)
   She was nice enough and asked which images we sought. The reality, as I explained, was that we often didn’t know ourselves till one of our editors went through the image database for something that fitted with the issue’s theme. In addition, as we at Lucire produce magazines for the international market-place, the Australian season would be off. We needed to get access to the European database.
   Companies like Hennes & Mauritz, Swatch or Bang & Olufsen have no trouble comprehending this, but it amazes me that some still do. A New Zealand-HQed company does not necessarily produce things strictly for the New Zealand market. Why is this so hard to understand? Globalization has been around for centuries, and surely in the electronic age, it applies even more regularly.
   Of course, in future, this compels one to start lying. Or I’ll use one of our alternative addresses in New York or London, but I’ve only employed that in situations where they require a local address. I’m proud of being a New Zealander and letting people know that this country does amazing things internationally. That’s why we went to that last label, who sells next to nothing here, in order to give them some publicity.
   We’ve also been approached by what I believe is an Australian SEO firm wanting a link for their client in one of Lucire’s online articles. That’s all well and good, but I had to tell her that the au.companyname.com domain would have little relevance for the site’s readers, 38 per cent of whom are in the US. Less than 10 per cent are Australian. However, I can imagine behind the scenes, they were employed to get these links from regional publications, and we never hide our Kiwi origins. She didn’t do anything wrong, but again the reality of globalization changes initial perceptions.
   If I wanted the local rep, I would approach them (as I have done on many occasions, e.g. with Chanel or L’Oréal—and both companies are smart enough to get me the information I need from their French counterparts if required nearly immediately, so there are no hiccups). But the first two situations are ridiculous because they seem to suggest that their regional reps don’t understand the global links in modern business. In the first case, not everyone dealing with IT is a boffin. In the second, palming things off to a regional office simply doesn’t work.
   Then you wonder how they could even have global marketing and sales’ ambitions.

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Four million page views on Autocade

09.01.2014

I came across an old blog post that showed that Autocade took four years to get 2,000,000 page views: not bad for an encyclopædia that receives very little promotion. That was in March 2012. It has since crossed 4,000,000, which meant the second 2,000,000 took 21 months to achieve (in December 2013). If the growth rate continues, then we’ll get to 5,000,000 some time in 2014.
   I estimate that the first 2,000,000 were achieved on 1,800 model entries. There are just over 2,400 today, which means each page is attracting more visits. The 2,400th entry was the Renault Scénic III.
   There are still a lot of holes, but not as many as when we were on 1,000 and got the first bit of press attention. I thank all the spammers and spambots: without you, I would never have locked down the wiki and restricted it to a select few specialists (not that that many people popped by wanting to add to Autocade in the early days). Peter Jobes’, Keith Adams’ and Nigel Dunn’s contributions both to the technology and the content have helped make it a very usable site.
   I’m really happy people are finding Autocade such a useful resource. It was always intended to be global and geographically neutral. I’m running into more and more people who visit it but had no idea I founded the website, and more recently, some even suggested that a printed authoritative car guide could be built around it (especially as most car buffs can poke holes in Auto Katalog and similar annuals). It takes an enthusiast to build a site for other enthusiasts, which is, once again, why Wikipedia fails so badly on the motoring stuff. Generalists will never have the same passion, or, for that matter, the same commitment to accuracy.

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Joan Rivers had better facelifts, but it’s the future of the black cab

06.01.2014

Part of me admires Nissan for going after the taxi market in a big way in New York and London.
   Another part of me wonders why on earth the London Hackney Carriage solution is so ugly.

Nissan Hackney Carriage

   I think Nissan should have asked Mr Mitsuoka for advice on how to Anglicize one of its products.
   Overall, I haven’t a big problem about a van being a black cab (neither does Mercedes-Benz). We live in the 21st century, and a one-and-a-half-box design makes practical sense. The recent Metrocab, from Frazer-Nash (whose owners are domiciled abroad), doesn’t look perfect, either, but the effect is a bit more cohesive. However, it reminds me a bit of the Chevrolet Spin.

   I’m not sure how conservative a buyer the cabbie is. The LTI TX4 still looks the best, and it is even being adopted in Australia, but it’s not as economical. The idea of the solid axle and Panhard rod at the back doesn’t scream modernity, either.
   New Yorkers haven’t really minded the advent of Toyota Siennas and Ford Escapes taking the place of the traditional three-box sedan—nor have the tourists. Therefore, I doubt much romanticism will come in to the decision. As with their counterpart elsewhere, the London cabbie will be very rational and look at the best running costs. That may suggest the demise of the TX4, at least in London. (It seems to have a life of its own in China, although that may depend on how visible it remains in London.)
   The world is so globalized that no one bats an eyelid when they see a Volvo badge on a double-decker bus. It’s not that easy to find a police car with a British marque. There’s a nostalgic part of me that wants to argue that the London city brand will be adversely affected by Johnny Foreigner making its cabs, but it won’t. Even the one regarded as traditionally the “most British”, the TX4, is made by a Chinese-owned company, Geely.
   History says that it won’t matter. As long as they are black, they can turn on a sixpence, and the cabbie has the Knowledge, then that’ll be sufficient for most. The experience of travelling, rather than the Carriage’s brand, is what tourists will remember—I can’t tell you whether the first black cab I sat in was an FX4 or a TX, but I can tell you about the conversation I had with the cabbie. One would, however, remember a bad journey—let’s say travelling in the back of a Premier Padmini in Mumbai is not as misty-eyed as it seems.
   And if one insists on a decent British solution, then it needs to be better than the competition: falling back on tradition (or at least some parody thereof) helped kill Rover when it was still around. Although I’m not sure if there are any British-owned taxi makers left. Whatever the case, the next generation of black cab will be made by a foreign-owned company, and I’m willing to bet that the 20th-century formula is toast.

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Posted in branding, cars, China, culture, design, globalization, India, UK, USA | 3 Comments »


Open the shop and strip away the jargon

05.01.2014

I’ve been reading this Grauniad interview with Rory Stewart, MP, referred by Jordan McCluskey. I’m told that Stewart, and Labour’s Frank Field are the two worth listening to these days in British politics. On Stewart, someone who can speak with a Scots accent and has lived in Hong Kong must be a good bloke.
   Two quotations resonated from this interview, which I posted on Tumblr this morning.

Our entire conceptual framework was mad. All these theories—counterinsurgency warfare, state building—were actually complete abstract madness. They were like very weird religious systems, because they always break down into three principles, 10 functions, seven this or that. So they’re reminiscent of Buddhists who say: ‘These are the four paths,’ or of Christians who say: ‘These are the seven deadly sins.’ They’re sort of theologies, essentially, made by people like Buddhist monks in the eighth century—people who have a fundamental faith, which is probably, in the end, itself completely delusional.

And:

We have to create a thousand little city states, and give the power right down to all the bright, energetic people everywhere who just feel superfluous.

   The second is familiar to anyone who follows this blog: my belief that people are connected to their cities and their communities, probably as a counterpoint to how easily we can reach all corners of the world through the internet. We want that local fix and to make a contribution. Power should be decentralizing in the early 21st century—which is why I thought it odd that the majority of my opponents in the mayoral election took the line of, ‘We should cosy up and further the cause of statism,’ even if they did not express it quite that way. In every speech. Yes, a city should work with central government, but we do different things and, being closer to the action, we can find ways of doing it more effectively and quickly. With statism being an aim, then the regular entrepreneurs—or even as Stewart says, ‘bright, energetic people’—came further down the list. For me, they were always at the top.
   But the first quotation is more interesting. In my work, especially in brand consulting, I’ve harboured a dislike for the manuals that get done but are never referred to. Better that a lot of work goes into a 15 pp. report than scant work going into a 150 pp. one. The former might not look impressive but if every word in there is filled with substance, then it can help get an organization into high gear. And the shorter one is usually harder to write because more preparation goes into it.
   In short: take out the wank.
   Strip out the wank and you can see the truths for what they are. And if they don’t apply, then try to find ones that do.
   Yet to make ourselves look smart—remember, I did law, and that area is filled with a lot of it—we bury things in jargon so that we keep everything a closed shop. Every profession has such a tendency. However, when things are actually revealed in plain language, does it make the specialist look superfluous? On the contrary, it makes them able to connect with an audience who come to appreciate their expertise. (On a side note, in terms of car repair, this is why I go to That Car Place.)
   So when we start dealing in international geopolitics, we want to keep the power among a closed shop. The words that Stewart used served to highlight the gulf of the occident in its dealings in Afghanistan—that is the context of his remark—and it connects with a story I remember about a certain US policy institute when I was studying law. Our lecturer said the failure of the institute in the countries it went to was its expectation that a US solution could be imposed, whereby everything would then be all right. Use enough jargon to make it all sound legitimate to the casual observer. The consequence of this (whether this was his conclusion or mine, I do not recall): blame them when it doesn’t work.
   Without understanding the cultural context of why things are the way they are in a given system—and lacking the knowledge to analyse it and quickly localizing your knowledge and gaining the context—make for a disadvantage. It must be said that even some within a system don’t realize the context! But you can strip away the mystery by simplifying the language, removing the jargon, and understanding things the way they are. Progress comes from understanding, not from creating mysteries—and Stewart is wise to have come to the conclusions he has, thanks in no small part from a global, well travelled context.

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